October 28, 1973 | Sunday noon

On the Translation of Terms

Ven. Master Hsuan Hua  



Master: Would any of you like to comment on the meaning of any of the four passages of sutra text that were lectured today about the four space-ruling spirits? If so, bring up your opinions quickly for us to investigate together.

Bhikshuni Heng Yin [Editor’s note: Guo Yi’s ordained name]:  As to the translation of Â÷»安住(li zhang an zhu), 安住 (an zhu) consists of two characters, the first of which is the same character as in 平安 (ping an) which means “peaceful.” The second character is (zhu) which means dwelling, as in “without dwelling anywhere.” Is the combined meaning then “peacefully dwelling,” or do the two characters form a compound with the single meaning of being somewhere. My question is, when we translate the two characters into English, do we have to use the two words “peacefully” and “dwelling,” or does安住 (an zhu) just have a single meaning?

Master: What single meaning? How would it be translated?

Bhikshuni Heng Yin: We could say “established,” which has the meaning of residing in a location without moving. What I don’t quite understand is whether the two characters form a single meaning unit, or whether the meaning of each individual character is intended.

Master: Ask our American sage. How about this? Who is the sage? Sage, speak up. You’re not talking? Then the left-over person [Editor’s note: “leftover” sounds the same as “Sage” in Chinese] should talk. Who’s the left-over person?

Bhikshuni Heng Hsien [Editor’s note: Guo Pu’s ordained name]: Master, sometimes a peaceful dwelling could be translated as aranya. Sometimes there are two...

Master: Aranya? An aranya is a still and quiet place.

Bhikshuni Heng Yin: It’s because sometimes安住an zhu occurs in安住道場 (an zhu dao chang), and to say “peacefully dwelling” for that didn’t sound very smooth in English.

Master: Oh. Then what should it be?

Bhikshuni Heng Yin: Maybe we could say “established.”

Master: Established? What does “established” mean?

Bhikshuni Heng Yin: It means being stationed in one place without moving.

Bhikshu Heng Jing: Master, I think I also asked this question before. If the character (an) in a certain passage of text is conveying the meaning of平安 (ping an), then (an) should be translated “peacefully.” However, when, as in this passage, the meaning of peace is not prominent, her idea is that it’s possible to use a translation like “established” or “dwelling.” But she’s right. If those two characters are translated as those two words in English, it doesn’t sound very good. Also, the meaning of “peaceful” may not be present in all cases.

Master: Here it means not moving.

Bhikshu Heng Jing: Yes.

Master: It’s related to the words “apart from obstacles.” If one has obstacles, one cannot be unmoving, and one won’t be able to 安住an zhu “dwell securely.” Without obstacles one can 安住an zhu “securely dwell.” 安住an zhu in this context means not moving. Not moving means stillness, and so it could refer to being still and quiet. Just now Guo Pu brought up aranya, a still and quiet place. One could also say it is samÁdhi, to be in concentration. All those meanings are possibilities. However, when translating into English if you insist on the words “peacefully dwelling,” it’s true that the meaning is not completely conveyed, and that isn’t the best way to say it. What was the translation you suggested for this context?

Bhikshu Heng Jing: Established.

Master: “Established” is one word, right?

Bhikshu Heng Jing: Yes, it’s one word.

Master: And it isn’t the meaning an, but just the meaning of zhu?

Bhikshu Heng Jing: The main meaning of “established” is that of being set up.

Master: Does it have the meaning of an?

Bhikshu Heng Jing: Not really. But I remember that there is a word which has that meaning. In Sanskrit there is such a word. I don’t remember the Sanskrit, but the translation is “settled in,” the way a bird settles into its nest and doesn’t move. That term occurs in the Great PrajñÁ Sutra. The word has the meaning of being settled somewhere in a secured manner.

Master: I don’t think you have to translate “peaceful” in this context.You need to investigate what the context here requires, and then you can reach a decision.


Timely Teachings, pages 331 - 333.