Ten More Great Buddhist Proverbs by Lafcadio Hearn

Recently, I posted a list of Buddhist proverbs I liked as compiled by famous Greco-Irish author and Japanophile, Lafcadio Hearn. This is part two, with commentaries by Hearn included where written by him:

  • 47. この世は仮の宿 (Kono yo wa kari no yado) – This world is only a resting-place. Hearn says: “This world is but a travellers’ inn,” would be an almost equally correct translation. Yado [宿] literally means a lodging, shelter, inn; and the word is applied often to those wayside resting-houses at which Japanese travelers halt during a journey. Kari [仮] signifies temporary, transient, fleeting, —as in the common Buddhist saying, Kono yo kari no yo: “This world is a fleeting world.” Even Heaven and Hell represent to the Buddhist only halting places upon the journey to Nirvana.
  • 52. 果報は、寝て待て (Kahō wa, nete mate) – If you wish for good luck, sleep and wait. Hearn says: “Kwahō (果報), a purely Buddhist term, signifying good fortune as the result of good actions in a previous life, has come to mean in common parlance good fortune of any kind. The proverb is often used in a similar sense to that of the English saying: “Watched pot never boils.” In a strictly Buddhist sense it would mean, “Do not be too eager for the reward of good deeds.”
  • 72. 落下枝に帰らず (Rakka eda ni kaerazu) – The fallen blossom never returns to the branch. Hearn says: “That which has been done never can be undone: the past never can be recalled.—This proverb is an abbreviation of the longer Buddhist text: Rakkwa éda ni kaerazu; ha-kyō futatabi terasazu: “The fallen blossom never returns to the branch; the shattered mirror never again reflects.”
  • 74. 六道は目の前 (Rokudō wa, me no mae) – The Six Roads are right before your eyes. Hearn says: “That is to say, Your future life depends upon your conduct in his life; and you are thus free to choose for yourself the place of your next rebirth.”
  • 77. 惨劇には三年の罪もほうろぶ (Sange ni wa sannen no tsumi mo hōrobu) – One confession effaces the sins of even three years.
  • 81. 沙弥から長老 (Shami kara chōrō) – To become an abbot one must begin as a novice.
  • 84. 正法に奇特なし (Shōbo ni kidoku nashi) – There is no miracle in true doctrine Hearn says: “Nothing can happen exceptas a result of eternal and irrevocable law [dharma].”
  • 93. 露の命 (Tsuyu no inochi) – Human life is like the dew of morning.
  • 97. 我が家の仏たっとし (Waga ya no hotoké tattoshi) – My family ancestors were all excellent Buddhas. Hearn says: “Meaning that one most reveres the hotoké — the spirits of the dead regarded as Buddhas — in one’s own household shrine. There is an ironical play upon the word hotoké, which may mean either a dead person simply, or a Buddha. Perhaps the spirit of this proverb may be better explained by the help of another: Nigéta sakana ni chisai wa nai; shinda kodomo ni warui ko wa nai [逃げた魚に小さいはない。死んだ子供に悪い子はない。] — “Fish that escaped was never small; child that died was never bad.”

This last one in particular really caught my attention, because even today I still hear people refer to the dead in Japan as hotoké, the generic word for a Buddha. This is one of those cultural, religious aspects I have yet to figure out, though from my limited experience I believe it’s either because 1) all beings will become Buddhas sooner or later, as taught in the Lotus Sutra and Pure Land teachings (forgone conclusion), or 2) all things are Buddha anyway.

Namu Shaka Nyorai

P.S. This is post 998. I accidentally released post 1000 a bit too early, for anyone who noticed. :p

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