内观不识因无相 / 外合明知作有形

Thursday, 2nd January, 2020

This couplet from a “testimonial poem” about the Monkey King from Journey to the West struck me:

内观不识因无相,
外合明知作有形。

nèi guān bù shí yīn wū xiàng,
wài hé míng zhī zuò yǒu xíng.

Anthony Yu’s translation is:

Formless inside he yields no image known;
His outward guise coheres in action shown.

A clunky but more literal gloss might be:

The inside view [内观] is not known [不识] because [因] it is without appearance [无相],

The outside whole [外合] is clearly known [明知] through its tangible [有形] work [作].

The couplet is an antithetical couplet with the two lines having exactly the same pattern and contrasting meanings:

内观 不识 无相
nèi guān bù shí yīn wū xiàng
Inside view not know because without appearance
外合 明知 有形
wài hé míng zhī zuò yǒu xíng
outside whole clear know work has form

内观 (nèi guān, “inside view”) is translated by Google (but not by Bing) as “Vipassana”, “one of two qualities of mind which is developed in Buddhist meditation” (according to Wikipedia). See this footnote in the Wikipedia page. There is also a branded form of yoga called “内观流” (Inside Flow) [https://insideflow.yoga/].

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