Meaning of “Arigato”
3 years ago, I joined a translation project. There were Buddhist ministers from America and Japan who have a Jodo Shinshu liturgy specialist license because we need to translate a book that tells how to prepare and provide Shin Buddhist services and the meaning of rituals for Buddhist ministers.
When I joined the project, I thought it would be finished in a year. But we have not been able to bind the book yet, even though we had a meeting at least once every two weeks for over three years. This is because the book has not only classical and technical terms Japanese, but also Sanskrit and Chinese, which we just, cannot translate into English.
Sometimes, we were not sure if we should translate them literally or translate them with meaning. Moreover, we were confused if we should translate it into English because some Japanese words are used normally today. If you attend the services, many of you may know what are Gassho (placing palms together), Oshoko (burning incense) and Nenbutsu (reciting Amida Buddha’s name).
Furthermore, non-Buddhist Japanese terms are even more acknowledged. For example, last week I attended a temple camp for one day. I met some children who had not been to our temple yet. But before they eat breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner, they always did Gassho and said Itadakimasu that is a pre meal word in Japanese. Some of them also said Konnichiha, Sayonara, and Arigato. If someone asks me to translate this into Japanese, it’s very easy. Konnichiha is Hello, and Sayonara is See You. And I believe “Arigato” is the most famous Japanese that means Thank you.
But if someone asks me to translate or explain the meaning of “Arigato”, it is very difficult for me, because the word “Arigato” is from the teachings of the Buddha. “Ari” literally means to exist, and “Gato” literally means difficult. So “Arigato” could be translated as existence is difficult.
Why do we say that when someone treats us, because we don’t want to take their kindness for granted.
I know one interesting story. A Jodo Shinshu member in Tottori Prefecture was a man who never forgot to be grateful for everything.
One day, it was raining and he was walking outside without an umbrella. A minister asked him, “Why are you walking without an umbrella? You will catch a cold.” But he said “Arigato Arigato. I am so glad I am so happy because this rain teaches me that my nostrils need to face downward.so I can breathe even though it is raining. I am so thankful for Amida Buddha’s great compassion. Namo Amida Butsu. Namo Amida Butsu.”
So he appreciated this condition of his nose pointing down that people take for granted, and he said Namo Amida Butsu to explain his rejoicing. Moreover he felt the great compassion of Amida Buddha in everything he did.
Often, it’s easy to take things for granted. We forget the value of things and conditions that surrounding us. But when we say “Arigato”, the word makes us realize how much we are supported and helped by the things around us. Therefor Arigato’s meaning is not only “Thank you” but also, “existence is difficult”.