Learning Cantonese: The Taoist Classic of Purity

You may be familiar with major Taoist classics such as the Tao Te Ching or Chuang Tzu, but there are many others which are less well known, especially in English translation. One of them is the 《清靜經》 or “Classic of Purity”, a short text of 391 Chinese characters. In this brief overview created by Taoist TV, we are introduced to the main message of the Classic: the more we reduce unnecessary wants and desires, the more we are able to reconnect with our original nature.

The video opens with a discussion of the character 靜 jihng6. The written form suggests that the meaning has a lot to do with 爭, meaning “to contend; to vie; to strive”, or its absence. Three compound words are used containing 靜: 靜止 jihng6 jí2 = “static”, 寧靜 nìhng4 jihng6 = “tranquil”, and finally 清靜 chīng1 jihng6, a word that usually means “peace and quiet” in the contemporary language, but which seems to carry connotations of “purity” in this Taoist context, and “mental stillness”.

There are some memorable grammatical moments in this video presentation. The first involves the potential structure 得到 dāk1 dóu2, added to verbs to suggest ability to do sth. successfully (here, 得 dāk 1 means “to be able”): 買得到 = “to be able to buy; to manage to buy” (my sense is that the English “to manage to do sth.” can often be handled by means of 得到). There is also an example of the more idiomatic 買得起 máaih5 dāk1 héi2, another kind of potential structure which means “to be able to afford”. What we get in the video, though, is the negative “to be unable to afford”, expressed by 買唔起. In the following passage, we encounter these structures in close proximity: 諗吓買唔買 | 買唔起又會唔開心 | 即使買得到 . . . (“When we consider whether to buy it or not, we are liable to feel unhappy if we cannot afford it. And even if are able to buy it . . .”)

There is also plenty in this presentation to give your vocabulary a real boost: 物質嘅世界 maht6 jāt1 ge3 sai3 gaai3 = the material/physical world; 無窮無盡 mòuh4 kùhng4 mòuh4 jeuhn6 = inexhaustible; 恍惚 fóng2 fāt1 = ① in a trance- absentminded ② dimly; faintly; seemingly; 妄想 móhng5 séung2 = a vain hope; wishful thinking | ● 貪求 tāam1 kàuh4 = to seek (sth. pleasurable); to covet; 過眼雲煙 gwo3 ngáahn5 wàhn4 yīn1 = as transient as a fleeting cloud; 復古 fuhk6 gú2 = to restore ancient ways; retro-styled; 衣食住行 yī1-sihk6-jyuh6-hàhng4 = food, clothing, shelter and transportation — basic necessities of life; and 逐樣逐樣 juhk6 yeuhng6 juhk6 yeuhng6 = item by item; one by one.

You can view the video here. Since it is on YouTube, you can slow down the playback speed if you wish: at 0.75 and 0.5, the sound quality is still good. And remember, if you want the standard jyutping romanization or to check any of the Chinese in the text, please consult the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.

You might also like to make use the Ekho Text to Speech Converter if you have trouble matching any part of the transcribed Chinese text to the spoken version. Just make sure you select “Cantonese” under the language menu before you paste cut and text into the relevant box.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

有冇諗過,乜係靜?| 一樣嘢,停,可以形容為靜止 | 完全冇聲音,可以話係寧靜 | 但係,何謂清靜呢?

● 靜止 jihng6 jí2 = static; motionless; at a standstill | ● 寧靜 nìhng4 jihng6 = peaceful; tranquil; quiet | ● 何謂 hòh4 waih6 = what is meant by? what is the meaning of? | ● 清靜 chīng1 jihng6 = quiet

Have [you] ever wondered what jing (to be still, quiet, calm, etc.) is? When a thing comes to a stop and does not move, it can be described as jing ji or “motionless”, and when there is a complete absence of sound, it can be said to be ning jing or “tranquil”. But what is meant by ching jing or “purity”?

道教一部非常之重要經典,叫做《清靜經》| 全稱:《太上老君說常清靜妙經》| 呢部經典,只有三百九十一個字,入便最主要嘅内容 | 就係 *jai日常生活中成日會遇到嘅——煩惱

● 經典 gīng1 dín2 = ① classics  ② scriptures (Measure word: 部 bouh6) | ● 《清靜經》Chīng1 Jihng6 Gīng1 = The Classic of Purity | ● 《太上老君說常清靜妙經》Taai3 Seuhng6 Lóuh5 Gwān1 Syut3 Sèuhng4 Chīng1 Jihng6 Miuh6 Gīng1 = The Wondrous Scripture of Constant Clarity and Stillness, as Spoken by the Most High Lord Lao | ● 煩惱 fàahn4 nóuh5 = to be vexed; to be worried; to fret

Note: The noun 内容 noih6 yùhng4 usually means “contents”, but the Cantonese use often calls for something else in English: here, important “element” or “theme” or “subject matter” would be perhaps more natural.

An extremely important Taoist text [經典] is the Classic of Purity or The Wondrous Scripture of Constant Clarity and Stillness, as Spoken by the Most High Lord Lao, to give it its full title. This classic is only 391 words [字] long, and the most import subject matter in it concerns [就係] something we are always meeting with in our everyday lives: vexation.

到底人點解會有多煩惱呢?| 我哋要點樣先至可以回復清靜呢?

Why do people have so much vexation? What must we do [我哋要點樣] before we can restore [our] purity?

點解我會用回復清靜形容呢?| 《清靜經》嘅經文中提到 | 當我哋一出世嘅時候,我哋嘅元神、心神係處於一種清靜嘅境界 | 但係好可惜,當我哋慢慢長大 | 我哋嘅視覺、聽覺、嗅覺、味覺、觸覺,令我哋接觸到物質嘅世界 【1:00】| 亦都因爲咁樣,產生咗對事物無窮無盡嘅慾望

● 元神 yùhn4 sàhn4  = (?) original spirit | ● 心神 sām1 sàhn4 = usu. ① a mood; the state of mind ② attention | ● 嗅覺 chau3 gok3 = the sense of smell | ● 物質嘅世界 maht6 jāt1 ge3 sai3 gaai3 = the material/physical world | ● 無窮無盡 mòuh4 kùhng4 mòuh4 jeuhn6 = inexhaustible | ● 慾望 yuhk6 mohng6 = a desire; a wish

Note: According to Sheik Cantonese, in the noun 嗅覺 chau3 gok3, 嗅 is always pronounced chau3, but the colloquial reading hung3 is used for this character in other contexts.

Why would I use “restore our purity” to describe [this situation]? In the Classic of Purity it states that from the moment we are born [一出世], our original spirit [元神] and our state of mind [心神] exist [處於] in a realm [境界] of purity, but unfortunately as we gradually grow older, our sense of sight, of hearing, of smell, of taste and of touch bring us into contact with [令我哋接觸到] the material world and, accordingly [亦都因爲咁樣], give rise to endless desires.

我哋雙眼,見到件好,好新款嘅衫 | 我哋買嘢嘅慾念亦都由此而起喇 | 諗買唔買 | 買唔起又會唔開心 | 即使買得到,過咗幾耐,我哋可能又會見到另一件又新款又靚嘅衫 | 一個念頭接住一個念頭 | 亦都係一個慾望接住一個慾望,永無止境

● 慾念 yuhk6 nihm6 = a desire; a longing; a craving | ● 念頭 nihm6 tàuh4 = ① thought, idea ② intention | ● 止境 jí2 gíng2 = an end; a limit

When our eyes see a beautiful item of clothing in the latest fashion, our desire to buy things arises as a result. When we consider whether to buy it or not, we are liable to feel unhappy if we cannot afford it. And even if are able to buy it, before too long [過咗冇幾耐] we will probably see yet another beautiful item of clothing in the latest fashion. One thought is followed by another, and one desire is followed by another, forever without an end.

咁樣,我哋嘅「心」又點樣可以安靜落嚟呢?| 而心神恍惚,元神受到干擾,咁樣元神又點可以「清」呢?

● 干擾 gōn1 yíu2 = to disturb; to interfere; to obstruct | ● 恍惚 fóng2 fāt1 = ① in a trance; absentminded ② dimly; faintly; seemingly

Given this [咁樣], how can our heart-mind become calm [安靜落嚟]? And [when our] state of mind is trance-like [恍惚] and our original spirit is disturbed, how can our original spirit become pure [清]?

呢部《清靜經》就係指出,如果想做到心神清靜一都唔難嘅 | 因爲只不過係回復到心神本來嘅狀態 | 只要我哋肯去除妄想、貪求 | 自自然然,煩惱呢,亦都會相應咁消失 | 我哋要明白,道家認爲世界萬事萬物都冇一個絕對嘅標準

● 去除 heui3 chèuih4 = to get rid of; to remove | ● 妄想 móhng5 séung2 = a vain hope; wishful thinking | ● 貪求 tāam1 kàuh4 = to seek (sth. pleasurable); to covet| ● 相應 sēung1 ying3 = corresponding; relevant; here, the sense seems to be “correspondingly; in equal measure”

This work, the Classic of Purity, points out that if you wish to achieve purity of mind, it is not in the least bit difficult. This is because it is simply [a matter of] restoring the mind’s [心神] original state. Just as long as we are willing to get rid of wishful thinking and covetousness, vexation will also decrease correspondingly, as a matter of course [自自然然]. What we have to understand is that Taoism believes [認爲] there is no one absolute standard for anything in this world [世界萬事萬物].

我哋重視嘅價值,又或者係人哋對我哋嘅評價 | 其實【2:00】只不過係過眼雲煙 | 呢一刻,你認爲係新款嘅,過咗一排,就會成爲舊款 | 而某一日,你所曾經丟嘅舊款 | 又會因爲復古而再次興返

● 重視 juhng6 sih6 = to attach importance to; to think highly of; to value| ● 評價 pìhng4 gaa3 = to appraise; to evaluate | ● 過眼雲煙 gwo3 ngáahn5 wàhn4 yīn1 = as transient as a fleeting cloud | ● 過咗一排 gwo3 jó2 yāt1 pàaih4/páai4*2 = (?) after a while (a matter of years is implied by the context) | ● 舊款 gauh6 fún2 = an outdated fashion, model or design | ● 丟抌 dīu1 dám2 = (?) to throw away; to discard | ● 復古 fuhk6 gú2 = to restore ancient ways; retro-styled

Note: The verb 興 hīng1 is used in Cantonese to mean “popular” or “fashionable”. With the addition of the aspect marker 返 fāan, we get the sense of something coming back into fashion after a period of neglect.

Values that we consider important, or [other] peoples’ appraisal of us, are actually nothing more than fleeting clouds, transient [by nature]. What you think of as the latest style in this moment will, after a time, become outdated, but one day, all the outdated [clothes] you once threw away will come back into fashion because of a revival of retro fashions [復古].

唔單止係 *jai 衣食住行呢啲物質 | 人與人之間嘅相處,亦都係一樣,呢一刻其他人可能因爲想巴結你,而將你捧到天上 | 但係下一刻呢,可能佢哋會因爲更大嘅利益,而將你拉返落嚟

● 衣食住行 yī1-sihk6-jyuh6-hàhng4 = food, clothing, shelter and transportation — basic necessities of life; the bare necessities of everyday life | ● 物質 maht6 jāt1 = matter; substance; material | ● 巴結 bāa1 git3 = to curry favour with; perhaps “to suck up to” is closer to contemporary English | ● 捧到天上 púng2 dou3 tīn1 seuhng6 = to praise sb. to the skies

It isn’t [just a matter of] material things [such as] food, clothing, shelter and transportation. The way people relate to one another [人與人之間嘅相處 = lit. “the getting on between person and person”] is the same. One moment, others are singing your praises, perhaps in order to get something from you, but in the next moment they pull you back down, probably for some even greater benefit.

最後,你會明白,我哋日日夜夜追求嘅名譽、權力同埋財富 | 都唔可以安定我哋嘅心神 | 如果我哋識得將逐樣逐樣咁放低 | 我哋嘅心神就可以慢慢咁回復清靜 | 咁樣,我哋同「大道」嘅距離就會又再近一步喇

● 名譽 mìhng4 yuh6 = fame; reputation | ● 安定 [ng]ōn1 dihng6 = ① stable; quiet; settled ② to stabilize | ● 逐樣逐樣 juhk6 yeuhng6 juhk6 yeuhng6 = item by item; one by one

In the end, you will come to understand that we can never settle the mind [安定 . . . 心神] by going after fame, power and wealth day and night. If we know how to put [such pursuits] aside, one by one, our mind may gradually regain [its] purity, and, in this way [咁樣], the distance between us and the Great Tao will get smaller, too.

Related Material on this site:

● Learning Cantonese: The Story of Gun Yam
Pak Tai, True Soldier of the North

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