Learning a Language

When we begin to learn a foreign language, we may learn a few words by the so-called Direct Method. But for anything more than simple meanings, we have to construct an English sentence in our heads, and then search for equivalents and structures in the foreign language.

This can go on for a very long time, even when there is a good knowledge of the new language. It takes courage to bring out a foreign sentence without checking it first. Shaw’s remark, that it is impossible to learn to skate without looking ridiculous, can be useful here.

If the grip of fear can be loosened, the time comes when in some little emergency, the speaker finds himself producing a foreign sentence without the previous English draft. He has begun to think in the new language. This is generally a decisive moment, and from then the ideas take shape of themselves in the foreign sentences.

Spiritual Translation

Such experience with a language can be a hint for spiritual translations also. The doctrine is, that in everyone there is a faculty, called by the yogis buddhi which can reflect the cosmic purpose for the situation. It is not merely what used to be called conscience, in the sense of the mass of do’s and don’ts imbibed in childhood. Buddhi is far wider, a living original inspiration of divine not individual purpose. But if the mind is clogged or seething with personal fears and hopes, likes and dislikes, the voice of buddhi is heard only faintly, though never completely silenced.

Listening to the buddhi is at first like a language student listening to a foreigner. First he has to make out what is said, finding expression for it in his own thinking as best he can. Then he has to construct a response, inevitably in terms of his individual make-up, vocabulary and so on.

In the case of responding to buddhi, he accepts its prompting and tries to express it with his limited vocabulary and behaviour. A Zen master said that when he was young, he used to be sent to condole a bereaved family. For some time he was so embarrassed that he couldn’t find the right words, and this made him still more embarrassed. The family, he said, did not know whether he was sorry or angry with them. He later recognised that his mind had not yet been loosened to recognise the cosmic plane. There has to be a ‘translation’ of thought, feeling and action from the individual to the cosmic plane.

 

© 1999 Trevor Leggett

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