Sunday, November 24, 2013

Lost in Translation

The hierarchy of Divine wisdom transference starts at the most fundamental level through intuitive insight of a spiritual Master. This felt inner experience is then communicated to the initiates or disciples through spoken language which then is written down by the disciples and followers of the tradition. The great Vedic Rishis, Buddha, Christ and the Prophet never wrote down their teachings but only used the spoken word.

Hence language is the conveyor of wisdom which normally is spoken then written down. It helps in preserving ancient wisdom and passing it on to the next generation. In different times, different subsets of the original languages became carriers of wisdom of philosophical traditions that were prevalent in those times and in a specific  culture. In ancient India, Sanskrit was the preferred language of the Rishis — the Upanishads, Puranas and the epics were written in Sanskrit. The Buddha chose Pali as a medium of instruction.  Christ taught in Aramaic and the prophet taught in Arabic.
As we know through current scholarship, cultural memes evolve and is replaced or modified by other memes of individual cultures. Languages and contextual meanings conveyed are also influenced and modified by the cultural milieu in which they take root. Added to this translations also lead to errors.

A few examples would amplify what I am saying.
The renowned Vedic and Sanskrit scholar Pandit Motilal Shastri writes that in ancient Sanskrit the word "Gau", apart from its traditional meaning 'cow', has 27 different meaning including the meaning of "Cosmic energy". When viewed from this meaning the whole episode of Lord Krishna and the Gopis takes a new meaning as "Divine being the consort of the cosmic energy manifestation".

Similarly the original Aramaic word for "sin" in Christ teaching was "hataha" which means "miss the mark as applied to archery". The same meaning was conveyed in the Greek translation. The Greek word "μαρτία  - Hamartia" which is used more than 200 times in the Bible also means “missing the mark”. The deeper meaning conveyed is that when sin is committed one misses the mark of being Divine in nature. It had a reference to an internal moral code.

The word "Jihad" means "to struggle in the way of Allah". Jihad appears 41 times in the Quran and frequently in the idiomatic expression "striving in the way of God (al-jihad fi sabil Allah)". A person engaged in jihad is called a "mujahid"; the plural is "mujahideen". Jihad is an important religious duty for Muslims. Jihad is not a declaration of war against other religions. It is worth noting that the Koran specifically refers to Jews and Christians as "people of the book" who should be protected and respected. All three faiths worship the same God. Allah is just the Arabic word for God, and is used by Christian Arabs as well as Muslims.
 The meaning conveyed is subjective and does not endorse any external conflict or struggle.

Hence any Divine revelation that is written down in a specific age of antiquity and passed down over many centuries had to be scrutinized for these modifications and  an interpretation must be arrived at.

The Buddha said, “Don’t hurry to believe in anything, even if it has been written in the scriptures. Don’t hurry to believe in anything just because a very famous teacher has said it. You should test anything people say with your own experience before you accept or reject it.”

Love to you all

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