On Saturday, January 17, 2015, I had the privilege to attend a performance by the art group of Meimen. This performance was titled Bǎirěn zhī yè 百忍之夜 , which literally translates to “The Evening of a Hundred [Forms of] Forbearance.” We will see, however, that the Chinese word rěn 忍 can be interpreted in a myriad of different ways and that it may have been intended here to mean something different from its usual meaning of “endurance, patience, or forbearance.” First, something must be said about the location called Meimen Garden (see http://garden.meimen.com, only in Chinese). This in one of the restaurants belonging to the Meimen Qigong group, right next to the former City Hall (Zhōngshāntáng 中山堂). The fact that it is situated underground results from its former function as a bomb shelter (fángkōngdòng 防空洞 ). The founder of the Meimen approach, Master Lee, reinterpreted these three characters to mean “preventing the human heart from being hollow” (fángzhǐ rénxīn kōngdòng 防止人心空洞), which is also why it has a stage where various heart-filling cultural events can take place. This is how the sign in stained glass posted above the entrance leading underground looks now: I will abstain from attempting to interpret this piece of art, which obviously suggests the convergence of various religious approaches. The caption on their website explains that it was created by Yóu Shūfēn 游淑芬 and “symbolizes the world where all phenomena return to the one” (象徵萬法歸一的境界). Let me rather return to the performance. It was made of six sections, each referring to one of the functions of the six consciousnesses (the five senses, plus the mind). From what I heard, this is linked to the teachings given by the founder about the Method [to Cultivate] a Mind of Great Endurance (百忍心法). I will post further info about this when I learn more. At first sight, it involves much more than “patience” and seems to carry the nuance of “appreciation” as well. In any case, as a performance, it was really impressive. Each of the six sections made a distinctive point about the six aspects: 1. sight (guān rěn 觀忍), displaying an enthralling dance performance, 2. hearing (tīng rěn 聽忍), expressed through two mini concerts, one with violin and the other one with the traditional èrhú 二胡, 3. smell (wén rěn 聞忍), expressed through danse, 4. taste, involving amazing sleights of hand culminating with the magic apparition of a guava juice (pǐn rěn 品忍), 5. touch (chù rěn 觸忍), which featured acrobatic martial art combat, and 6. thoughts (yì rěn 意忍) conveyed through songs. A video excerpt from the martial art section is visible here: Video. Regarding the technical term rěn 忍 and its use in Buddhism, although it is widely understood in modern Chinese in the sense of the verb rěnshòu 忍受, to endure or to bear, or as the adjective or the noun rěnnài 忍耐, patience, endurance, ancient Buddhist texts used it as a translation for the Sanskrit kṣānti, with slightly different nuances. Recently, I came across the following fascinating article by a Professor in the Department of Comparative Studies at the State University of New York: Cho Sungtaek (趙 性澤). “The Psycho-semantic Structure of the Word kṣānti (Ch. Jen).” (online article, no date) http://www.buddhism.org/board/read.cgi?board=BuddhistStudies&y_number=19 Although this is fairly technical, his discussion focuses on the expression wúshēng fǎ rěn 無生法忍, and its equivalent in Sanskrit, anutpattika-dharma-kṣānti, which indicates one of the forms of awakening assuring avinivartanīya, the non-retrogression stage of the bodhisattva. He claims that “the earlier usages of kṣānti in Buddhist texts will show no relation to the word ‘patience’.” He further asserts that, “as a Buddhist technical term, it denoted an attentive ‘intentionality,’ or various modes of such mental states.” If you had the patience to read up to this point, what do you think about the Chinese word rěn 忍? What does it suggest to you, and do you see any good translation into English that would avoid the largely negative nuances associated with verbs such as “to endure”?
Well, since I raised the question and asked to members of the Meimen movement how they perceived this technical term, here are the few elements of answers gathered so far.
- The character rěn 忍 evokes rèn 認 without the radical yán 言 for “words” and can thus hint at preverbal recognition, such as in the compound rènmíng 認明 signifying to see clearly or to recognize something for what it is.
- One person suggested “acceptance” but I am more inclined to favor “awareness.” I understand this as a pointer toward the need for mindfulness, a nonjudgmental recognition of how the sense objects interact with the corresponding faculties and mental factors associated with them.
- This seems to closely correspond to the early Buddhist discoveries about epistemology, formulated by differentiating between the eighteen components of cognition, made of the six sense faculties, their six objects, and the corresponding six consciousnesses (shíbā jiè 十八界).