What exactly IS Shindoku?

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What exactly IS Shindoku?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Tue Sep 11, 2012 12:22 am

My understanding is that Shindoku is the Japanese reading of the Chinese characters. Someone explained it to me as follows: The symbol equal sign = is universal; it means the same thing in all cultures; but in the US we call it "the equal sign," and in Spanish speaking countries it would be called something else, etc. So, I "get" that part. But it's still a little confusing.

I guess the next question is, why exactly did Shindoku originate? Why not just fully translate the sutra into Japanese, and just read it in Japanese? I am aware that some groups do indeed do that. But why is Shindoku even, well, in existence if the other option is there?

Another question: I've heard that "Shindoku" really isn't a language at all, and that the words themselves virtually mean nothing, as the "Japanese pronunciation of Chinese characters" is not, strictly speaking, even a language per se. I mean, the sounds mean nothing in the way that spoken language means something. And yet ... there are places in the Shindoku readings that sound a lot like the Chinese words themselves and that appear that they may actually BE understandable. For example, "Shoman" seems to be understandable to some people, and "Shari-hotsu" seems so close to "Shariputra," who was a disciple of Buddha, correct?

Also, a question about the age of the Chinese characters. I was once told that the Chinese characters used in the Kamurajiva translation, and published in the various handbooks, are archaic and not in use anymore. And yet one day I handed an SGI service book to a Chinese friend of mine; he looked at it and translated it verbatim; he said to me, "Oh, this is saying that the wisdom of the Buddhas is understandable only between Buddhas...."

Any responses appreciated. Thanks. :)

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Re: What exactly IS Shindoku?

Postby Queequeg » Tue Sep 11, 2012 7:23 pm

First, it helps to know about Japanese written language, particularly its use of Chinese characters:

Think about contemporary scholarship - if you want to be a Chinese history scholar as a native English speaker, I suppose you can do work based on texts translated into English, and rely on secondary texts composed in English, but your scholarship is going to be very limited, and you will not be doing anything original or ground breaking. You'll basically be limited to commentary on translations and secondary texts. Most of the stuff you might want to read is not going to be translated and you will probably be very limited. If you want to go further, you will have to learn Chinese.

This was the same situation for Buddhists in Japan. And once you learned Chinese, do you really need a text translated anymore? The only reason you would is to make it accessible for those who have not yet learned Chinese.

Traditionally, Chinese was part of the curriculum for monks (and for anyone who wanted to be considered educated), so there wasn't much need for translations.

Now, Chinese is an interesting written language that does not necessarily require you to be able to speak the language. Indeed, not all Chinese dialects are mutually intelligible. However, in terms of written form, they can all reasonably communicate. This is the case with Japanese who can read Chinese texts, using Japanese pronunciations of the Chinese readings.

Shindoku is reading Chinese in Onyomi.

Terms like "shari-hotsu" and "anuttarasamuyakusambodai" are transliterations of Sanskrit, into Chinese and then into Japanese. Just like "Namo".

As for why not translate and recite the sutras in the translated language? Sure. Why not.
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Re: What exactly IS Shindoku?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Tue Sep 11, 2012 10:15 pm

Thank you very much for the response. I suppose it just reflects the relationship between Japan and China, and the characteristics of the Chinese written language. I mean, I suppose I'm used to thinking of languages and cultures as so distinct. For analogy, I don't think there is necessarily a "French reading of the English characters." I think that they translated Shakespeare's works into French. I don't think they memorized Shakespeare's plays -- but in the French reading of English language characters. It's just a different type of relationship that the Chinese and Japanese have. I remember being really surprised when I learned that the Gohonzon -- an object of veneration for Japanese Buddhists -- has Chinese characters on it, and the most important word -- "namu myoho renge kyo" -- is in Chinese.

If you don't mind me asking, what language is the term "Myohorengekyo" even in? Is that "modern day Japanese," or is it archaic Japanese, or is it Shindoku?

And what is Onyomi?

Also, "Shari-hotsu" is transliteration of the Sanskrit. So, to my understanding, that means that this is actually how the word sounds in Sanskrit. Right?

Thank you so much. These are questions I've had forever, but which few people have ever been able to answer. :)

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Re: What exactly IS Shindoku?

Postby Queequeg » Thu Sep 20, 2012 5:16 pm

“Once you have given up the ghost, everything follows with dead certainty, even in the midst of chaos.”
-Henry Miller

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Great for solving problems, after it creates a problem."
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Re: What exactly IS Shindoku?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Fri Sep 21, 2012 6:06 am

Thank you for the responses. This is all very interesting. But it's also all very much "over-my-head." I just have no concept of something like "the Japanese reading of Chinese characters." I mean, I have the Hoben and Juryo chapters memorized. So, I can DO it. I just don't "get" it -- at least on a linguistic level.

Example. I was at a meeting last night at a Nichiren temple. I took a journal from my childhood trip to Japan. I showed them where, in the journal, I had written down some Japanese words they taught me. The sensei surprised me by telling me that, in fact, what I had written down were Chinese characters. The Chinese woman sitting next to me then said that she had a (Chinese) friend who lived in Japan for about a year, but she didn't speak Japanese. This friend was, however, able to get along fine in Japan -- because she could read everything around her, and when she went to the store, she just wrote down what she needed -- and the shop keepers could read it, because, even though they were Japanese, they could read Chinese characters.

This is all just mind blowing for me. For analogy, there is no such thing, at least as I know, as an "English reading of French characters." I mean, this whole concept doesn't even exist in my mind. Maybe I'll grasp it better some day.

By the way, why is it "pious" for us to refer to it as "Shindoku"?

Thanks.

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Re: What exactly IS Shindoku?

Postby noisemonkey » Fri Sep 21, 2012 7:20 pm


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Re: What exactly IS Shindoku?

Postby DGA » Fri Sep 21, 2012 8:13 pm


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Re: What exactly IS Shindoku?

Postby Tatsuo » Fri Sep 21, 2012 8:25 pm


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Re: What exactly IS Shindoku?

Postby noisemonkey » Fri Sep 21, 2012 9:27 pm


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Re: What exactly IS Shindoku?

Postby Queequeg » Fri Sep 21, 2012 9:50 pm

“Once you have given up the ghost, everything follows with dead certainty, even in the midst of chaos.”
-Henry Miller

"Language is the liquid that we're all dissolved in.
Great for solving problems, after it creates a problem."
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Re: What exactly IS Shindoku?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Fri Sep 21, 2012 10:52 pm

Thank you for the responses, everyone. I suppose that, from the start, I've just been fascinated by the following:

Nichiren Buddhism seems, in large part, to be based on chanting, particularly, of course, the phrase nam(u)myohorengekyo, and yet it seems that virtually no one (at least of US origin) really knows exactly what we are chanting.

Maybe I'm just making it too hard. Maybe it's that simple: some people just don't care. At a recent meeting, I heard some (American) person say, "Oh, we recite in some archaic language no one understands," and they just left it at that.

I do have a tendency to make things more difficult than they are sometimes, at least when I'm really interested in the topic. But I think a stumbling block for me is that when I was a child in Japan I was taught a few characters and I was told "this is Japanese." And now I'm being told that it was actually Chinese.

Also, I think that when I started learning chapters 2 and 16, I got really happy thinking, "Now I'm learning Japanese...." Then I was told, "Actually, you're learning ancient Japanese...." Then another person told me, "No, it's a hybrid of Chinese and Japanese...." Then, finally, the more sophisticated, "It's the Japanese reading of the Chinese characters."

So, I suppose it's two issues for me:

1. Understanding this history of the Japanese and Chinese languages.
2. Understanding how it is that many people just don't care what exactly it is that they are chanting. (You'd think people would want a better understanding of something that is basically the focal-point of the religion.)

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Re: What exactly IS Shindoku?

Postby Queequeg » Sat Sep 22, 2012 4:20 pm

“Once you have given up the ghost, everything follows with dead certainty, even in the midst of chaos.”
-Henry Miller

"Language is the liquid that we're all dissolved in.
Great for solving problems, after it creates a problem."
-Modest Mouse

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Re: What exactly IS Shindoku?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Sat Sep 22, 2012 11:56 pm

Thank you. I think I have a tendency to "over-think" it because I'm really enjoy it. Ever since my childhood trip to Japan (where I was taught a little Japanese, both spoken and written), I've wanted to continue to learn. But I wasn't taught anymore after that trip, and I've forgotten what I was taught. And I was always discouraged from attempting to learn more because of precisely what you write above: it's considered one of, if not the, most difficult languages in the world. I think that I was happy to think that by learning the chapters I was "sneaking by" and learning something that was really difficult. Then, it just sort of left my head spinning to find that "it isn't really Japanese or Chinese...."

In other words, I think that in my "excitement" for this topic, I make it more difficult than it is. Thanks. :namaste:


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