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.

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