Enlightenment in Chinese

There is a form of understanding that is gained via an awakening to a truth. In Chinese, it is called (wù). Notice the “heart” radical on the left side and the (wú formal word for I or we) character on the right side? (wù) involves a direct perception of truth by the mind. A person endowed with a higher intelligence or power of understanding, 悟性 (wùxìng), is believed to be more capable of perceiving the truth.and attaining enlightenment.

领悟 (lǐngwù) is to truly comprehend or grasp a profound principle or concept.

觉悟 (juéwù) means to come to realize the truth, or to wake up to reality, such as that involving one’s past misconception, mistakes or bad behavior. 悔悟 (huǐwù) is to repent.

The expression 执迷不悟 (zhímíbùwù) describes people who stubbornly stick to their bad ways or a wrong cause and refuse to come to their senses.

In life we experience joys and sorrows: 喜怒哀怨 (xǐ nù āi yuàn), 酸甜苦辣 (suāntiánkǔlà) and 悲欢离合 (bēihuānlíhé). Some of us may take things too hard and feel depressed. This is called 想不开 (xiǎngbukāi to take a matter to heart).

唉, 他就是想不开.
Ài, tā jiùshì xiǎngbukāi.
(sigh) He simply can’t get over it.

The Buddhist philosophy teaches people to take life as it is and not get too attached to anything. Just like the various wavelengths in the visible spectrum combine to produce “transparent” light, so all of life’s vicissitudes blend into one vast “nothingness”, or (kōng empty, emptiness). Only when one comes upon this realization can one hope to go through life’s journey in peace and with equanimity.

Many people believe it is possible to achieve (wù) through assiduous reading, studying and contemplating of the Buddhist canons. Zen Buddhism, on the other hand, emphasizes seeing directly into one’s mind. The belief is that the ultimate truth resides in each and everyone’s mind. When one continues to search in one’s mind through deep meditation, at the right moment one may experience what’s called 顿悟 (dùn wù sudden enlightenment). Such a revelation could also be triggered by an external event or incited by a capable Zen teacher. Click on this link, “An Introduction to Zen Buddhism”, if you are interested in learning a bit about the Zen school of thought.

The Chinese word for Zen is (chán). Please don’t confuse it with (chán cicadas), which is pronounced the same way and looks quite similar. As an exercise, find out what other words have the same pronunciation as (chán Zen).

What we want to look at today are a couple interesting verses associated with a well known legend about the Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism. When the Fifth Patriarch was looking for a successor, he asked his disciples to write a few lines to show their understanding of Buddhism. His top disciple wrote the following lines on the south wall of the temple:

身是菩提树, 心如明镜台.
Shēn shì pútíshù, xīn rú míngjìng tái.
The body is a Bodhi tree; the mind is like a mirror stand.

时时勤拂拭, 勿使惹尘埃.
Shíshí qín fúshì, wù shǐ rě chénāi.
Through diligent polishing let no dust upon the mirror land.

The Fifth Patriarch approved of the verses, but felt they lacked the spirit he was looking for. Nevertheless, he instructed the other disciples to study this practical advice to improve themselves. An illiterate monk, named 惠能 (Huìnéng), who was assigned to do odd jobs around the place heard the other monks recite the poem. He asked a fellow monk to write for him the following lines on the west wall of the temple:

菩提本无树, 明镜亦非台.
Pútí běn wú shù, míngjìng yì fēi tái.
Bodhi is not a tree, and the Mirror is not a stand.

本来无一物, 何处惹尘埃.
Běnlái wú yī wù, héchù rě chénāi.
There are no objects after all; where is the dust to land?

What happened next is a long story, but, to put it in a nut shell, 惠能 (Huìnéng) became the Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism.

菩提 (pútí), the Bodhi tree, is the symbol of enlightenment because it was under such a tree that Buddha himself received enlightenment through meditation. 惠能 (Huìnéng) pointed out that the focus should not be on the tree but rather what it represents.

明镜 (míngjìng) is a bright mirror. It represents one’s mind. Again, 惠能 (Huìnéng) drew the attention to the mind rather than the physical object. (tái) is a stand, a table or a platform.

时时 (shíshí) means frequently or constantly.
(qín) means diligently.
拂拭 (fúshì) is to wipe off.
(rě) is to cause something undesirable to happen, or to attract unwanted attention.
尘埃 (chénāi) means dust.
本来 (běnlái) means originally or the way things actually are.
(wù) is a general term for things and substances.
何处 (héchù) means what place, i.e. where.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could acquire the Chinese language through meditation, or if someone could just beam it into your mind? Current technology does not permit this to happen. However, if you take a moment from time to time to reflect upon what you have already learned, some of the material may suddenly start to make more sense. Also, it helps to turn yourself into an active learner as described in this article.

During this holiday season, let’s be thankful for our wonderful family, friends and neighbors, as well as for all the problems that we could have but don’t.

Gǎnēn jié kuàilè!
Happy Thanksgiving!

How to say “I understand” in Chinese

The highest reward for an instructor is to have helped a student thoroughly understand the material conveyed. There are a number of ways to acknowledge that you have understood a statement or a subject matter. Study the following sentences to get a feel of the different shades of meaning in the various expressions.

(dǒng) means to understand, to have knowledge about a subject, or to know how to do something.

Nǐ dǒng zhōngwén ma?
Do you know the Chinese language?

Wǒ dǒng zhōngwén.
I know Chinese.

Nǐ dǒng ma?
Do you understand?

Wǒ dǒng.
I understand.

Nǐ tīng de dǒng ma?
Are you able to understand what is being said?

Wǒ tīng de dǒng.
I am able to understand what is being said.

Nǐ dǒng le ma?
Did you get it?

Wǒ dǒng le.
I got it.

The last sentence above indicates a state of completion. Please review the verb tenses in Chapter 15 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“.

了解 (liǎojiě) means to understand or to comprehend completely.

Tā zuì liǎojiě wǒ.
He understands me the best.

理解 (lǐjiě) means to understand the sense or logic of something. 不能理解 (bùnéng lǐjiě) means unable to make sense of.

Wǒ bùnéng lǐjiě tā de zuòwéi.
I cannot understand his conduct.

明白 (míngbai) as an adjective means clear, plain or obvious. As a verb, it means to understand, to know or to realize.

Xiànzài wǒ wánquán míngbai le.
Now I totally understand.

清楚 (qīngchǔ) means distinct, clear or obvious. As a verb, it means to understand clearly. 弄清楚 (nòng qīngchǔ) or 搞清楚 (gǎo qīngchǔ) is to find out more about something to figure it out.

Wǒ gǎo bù qīngchǔ tā de yìsī.
I can’t figure out what he means.

知道 (zhīdào) and 晓得 (xiǎodé) both mean to know, to understand, to realize, or to be aware of something.

Nǐ zhīdào wǒ de yìsī ba?
You know what I mean, don’t you?

你知道吗? (Nǐ zhīdào ma?) could also be used to start an informal conversation – “You know? Blah, blah, blah.”

Elementary school teachers habitually follow their instructions with 知道吗? (Zhīdào ma? Understand?) and 晓得吧? (Xiǎodé ba? Understand?) We had a family friend who used to be a teacher. He would punctuate every remark with his pet phrase 晓得吧? (Xiǎodé ba?). This made him sound quite presumptuous.

领会 (lǐnghuì) is to understand or grasp the meaning of something.

会意 (huìyì) means to perceive someone’s unspoken thoughts or meaning. 会心 (huìxīn knowing, knowingly) is normally used as an adjective or an adverb.

Tā gěi le wǒ yī gè huìxīn de wēixiào.
She gave me a knowing smile.

Communication in Chinese

A couple weeks ago, while talking about “条条大路通罗马. (Tiáo tiáo dàlù tōng Luómǎ.)”, I left out the definition of (tōng) on purpose.

Deer Crossing

Deer Crossing

For one, I expected the serious students to look this word up themselves. Secondly, I wanted to devote an entire lesson to this versatile word later; and this seems a good time, while the saying is still fresh in your mind.

(tōng), featuring the “walk” radical, means unobstructed and permitting free flow of substances, vehicles, ideas and messages through a passageway or a channel. As many different things could move from one place to another, this character appears in a large number of words and expressions related to transportation, connections, communication, understanding, knowledge, logic or sharing and commonality.

交通 (jiāotōng) means traffic or communications. 通车 (tōngchē) means to be open to traffic. When traffic is unobstructed and flows smoothly, you might describe it as 通畅 (tōngchàng).

通道 (tōngdào) is a passageway. 穿越道 (chuānyuè dào) is a crossing.

通过 (tōngguò) can mean passing through, passing an inspection or test, or “by means of”.

通行 (tōngxíng) is a transit. 通行证 (tōngxíngzhèng) is a pass or a transit permit. As we shall see below, (tōng) also means generally applicable. Therefore, 通行 (tōngxíng) is also used to describe something that is current or prevalent.

通气 (tōngqì) means permitting air to pass through, or to ventilate. A ventilator is called 通风机 (tōngfēngjī). Here the (jī) is a machine, not a chicken.

When thoughts and ideas are transmitted from one person to another, we call it communication, or 沟通 (gōutōng communication, to communicate with). 通电话 (tōngdiànhuà) is to talk on the phone. 通信 (tōngxìn correspondence) is to communicate by letter. 通讯 (tōngxùn) means communication, correspondence or newsletters.

她只会泰语. 我们无法沟通.
Tā zhǐ huì tàiyǔ. Wǒmén wúfǎ gōutōng.
She only speaks Thai. We are unable to communicate with each other.

开通 (kāitong) means liberal or open-minded. Such people are less likely to be opposed to marriage between people of different ethnicities, religions, etc.. 通婚 (tōnghūn) is to intermarry.

通天 (tōngtiān) means reaching the sky, and therefore exceedingly high or great.

(tōng) also means common or generally applicable. 通用 (tōngyòng) means to be in common use, prevalent, general or interchangeable.

通告 (tōnggào) is a public notice or announcement. This word can also be used as a verb referring to the action of giving a public notice or distributing a circular.

Kāihuì de tōnggào yǐjīng fāchū le.
The notice for the meeting has already been issued.

通称 (tōngchēng) is a general term, or the name by which something is generally known.

通才 (tōngcái) refers to a versatile or multi-talented person. A Jack of all trades might be called 万事通 (wànshìtōng a know-all).

通通 (tōngtōng) means all, totally or completely. It is used in the same way as 统统 (tǒngtǒng).

Wǒ yǐqián xué de zhōngwén yǐjīng tǒngtǒng wàngdiào le.
I’ve already forgotten all the Chinese I have learned before. (Alas!)

通常 (tōngcháng) means generally, normally or usually.

Tā tōngcháng qī diǎn qǐchuáng.
He usually gets up at seven o’clock.

普通 (pǔtōng) means common, ordinary or average. When someone asks you how you’ve been doing lately, and you have nothing exciting to share, you might respond with 还好 (háihǎo not bad), 普通 (pǔtōng so-so) or 马马虎虎 (mǎmǎhūhū so-so).

In China, Mandarin is referred to as 普通话 (pǔtōnghuà), or common speech of the Chinese language. In Taiwan, Mandarin is referred to as 国语 (guóyǔ), or national language.

You could have guessed that 不通 (bùtōng) means to be obstructed or impassable. Such blockage could also occur in one’s reasoning. Therefore, this word also means illogical or grammatically incorrect.

行不通. (xíngbùtōng) translates to “This won’t do.”

Now you’ll know that you have reached a dead end when you see the sign: 此路不通 (cǐlùbùtōng This road is blocked. No through traffic.)

Anxiety and Worries in Chinese

You’re late for a meeting, yet the traffic happens to be congested. You feel anxious, or 着急 (zháojí) and impatient, 不耐烦 (bùnàifán), but there’s not much you can do about it. Next time, start out earlier.

(jí), featuring a heart radical at the bottom, means fast, rapid or urgent. When describing a person, it means impatient, hot-headed, anxious, eager, or worried.

别着急, 我们一会儿就到了.
Bié zháojí. Wǒmén yīhuìr jiù dào le.
Don’t worry. We will get there in a moment.

(jiāo), with a fire radical at the bottom, means burnt or scorched. Therefore, when one is extremely anxious, the descriptive word to use is 焦急 (jiāojí). 焦躁 (jiāozào) describes someone who is restless and impatient with anxiety.

An urgent matter is called 急事 (jí shì). 急件 (jíjiàn) is an urgent dispatch or a document that requires immediate attention.

急救 (jíjiù) means first aid. 急诊 (jízhěn) means immediate care or emergency treatment. 挂号 (guàhào) is to register at an office (such as a hospital or a motor vehicle division). It also means to send something by registered mail.

Wǒ yào guà jízhěn.
I need to register for immediate care.

Tā shōudào yī fēng guàhào xìn.
She received a registered letter.

(lǜ), as a verb, means to consider, to ponder or to think over. As an adjective, it means feeling anxious or worried, as in 忧虑 (yōulǜ concerned). 焦虑 (jiāolǜ) is to feel utterly anxious and worried.

烦恼 (fánnǎo) means worries or troubles. It can also be used as an adjective that means being vexed or worried. 苦恼 (kǔnǎo) has pretty much the same meaning.

Zhè jiàn shì ling wǒ fēicháng fánnǎo.
This matter troubles me very much.

(dān) is to carry on a pole over the shoulder. (dàn), in the fourth tone, refers to the load carried. 担担面 (dàndànmiàn) is a spicy noodle snack dish that originated in the Sichuan Province of China. It used to be sold by peddlers who walked the streets carrying baskets suspended from a pole they balanced on their shoulders.

(dān) also means to take on a burden. Therefore, 担心 (dānxīn) is to worry about something that weighs on your heart. 担忧 (dānyōu) also means to feel worried.

Zuóyè wǒ dānxīn de shuì bù zháo.
Last night I was so worried that I could not sleep.

睡着 (shuì zháo) means to fall asleep.

Zěnyàng nénggòu wúyōuwúlǜ?
How to achieve equanimity and be carefree?

Sing “Worried Man Blues” featured in Chapter 25 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes”.

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