Friday, November 11, 2011

Cheers to Coincidence

I’m not good at remembering people’s name.  But lately, my memory has been improving.  I think I owe it to a chain of coincidences.
              First, I meet a woman in my beginning Arabic language class, and I can remember her name right away.  Why?  Her given name is similar to my daughter’s.  Second is the name of my intermediate jazz dance teacher.  Her given name is the same as my mother’s name and even the kanji.  Third is my new friend.  She is a young woman, and her last name is the same as my mother’s maiden name. 
              I think coincidence helps in many ways.  It prevents or slows down the process of Alzheimer, helps make more great friends, and deepens my curiosity about people and this universe. 

I probably talk about coincidence often.  That’s because my mother valued it.  I talk about my mother a lot.  That’s not a coincidence.  She used to look so happy when she described about her great coincidence.
              Talking about great coincidence, I’ve learned that anta in Arabic is the same as in Japanese.  It means you.  So, I tell my Arabic language teacher if Japanese anta came from Arabic.  She makes a grin on her face and says if I can prove that, it will be a huge discovery.  I don’t know if I ever make a great discovery, but I can make many small discoveries.
              My Arabic language teacher is Japanese, and her Arabic name is Mona.  She has encouraged us students to choose our Arabic name.  On page 55 of our text book, we look at the list of male and female names.  Top of the female names is Laila followed by Mona.  I choose Laila because I like the sound of it. 
              The last week was our third class.  One of the students had decided her Arabic name.  She chose Yasmin. 

“Jasmines and lemons are popular in the Arab world,” the teacher says.

“Oh, I wonder if lemons came from Arab,” I say. 

I open my digital dictionary and enter “lemon”.  I see the entry describing Arabic origin “limun.”  Ha!  Mun sounds moon.  They are both round.

“I wonder if “mon” of lemon is connected to Moon.”

“I don’t know, but Moon in Arabic is Hamal,” the teacher says.

I better shut up.  This is a language class, not a coincidence class.  But my brain can’t help but continue thinking about hamal.  Mal of hamal sounds close to maru in Japanese because we do not use R sounds.  We tend to pronounce like L for R.  By the way, hamaru in Japanese means “be hooked on.”  Hamal and hamaru sound similar to my ear.  I’m hooked on Arabic.  This is another coincidence. 
Next day, I try to find out how to write hamal in Arabic.  I page through to the end of my textbook to see the list of words, but they aren’t there.  Instead, I happen to open section 19 and right in the middle, the word “coincidence” appears in Japanese.  A corresponding Arabic sentence is on right hand side.  I examine the Arabic letters and spot the word, coincidence.  It sounds like sdufa.  I could be wrong, but it must be close.   Wait a minute.  I can’t help it, but it connects me to the end of the Prajna-paramita-sutra which I recently happen to read. 
“The last part of the Prajna-paramita-sutra does not have a clear, logical translation,” Hiro Sachiya, the author, wrote in his book.  In Japanese, we say sowaka, but in Sanskrit, it is svaha.  I know it’s idiosyncratic.  The sutra was translated into ancient Chinese from the ancient Sanskrit, and the ancient Japanese translated the Chinese translation into Japanese.  So, the last part was forced the ancient Chinese pronunciations into the Japanese text, and I doubt that the Chinese translators understood the exact meaning of this last part.  Anyway, in my head, sdufa connects to svaha.  Compared to other comparisons, these two words sound closer than others. 
“Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.”
This is the last part of the sutra and recited again and again wishing the people best who are trying to get to the other side (nirvana.)  Svaha means something like “bring happiness.”  Coincidence can certainly bring happiness. 

Before I started my beginner Arabic language class, I read a little bit about Quran and other Islam related books.  It is also a coincidence that I found out Ookawa Shumei whom I’ve mentioned in my past blog, and who was a WWII war criminal and sentenced as a mentally ill.  I think I mentioned that he wasn’t crazy.  Anyway, I was reading “Do you know about Quran?” by Atouda Takashi.  I love his books.  He and his books are not intimidating. 
In the Atouda’s book, I found out that Ookawa Shumei was the first translator of Quran into Japanese, and he translated Quran in the prison!  I was very surprised to read this information.  I wonder what motivated him to do it right then and during the famous prison sentence after WWII.  I want to know more about that.
Because of all these coincidences, I have tremendous, renewed curiosity to unknown men and women of the world.   They lure me to read the ancient sutras which I used to think only monks would read.  And they drag me around on a magic carpet to connect with all over the world.    


jiturajgor said...

'Gate gate...........' when some one achieve beyond the highest achievement or when nothing more to be learned or observed. When one become a 'knowledge' itself. 'Swaha' means 'it happens' or 'it be' or 'I offer'. In ritual 'Agni-hom' of Hindu vadic kriya, we offer wood, fat,oil, sismee seeds, coconut etc and each time while putting it in to the fire chant 'om swaha'... its a sacrifice or an offering too. You are a genius student of culture Keiko, I am proud of you.

keiko amano said...

After your explanation, swaha makes sense to me now as the source of sowaka. Thank you for interpretation. It somehow became "sowaka" in Japanese after several language translations. We hardly use consonant by itself (the only one is m or n), so in Japanese, "S" has to become Sa, Si, Su, Se, or So. So, the Japanese translators chose "so." And I just learned in Arabic that it has "ha" and "kha" and they are similar to out ear. I think Sanskrit, Hindu, or Arabic and many other languages have similar subtle pronunciation like that. We don't. So, kha or ha can either be ka or ha in Japanese, so I guess the Japanese translators chose ka. Therefore, swaha ended up sowaka in Japan. This is great, Jitu! Thank you!!!

The temple near me creates fire on eighth, eighteenth, and twenty-eighth days. I think the temples that create fire belong to Mitsu-kyo. Mitsu-kyo means secret teachings in Japanese, so I used to feel something dark and mysterious coming from that name. It isn't a friendly name. It rather makes a distance from ordinary people, I think. Also Buddhists call that fire, "goma-o-taku." I thought until now it meant "cooking sesame seeds." Sesame seeds mean goma in Japanese. What a misinterpretation! I just opened up my dictionary and found out goma is homa. I have no idea what is homa, but I guess my understanding was completely wrong. Buddhism was all very mysterious and hard to learn, but it shouldn't be that way. In recent years, many Buddhists are speaking up and reaching out to people. And there are many Japanese books and classes are available. I'm lucky to be able to learn and also converse my excitement through blogs and top of that, I get responses from the person like you from India!

ZACL said...

Your brain will never, never atrophy, you have to much constructive and spontaneous curiosity for that to happen.

Rebb said...

Keiko, I loved this when I first read it soon after you posted it. There was so much to digest, I decided I would come back and here I am. I always appreciate your language and culture blogs because I learn so much. Your blogs probably help exercise my brain too!

Have you been doing anything different lately in addition to your Arabic language class that you feel has improved your memory? I think that’s great that you notice improvements in your memory.

I wonder if your natural curiosity and interest in so many things also feeds the coincidences in your life.

Wonderful blog. Thank you for sharing!

keiko amano said...


The other day, I bought a can of oatmeal at the market at Landmark Tower because that is the only place I know that I can buy a decent old fashioned oatmeal. It's a small can and its price is way too expensive compared to the US. But guess what? I forgot my purchase somewhere. As soon as I brag about my improvement!

keiko amano said...


I don't have enough time to blog about all my interest, but more and more comes up, never ending. You are right that when we are curious and look for them, coincidences multiplies. It's hard to catch up?!