Idioms Gallery
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Language Gallery by Sharon Hahn Darlin

Sep 9, 2009

森羅萬象 the Universe in its vast variety

NASA photos from the repaired Hubble Space Telescope released today, 09/09/09

森 (forest) 羅 (net) 萬 (10,000) 象 (form)

This is a Buddhist term. On this page from the Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist terms: with Sanskrit and English Equivalents and a Sanskrit-Pali Index
by William Edward Soothill & Lewis Hodous, 森羅萬象 is defined as "the myriad forms dense and close, i.e. the universe." 森羅萬象卽法身, "the universe in its vast variety is the Dharma-kaya, or Buddha-body; in the esoteric school it is the Vairocana-body."

卽 (i.e.) (Dharma) 身 (body)

Sep 7, 2009

紅爐點雪 snow flakes into a burning furnace

紅 (red) 爐 (furnace) 點 (dot) 雪 (snow)

This is a touching image. Little flakes of snow flying into a blazing furnace. Little melting snow droplets are no matches for the fire. They immediately sizzle into steam and evaporate.

I don't know how to interpret this idiom composed of such vivid characters. Who is the main character, the coal or the snow? Is the snow naïve or willful? Water doesn't actually mix with fire. Perhaps it's a story about transcendence.
Perhaps it's a story about a blessing in disguise.

Sep 5, 2009

苦盡甘來 after suffering comes sweet reward

苦 (bitter) 盡(dissipate) 甘 (sweet) 來 (come)

Often, things seem hopeless, and human endurance approaches a personal limit. You'll be all right, this saying reassures you. After the requisite suffering, there's bound to be something sweet waiting for you.

If it doesn't happen... well, who says you have to be happy all the time?

Sep 2, 2009

空無所有 utterly destitute

空 (empty) 無 (nothing) 所 (place) 有 (exist)
Simplified, 空无所有

所有 possess

Sometimes, in the game of life, you are left without two sticks to rub together. It may not be a bad thing if it's temporary, if you can afford to wait cheerfully. It can most certainly be liberating.

What does it mean to "possess" anyway?
Have (有) a place (所)?

A brush can only be a proper brush when it's placed in the hands of a skilled calligrapher. A blade owned by a good swordsman, an axe by an experienced lumberjack, a Stradivarius by a true artist. Yes, they can own it.

Possession is also an abstract idea, like numbers written on a check. A check is a corporeal object, yet when a contract is not kept, something (有) simply turns into nothing (無). Even if you "own" billions, if you have no true power to move people, you are merely a fund manager slavishly working to guard all that wealth. Until you do not feel the need to tie down something you feel entitled to, it will remain wishful thinking, not true possession.

Then again, i
t is certainly possible to be on top of the world, feel as if you own it, even as you appear utterly destitute. Funny how that works.