Thursday, April 2, 2009

Not Planning on Lecturing to the Buddha

Had an interesting meeting today with a professor from University of Tokyo Graduate School of Law. During the meeting, he pulled out a book and asked me if recognized this haiku:

「古池や蛙飛び込む水の音」which translates roughly as:
Old pond
frog jumps in
sound of water

For some reason I didn't recognize it right away, even though I had discussed it with my Japanese teacher last year after seeing it here

At first I was thinking it might be the haiku about the frog jumping in the water because I recalled the "sound of the water" part, but I got hung up because I was thinking for some reason that 蛙 was dragonfly instead of frog. I'm such an idiot! Anyway, before I could work it out, he explained what it was (although it still wasn't clear to me what the relevance was to the discussion we were having). So basically, I was made to look like the quintessental "dumb foreigner" even though I had seen it before and researched and discussed the meaning on various occasions. Oh well, I guess it's too late now, but it still sticks in my craw.

Anyway, for future reference, the interpretation I find most convincing is rooted in Buddhisim: basically that the old pond corresponds to an eternity of endless space, while the frog jumping in and causing the water to make a sound represents our very brief existence. So I imagine that we're supposed to reflect on the stillness of the water after the little splash is made to put our existence into a larger perspective, that the world will continue after our death and we will have made only a small ripple, if we're lucky. So I'll muse on that for the next few days instead of getting annoyed at how that little scene in the professor's office played out.

In that regard, I guess when I am going to be doing research under this professor later this year, I should expect to just shut up and let him do the talking. So here's an expression for that:

それは釈迦(shaka)に説法(setsuhou)というもの。= teaching something to someone who knows more than you; lit: lecturing to the Buddha

Here's another one. Not relevant at all, but interesting nonetheless:

[かくかく しかじか]: (exp) blah-blah yadda-yadda/expression used to replace part of conversation

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