< Back to Question and Answer
When the Zen tradition was carried over to Japan the Chinese koan Wu was translated into the Japanese Mu. Why is the Japanese word Mu not translated into English now that the teaching goes to the West?
March 16, 2013, 9:21 am
The difference between WU and MU lies in how it is being pronounced, it is not a translation. If you were thinking about the English word "Nothing" that would be a translation. When we try to translate words of deep cultural meaning, easily misunderstandings get included. If you simply translate a word without having the experience of that word, then easily it creates confusion. Why is the Heart Sutra for example translated in different languages? It was translated by someone who had the experience and understanding of the words, yet that personl view is still included. When sutras were brought from India to China, there was "Kumaraju" and "Genjo Sanzo" as important translators, they were working for the country, supported by 1000 scholars to help translate the sutras. There is the need to carefully look at all aspects, the deeper meaning of words, how they connect to each other, pronounciation, rythm, grammar, and the overall flow, reflecting on the original meaning and considering the background and culture of the new language. It took a long time for translating the sutras, yet is was done with responsibility and the wish for liberation of all beaings. Looking at this also nowadays, we cannot take translations lightly, using our deep experience, not getting moved around by intelctual understanding.