Lost in Translation (part 1)

One of the biggest problems when translating religious texts is that often there is no word in the new language that accurately expresses the meaning of the original. Differences in the cultures, religious concepts and language structure lead to translations that are “close enough.” Such has been the case with Buddhism. This has led to a profound misunderstanding of certain Buddhist concepts by many in the English-speaking world. My hope is that I will be able to clear up some of these misconceptions.

BUDDHA. This word simply means, “awakened one.” When one refers to “the Buddha,” this is the historical buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, also known as Gautama Buddha. He was a person who lived and died. He was neither a god nor a prophet. There were many buddhas before him. His significance comes from his decision to share the truth he realized. For the forty-five years after his enlightenment he, and those who became his followers, traveled throughout India speaking to all who wished to hear the teachings. The way of life he taught became known as Buddhism. Buddhists honor and express their gratitude to the Buddha. They neither pray to nor worship the Buddha. He died twenty-five hundred years ago. What remains are the teachings.

ENLIGHTENMENT. Upon his awakening, the Buddha attained enlightenment. The common misconception is that this means he became a perfect being, content, without a care in the world. In reality, the Buddha’s enlightenment was a deep understanding of his ignorance. All the suffering, or dukkha, in his life came from his ego driven perception of the world. During the six years prior to his awakening, he had practiced various forms of deep meditation and self-deprivation in an attempt to rid himself of his worldly desires. Having failed miserably, he decided to abandon these practices and sit in meditation until he either perished or discovered that which he sought. Looking deep into himself, his greed, lust and anger exposed themselves. Thus confronted, he realized that all his actions up to this point had been self-centered, and therefore could never lead to the true peace he sought. His life of ego driven actions ended. He became a buddha, one who sees the world as it truly is.

NIRVANA. This is one of the most misunderstood Buddhist concepts. The word nirvana comes from the Pali word “nibbana,” to extinguish or blot out. In Buddhism, this is an extinguishing, or blotting out, of our anger, greed and ignorance. These are the causes of our suffering. Until extinguished, they will be the cause of all our suffering. The catch is that as humans, we will always be subject to these defilements. Only at the moment of our death, having lived our lives fully, are these defilements extinguished and we attain nirvana.

Next month, I will try to explain a few more Buddhist concepts. A happy, and healthy, New Year to all.

For information about Zen meditation in Kenosha, contact me at BASEWI@aol.com.