Many Zen Buddhists, or just Buddhists in general, know Dogen’s famous quote about “studying the self”. It’s a popular reminder of what Buddhism is all about. I’ve seen various translations in various books, but I have yet to see an example of a bilingual translation until now:
I always like to see translations like this, because I’ve learned to distrust English translations of Buddhist texts that don’t include any references to the original language. There are a lot of bad Buddhist quotes and translations floating around, and even something simple as the Buddhist “nembutsu” or reciting the Buddha’s name, gets mistranslated a lot. More on that in an old post.
Anyhow, I digress. Looking at Dogen’s original writing, a few things I noticed as a language nerd:
- Since this was written in 13th century, not the 21st century, it uses more archaic Japanese.
- Similarly, the spellings are different: instead of saying toiu, it is spelled toifu, though it was probably pronounced the same.
- Not surprisingly, Dogen uses some obscure Zen-Buddhist terms that even the Japanese language site above has to provide footnotes for, such as Goseki (悟迹) which means the period after Enlightenment.
Anyhow, regardless of the language, this quotation is still one of the best in Buddhism in my opinion. Even Buddhists have to pause and remember to take stock about why they’re practicing Buddhism. Contemporary history is rife with examples of Buddhist teachers who went off the rails, and of course this can happen to anyone, so it’s good to remember why we practice Buddhism. Dogen’s words are a good reminder for us all.