Did you know the word "spirit" means "breath"?

Translation work

Most “holy books” were handed down orally through the ages and were only captured in writing many years after they began. If you ever played the game of “gossip” when you were a child, then you know that by the time a message gets back to the person who began the game, the final version can be radically, even laughably different from the original.

Holy books which were written in an ancient language, copied by scribes over and over again, translated into different languages and edited by many hands until often the end result is almost unrecognizable from the original.

Copying is tedious work. Even one tiny letter in error can make a significant difference in the meaning, as in this story (thanks to Prem Rawat):

A young monk arrives in a monastery where he is put to work as a copyist.

After a few days, he notices that the monks making copies of the scriptures are all working from copies — not the original. This alarms the young monk because he thinks of how easy it would be for mistakes to be repeated. And so he goes to the head monk and expresses his concerns.

“Yes, brother,” replies the head monk, “you have a valid point. But this is the way we’ve always done it. Still, I better check to make sure there are no errors.”

So off he goes to the cellar where he spends the entire night carefully consulting the original scriptures. In the morning all of the brothers go down to the cellar and find the head monk crying.

“What’s the matter?” they ask.

Between the loudest of sobs, he groans: “The word is celebrate!”

Copying, translation and interpretation are all difficult work, especially when people assigned with the tasks are not fully acquainted with the deeper meaning of the subject at hand.  Idioms, metaphors, parables and similes from add layers of verbal confusion when the books are adopted in foreign lands with different languages and cultures.

Scriptures can’t help but be colored by the prevailing religious, political and social climates.  Words can be defined and redefined in any number of ways to distort the message.  A new group conquers a tribe and they can edit the original work to make it serve their own purposes.

Due to the inherent limitations of words, languages, unquestioned religious assumptions, lack of direct experience of the divine, and so forth, misunderstandings abound even among well-intentioned editors, academicians, commentators and scholars.

A lot can be lost. Clarity is easily lost when the subject matter is so ephemeral. A lot can be added. Superstitions arise.

So when reading scriptures, remember that words are not real — they are only symbols of symbols — but they point at Reality. Appreciate signs, for they point the way, but don’t stop for good under the STOP sign — don’t stop for good until you arrive at the divine destination.

Please share...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someonePrint this page

Posted: July 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Language, Scriptures | No Comments »

Leave a Reply