Mafan. 麻烦 or 麻煩 in Simplified and Traditional Chinese, respectively.

Meaning: trouble; troublesome; a bother, a thorn in one’s side. 

Mafanwas one of the first Chinese words I learned as a child. My grandmother (maa maa / 嫲嫲 / nai nai /  奶奶) would utter the word several times throughout the day when I stayed at her home as a child.

Everything was mafan for my maa maa.

I never knew she was teaching me and my sister, perhaps subconsciously, about the suffering of modern life.

Today, my understanding of Cantonese is basically non-existent. However, there are words from my childhood that have been etched into my linguistic memory.

Even before I learned the meaning of mafan, I became familiar with the expression aiya / 哎呀.

As I grew older, I realized that aiya would often be followed by a sentence with the word mafan.

In rare moments of extreme frustration, my grandmother would turn to her altar in desperation and ask for divine assistance from guanyin (观音 / 觀音).

As I reflect back on my grandmother’s influence on my life, I wonder whether she was the first person to introduce to me to the idea of dukkha in Buddhism.

When I traveled to China many years later as an adult, one of the phrases that stuck with me was cha bu duo / 差不多 / caa m do / 差唔多.

At times, I wish my grandmother had more of a caa m do attitude toward the irritations of daily living.

Yet that gnawing feeling of discontent probably led her to ponder whether there was more to life than enduring the indignities of being a human in society.

Didn’t the Buddha feel a similar acute sense of samvega before he embarked on his journey to awakening?

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