January 23, 2016

ཆེན།

Recently while in Kathmandu, Chos-kyi-nyi-ma Rin-po-che mentioned to me on several occasions, how impressed he is by the way Tibetan translators translated what are called the “five kinds of meat” (sha lnga) and “five kinds of elixir” (bdud rtsi lnga). The ingenuity here is that these are translated in a such way that the meanings are conveyed through words that do not sound too explicit and vulgar but through words that mean the same thing and yet are elegant and cogent to the educated and the initiated. I could not agree less with him and thus seconded his observation. Although a bit befogged with some cold and cough that the cold winter weather brings along, it occurs to me now that the Tibetan use of the word chen (from chen po) in this and other similar context is a bit remarkable. It is possible that this is obvious to friends and colleagues out there in the world but not for me. For examples, human faeces are called dri chen (lit. perhaps “great smelly one” or “the great smell”) and (primarily) human flesh is called sha chen (“great meat/flesh”). Thus dri chen is not anything that has an intensive smell but is “stool,” sha chen is not any kind of “great meat/flesh” or “meat/flesh of a great being,” but some “extraordinary meat,” e.g. “human flesh.” Similarly thal chen is not any “great ash” but of “ash of a human corpse” (left behind after the cremation). And rin chen is not anything that is expensive but a “precious stone,” mthu chen is not anyone “powerful” but a “black magician,” gos chen is not any “great cloth” but rather “brocade,” and so on. Thus it seems that chen in these words (i.e. x chen) expresses a “special kind of x,” “extraordinary x,” and the like.

2 comments:

  1. I could not agree with him *more*. Not I could not agree with him *less.* I know this is as difficult a concept as Tibetan yan-chad and man-chad. But it makes a big difference in meaning. It sounds like you are as doubtful as you can be about the Rinpoche's idea, and I'm sure nothing could not be further from the truth. (To give another example of this weird syntactical phenomenon for your amusement...) We're having a great time in Ripingi Yul, by the way. Später, D.

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