Please Translate

I have absolutely no talent for languages; achieving my current poor level of Japanese took me ten years of hard work, and I still cannot even read a newspaper. So the good news is that it is possible for everyone to learn one’s teacher’s language to a certain basic extend, and very likely in a much shorter time!

For a student in Zen and Martial Arts, speaking, hearing and especially reading are not so important,  first comes carefully observing your teacher and seniors, trying to understand and imitate what they do and why. Said that, I always thought it is a bit impolite and showing a certain ignorance towards what your teacher might have to tell you, if you do not even try to learn communicating in a language he or she feels comfortable with. If after years of being a Japanese teacher’s favourite student, all you can say his “Hai Roshi, hai …” and “Ossu”, I imagine this uses up a big deal of his infinite generosity and tolerance. And it makes you dependent on the clumsy translations performed by people like me …

This morning after the Sutra Chanting, our Dojo was full with guests, the Roshi gave a long explanation about the background of the breathing exercise he created and just performed with us, the underlying principles and the importance of developing a strong Hara. He talked once more about the unity of human beings and nature, and how important it is to have heart and body act together for being free, for which Zen provides a good background. Also he mentioned that his new temple has beams and doors higher than 1,80, extra for us Westerners … and in the middle of explaining all this, he turned towards me and said “please translate”.  That was a pretty good wakeup-call!

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