Mysterious Chinese Characters (13): Hai

November 24, 2008 7:39 pm Last Updated: October 24, 2015 9:36 pm

Chinese characters have evolved over thousands of years, changing with Chinese thought often influenced by Taosim. A good example of how Taoism has influenced this process is the character 還 (hái), which stands for “also, in addition, more, still, yet.” It is composed of two ideograms: 辶 and 睘, where 睘 is the root of the symbol and therefore determines the meaning. It contains the symbols for 四 (sì), 大 (dà), 一 (yī) and 心 (xīn). Because of the structure of the majority of the current fonts used by computers however, all these components cannot be discerned.

四 is the symbol for the number “four” and 大 for the adjective “great”. According to Taoism, the “four greats” 四大 signify the Tao (the Way), the heavenly realm, the earth, and the ruler. The two symbols 一心 indicate the human heart where 一 symbolizes the “four greats” of the heart.

Taoist teachings include the notion that humans should strive to become one with nature and the heavenly realm; living harmoniously was the key to salvation. 四大一心  thus indicates the condition of a person who has achieved harmony with the “four greats”, the Dao, the heavenly realm, earth and the earthly ruler. The leftmost symbol 辶 sets this process in motion. The ideogram 辶 stands for an ongoing dynamic process whose goal is still elusive, and it always indicates movement.

還 symbolizes the unification of both ideograms, the way to achieve harmony with the “four greats“ of the universe, which is analogous to cultivation and enlightenment through Taoist teachings. Thus, 還 can be translated as “also, in addition, more, still, yet”, and, when pronounced differently, may mean “return” or “repetition.”