So. I’m not sure if I told you guys, but I do have a Chinese name.
The character is thus: 美
It means beautiful in Mandarin. It also means the good ole USA, but that’s just because it is a homonym for my country’s name (I am a citizen of the US, so it is my country). I mean…who would name their kids USA, right?
美 looks easy to write, but it’s not that easy. I can’t really even do it justice.
I start with this: )
Then I do this next to it: (
Then I add four of these: —
Then I add two of these tick marks at the top: `´
and VOILA! I get this: 美
But Chinese people laugh at me when I write my name.
It’s probably because it doesn’t look that beautiful to them even though that’s what it’s suppose to mean. But it’s not my fault.
I don’t have a high quality calligraphy brush. All I have right now on my desk is a pencil I bought at the dollar store (12 pencils for a dollar…can’t beat that).
It works great because it has a rubber eraser on the top, which I use a lot of because I am transcribing a chant over and over and over, and I’m trying to memorize it, so I make a lot of mistakes. This is the sutra I am learning.
It’s called Muo Ho Yi Zhao: The Final Movement.
This is the meaning:
The final movement of the Tao was never told
The enlightened one shall now explain it once
Let all the people recognize the way home
To see the source of life and death
Today, we have, by divine grace, Mai, leading all participants
Kneeling sincerely before the lotus throne of Ming Ming Shang Di
Requesting that the Maitreya Ancient Buddha of the Third Phase
Together with the three-thousand disciples and all constellations,
assist the three Buddhas in delivering countless sentient beings.
We hereby report upon the great work in this final period clearly to Lao Mu.
You guys must be wondering why I am learning a Taoist mantra all of a sudden. Haven’t I been shouting on the mountaintops for over a decade that I’m a Taoist? How in heck did I never even learn a single sutra from Old Dude himself?
The truth is, I was always more interested in the science and philosophy behind Taoism than all the rituals and ceremony that go along with the religious aspects of it, so from the time I first knew about Taoism, I was reading the books to gain insight into the actual meanings behind the words.
I bought a statue of Lao Tzu because it was beautiful art and I wanted him in my home. There is no pot of incense in front of him because I don’t really pray at him to ask for stuff. We just have conversations. I also don’t chant to him either. When he shows up, I mostly shut my mouth and I listen. So why am I learning a sutra now, after all these years?
I got tired of chanting in Japanese.
To be clear, I don’t chant so that I can de-stress. If I want to de-stress, I write music, or play my guitar, or I paint or sculpt, or I go to the gym and lift some weights for a couple of hours.
I only chant to focus my brain when I need to do something that requires wu wei concentration (if you know what I mean) or if I’m stuck in traffic for an hour and I need to speed the time up a bit. But, as I had shared in the past, the only sutra I know how to chant is the Lotus Sutra, in Japanese.
For a Taoist, that’s kinda embarrassing, so I decided I was going to bite the bullet and learn a real Taoist sutra. Problem is, most of the Taoist temples in Vietnam pray to various gods and Bodhisattvas that I have never even heard of.
I only know of Lao Tzu, but there isn’t a sutra dedicated to Old Dude (that I know of). However, I wanted to at least pay tribute to Taoism and chant a real Taoist sutra, so I kept bugging my brother Derek Lin for something. So, to get me started (and probably to keep me from pestering him), he finally gave me one to learn.
The Muo Ho Yi Zhao: The Final Movement is a very pretty-sounding sutra. It’s especially cool because it gives a spot where I can personalize it. You guys notice I stuck my name (in pink) on the sutra? That’s because when I chant this, there’s nobody else around–just me and some susuwatari (Japanese dust fuzz) floating around, so guess what.
I get to be the leader of the chant session, by divine grace!
So why am I writing a chant over and over and over?
It’s because I’m a slow learner.
You see, I am not a visual learner. I’m not an auditory learner either. Aaaaaand sadly, I’m also not a verbal learner. I strike out in all three methods of learning, to the great disappointment of my parents, who tried to get me to learn the traditional method, via memorization of EVERYTHING.
It’s the tried and true method of Vietnamese learning. The most intelligent of us peeps can read through something a few times and will have memorized the whole dang lesson before lunch.
Me…I can barely stay awake after the first several times re-reading something, ’cause once I have understood it, my mind grows bored and want to go to the next thing so that I can learn more new stuff.
Unfortunately, memorization requires that I stick to the same old thing and do it over and over and over until it can be recalled without fail.
Lordy, I would have been a horrible ancient scholar.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not that slow. I can grasp general understanding if I read it in a language I understand well, like English or Vietnamese. My comprehension level is fairly good.
But I can’t memorize for shit.
In order for me to memorize something, I actually have to do all three at the same time–namely, say it out loud, see the words in print, and then I have to write it down so my fingers can feel the words. This way, I remember it, at least as long as it takes to take a test and ace it. However, this type of memorization only lasts for awhile. If I really want to remember something for the rest of my life, I have to set it to music.
That’s the next part of this sutra. After it’s been memorized, I will need to set it to music. Once that’s done, I will be able to chant-sing a real Taoist sutra by memory, in classic wu wei style, so I don’t have to feel like I’m a fake Taoist–always chanting Japanese Gongyo.
Don’t feel too bad if you haven’t memorized a lot to chant, I haven’t either, I am awful at it. I prefer to read than chant myself. I like how many Taoist texts are brief enough to possibly memorize but there are still quite a lot to. I should go back to some and see what ones I could best retain. I bet your chanting sounds very lovely though given that you have done singing before. I couldn’t do it.
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1. The Chinese and the Japanese (and probably some Koreans too) would laugh at you when you write the Chinese character (the sinogram) for your name, not because you don’t have a high quality calligraphy brush (mostly they do not use it, either, they also write with cheap pencils or ballpens), but because you write it wrong way and you skip 1 stroke. You should start it from the top, not from the bottom (two “legs”). There are altogether 9 strokes to it, and you write only 8. And there are two parts of it which should be written separatley, and it seems to me that you make one whole out of them, probably by beginning the “left leg” ) line very high (too high).
The Vietnamese have forgotten the good ways to write the Hanzi (Hán tự). Some Koreans, too. But the order of writing strokes is very important in Chinese, beacase when you write those caracters quickly (in a cursive way: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Treatise_On_Calligraphy.jpg) you can still recognize them when the order of stokes was kept and it becomes impossible when you write them in a wrong way. Same happens with the cursive way of writing the Latin alphabet (which is the one used for English, or for moden Vietnamese), when you join all the letters in a word with quick writing. But it is less important for Latin letters, as there are much less of them. However nowadays almost everybody is “printing” their letters, and not writing them cursively, so people do not understand the issue. Yet imagine, how would your American friends laugh if you were writing the letter A beginning with the horizontal stroke —, then wirting the right stroke \ and only finishing with the left stroke / .
Returning to the 美 character, you can see it well (how it should be written, and what parts are there in it) in https://chine.in/mandarin/dictionnaire/index.php?q=%26%2332654%3B: where the numbers by the strokes show their order or the sequence of strokes:
1.-2. Begin with writing these two tick marks at the top: `´ (the left one first, the right one next, both going downwards).
3.-4. Then add two horizontal lines — , one below the other (the second one is a bit shorter than the fist one, if you want to write it the calligraphic way, but in daily practice it doesn’t matter)
5. Then add a vertical line | (beginning under the middle part of the upper horizontal line, crossing the second horizontal line, and goiing a bit more downward, for just a similar distance as there was between the two horizontal lines).
6. Then add the third horizontal lines — just below the vertical line, not crossing the vertical line. (It should be the same length as the first one, if you calligrafy it, byt in daily practice it does not matter).
Thus you have closed the first, the upper part of the character, the 6-stroke character 𦍌 rèn (itself an abbreviated form of the character 羊 yáng, sheep or goat; only with the vertical line not going beyond the bottom horizonrtal line).
Now begin the lower part, 大 (which is itself the charater 大 dà, dài: big; large; great; strong; general; main; major – showing a of a standing man, with his hands streched to left and right):
7. Write the (fourth) horizontal line — below the upper part of the character (being the two hands of the standing man; ideally the line should be the same length as the lowest line of the upper part of the character).
8. Write the left “leg” line ) or / – it should however begin right under the third horizontal line and thus cross the last (4th) horizontal line in the middle, (so it is not onlt the lkeg but the corpse and the heard of the standing man) .
9. Then write the right “leg” ( or \ – beginning just under the last horizontal line (it is now a “leg” only).
Thus you have closed the second, the lower part of the character.
Now the whole character is wriiten the correct way.
2. The character 美 does not mean USA, at the best it can mean A out of the abbreviation USA, as 美 is an abbreviation as well. In fact it stands for the syllable -me- in ‘America’, which was originally transcribed into Chinese as 亞美利加 Yà-měi-lì-jiā, which by the end of the 19th century became 美利加 Měi-lì-jiā only, and then was abbreviated to 美 Měi (pronounced as the month of May), as Chinese do not like long words.
Now the America (the whole continent, from Greenland to Tierra del Fuego) is called in short 美洲 Měizhōu (‘American continent’), and the USA is called 美國 Měiguó (‘American country’).
All the best
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Hi Maciej! Wow. Thank you for this very clear and precise explanation of the word. 🙂 I do appreciate it. I will try to write it the way you presented it. I’m not trying to learn how to write in Chinese characters. I’m way too old to even start. But if there is one word I need to get right, it’s my name, so I’ll keep working on it until I get it right. 😀
I wasn’t sure about the USA part either, I just threw it into google translate and that’s what I got out. But we know how horrid google translate is. I laugh every time I see how it butchers Vietnamese to English translations and cause serious misunderstanding. Again, thanks for the clarification and the easy to understand instructions.
Stephen, I’m pretty sure I sound just like everyone else who sings the sutras. I will learn this sutra and set it to my own music, record it, then I will upload it on here so you can hear it. It should take me awhile though. Memorizing the sutra and writing the music takes time. And then there’s the tedium of recording it. I could do it the fast easy way…with my phone, but it would sound pretty rough. In any case, it would be raw and unedited, quite Taoist, imo.
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Oh, my! Don’t tell me you’re too OLD for anything. You are never too old to learn something new if you only have a motivation. There’s a saying: ‘You’re as young as you think you are’. Judging by the vigour with which you write your blog, you are very young, indeed. I like it very much.I started reading your blog about a year ago, when I went for a conference to Đà Nẵng. Your blog is so interesting that you have inspired me to learn Vietnamese, and I am already 63. Do you think I can learn it? Myself, I think so. I have already bought some manuals, with CD’s. The problem is I cannot find any teache around me, so nobody can correct me, whether my pronunciation is good or wrong.
And how to write Chinese characters is certainly not the the top difficult thing to learn. There are 5 general rules, and a couple (maybe 5 again) of special rules, how to apply the general rules in specific situations. A week of practice, half an hour a day, and you know it.
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Maciej, you can absolutely learn Vietnamese. It’s alphabetized so that’s one HUGE thing you don’t have to learn. All you need is to recognize the tones and the phonetics and you can pretty much write out what you hear…also read the words out loud and you will recognize the sounds which make up the meanings of the words. If we lived closer, I would help you if I could. 🙂
As for me learning Chinese…I promised my brother Derek I would learn it, but that was almost twenty years ago…still haven’t managed to learn anything. I’m a lost cause, I think 😀 hahaha
Tjanks for your encouragement, the problem for me exactly lies with the tones.But I will certainly one day find a way how to do it.
And you also CAN do that. Your a lost cause only once you are in a grave and before that you can do anything. If you want to and not ONLY want to, but also START doing what you want. “The most difficult thing is to start”, as Steven King wrote in the afterword to vol. IV of his Dark Tower, which he wrote 27 years after publishing vol. I, and 6 years after finishing vol. III. And I completely agree with him, procrastination is our second nature, or maybe even the first one. 😉
And thanks for your offer of helping, who knows, maybe one day I shall move from Poland to the US?