What is Polite? What is Serious?

I knew somewhere on this message board someone mentioned insight meditation, and it was Joe in this thread. We've started a little group up here in Sonora and are listening to CD's of workshops taught there on Vipasana meditation. It has really tuned up my practice and I am very grateful.

Allandnone: you might look into the Insight Mediation Center: http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/. I love that it is run totally on donations. Everything there is free--not even a suggested donation. And all other disciplines are respected. I think this organization is above reproach. So much so that I send more money than I normally would just because I so admire their integrity.

I've been meaning to thank Joe for his post of April 30. Better late than never. Thank you for putting your experience into words. All I can say is a heartfelt "Ditto" to everything you said.


  • edited November 2006
    First, define the word polite? Got something? Now, define the word serious. Okey? Doing this before you read further should make the following more interesting.

    Okey, the Chinese word (one anyway) for polite is limao. Now, the interesting thing is what those two characters mean. li means ceremony and mao means appearance. So, limao translated directly would be ceremony appearance. Doesn't that give a deeper sense of what polite means? Polite is not how people actually are, it is the 'appearance' they adopt in social circumstances. Mostly this is reflexive and innate, though sometimes it is deliberate to win some intended advantage. The ceremony aspect highlights just how relative polite is. In Thailand pointing your foot at someone is among the most impolite disrespectful actions you could do. In the West it would go unnoticed. Burping is 'gross' in the West but elsewhere as sign of appreciation of the good meal.

    Next, the Chinese word (one anyway) for serious is renzhen. Ren means to recognize, and zhen means reality. So, renzhen translated directly would be recognize reality. That certainly is enough to make anyone serious.

    Go look these two words up in an English dictionary and see if it doesn't tend to give you somewhat of a circular meaning. The deep meaning which is readily apparent in Chinese (writing anyway) is a fascinating quality of the Chinese language. It is probably due to the fact that word meaning is 'locked in' by calligraphy, not by phonetics as it is with most other languages. Does this quality of written Chinese help account for the longevity of Chinese civilization? Hmm..?
  • edited December 1969
    As a Chinese and English speaker, this a fun subject for me. As a student of language in general it?s also endlessly fascinating. ?Li- mao? translated as polite in English is perfectly adequate, but when I actually use the words, culturally (we would say in my heart) it somehow means a great deal more. For Chinese people, polite behavior is not certain type of behavior, it?s the only kind (we?ll get into what exactly different people consider polite behavior at some later date). Anything else is unacceptable. Correct behavior (politeness) is something a cultural obsession. Kingdoms have been said to be lost due to it (most famously in the novel the Three Kingdoms, a retreating and an all but defeated Prime Minister Cao got past General Guan Yu by employing the same ?polite? greeting he had used when Guan was his beleaguered ?guest? at an earlier time. Cao used the same greeting a third time with rather infamous sarcasm when Guan?s head was later brought to him in a box. - this goes with Carl?s words on winning the advantage, it?s also a somewhat facetious nod to the folly of fanaticism with regard to being polite or anything for that matter). To add to this obsession, correct or acceptable behavior is not merely a reflection on you, it?s a matter of your upbringing, and therefore a reflection on your forbears. Given the other main obsession of filial piety, to reflect badly on your family is tantamount high treason. Thus, when I utter the words, ?without li-mao? to describe some offensive churl, I am not only venomously insulting my mark, but his entire family and all his ancestors as well. Correct behavior, as I said, is a given. A somewhat archaic formal greeting was to compliment your counterpart on his or her manners (ceremoniousness) immediately (even if you know absolutely nothing about the person), as in, ?yu-li? (with li as opposed to without)..

    The second phrase, ?ren-zhen?, is another Carl Abbott homerun when he says, ?That certainly is enough to make anyone serious.? When I use the word ?zhen?, I actually mean ?true.? ?Ren-zhen? means to recognize the truth. Reality, yes, but more towards truth. There?s nothing more serious than the truth.

    By the way, Carl, what is the truth?

    Anyway, the question of language and meaning locked into the calligraphy is interesting. There is no doubt that there is a subconscious reading of deeper meaning in Chinese writing. Not all written words have deep meanings, but so many do. On the other hand, throughout the centuries, literacy has always been, shall we say, rather spotty in China. Yet, one cannot contest that influence of the written language with its deep meanings has had an effect in the spoken language. There is a weightiness to most words that are at times untranslatable to other languages or at least translations pale in comparison. I will say that Carl?s approach to studying the written language to gain insight into the true essence of the language is truly the way to go.

    I cannot objectively comment on Carl?s question of the quality of the written Chinese helping the longevity of our civilization. Let?s just say that after all these millennia it still works for me. .

    P.S. I realize that anyone who has bothered to read this is questioning my command of the English language. I am fully aware that the word quiz implies a short answer and apologize in advance for treating it as an essay question!
  • edited December 1969
    Hey, this is so cool I decided that it deserved more exposure than any old "Lounge" thread, thus I've moved it to "Tangents and Other Angles"...
  • edited December 1969
    [cite] Wen-zhong:[/cite]By the way, Carl, what is the truth?
    Well, I can only assume what truth probably isn't. I particularly love the concluding chapter of the Tao Te Ching... [chref=81]Truthful words are not beautiful; beautiful words are not truthful.[/chref]. And then, to paraphrase the first chapter, [chref=1]The truth that can be spoken of, Is not the constant truth...[/chref] And yet I keep typing away, eh? That's okey. No contradiction there as long as I know I full of it. :lol:
  • edited December 1969
    Touch?! :lol:
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