Monday, March 24, 2014

What is 三昧境 (삼매경)?

三昧境 (삼매경) literally translates as "the three (三) dawns (昧) state (境) [of body and mind]," but the 三昧 portion is supposedly the Chinese pronunciation for the Sanskrit word "Samadhi," which is a Zen state of mind that is so focused that your body and mind seem to separate from everything else. The 境 is short for 境地 (경지), which means "a state" or "a condition."

I am not into Buddhism or meditation and know very little about the subjects, but I once experienced something that might have been a form of Samadhi.

I was about 28 years old and living in Seoul, Korea. I had just returned from somewhere to my second-floor room in a house I shared with a Korean couple and was lying on my bed, not because I was sleepy but because I was trying to cool off. It was a warm, sunny day, and there was a gentle breeze blowing into my room through my unscreened window, causing the sheer white curtains over my window to silently and gently float up and down above me. Looking up from my bed all I could see out the window was a clear, blue sky. All I could hear was children laughing and playing somewhere in the distance.

I had cooled down and felt extremely relaxed as I watched the white curtains float in the air on the cool breeze above my head and seemed to get more and more relaxed as I lay there and focused on my curtains. My arms were at my sides and my body was perfectly still. My arms and legs seemed heavy, and then I seemed to lose the ability to move them and my head. It was as if I was paralyzed and no longer had any control of my body. Then I started feeling my body slowly being lifted into the air up off my mattress until I seemed to be floating a few inches above my bed. Again, instead of simply floating up into air; my body seemed to have been lifted up into the air. My body still seemed to have weight, but like the curtain, seemed to have been lifted up on a cushion of air.

The feeling was so blissful that I soon started thinking about how I could continue the experience. However, my very thoughts of how to continue the experience seemed to be weighing me down, so I tried to stop thinking and empty my head, again, but the thought of trying to empty my head is itself a thought, so I continued to sink back down into my bed until the bliss I had felt was gone. If only I had stayed focused on the floating curtain in the room, maybe the bliss could have lasted longer.

As far as I know, I did not fall asleep; I did not wake up; I did not dream. I just seemed to fall into a state of relaxation so intense that my body became as light as the white curtain floating above me and my bed. Everything seemed to take place within a five to ten minute period, with the floating lasting about twenty seconds. I think my eyes were closed while I was floating. That was the only time something like that has ever happened to me.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

What does 매치매치바 mean?

매치 매치바 means "Match Match (candy) bar," a Korean candy bar from the 1980s.

I just woke up from a dream about this candy bar, a candy bar I ate almost everyday in Korea in the early '80s. The jingle from the TV and radio commercials will probably be in my head for the rest of my life:  "못생겨도 맛은 좋아 ("Even though its ugly, it tastes good.")

This candy bar reminds me of the song in the post immediately below:

"You ask me if there'll come a time when I grow tired of you. Never, my love; never, my love."

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Why do songs bring back such faint memories?

When and where, I've forgotten, but there was a time and a place.
Who and why, I've forgotten, but there was a sweet embrace.
The face is veiled, the words are lost, only this song remains.
An echo of a lovely, wafting memory is all my heart retains.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What is the difference between 卽 (즉) and 卽經 (즉경)?

卽 (즉) can sometimes mean "then," but it can also have the meaning of 卽時 (즉시), which means "at once" or "immediately." The meaning "immediately" implies present action or present tense, but what if you wanted to use it to describe past action? In such cases you could follow it with the past tense marker 經 to avoid confusion. The past tense would be translated in the verb or verbs that follow.
()()()()()()()(), ()()()()()(), ()()()護.()
In the early part of the Seventh Month (七月初間), the [Yangtze] River (江) water (水) gradually (漸) rose (長). Immediately (卽經) [the authorities] prepared (籌備) provisions (料物) [and] day (晝) and night (夜) kept watch (防護).

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What does 冰山難靠 mean?

冰山難靠 (빙산난고) literally means, "An ice mountain (冰山) is hard (難) to rely on (靠)." Why? Because it does not last; it melts when the weather is hot. It is an old saying (古事成語 - 고사성어) from the Tang Dynasty period (618 - 907 A.D.)

When Yang Guozhong (楊國忠 - 양국충) was Head of the Legislative Bureau (右相 - 우상), during the Tang Dynasty, he had so much authority that he was compared to Mount Tai (泰山 - 태산), one of China's "five sacred mountains" (五嶽 - 오악). People hoping to enrich themselves gathered around him, but a man named Zhang Tuan (張彖 - 장단)  was not so easily convinced. The following is a 752 A.D. entry in the "Zizhi Tongjian" (資治通鑑 - 자치통감), which is where the old saying 冰山難靠 supposedly originated.
()()()()()()()()()()()(), "()(), ()()()()()."
Someone (或) advised (勸) a palace graduate from Shan Commandery (陝郡進士) [named] Zhang Tuan (張彖) to visit (謁) Guozhong (國忠), saying (曰), "[If you] meet (見) him (之),  riches (富) and honors (貴) immediately (立) can (可) be obtained (圖)."
()(), "()()()()()()()()(). ()()()()()(). ()()()()(), ()()()()()()()()?"
Tuan (彖) said (曰), "You guys (君輩) rely on (倚) Legislative Head Yang (楊右相) as if (如) [he were] Mount Tai (泰山). I (吾) consider [him] (以為) an ice mountain (冰山) only (耳). If (若) the bright (皎) sun (日) is out (既出), [won't] you guys (君輩) get (得) nothing (無) [and] lose (失) what you rely on (所恃乎)?

進士 - palace graduate; someone who has passed the highest level civil service exam
陝郡 - Shan Commandery
既出 - already (既) came out (出)
The entry was recorded in 752 A.D. - 唐紀 (당기) 玄宗天寶十一年 (현종천보 12년)

What does 代爲 (대위) mean?

This is basically a reposting of a comment I made on a post at 一歸源 (Kuiwon), an excellent blog that deals with classical Chinese writings from the perspective of a Korean-American hobbyist who actually knows quite a bit about classical Chinese.

Anyway, a question was raised about Chinese word order being more similar to English word order than to Korean, which is true, but there is some Chinese word order that is more similar to Korean than to English. Relative clauses is one example.

與我同行之人 (여아동행지인) is a relative clause that means "the people who went with me." In Korean and Chinese the head noun (人 - "people") appears at the end of the clause, but in English it appears at the first of the clause. 與我同行 means "with (與) me (我) together (同) go (行)," and 之 essentially just works as a marker, separating the descriptive part of the clause from the head noun.

In addition to relative clauses, sometimes it is easier to translate Chinese using your Korean mind rather than your English mind. For example, recently I came across the combination 代爲 (대위) while translating some Chinese from the 1800s. The sentence was as follows:

()()()()()()()()()()()()(), ()()()().
Last year (客歲) the American (美國) consul (領事官) asked someone (託人) to act on his behalf (代爲) to buy (買) land (地) to build (蓋起) an official residence (公館).”
At first I had a little trouble making sense of the character 爲 using my English mind, feeling that 爲 was unnecessary, but then I searched through Korea’s “Annals of the Joseon Dynasty” and noticed that 代爲 appeared quite often. Then I started using my Korean mind and suddenly it made perfect sense.

I may be wrong, but now I interpret 代爲 as being the Chinese version of the Korean word 대신하여, 代 representing 대신 and 爲 representing 하여. In English, 代 means "on behalf of" and 爲 means "to do," "to make," or "to act." Anyone who has lived in Korea for any length of time has almost certainly heard 대신하여 or 대신해서 used in conversation. It is usually followed by a verb telling exactly what is being done on behalf of the person in question.

After more than 1500 years of reading and writing Chinese, Koreans have probably adopted many styles and expressions from the Chinese. How do you say, for example, 대신하여 in pure Korean? 사람을 바꿔서? Even though 代爲 is not a combination found in Naver’s Chinese character dictionary, the meaning seems pretty obvious if you use your Korean mind.

Friday, December 20, 2013

What does 自來火 mean?

自來火 (자래화) literally means "self-coming fire," which was once the name for "matches." Also, 自來筆 (자래필) literally means "self-coming brush," which was once the name for a "fountain pen."

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What good is a lot of talk?

Much () Talk () Has No () Value ()

Someone () asked () Mo-tzu (墨子), saying (), “[Do] words (), by means of () quantity (), become () precious (貴乎)?”

Mo-tzu (墨子) said (), “Frogs () day () [and] night () croak (), yet () men () loathe () them (). [But when] the cock (雄鷄) crows once (一鳴), the whole world (天下) vibrates (振動). Speak () at () the proper () time (), and nothing more (而已). What is the benefit of talking a lot (多言何益)?


1.    means “value” or “benefit,” as in the Korean word 이익(利益).

2.    means “to say” or “to speak” and signals that quoted speech follows.

3.    is a question marker, similar to “?.”

4.    雄鷄 means “male () chicken (). The character is the same character found in the Korean chicken dish 삼계탕 (蔘鷄湯).

5.    天下 literally means “under Heaven.”

6.    而已 literally means “and stops.” It is often used at the end of sentences to signal “and that’s all.”

7.    多言何益 literally means “much () talking () what () value ().” The adverb precedes the verb in Chinese, so 多言 means “talk much.”