Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: "I am the Universe."
Thanks again Peter. That helped confirmed what one of my electronic dictionaries was giving for the term -- it only gave "ware."
John, and Peter please offer your take on the translation as well -
I would not say that the problem is with the translation per se, as much as it is with the context that usually goes with it. The context is not a commonly shared context and most likely it never was. That is why I am most impressed with the radio interview, because Osensei giving that talk there must have been like when he (Osensei) was lecturing to his students - all those times folks now tell us how they did not understand what Osensei was saying. Here we have a chance to regain context. This is not so easy but at least it is possible.
As to how uncommon this context is or was, in the 1962 documentary there is supposedly one of those lectures captured on film. I have to say that, yes, the faces of those listening are not supporting the usual cultural expression of "I get what you are saying" (not even the just being polite "I get what you are saying"). Indeed those students do look totally lost, as would anyone who was not as learned or as practiced as Osensei was in traditional Japanese religious culture and/or in the new mystical reinterpretations that Omoto-kyo was doing with such things. That stuff just was not part of the average Japanese person's mindset at that time. Omoto-kyo's worldview was not on the lips of every Japanese person at that time. On top of things, by the radio interview, it is clear that Osensei was much schooled in the teachings of Omoto-kyo. He represented what I would consider an expert level of such things. I say that because Omoto-kyo teachings are very convoluted. So, even if you know a little, you know a lot. Moreover, Osensei seemed to know a lot. Expecting some young men, young men living at the apex of a cultural revolution (in my opinion) that started at the end of the previous century, to understand a man who was already out of date in that previous century is asking too much of anyone.
In the radio interview too, for example, there are very little of the common "Yes, I see," or "Yes, of course," or "Yes, I understand." Whenever such phrases are said, you can almost SEE the apprehension in the sounds of the words. In my opinion, Osensei seems to be talking way over this man's head -- talking with a language not readily understood by the average Japanese person at that time, not even someone primed to do an interview with the man.
For example, a funny part occurs in the radio interview after a long explanation by Osensei on his mystical understanding of Man and the Universe (predominantly Omoto-kyo based). At the end of that talk, the interviewer sort of chimes in finally and says something he obviously heard from someone else -- it was obviously a prepared question. You could tell because it was so unrelated to what Osensei had been saying. In fact, Osensei had already answered it in the conversation, had the man understood the mystical union of all things as delivered in Osensei's discussion, but obviously he did not so the question just drops like a bag of sand. The question was something like, "So, is it true there are no attacks in Aikido?" After a slight pause, one you can sense is partly made of shock, Osensei sort of chuckles (as if humored by the question) and then goes on to say that it would not be right for there not to be attacks in Aikido (which will come as a shock to some folks out there since this interview is obviously post WWII, and near the end of Osensei's life -- which is supposedly where he "evolved" beyond attacks, according to such discourses.). Osensei goes on to explain (summarizing), since Aikido is about dualities becoming one, which is the true nature of reality, there are attacks in Aikido because attacks represent one side of something else. This fits in with the earlier talk Osensei had just given, but at that point, perhaps realizing where Osensei was going to go with every new question, the interviewer said he was out of time -- though he said he had many other questions to ask.
My point is this, the context we are usually given with these translations are the problem -- how could they not be, since it would be very uncommon for someone to share Osensei's worldview (due to social and/or cultural reasons) at that time and then to bring that to us here today in whole. Today when we hear something like "I am the universe," usually the adjoining context bounces along a spectrum of supporting a literal understanding, a symbolic understanding, or a metaphorical understanding. That is to say, for example, some folks offer a context where Osensei is some kind of super-being, where he can be equated with the stars, planets, moons, etc. Some folks offer a context where Osensei is speaking of the physical properties of the natural world and of living in harmony with those properties. However, in my opinion, all of these contexts, and their many variations, cannot be correct because they all make use of the subject-object dichotomy. Contrarily, Osensei's thinking is mystical in nature and thus opts to reject the aforementioned dichotomy. That is to say, Osensei's thinking rejects the literal, the symbolic, and the metaphorical but for perhaps at the most superficial levels of practice.
One could of course play with the translation to make it more difficult to understand literally, symbolically, or metaphorically, such that one might suggest things like the following:
"There is nothing that I am not."
"I am everything, everything is I."
However, the beauty of leaving the translation as "I am the universe" is that it fits in perfectly with countless other mystical traditions found throughout history and the world (today) -- where this exact statement was said and still being said. There is another reason to leave the translation as it is (better to address the context of the translation instead). It is highly likely that it was this phrase itself that came into Osensei's understanding of the world via the mystical traditions of Europe -- traditions that Omoto-kyo was coming into contact with via its efforts to be part of the world-religion movement of that time. So I would say, the translations are fine. Personally, I would not change them or change them too much from what we now have because of the two reasons I just gave (i.e. it fits in with the larger world mystical tradition and there is probably some historical relevance pertaining to an immigration of ideas). However, any context that continues to make use of a subject-object dichotomy (which includes literal, symbolic, and/or metaphorical understandings) is going to lead astray -- so for me the contexts are usually the problem.