A snippet of prayer

This upgrade is taking longer than I thought it would, so here’s a bit of niftiness to tide you over.

This is a prayer-of-sorts that gets said at the Shaolin Temple.  It’s accompanied by a “moving meditation” that a layperson would say looked something like Taiji, but which after doing it a while I have to admit, really adds to the experience of the thing.  (It also slows it down a lot — it looks weird to me in writing, because it’s never said half as fast as the mind reads it.) I’ve heard it once in Chinese but couldn’t replicate that in a million years, so here’s the probably-clumsier English version.  (This is said four times, once for each direction.  We call it, shockingly, “the Four Directions”.)

I face the East, and behold this day
Where fire burns, and water cleanses
I am a tree in the wind;
Looking at the world, I gather the best that I see
I refine it* to save what is good, and wash away what is not.
I am one with God**;
I embrace the tiger, and return to the mountain***.

Pretty, innit?  When I learn them, I’ll post some of the even prettier, and more complex prayers.  (Assuming I don’t get a call from the Shaolin Order telling me to shut the hell up.  But I haven’t been told I can’t say or post these things; only that I can’t teach anything I’m learning until I’m qualified.)

*  The idea of the prayer is to formally “get in the world”, so besides including the four directions, it includes the Five Elements:  Water, Fire, Wood (tree), Metal (refining) and in the next line, Spirit.
** We agree in class that this is simply the most convenient English term, though in places where brevity isn’t as necessary, some people use “Great Spirit” instead (a nod to the “Spirit” component of the Five Elements).  I like “Great One” myself; it places more emphasis on the allness and unity of the thing.  The word is understood to be unimportant; HOWEVER, note that the “thing” (not really a thing) actually being referred to here is NOT a personal God like in the Western tradition; I’ll try to discuss what it “is” another time.
***See my other post for some explanation of what this awesome, awesome imagery means.

About puredoxyk

Word addict, kungfu/taiji nut, and life-partner to polyphasic sleep. Rabid fan of as many hobbies as the world will let me pry into its piddly fourth dimension (it helps to have knocked out the wall).
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3 Responses to A snippet of prayer

  1. Sabbath says:

    If Tao can’t do it, may I suggest “Logos” for the Western Mind?

    I can’t believe a Johnny spent a year learning something without the original language!

  2. puredoxyk says:

    I hear you. To answer, though:
    a) I don’t know the Chinese, and so have to go on my Sifu’s translation.
    b) The actual term would be “Tao” probably, which basically means “that thing that you can’t put into words without really screwing it up”: Because of this, the word used really ISN’T that important, and is probably different in many interpretations. I plan on writing other posts on this part of the topic, but it really wouldn’t fit here.
    c) While most people might interpret “God” as a personal being, it’s also the closest the (strictly) Western mind is going to get to what’s being referred to here. I’ll just have to take a shot at explaining the non-personal-beingness of it later.

    However, I did add a disclaimer to this effect, on your recommendation; thanks for pointing that out. I’m definitely a philosopher and not a theologian. ;)

  3. Sabbath says:

    We don’t translate terms which have no English equivalent, we just transliterate them. The problem is that any word other than the term we want will have implications we don’t mean, and we have a lot of words like that. Instead of “God”, transliterate the term and then in footnotes explain what you mean. Misleading translations will only be an obstacle to comprehension later. That word is the most crucial in the whole meditation, and you are using a word most English readers will interpret as a personal being?

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