Monday, November 21, 2005

Let's Talk About 羅

I was prodded in the direction to make my blog more about the things I find interesting. I suppose that was always the original intent of this blog, but as of this moment I'm taking a renewed interest in writing in my own "voice" so to speak, rather than trying to appease the ghost of many a lit professor of the past looking over my shoulder and constantly grading for sense and sensibility. Here we go.

You might notice in the navigation bar to the left that my name is listed as 帝羅. I can promise you, whether you are Japanese or Chinese, you probably cannot read this kanji as I intend it to be read the first time.

I don't particularly want to discuss the first kanji, because it's very easy. It is the kanji used for Emperor in the Japanese sense. Soothill's Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms (login with the UserID "guest" for full access) can be quickly consulted to show the meaning of 帝 and it's list of pronunciations. If you're not of the mental persuasion to visit such a site at this time, I can tell you for naught that there are ten listed pronunciations two of which - だい (dai) and たい (tai) - are used in Japanese.

So - 帝 means Emperor - sorted.

羅 on the other hand is a very mixed bag. Keeping in mind that I'm not a professional please accept my explanation on faith alone that, yes, I was told these things about this kanji when I first chose it as one of the characters to represent my name. Opps - that was a bit of private information thrown in there accidentally.

Of course I consulted a few online sites for help with understanding the history of this kanji. First I found Kiki's Kanji Dictionary which returned the results as:

gauze, thin silk, Rome

This kanji has 19 strokes: 6 in the "net crown" radical (あみがしら) and 13 other strokes. (I copied the stroke count information just for those wishing the full range of mental anguish per new kanji).

Look at that, the kanji 羅 can mean gauze and Rome (depending on context!).

This is where kanji always does my head in. It's fine if the kanji is used to mean gauze or thin silk because it does, in deed, have the kanji for thread (糸 いと) right inside it! Hint: You can use the Edict Kanji Dictionary to verify that if you'd like. Just type in いと (ito) in the search engine and use your browser's Search or Find On Page function to seek out the text "thread" quickly. When you find 糸 on it's own you can come back and say "ok now I believe you."

But "Rome"? How does a kanji get to share the meaning for one of the greatest civilizations ever with the rather drab word "thread"?

I didn't buy it either - so I moved on in my search to:

category: 常用漢字
nb of strokes: 19
translation: net, put in a row (conf.)

あみ: net
つら.ねる: put in a row
うすもの: light stuff

Which comes from the English-Japanese Dictionary of Kanji Character #136.

So "net" can be made of something like "thread" and I can go with it linking the meanings "gauze" and "thin silk" because we're discovering a kind of clothy theme with this kanji. I still don't buy "Rome."

So I continued in my search towards a point that I felt was more accurate. Here is where my personal story enters.

This kanji was chosen for me by some of my favorite students. They chose it because it is "cool." Which doesn't mean something is "cool" at all by traditional definitions. However, I confirmed with independent sources that 羅 is cool because a lot of YAKUZA MEMBERS like to use this kanji for their nicknames.

Perhaps the beloved students I thought were looking out for me were trying to get me into trouble with the Japanese mafia?

Anyway - I liked the look of it, and it was a far sight better than alternative kanji with the same reading like 平 (たいら taira "flat, smooth surface" /yawn /cough /lame), so I stuck with it. One of my professor friends with degrees and awards and other pieces of paper besides relating to Chinese Poetry and Buddhism told me that 羅 was the kanji used representing one of the Buddhist "realms" of reality outside our own. This 羅 represents the Realm of the Titans where there are, presumably of course, some rather large beings of titanic size doing rather large things with themselves. I immediately imagined Cyclops from Roman tales (Greek?) and "got" the connection with Rome. It's also far more cool to us 羅 just for the sound effect. 羅 should be said "ra~" with a kind of trail one uses when opening one's mouth to let a doctor look at the back of the throat. Better than "net" anyway.

Still I am not satisfied with this explanation. My electronic dictionary also confirms that 羅 can be used as a noun for "net" or as a verb for "put things in a straight line" which I suppose is what a net is like when it's constructed. I am not a maker of nets, nor do I plan to try anytime in the forseeable future (read: never).

I turned up at a site by Soothill and Hodous which gave me this interesting defintion that I've linked and copied for you:

多羅 tārā, in the sense of starry, or scintillation; Tāla, for the fan-palm; Tara, from 'to pass over', a ferry, etc. Tārā, starry, piercing, the eye, the pupil; the last two are both Sanskrit and Chinese definitions; it is a term applied to certain female deities and has been adopted especially by Tibetan Buddhism for certain devīs of the Tantric school. The origin of the term is also ascribed to tar meaning 'to cross', i. e. she who aids to cross the sea of mortality. Getty, 19-27. The Chinese derivation is the eye; the tara devīs; either as śakti or independent, are little known outside Lamaism. Tāla is the palmyra, or fan-palm, whose leaves are used for writing and known as 具多 Pei-to, pattra. The tree is described as 70 or 80 feet high, with fruit like yellow rice-seeds; the borassus eabelliformis; a measure of 70 feet. Taras, from to cross over, also means a ferry, and a bank, or the other shore. Also 呾囉.

Now the first kanji listed there is "た (ta)" and means
【多い】 [おおい] (adj) many/numerous/(P) by itself. So you'll immediately think "right, a large number of nets." But instead, almost cruelly, you get the meaning "in the sense of starry" which may refer to the skies where these other realms of Buddhism are thought to exist. So perhaps we have a connection to the Realm of the Titans meaning by virtue of "a lot of RA" being starry or scintillating. I remain unconvinced.

I wanted a definition of just this one kanji, so I refined my search and came up with:

A net (for catching birds), gauze, open work; sieve; to arrange in order; translit. la and ra南羅 S. Lāra; Lāḍa; Lāṭa, in Gujarāt; 北羅 N. Lāra, Valabhī, on the western coast of Gujarāt. sounds, e.g.

Now we're back to the gauze meaning. Although we have gained "sieve" which could be a good thing, time has yet to tell.

The interesting point of all this information is that I was shown a site very soon after I started using this kanji with the listed defintions:

1. Realm of the Titans
2. Penis

I'm not big on making my discussions anything more than PG-13 at worst, so I'll let you re-read it to avoid re-typing. I have been unable to find this definition again through the websites I used today, but I will persevere and find out how "net," "Rome," and "XXXXX" all came to use the same kanji (probably 1 kanji among many for the latter of the three words).

Moral of the story: choose your kanji wisely. Like all elements of language (any language) one definition does not satisfy the range of possibly interpretations (which is like saying "green" is in the eye of the beholder).


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