Chinese characters Dharma

Flower of Wave, Flower of Dream

Brainstorms in our TTIP classes have been fun. Some topics that we have been discussing are that how to keep balance between “loyalty” to the original texts with the “accessibility” to the contemporary and future readers? How to play with the phenomena of language to convey something beyond language? How to use “finger” to point at the “moon”?

This time, I don’t want to talk about dry reasoning though. As someone addicted to fun and romance, I want to talk about something that is more simple and sentimental. So now, I invite you to lay back, get cozy, and enjoy one mental image together with me— An image of foams :

波の花と雪もや水の返り花 (1669)
nami no hana to/yuki mo ya mizu no/kaeribana

This simple Haiku about foam (or foams) written by Matsuo Bashō, is one of the greatest Haiku in my opinion. A Japanese artist patiently explained its grammar to me. One way for the semantic translations could be:

Flowers of waves and/ oh snow also, water’s/ returning blossoms

Either in Chinese or Japanese, the term for foams literally means “the flower of wave”(Ch: 浪花, lang hua;Ja: 波の花, nami no hana). Traditionally, flower sometimes used as metaphorical image conveys different sensations, such as beauty, fragility, purity, and also impermanence, etc.

Once, I randomly saw this Haiku, when I was contemplating on the nature of human relationships. I got deeply inspired and almost shocked by this Haiku. Since I didn’t know Japanese, what I had read was actually its Chinese translation:


The flowers of waves bloom——
Again, snow returns to water.
Bloom again?

When I read it, due to my own karma, I project it as something contains almost all the dharma teachings and some pith instructions that I have received. Such as impermanence, selflessness, the great equality, buddha nature, detachment, the present moment, etc. Conceptually I don’t want to make it too complex. At that moment, what shocked me was not logic, not analysis, but “sensation”. I was feeling it by my heart and by my whole body.

What happened afterwards was that I showed this Haiku to different friends and of course I got different feedbacks: One friend didn’t feel anything; One friend didn’t like the Chinese translation, since technically it is problematic; One friend got shocked after a second thought and used a whole day to contemplate on it. Interestingly, the Japanese artist’s understanding based on Japanese was somehow similar with my understanding based on the Chinese translation.

Like an illusion like a dream. May the flowers of language and flowers of mind lead us to the “moon”.

~ Luoxi Yang

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