Thursday, April 15, 2010

Translated and Interpreted

The Simple Mind is away from the computer

To the engaged student, it may be noted that when any given text originates in a language not one's own, a translation will then necessarily be read. The student who inquires in-depth will, at some point, likely come to find that there are several translations of many important texts; sometimes there are hundreds. Which one to read, which one to choose?

If you speak the language in question, then read any which suits you; for most of us who speak one or perhaps two languages, this is a challenge at times. For Americans this language challenge presents a special difficulty. The majority of Americans are not fluent in any other language beyond English.
Ancient texts are written in Chinese, Sanskrit, Persian, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Pali to name several. Choosing the text to be studied is reliant on the skill and sensitivity of the translator. Some would choose on-line translations today; many do not suffice. They are not fine or nuanced enough, reflecting the degree of skill of the translator.

Others may learn a bit about the education and background of a translator before spending time and effort with that particular translation. And others will require that study materials be directly translated from the original language text, rather than an English translation which for example, was first translated into German as so many East Asian texts have been. Christian materials not derived from the original Greek and Latin manuscripts have long contained discrepancies one translation to another. Those not competent in Sanskrit may find Buddhist and Hindu texts can be accessed only from translations.

As the Simple Mind is like so many others, linguistically limited, there are reliable ways to choose texts for study. Study up on the author, editor, translator and the publisher of such texts before choosing. Read the introduction and forward or translator's notes in any given volume first of all.

The well known text, Tao Te Ching, has been translated many times into many languages; the text itself is ancient, more than a thousand years and more than one author is responsible for the original. Consider two such translations here:

Tao Te Ching Chapter 2, translated by Stephen A. Mitchell:

People see some things as beautiful,
other things ugly.
People see some things as good;
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

Therefore the Master 
acts without doing anything
teaches without saying anything.
Things arise. Let them come;
things disappear. Let them go.
Have but not possess;
act but not expect.
When work is done, forget it; 
that is why it lasts forever.

Another translation of Tao Te Ching Chapter 2 by the linguists Man-Ho Kwok,  Martin Palmer and Jay Ramsay:

Beauty and mercy are only recognized by people
Because they know the opposite, which is ugly and mean.

If the people think they know goodness
Then all they really know is what evil is like!

Nothing, and Heaven
                                     share the same root--
Difficulty and ease are a part of all work.

The long and short are in your hands,
Above and below exist because they each do,
What you want and what you say should be the same...
Neither furture nor past can exist alone.

The sage has no attachment to anything,
and he therefore does what is right without speaking
simply by being
                          in the Tao.
Life, all life
                      began without words.
Life is made -- and no one owns it.

The Tao is neither selfish nor proud.

The Tao is generous and graceful in what it does
Without ever claiming any merit

And the sage's greatness lies
in taking no credit.

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