Love and Buddhist Text
Re: Your recent letter (12/10/2017)
A propos the poems you sent in kanji.
During the 40 years since I lived in Japan I have managed to maintain an ability to speak the language at something like 50% to 60% of the 100% level of 1976 after three years spent in the country . Thanks to regular translation work, my reading-writing command of the language remained reasonable for the best part of two decades after leaving the country. Once these translation jobs came to an end, however, as happened after the two-year illness (endocarditis) I contracted in Indonesia in 2002, it declined quickly. Ao not only lack of practise, too many operations involving massive medication left my memory impaired. During the last ten years, watching the tide of symbols recede from my memory, the engrams fade and eventually disintegrate, has been akin to experiencing the loss of a civilisation, turning to dust inside my own mind.
A propos Ella’s hairstyle, I will send you in the post a picture worth more than a thousand words. And a propos your suggestion about publishing the book as a trilogy, that was also my suggestion to the publisher. It was turned down because of the costs. Hardback was rejected in favour of paperback for the same reason.
Hiding away in Xx and putting the past behind you was surely the right decision. At least you have taken your culture with you, Moon Festival included. I hope you managed to enjoy some special food with loved ones and to look at the moon. Was it visible? Likely the cloud coupled with rain makes moon-viewing less certain in the UK than in HK.....don’t you miss the climate?
In the end, life is always about loss management , don’t you think?
The Buddhist text (my email to JD Morley12/10/2017)
The following is a rough/literal translation of each of the characters in the Buddhist text that I sent you in my last email:
From love therefore grow sorrow
由 愛 故 生 憂
From love therefore grow fear
由 愛 故 生 怖
If away of love person/being
若 離 於 愛 者
No sorrow also no fear
無 憂 亦 無 怖
Different person might have different interpretation of the above text. So, what do you make of it?
Two texts for comparison (22/10/2017)
I understand why this text speaks to you. I liked your translation. Your use of the word away in the third line is original, unenglish, a fresh note.
The kanji for ri (as it is pronounced in Japanese) denotes separation. In Old English the word for separate or apart was related to asunder, which still survives in modern usage, if archaic (think of the injunction sealing the marriage ceremony. “Now are they not twayne then, but one flesh. What God hath joined together let no man put asunder.”
It immediately brought back to mind an Anglo-Saxon poem I read forty years ago. For details see or rather listen:
The meaning of the original words is obscure. One translation of the last two lines reads:
Men very easily may put asunder
That which was never joined, our song together.
What I remember is something different, perhaps the line of a later poet who used the original freely:
What was never asunder can never be joined.
This line, or variants of it, has stayed in my mind all my life. It has tension, a wound spring enabling it to leap out at you like a jack-in-a-box. One of the variants you will find on page 559 of Ella Morris:
He felt a tear in his heart, a shiver where the fissure ran, and he understood that what had once been whole no longer was.
Wholeness can be broken. At a deeper level, having been broken may be just what enables wholeness. As the German has it, wo kein Auseinander (asunder), kein Zueinander (together). Without brokenness, perhaps, no wholeness. Perhaps to understand wholeness one must also experience brokenness.
The Buddhist text speaks to you because it confirms the negative effects you have experienced in love. For me, what I miss in the text is contrast, negative balanced by positive. If in lines 1 and 4 you were to replace the word sorrow by the word joy (for example), I would find this to be a truer description of the nature of love. Nothing in the universe lacks an opposite, a countervailing force.
Probably the person who penned this Buddhist text was a monk, quite likely celibate, and under the influence of that celibacy he mentioned only sorrow and fear as the qualities of love. I imagine him to have been a stranger to ordinary human love in his monkish existence and thus disposed (envy? Why should others have what I lack?) to the jaundiced, one-sided and altogether unloving view of love expressed in the text. Because of the lack of contrast/ balance the text lacks tension. But tension is the essence of the epigrammatic. There is no hidden spring operating in this text, it offers no surprises. For me it remains a bleak, narrow, one-dimensional text, not wise. I cannot hear in it the famous Buddhist one hand clapping.
Think about it and have a good Sunday.
(my reply 22/10/2017)
The YouTube video is most interesting - you are expanding my horizon all the time. I am almost certain you were the person who first made me aware of Anglo-Saxon a very long time ago - I think it was during your visit to Margaret [1.] - you had a book with you (were you reading literature at Oxford at the time?) and I had a glimpse of it as I'd never seen anything in Anglo-Saxon before.
離 is pronounced "Li" in Putonghua/Mandarin ("Lay" in Cantonese). Interesting to know that it is pronounced "Ri" in Japanese - I heard that Japanese sometimes pronounce "L" as "R". Your point of missing the positive side of love is enlightening (I envy you!). Buddhism appears to be about enlightenment, or nirvana (涅槃 in Chinese/Japanese) - though I don't know much about Buddhism to be sure, as the only religion that I know is Christianity. Perhaps this popular Buddhist text is meant to save those already in the Bitter Sea (苦海) as the result of the negative side of love. I think you are right about the text being penned by a celibate monk.
I sent you Music is Happiness CD & book a long time ago. In it there is a mention of a projected opera called Crown Prince Su-da-na (one of Buddha's many previous lives) - in fact, I had written the orchestral prelude then stopped working on it. Su-da-na, in order to reach enlightenment/nirvana, gave his wife and children to those who're likely to abuse them. My reaction to this story was anger.
[1. Margaret is David's eldest sister, I was staying with her at the time.]
John David Morley was an English writer and novelist, the youngest child of the artist and sculptor Patricia Morley (née Booth), and grandson of Victor Booth, who was a piano professor at the Royal Academy of Music. He had written ten novels, including the bestseller Pictures from the Water Trade.
John David Morley to Me