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Essay: 《蝴蝶的种子》Seed of a Butterfly by Lin Qingxuan

Taiwanese Buddhist essayist Lin Qingxuan marvels at the wonders of nature, time, space, and reincarnation. This piece is all about awe of the natural world, and you’ll learn some Discovery Channel vocab, like “pupa”, “mate”, “breed”, “spawn”, and lots of animal names.

Oh man, I just found a huge trove of essays by Lin Qingxuan (林清玄), all of which are just the right length and language level for intermediate readers, so expect a ton more from him.

Lin Qingxuan was an award-winning Taiwanese essayist. He studied Buddhism, and following along as he marvels at the wonders of nature, time, space, and reincarnation, you can tell. This piece is all about awe of the natural world, and you’ll learn some Discovery Channel vocab, like “pupa”, “mate”, “breed”, “spawn”, and all that kind of stuff.

Some language stuff

I changed one word of the Chinese original, because the version I found included the name of some kind of fish (娃鱼 wá yú) that I couldn’t find online anywhere, so it was either a typo, or that fish is just too obscure for the internet, or maybe it’s the way that fish is referred to in Taiwanese but not in mainland Mandarin. I changed it to 鲸鱼, “whale”, because it makes sense in context and wá yú kind of sounds like “whale”, but if anyone knows what a 娃鱼 is, by all means, enlighten me.

All the grammatical structures in here, to my eye, were uncomplicated, and there are no colloquialisms, so I think all the work in understanding this piece is just learning new animal-related vocab. Do comment if you see something I ought to explain.

《蝴蝶的种子》

我在院子里,观察一只蛹,如何变成蝴蝶。

那只蛹咬破了壳,全身湿软地从壳中钻了出来,它的翅膀卷曲皱缩成一团,它站在枝桠上休息晒太阳,好像钻出壳已经用了很大的力气。

它慢慢地、慢慢地,伸直翅膀,飞了起来。

它在空中盘桓了一下子,很快地找寻到一朵花,它停在花上,专注、忘情地吸着花蜜。

我感到非常吃惊,这只蝴蝶从来没有被教育怎么飞翔,从来没有学习过如何去吸花蜜,没有爸爸妈妈教过它,这些都是它的第一次,它的第一次就做得多么精确而完美呀!

我想到,这只蝴蝶将来还会交配、繁衍、产卵、死亡,这些也都不必经由学习和教育。

然后,它繁衍的子孙,一代一代,也不必教育和学习,就会飞翔和采花了。

一只蝴蝶是依赖什么来安排它的一生呢?未经教育与学习,它又是如何来完成像飞翔或采蜜如此复杂的事呢?

这个世界不是有很多未经教育与学习就完美展现的事吗?鸟的筑巢、蜘蛛的结网多么完美!孔雀想谈恋爱时,就开屏跳舞!云雀有了爱意,就放怀唱歌;天鹅和鲸鱼历经千里也不迷路;印度豹与鸵鸟天生就是赛跑高手。

这些都使我相信轮回是真实的。

一只蝴蝶乃是带着前世的种子投生到这个世界,在它的种子里,有一个不可动摇的信念:

“我将飞翔!我将采蜜!我将繁衍子孙!”

在那只美丽的蝴蝶身上,我看到空间的无限与时间的流动,深深地感动了。

Show English translation »

Seed of a Butterfly

[When] I was in the yard, I observed how a pupa became a butterfly.

That pupa bit open its casing, its soft, moist body burrowing out of its shell, its wings curled and wrinkled around him, it stood on the branch and rested while sunning itself, as if in burrowing out of its shell it had already used up a large amount of strength.

It slowly, slowly, straightened its wings, and flew.

It lingered in the air a while, and quickly sought out a flower, it paused on the flower, intently, indifferently sucking up the flower’s honey.

I felt extremely surprised, this butterfly was never taught how to fly, had never studied how to suck down honey, no mother and father taught it, all of this was its first time, and did this so precisely and perfectly the first time!

I thought, this butterfly will go on to mate, reproduce, spawn and die, and none of this requires study or education.

And then, the offspring it breeds, generation by generation, will also need no education or study, but will fly and pluck flowers.

What does a butterfly depend on to arrange [the course of] its life? Without undergoing education or study, how does it then complete such complicated tasks as flying and gathering flowers?

Doesn’t this world have so many things that don’t require education or study? How perfect are the nests that birds construct and the webs that spiders tie! When a peacock wants to find a mate, it simply spreads its tail and dances! When a sparrow has an inclination to love, it sings its heart out; swans and whales can travel ten thousand miles and not lose their way; the Indian leopard and the ostrich are innately master racers.

All this makes me believe that reincarnation is real.

A butterfly is still carrying the seeds of its past lives as it enters this world, and in its seed, there is an unwavering conviction:

“I will fly! I will gather honey! I will breed offspring!”

In the body of that beautiful butterfly, I could see the limitlessness of space and the flow of time, and was deeply moved.

2 replies on “Essay: 《蝴蝶的种子》Seed of a Butterfly by Lin Qingxuan”

For the translation: “When a sparrow wants to find a mate, it simply spreads its tail and dances! When a peacock has an inclination to love, it sings its heart out”.
I think it should be the other way around according to the original text. “孔雀想谈恋爱时,就开屏跳舞!” describes the peacock spreading its tail and dancing rather than the sparrow.

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