In The Emptiness of Wang Wei, I transduced Wang’s famous eighth century poem titled, in English, Deer Park , Deer Enclosure or Deer Fence. “Transduction” is my term for a process that reworks a poem’s existing translations (literal or poetic) into a new poem. It seems most often a strategy applied to ancient Chinese poems. Ezra Pound in his Cathy Poems was the first to take this approach. Octavio Paz asserts that despite not knowing any Chinese, Pound created “the modem tradition of classical Chinese poetry in the poetic conscience of the West”. 
In my previous post I said transduction “is an attempt to transform a distant literary energy to a local one”. Now I might compare it to 3-D printing a mask of an ancestor’s face using the DNA from a lock of hair found in a piece of jewelry. Continue reading “Inhabiting Wang Wei”→
While the spring migrating turkey vultures have passed through some time ago, and the fall migrators have yet to arrive, a resident population remains. In this area there are plenty of woods for them to roost in. So, now, in the interregnum, I mainly see them patrolling suburbia far in the sky.
A few years ago, our friends Peter and Valerie bought several undeveloped lots up the street from us. The house they built left plenty of space leftover, now forming a cryptoforest (“the only nature that does not need protecting”) that interrupts the chemically mediated grass gardens surrounding it.
The Szpilman Award is awarded to works that exist only for a moment or a short period of time.
The purpose of the award is to promote such works whose forms consist of ephemeral situations. Szpilman Award
I first became aware of the Szpilman Award a couple of years ago. I found the concept interesting but up until now haven’t been able to organize myself to execute a project for it, and to then submit an application. First prize includes a 10 day trip to Cimochowizna, Poland, a village in a Polish national park.
Saturday, I sent in my application based on my recent Post #74.
The selection of past winners of the Award have shown the jury to be every bit the quirky bunch one might expect in such a project. So any application constitutes an improbability at the outset.
Adding to this for me and my poor damaged brain, making such a trip would entail managing a sensory assault and overload I can barely imagine. It could only result from the realization of a set of cascading improbabilities that in itself would result in an example of the ephemeral sublime.
This element of sublimity is missing from the Szpliman description, yet it is implicit as the defining feature of art that is eligible for the award.
After all, to the extent that anything exists, it exists ephemerally. In past posts, I’ve discussed the Buddhist presentation of Emptiness. The causes and conditions supporting an object or process are all always changing, are ephemeral, as is their result – the object or process.
The view-point and the time scale one uses in considering something determines whether it seems to exist for a long or short time. Seen from the perspective of cosmic time, all of human existence is ephemeral.
The implicit presence of this kind of time scale as backdrop is what makes the “short time” of the ordinary sense of ephemeral mean something worth mentioning at all.
I wonder, for example how much of the experience of the users of ephemeral social media includes some sense of the sublime. Does a cyborg using Snapchat experience a glimpse of cosmic time hitting Send?
Karen recently gave me 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei. This small book is a compilation of 19 translations of Wang Wei’s (7th century Chinese poet) poem, Deer Park, alongside an essay by Eliot Weinberger, and a concluding essay by Octavio Paz. This helped deepen my appreciation for Wang, and motivated me to attempt to transduce the poem myself.
Transduce seems a better word than translation for what I’m doing. It is an attempt to transform a distant literary energy to a local one. It follows in the footsteps of Ezra Pound’s Cathay poems. As Paz points out, referring to a TS Eliot remark, Ezra Pound invented Chinese poetry in English. He did this without in fact knowing any Chinese, but working from, as I am here, literal translations.
Empty hill not see person Yet hear person voice sound Return scene enter deep forest Duplicate light green moss on
Hills are empty, no man is seen, Yet the sound of people’s voices is heard. Light is cast into the deep forest, And shines again on green moss.
The literal translation of the title’s second word is fence or enclosure, which Chinese Poems uses. The title is most often rendered in English as Deer Park. Weinberger says this is probably a reference to the site of Buddha’s enlightenment. Robert Okaji titles his version of the poem Deer Sanctuary, which I think is the best version if one decides the poem is not primarily a Buddhist one.
However, I think it clearly is. As I noted in a previous post, Wang closely associated himself with the Vimalakirti Sutra, which discusses Emptiness with the bodhisattva Manjushri . Wang also studied Buddhism for 10 years with the Chan master Daoguang.
Then we get to the first line. How are we to understand empty? It seems an odd word choice on its own. Do we retain it? Most trans(lators)(ducers) do keep it or render it as some version of lonely, or uninhabited. I have to wonder if Wang meant something like either of those why didn’t he just say so?
This suggests to me that Wang’s emptiness might be just what I mean when discussing Buddhist Emptiness. On the other hand, contemporary use of emptiness for sunyata may just be an artifact of translation choices of early translators of Buddhist texts to English.
Without too much effort I found these passages.
The word kong is among Wang Wei’s favorite descriptive word and frequently occurs in his nature poems. It is also the standard Chinese translation for one of the key concepts of Mahayana Buddhism -” emptiness” (Skt. sunyata).
What is an empty mountain? Clearly it is not barren as we are informed there is a “deep forest” there. Kong is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit term sunyata. Primarily the term is a negation – a denial that phenomenon have self existence – that is permanence independent of causes and conditions.
So in my transduction, I sought to covey a sense of this Buddhist Emptiness in the first line. To do so in the economical style of the poem is quite a challenge. I don’t think I quite succeeded but it’s a start.
The other part of the poem that trans(lators)(ducers) have difficultly with is the last line. Weinberger’s literal translation provides more nuance than the Chinese Poetry’s bare bones approach.
To return/Again to shine/to reflect green/blue/black moss/lichen above/on (top of)/top
As I see the scene, sunlight re-illuminates the forest floor generally, and the moss specifically, which reflects in a figurative sense the brightly lit forest canopy above. I have not encountered quite this interpretation of the last line in my reading so far.
I plan to keep at this. I’m take the following as my first version, the start of a path, a variation on my ongoing practice of Emptiness Yoga.
Contingent mountain, unseen people, Voices like an echo. Again sun lights the forest floor, The green moss, the canopy above.
Yesterday, I got a “like” from the poet Robert Okaji for my post Cyborg Sky Burial. Taking the link back to him, I found a blog including both his poems and his discussion of his sources and process. In his post Spring Night (After Wang Wei) he describes some of what he considered going from a transliteration of Wang Wei’s poem to his own version.
Person idle osmanthus flower fall
Night quiet spring hill empty
Moon out startle hill birds
Constant call spring ravine in
Mr Okaji lives in Texas, and a species of osmanthus, the devilwood, grows there. So in his version he specifies that. Here’s his version:
Spring Night (after Wang Wei)
Among falling devilwood blossoms, I lie
on an empty hill this calm spring night.
The moon lunges above the hill, scaring the birds,
but they’re never quiet in this spring canyon.
I found this all very interesting and offered a tweak to his version. This prompted me to try my own hand at the exercise. Not knowing anything about Wang Wei, I first looked him up on Wikipedia.
Wang Wei is especially known as a poet and painter of nature. Of his poems some four hundred survive: these were first collected and originally edited into a corpus by his next-youngest brother, Wang Jin, by imperial command. Of his paintings, no authenticated specimens survive, although there is evidence of his work through influences on later paintings and descriptive accounts of his paintings.
So the painting featured in this post is not one by Wang Wei, but by Wang Shimin titled After Wang Wei’s Snow Over Rivers and Mountains.
I also read in the article that Wang chose his courtesy name as a reference to Vimalakirti of the eponymous Vimalakirti Sutra, who discusses Emptiness with the bodhisattva Manjushri in the presence of numerous arhats and bodhisattvas. The article states this discussion “then culminates with the wordless teaching of silence”.
This seemed apt in terms of my posts about Emptiness (Sunyata). So in my version I try to reflect this.
Here in upstate NY no osmanthi grow but the lilac does. It’s in the same family (Oleaceae ie olive family) and like osmanthus, is known for its strong fragrance. So in my version osmanthus/devilwood becomes lilac.
Another issue Mr Okaji identifies is whether to use the collective “birds” or specify a kind of bird. As I noted to him, I generally prefer the specific, but the poem is so tight that the sound of the bird’s name becomes important, and possibly distracting.
All of this reminded me of a poem I previously posted.
Mind Only Poem #1
anesthetized tree raucous pilgrim birds naked dawning sky
So this is my version:
Spring Night (after Wang Wei, After Robert Okaji)
Who sits among the falling lilacs? Night. No one on this springtime hill. The moon all-at-once agitates the crows. In springtime they never stop cawing in the ravine.
Code has provided the informational matrix for space in my recent code/space posts. While I still have a lot of ground to cover there, I thought it would be interesting to approach the question of space from the matrix of a Buddha.
In Buddhist literature, the Matrix-Of-The-One-Gone-Thus is frequently intertwined with space. I touched on this in a previous post discussing Buddhist space. As with just about everything, different flavors of Buddhism treat space in somewhat different ways. As I have in my previous Buddhist posts, I will be mainly talking about the Gelugpa school’s interpretation.
The Verse Summary of the Perfection of Wisdom is one of the oldest of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras. In this passage, one who has in effect, directly perceived Emptiness, sees the dharma (in this context, sees the way things are) as if she were seeing space itself.
The One-Gone-Thus teaches that one who does not see forms,
Does not see feelings, does not see discriminations,
Does not see intentions, does not see
Consciousness, mind, or sentience sees the dharma.
Analyze how space is seen as in the expression
By sentient beings in words, “Space is seen.”
The One-Gone-Thus teaches that seeing the dharma is also like that.
The seeing cannot be expressed by another example.
Verse Summary of the Perfection of Wisdom translated by Jeffrey Hopkins in Final Exposition of Wisdom works by Tsong-Ka-Pa edited and translated by Hopkins
Emptiness is a non-affirming negation. It establishes the inherently existing self as the object to be negated, but does not explicitly affirm anything in its place.
This approach negates inherent existence without inadvertently positing some kind of essential entity, or ground of existence. Extending this, space then becomes a metaphor for the Mind perceiving Emptiness. In Emptiness Yoga, Jeffrey Hopkins writes “space [is] the non-affirming negative that is the mere elimination of any obstructive tangibility”. (371)
Common usage certainly includes this alternate sense of “space”. We could reformulate “I need my space” as “I am experiencing you as an obstruction to my optimal functioning. Get lost.” Buddha/space takes this non-obstructiveness as the defining characteristic of space, not as an intellectual exercise, but rather as the felt experience of the way things are.
If the mind that has voidness as its object thinks intellectually, “This is ‘noninherent existence.’ I have found ‘noninherent existence.’ This absence that is the nullification of what is to be refuted is ‘voidness,’” this is referred to as “setting voidness out at a distance.” This will not do. The mind that has voidness properly as its object is a decisive piercing of the mere nullification itself. In other words, with the understanding, from the depths of our heart, that things do not exist at all like they appeared a while back, the mind taking voidness as its object completely pierces the sphere of this mere nullification like a spear piercing a target. A mind that does that is totally absorbed on voidness which is like space.
H. H. the Dalai Lama and Berzin, Alexander. The Gelug/Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra. Online excerpt.
This lack of obstacles, space, becomes a metaphor for the spacious awareness that encounters no obstacles in its efforts to bring all sentient beings to enlightenment which is itself, spacious awareness.