Traces of Enlightenment

The last line of Dogen’s famous verse starting To study the Way is to study yourself (see previous post) is often omitted when quoting it—probably because people can’t figure out what the heck it’s supposed to mean, even after (or especially after) being “translated” into English.

One translation is No trace of enlightenment remains, and this traceless enlightenment is continued forever.

The Japanese is go-shaku no kyuukatsu naru ari, kyuukatsu naru go-shaku wo chouchoushutsu narashimu. Breaking down goshaku, “go” is “englightenment” while “shaku” is traces, tracks. Kyuukatsu is more difficult. Some commentators say it means not existing, while others follow more closely the meaning of kyuu (to rest).

The Tanahashi translation is No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly. But both it and the first translation suffer from problems beyond the question of the correct translation of either goshaku or kyuukatsu. For instance, the first translation has traceless enlightment is continued forever, whereas the Japanese can only be read the non-existent traces of enlightenment (are continued forever). Neither translation captures any nuance of chouchoushutsu (lit. long-long-emerge), which to my mind has almost a “pulsing” feeling, much more dynamic than “continue”. Both translations also are plagued by the fact that they do not connect to the preceding sentences.

My translation is based on reading a number of commentaries in Japanese, and interpreting the kyuukatsu in the direction of “resting”, as follows:

Once you’ve realized this, the process by which you did so will, laying itself aside, resonate on and on.

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