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D. T. Suzuki in English
鈴木 大拙 貞太郎 Suzuki Daisetsu Teitarō (1870-1966)
[Suzuki Daisetz Teitaro; D. T. Suzuki]
D. T. Suzuki: A Zen területe
Rafalszky Katalin fordítása
A szerkesztő előszava
Dr. D. T. Suzuki. A The Times 1966. július 13-i számában megjelent nekrológ
1. Régi emlékek. (A Buddhist Society fennállásának 40. évfordulójára - 1964. novemberében)
2. Buddha és Zen. (előadás a Manchester College Oxfordban, 1953. júniusában)
3. A Satori jelentése. (A Buddhista Társaságban mondott előadás, 1953. szeptemberében)
4. Mondo. (A Middle Way számára. 1953. augusztusában)
5. Maha Prajna és Maha Karuna. (A Buddhista Társaságban elhangzott előadás, 1958. májusában)
6. A buddhizmus analitikus és szintetikus megközelítése. (A Buddhista Társaságban elhangzott előadás, 1953. júniusában)
7. Hogyan lehet behatolni a valóságba. (A Buddhista Társaságban elhangzott előadás, 1954. júliusában)
8. Az én és a Zen. (Előadás a Caxton Hall-ban, 1953. szeptemberében)
9. Eckhart és a Zen buddhizmus. (A Middle Way számára, 1955. augusztusában)
10. A Soto mesterek tanítása. (Kiadásra átadva 1958-ban)
11. A Shin és a Zen összehasonlítása. (Válaszok a Zen Iskolában feltett kérdésekre - 1953. júniusában.
12. A Zen buddhizmus hite. (A Buddhista Társaságban elhangzott előadás feljegyzéseiből, 1958. júniusában)
13. A válasz a kérdésben van. (Feljegyzések a Buddhista Társaságban elhangzott előadásról 1953. júniusában)
14. Zen meditáció. (Feljegyzések a Zen Iskolában tartott előadásról - 1958.)
15. Hirtelen és fokozatos megvilágosodás. (A Zen Iskolában tartott beszédből részletek - 1958. májusában)
D. T. Suzuki: Előadások a zen-buddhizmusról
Gy. Horváth László fordítása
Erich Fromm - D. T. Suzuki: Zen-buddhizmus és pszichoanalízis c. kötetből
Thomas Merton: A zen és a falánk madarak
Erős László Antal fordítása
Thomas Merton: D. T. Suzuki, az ember és munkássága
Bölcsesség az ürességben
Thomas Merton és Daisetz T. Suzuki párbeszéde
Daisetz T. Suzuki: TUDÁS ÉS ÁRTATLANSÁG
Thomas Merton: A PARADICSOM VISSZASZERZÉSE
Daisetz T. Suzuki: ZÁRÓ MEGJEGYZÉSEK
Thomas Merton: ZÁRÓ MEGJEGYZÉSEK
John Cage: A csend c. könyvéből
Erős László Antal fordítása
Kéziratként a fordítótól
A kritikusok, miután részt vettek némelyik hangversenyemen, vagy meghallgatták valamelyik előadásomat, gyakorta dadát kiáltanak. Mások a zen iránti érdeklődésemen sajnálkoznak. Az egyik legragyogóbb előadást, amelyet valaha hallottam, Nancy Wilson Ross tartotta Seattle-ben, a Cornish Schoolban. Az volt a címe, hogy A zen buddhizmus és a dada. Lehet kapcsolatot találni a kettő között, de sem a dada, sem a zen nem szilárd, megfogható valami. Változnak; és meglehetősen eltérő módokon, különféle helyeken és időpontokban cselekvést hívnak életre. Ami a dada az 1920-as években volt, az ma, Marcel Duchamp munkásságának kivételével, csupán művészet. Ami engem illet, én nem szeretném, ha a zent vetnék a szememre, bár a zen iránti elkötelezettségem (Alan Watts és D.T. Suzuki előadásain való részvétel és az irodalom elolvasása) nélkül kétlem, hogy azt csináltam volna, amit. Mondták, hogy Alan Watts megkérdőjelezte a munkásságom és a zen közötti kapcsolatot. Ezt azért említem, hogy felmentsem a zent a tetteim miatti mindenféle felelősség alól. De azért továbbra is el fogom követni tetteimet. Gyakran rámutatok, hogy a dadában manapság van egyfajta tér, egyfajta üresség, amelynek korábban híján volt. Vajon manapság, Amerikában a huszadik század közepén, micsoda a zen?
John Cage meets D.T. Suzuki in Japan, 1962.
Egy indiai hölgy meghívott vacsorára, és azt mondta, hogy Dr. Suzuki is ott lesz. Ott is volt. Vacsora előtt megemlítettem Gertrude Stein nevét. Suzuki nem hallott róla. Vázoltam munkássága bizonyos vonásait, amire azt mondta, hogy nagyon érdekesen hangzik. Felvillanyozva szóba hoztam James Joyce-t, akinek a neve megint csak új volt a számára. Vacsoránál nem tudta megenni a kínált currys ételeket, ezért néhány nyers zöldséget és gyümölcsöt hoztak, ezeket élvezettel fogyasztotta. Vacsora után a beszélgetés metafizikai problémákra terelődött, és rengeteg kérdés merült fel, mert a háziasszony egy bizonyos indiai jógi követője volt, és a vendégei többé-kevésbé azonos számban voltak az indiai és a japán gondolkodás elkötelezettjei. Tizenegy tájban kint sétáltunk az utcán, és egy amerikai hölgy azt mondta: - Hogyan van ez, dr. Suzuki? Egész álló este kérdéseket tettünk fel, és semmi nem dőlt el. - Dr. Suzuki elmosolyodott, és azt mondta: - Ezt szeretem a filozófiában: senki nem nyer.
A zen tanulmányozása előtt az emberek emberek, a hegyek pedig hegyek. A zen tanulmányozása közben a dolgok összezavarodnak. A zen tanulmányozása után az emberek emberek, a hegyek pedig hegyek. Miután ezt elmondta, dr. Suzukinak feltették a kérdést: - Mi a különbség az előtte és az utána között? - Nincs semmi különbség, csak a lábak kissé elemelkednek a földtől.
Suzuki egyik könyve egy japán szerzetes költői szövegével végződik, amely leírja a maga megvilágosodásának bekövetkeztét. Az utolsó vers azt mondja: - Most, hogy megvilágosultam, ugyanolyan szerencsétlen vagyok, mint bármikor előtte.
Az utóbbi években Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki nagyon sokat adott elő a Columbia Egyetemen. Először a Vallási Tanszéken volt, aztán valahol másutt. Végül a Filozófiai Intézet hetedik emeletén telepedett le. Az ablakai két irányban nyíltak, középen volt egy nagy asztal hamutartókkal. Székek álltak az asztal körül és a falaknál. Ezeket mindig elfoglalták a figyelő hallgatók, és páran rendszerint az ajtó közelében is álltak. Az a két-három ember, aki felvett tárgyként hallgatta az órát, az asztal körüli székeken ült. Az óra négytől hétig tartott. Ebben a napszakban a legtöbben szunyókáltak néha egy kicsit. Suzuki soha nem beszélt hangosan. Ha az időjárás megengedte, az ablakok nyitva voltak, és a
Volt egy hölgy Suzuki osztályában, aki egyszer azt mondta: - Számomra nagy nehézséget jelent Eckhart mester prédikációit olvasni a képletes keresztény beszéd miatt. Dr. Suzuki azt mondta: - Ez a nehézség el fog tűnni.
Lectures on Zen Buddhism
by D. T. Suzuki
In: Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis, Erich Fromm, D. T. Suzuki, and De Martino
George Allen & Unwin, London, 1960, pp. 1-10 [out of 76].
I. EAST AND WEST
Many able thinkers of the West, each from his specific point of view, have dealt with this timeworn topic, "East and West," but so far as I know there have been comparatively few Far Eastern writers who have expressed their views as Easterners. This fact has led me to choose this subject as a kind of preliminary to what will follow.
Basho (1644-94), a great Japanese poet of the seventeenth
century, once composed a seventeen-syllable poem known as
haiku or hokku. It runs, when translated into English,
something like this:
When I look carefully
I see the nazuna blooming
by the hedge!
Nazuna hana saku
It is likely that Basho was walking along a country road when he noticed something rather neglected by the hedge. He then approached closer, took a good look at it, and found it was no less than a wild plant, rather insignificant and generally unnoticed by passers-by. This is a plain fact described in the
poem with no specifically poetic feeling expressed anywhere except perhaps in the last two syllables, which read in Japanese kana. This particle, frequently attached to a noun or an adjective or an adverb, signifies a certain feeling of admiration or praise or sorrow or joy, and can sometimes quite appropriately be rendered into English by an exclamation mark. In the present haiku the whole verse ends with this mark.
The feeling running through the seventeen, or rather fifteen, syllables with an exclamation mark at the end may not be communicable to those who are not acquainted with the Japanese language. I will try to explain it as best I can. The poet himself might not agree with my interpretation, but this does not matter very much if only we know that there is somebody at least who understands it in the way I do.
First of all, Basho was a nature poet, as most of the Oriental poets are. They love
nature so much that they feel one with nature, they feel every pulse beating through the veins of nature. Most Westerners are apt to alienate themselves from nature. They think man and nature have nothing in common except in some desirable aspects, and that nature exists only to be utilized by man. But to Eastern people nature is very close. This feeling for nature was stirred when Basho discovered an inconspicuous, almost negligible plant blooming by the old dilapidated hedge along the remote country road, so innocently, so unpretentiously, not at all desiring to be noticed by anybody. Yet when one looks at it, how tender, how full of divine glory or splendor more glorious than Solomon's it is! Its very humbleness, its unostentatious beauty, evokes one's sincere admiration. The poet can read in every petal the deepest mystery of life or being. Basho might not have been conscious of it himself, but I am sure that in his heart at the time there were vibrations of feeling somewhat akin to what Christians may call divine love, which reaches the deepest depths of cosmic life.
The ranges of the Himalayas may stir in us the feeling of sublime awe; the waves of the Pacific may suggest something of infinity. But when one's mind is poetically or mystically or religiously opened, one feels as Basho did that even in every blade of wild grass there is something really transcending all venal, base human feelings, which lifts one to a realm equal in
its splendor to that of the Pure Land. Magnitude in such cases has nothing to do with it. In this respect, the Japanese poet has a specific gift that detects something great in small things, transcending all quantitative measurements.
This is the East. Let me see now what the 'Nest has to offer in a similar situation. I select Tennyson. He may not be a typical Western poet to be singled out for comparison with the Far Eastern poet. But his short poem here quoted has something very closely related to Basho's. The verse is as follows:
Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies;-
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower-but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
There are two points I like to notice in these lines:
(1) Tennyson's plucking the flower and holding it in his hand, "root and all," and looking at it, perhaps intently. It is very likely he had a feeling somewhat akin to that of Basho who discovered a nazuna flower by the roadside hedge. But the difference between the two poets is: Basho does not pluck the flower. He just looks at it. He is absorbed in thought. He feels something in his mind, but he does not express it. He lets an exclamation mark say everything he wishes to say. For he has no words to utter; his feeling is too full, too deep, and he has no desire to conceptualize it.
As to Tennyson, he is active and analytical. He first plucks the flower from the place where it grows. He separates it from the ground where it belongs. Quite differently from the Oriental poet, he does not leave the flower alone. He must tear it away from the crannied wall, "root and all," which means that the plant must die. He does not, apparently, care for its destiny; his curiosity must be satisfied. As some medical scientists do, he would vivisect the flower. Basho does not even touch the nazuna he just looks at it, he "carefully" looks at it-that is all he does. He is altogether inactive, a good contrast to Tennyson's dynamism.
I would like to notice this point specifically here, and may
have occasion to refer to it again. The East is silent, while the West is eloquent. But the silence of the East does not mean just to be dumb and remain wordless or speechless. Silence in many cases is as eloquent as being wordy. The West likes verbalism. Not only that, the West transforms the word into the flesh and makes this fleshiness come out sometimes too conspicuously, or rather too grossly and voluptuously, in its arts and religion.
(2) What does Tennyson do next? Looking at the plucked flower, which is in all likelihood beginning to wither, he proposes the question within himself, "Do I understand you?" Basho is not inquisitive at all. He feels all the mystery as revealed in his humble nazuna-the mystery that goes deep into the source of all existence. He is intoxicated with this feeling and exclaims in an unutterable, inaudible cry.
Contrary to this, Tennyson goes on with his intellection:
"If [which I italicize] I could understand you, I should know what God and man is." His appeal to the understanding is characteristically \Western. Basho accepts, Tennyson resists. Tennyson's individuality stands away from the flower, from "God and man." He does not identify himself with either God or nature. He is always apart from them. His understanding is what people nowadays call "scientifically objective." Basho is thoroughly "subjective." (This is not a good word, for subject always is made to stand against object. My "subject" is what I like to call "absolute subjectivity.") Basho stands by this "absolute subjectivity" in which Basho sees the nazuna and the nazuna sees Basho. Here is ,no empathy, or sympathy, or identification for that matter.
Basho says: "look carefully" (in Japanese "yoku mireba").
The word "carefully" implies that Basho is no more an onlooker here but the flower has become conscious of itself and silently, eloquently expressive of itself. And this silent eloquence or eloquent silence on the part of the flower is humanly echoed in Basho's seventeen syllables. Whatever depth of feeling, whatever mystery of utterance, or even philosophy of "absolute subjectivity" there is, is intelligible only to those who have actually experienced all this.
In Tennyson, as far as I can see, there is in the first place no depth of feeling; he is all intellect, typical of Western mentality.
He is an advocate of the Logos doctrine. He must say something, he must abstract or intellectualize on his concrete experience. He must come out of the domain of feeling into that of intellect and must subject living and feeling to a series of analyses to give satisfaction to the Western spirit of inquisitiveness.
I have selected these two poets, Basho and Tennyson, as indicative of two basic characteristic approaches to reality. Basho is of the East and Tennyson of the West. As we compare them we find that each bespeaks his traditional background. According to this, the Western mind is: analytical, discriminative, differential, inductive, individualistic, intellectual, objective, scientific, generalizing, conceptual, schematic, impersonal, legalistic, organizing, power-wielding, self-assertive, disposed to impose its will upon others, etc. Against these Western traits those of the East can be characterized as follows: synthetic, totalizing, integrative, nondiscriminative, deductive, nonsystematic, dogmatic, intuitive, (rather, affective), nondiscursive, subjective, spiritually individualistic and socially groupminded,1 etc.
When these characteristics of West and East are personally symbolized, I have to go to Lao-tse (fourth century B.C.), a great thinker in ancient China. I make him represent the East, and what he calls the multitudes may stand for the West. When I say "the multitudes" there is no intention on my part to assign the West in any derogatory sense to the role of Lao-tsean multitudes as described by the old philosopher.
Lao-tse portrays himself as resembling an idiot. He looks as if he does not know anything, is not affected by anything. He is practically of no use in this utilitarianistic world. He is almost expressionless. Yet there is something in him which makes him not quite like a specimen of an ignorant simpleton. He only outwardly resembles one.
The West, in contrast to this, has a pair of sharp, penetrating eyes, deep-set in the sockets, which survey the outside world
1 Christians regard the church as the medium of salvation because it is the church that symbolizes Christ who is the savior. Christians are related to God not individually but through Christ, and Christ is the church and the church is the place where they gather to worship God and pray to him through Christ for salvation. In this respect Christians are group-minded while socially they espouse individualism.
as do those of an eagle soaring high in the sky. (In fact, the eagle is the national symbol of a certain Western power.) And then his high nose, his thin lips, and his general facial contour -all suggest a highly developed intellectuality and a readiness to act. This readiness is comparable to that of the lion. Indeed, the lion and the eagle are the symbols of the West.
Chuang-tze of the third century B.C. has the story of konton (hun-tun)} Chaos. His friends owed many of their achievements to Chaos and wished to repay him. They consulted together and came to a conclusion. They observed that Chaos had no sense organs by which to discriminate the outside world. One day they gave him the eyes, another day the nose, and in a week they accomplished the work of transforming him into a sensitive personality like themselves. While they were congratulating themselves on their success, Chaos died.
The East is Chaos and the West is the group of those grateful, well-meaning, but undiscriminating friends.
In many ways the East no doubt appears dumb and stupid, as Eastern people are not so discriminative and demonstrative and do not show so many visible, tangible marks of intelligence. They are chaotic and apparently indifferent. But they know that without this chaotic character of intelligence, their native intelligence itself may not be of much use in living together in the human way. The fragmentary individual members cannot work harmoniously and peacefully together unless they are referred to the infinite itself, which in all actuality underlies every one of the finite members. Intelligence belongs to the head and its work is more noticeable and would accomplish much, whereas Chaos remains silent and quiet behind all the superficial turbulence. Its real significance never comes out to become recognizable by the participants.
The scientifically minded West applies its intelligence to inventing all kinds of gadgets to elevate the standard of living and save itself from what it thinks to be unnecessary labor or drudgery. It thus tries hard to "develop" the natural resources it has access to. The East, on the other hand, does not mind engaging itself in menial and manual work of all kinds, it is apparently satisfied with the "undeveloped" state of civilization. It does not like to be machine-minded, to turn itself into a slave to the machine. This love of work is perhaps character-
istic of the East. The story of a farmer as told by Chuang-tze is highly significant and suggestive in many senses, though the incident is supposed to have taken place more than two thousand years ago in China.
Chuang-tze was one of the greatest philosophers in ancient China. He ought to be studied more than he is at present. The Chinese people are not so speculative as the Indian, and are apt to neglect their own thinkers. While Chuang-tze is very well known as the greatest stylist among Chinese literary men, his thoughts are not appreciated as they deserve. He was a fine collector or recorder of stories that were perhaps prevalent in his day. It is, however, likely that he also invented many tales to illustrate his views of life. Here is a story, which splendidly illustrates Chuang-tze's philosophy of work, of a farmer who refused to use the shadoof to raise water from his well.
"A farmer dug a well and was using the water for irrigating his farm. He used an ordinary bucket to draw water from the well, as most primitive people do. A passer-by, seeing this, asked the farmer why he did not use a shadoof for the purpose; it is a labor-saving device and can do more work than the primitive method. The farmer said, "I know it is labor-saving and it is for this very reason that I do not use the device. What I am afraid of is that the use of such a contrivance makes one machine-minded. Machine mindedness leads one to the habit of indolence and laziness."
Western people often wonder why the Chinese people have not developed many more sciences and mechanical contrivances. This is strange, they say, when the Chinese are noted for their discoveries and inventions such as the magnet, gunpowder, the wheel, paper, and other things. The principal reason is that the Chinese and other Asiatic peoples love life as it is lived and do not wish to turn it into a means of accomplishing something else, which would divert the course of living to quite a different channel. They like work for its own sake, though, objectively speaking, work means to accomplish something. But while working they enjoy the work and are not in a hurry to finish it. Mechanical devices are far more efficient and accomplish more. But the machine is impersonal and noncreative and has no meaning.
Mechanization means intellection, and as the intellect is primarily utilitarian there is no spiritual estheticism or ethical spirituality in the machine. The reason that induced Chuangtze's farmer not to be machine-minded lies here. The machine hurries one to finish the work and reach the objective for which it is made. The work or labor in itself has no value except as the means. That is to say, life here loses its creativity and turns into an instrument, man is now a goods-producing mechanism. Philosophers talk about the significance of the person; as we see now in our highly industrialized and mechanized age the machine is everything and man is almost entirely reduced to thralldom. This is, I think, what Chuang-tze was afraid of. Of course, we cannot turn the wheel of industrialism back to the primitive handicraft age. But it is well for us to be mindful of the significance of the hands and also of the evils attendant on the mechanization of modern life, which emphasizes the intellect too much at the expense of life as a whole.
So much for the East. Now a few words about the West.
Denis de Rougemont in his Man's Western Quest mentions "the person and the machine" as characterizing the two prominent features of Western culture. This is significant, because the person and the machine are contradictory concepts and the West struggles hard to achieve their reconciliation. I do not know whether Westerners are doing it consciously or unconsciously. I will just refer to the way in which these two heterogeneous ideas are working on the Western mind at present. It is to be remarked that the machine contrasts with Chuang-tze's philosophy of work or labor, and the Western ideas of individual freedom and personal responsibility run counter to the Eastern ideas of absolute freedom. I will not go into details. I will only try to summarize the contradictions the West is now facing and suffering under:
(1) The person and the machine involve a contradiction, and because of this contradiction the West is going through great psychological tension, which is manifested in various directions in its modern life.
(2) The person implies individuality, personal responsibility, while the machine is the product of intellection, abstraction, generalization, totalization, group living.
(3) Objectively or intellectually or speaking in the machine-
minded way, personal responsibility has no sense. Responsibility is logically related to freedom, and in logic there is no freedom, for everything is controlled by rigid rules of syllogism.
(4) Furthermore, man as a biological product is governed by biological laws. Heredity is fact and no personality can change it. I am born not of my own free will. Parents give birth to me not of their free will. Planned birth has no sense as a matter of fact.
(5) Freedom is another nonsensical idea. I am living socially, in a group, which limits me in all my movements, mental as well as physical. Even when I am alone I am not at all free. I have all kinds of impulses which are not always under my control. Some impulses carry me away in spite of myself. As long as we are living in this limited world, we can never talk about being free or doing as we desire. Even this desire is something which is not our own.
(6) The person may talk about freedom, yet the machine limits him in every way, for the talk does not go any further than itself. The Western man is from the beginning constrained, restrained, inhibited. His spontaneity is not at all his, but that of the machine. The machine has no creativity; it operates only so far or so much as something that is put into it makes possible. It never acts as "the person."
(7) The person is free only when he is not a person. He is free when he denies himself and is absorbed in the whole. To be more exact, he is free when he is himself and yet not himself. Unless one thoroughly understands this apparent contradiction, he is not qualified to talk about freedom or responsibility or spontaneity. For instance, the spontaneity Westerners, especially some analysts, speak about is no more and no less than childish or animal spontaneity, and not the spontaneity of the fully mature person.
(8) The machine, behaviorism, the conditioned reflex, Communism, artificial insemination, automation generally, vivisection, the H-bomb-they are, each and all, most intimately related, and form close-welded solid links of a logical chain.
(9) The West strives to square a circle. The East tries to equate a circle to the square. To Zen the circle is a circle, and the square is a square, and at the same time the square is a circle and the circle a square.
(10)Freedom is a subjective term and cannot be interpreted objectively. When we try, we are surely involved inextricably in contradictions. Therefore, I say that to talk about freedom in this objective world of limitations all around us is nonsense.
(11) In the West, "yes" is "yes" and "no" is "no"; "yes" can never be "no" or vice versa. The East makes "yes" slide over to "no" and "no" to "yes"; there is no hard and fast division between "yes" and "no." It is in the nature of life that it is so. It is only in logic that the division is ineradicable. Logic is human-made to assist in utilitarianistic activities.
(12) When the West comes to realize this fact, it invents such concepts known in physics as complementarity or the principle of uncertainty when it cannot explain away certain physical phenomena. However well it may succeed in creating concept after concept, it cannot circumvent facts of existence.
(13) Religion does not concern us here, but it may not be without interest to state the following: Christianity, which is the religion of the West, talks of Logos, Word, the flesh, and incarnation, and of tempestuous temporality. The religions of the East strive for excarnation, silence, absorption, eternal peace. To Zen incarnation is excarnation; silence roars like thunder; the Word is no-Word, the flesh is no-flesh; here-now equals emptiness (silnyatii) and infinity.
II. THE UNCONSCIOUS IN ZEN BUDDHISM
What I mean by "the unconscious" and what psychoanalysts mean by it may be different, and I have to explain my position. First, how do I approach the question of the unconscious? If such a term could be used, I would say that my "unconscious" is "metascientific" or "antescientific." You are all scientists and I am a Zen-man and my approach is "antescientific" -or even "antiscientific" sometimes, I am afraid. "Antescientific" may not be an appropriate term, but it seems to express what I wish it to mean. "Metascientific" may not be bad, either, for the Zen position develops after science or intellectualization has occupied for some time the whole field of human study; and Zen demands that before we give ourselves up unconditionally to the scientific sway over the whole field of human [...]
D. T. Suzuki, “Suzuki Zen,” and the American Reception of Zen Buddhism
by Carl T. Jackson
In: American Buddhism as a Way of Life, State University of New York Press, Albany, 2010, pp- 39-56.
Perhaps no single individual has had greater infl uence on the introduction
of an Asian religious tradition in America than Daisetz Teitaro
Suzuki, the Japanese Buddhist scholar whose very long life spanned
the period from the early years of Japan’s Meiji Restoration through
the American counterculture of the 1960s. Almost single-handedly, he
made Zen Buddhism, previously unknown to Americans, a focus of
interest. For prominent intellectuals, religionists, and creative artists as
diverse as Alan Watts, Erich Fromm, Thomas Merton, and John Cage,
as well as numerous American Zen enthusiasts, the Japanese scholar
was accepted as the fi nal authority on the Zen experience. Hailed in
1956 by historian Lynn White as a seminal intellectual fi gure whose
impact on future generations in the West would be remembered as
a watershed event, Suzuki has more recently come under sharp criticisms.
Scholars such as Bernard Faure and Robert Sharf charge that
in his desire to reach a Western audience, the Japanese writer greatly
altered Zen’s teachings, creating a Westernized “Suzuki Zen” that has
misrepresented the traditional Zen message.1 In the present essay an
attempt will be made to evaluate Suzuki’s career, presentation of Zen
to Americans, and the arguments of his critics. Special attention will
be focused upon the formative years he spent in America between
l897 and 1908, which, I suggest, exercised a decisive infl uence on his
success as a transmitter of Zen to the West.
Born in 1870, only three years after the Meiji Restoration
committed Japan to modernization, Teitaro Suzuki grew up in an
impoverished samurai family in Kanazawa on the western coast of
Japan. Suzuki’s father died when the boy was only six, leaving his
widow and fi ve children in dire economic circumstances. Despite
mounting diffi culties, young Suzuki continued his education until he
was seventeen, when the family’s fi nancial problems forced him to
drop out of school. Fortunately, his studies had given him suffi cient
acquaintance with English that he was able to fi nd employment as
an English teacher, a crucial linguistic acquisition in view of his
subsequent career as an interpreter of Zen to the West. However,
his mastery of the language must have remained very limited: He
recalled many years later that the English he had taught as a young
man “was very strange—so strange that later when I fi rst went
to America nobody understood anything I said.”2 Thanks to the
fi nancial backing of a brother, he was able to continue his education
at Waseda University and Tokyo’s Imperial University. In view of his
later international reputation as a scholar, it seems surprising that he
never completed his college studies; his only degree was an honorary
doctorate bestowed upon him at the age of sixty-three by Kyoto’s
Suzuki’s fi rst exposure to Zen Buddhism began quite early, as
his family observed Zen practices. Troubled by the early death of his
father and the family’s fi nancial problems, at one point he sought out
the priest of a small Rinzai Zen temple in his home city of Kanazawa.
Apparently the experience proved disappointing. “Like many Zen
priests in country temples in those days,” Suzuki would later recall,
“he did not know very much.”3 Soon after his move to Tokyo to continue
his studies at the Imperial University, he made the thirty-mile
trip to Kamakura, where he became a follower of Kosen Imagita, the
abbot of the important Rinzai Zen temple Engakuji; and, following
Kosen’s death, became a disciple of Kosen’s replacement, Shaku Soen
(also known in the West as Soyen Shaku and Shaku Soyen), who
would become a major infl uence on Suzuki’s life.4 During the later
nineteenth century Buddhism was going through a very diffi cult time
in Japan, assailed by sharp attacks on all sides while being forced to
accept the Meiji government’s expropriation of its income-producing
properties as the nation moved toward modernization. Caught
between Shintoists and nationalists on one side and Western-oriented
reformers on the other, Buddhist leaders responded by attempting
to redefi ne the Buddha’s message as a “new Buddhism,” emphasizing
a more universal, more scientifi c approach.5 Soen played a leadAmerican
ing role in the creation of this “new Buddhism,” participating in an
1890 conference of Buddhist leaders in Japan that sought to unify
the tradition’s different groups, which culminated in the compilation
of a document entitled “The Essentials of Buddhist Teachings—All
Sects.” As a disciple of Soen, Suzuki was clearly infl uenced by the
more cosmopolitan, universal conception of Buddhism embraced by
Though his writings would come to be regarded by most Americans
as the defi nitive statement of Zen Buddhism, it should be noted
that Suzuki remained a Buddhist layman always, never completing
the formal training necessary to become a Zen priest. He did pursue
Zen enlightenment for several years under the guidance of Soen and
claimed in his 1964 memoir that, just before his departure for America
in 1897, he had fi nally achieved a breakthrough.6 At this time Soen
gave his young disciple the name Daisetz, usually translated as “Great
Simplicity.” (Suzuki would later inform Western admirers that, in
fact, his name should be rendered as “Great Stupidity.”)
Meanwhile, developments in faraway America were about to
intrude, which would dramatically transform Suzuki’s life. The precipitating
event was the World Parliament of Religions, held in conjunction
with the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where representatives
of the world’s major religions were invited to present their teachings.
An unprecedented gathering, the Parliament attracted a number of
Asian religious spokesmen, including the charismatic Swami Vivekananda,
who spoke for Hinduism at the congress, and the Singhalese
Anagarika Dharmapala, who championed Buddhism. Suzuki’s
spiritual mentor, Soen Shaku, attended as a member of the Japanese
Buddhist delegation, and his paper “The Law of Cause and Effect,
as Taught by Buddha” was read to the assembled audience.7 During
the Parliament’s sessions Soen became acquainted with Paul Carus,
the German American philosopher and editor of The Open Court, who
had developed an interest in Buddhism. They became friends. When
Carus subsequently prepared a compilation of the Buddha’s major
teachings, The Gospel of Buddhism, he sent a copy of the book to Soen
in Japan, who instructed his disciple to prepare a Japanese translation.
Carus then set out to translate the Tao Te Ching and asked
Soen to suggest someone who could assist him with the translations.
In response, Soen recommended Suzuki. Soen revealed to the Open
Court editor that his young protégé had been so “greatly inspired”
by Carus’s works that he strongly desired “to go abroad” to study
under Carus’s “personal guidance.”8 As a result, in 1897 at the age
of twenty-seven, Suzuki made the long journey to La Salle, Illinois,
then a small mining town outside Chicago, where he would remain
for the next eleven years.
If Soen Shaku served as Suzuki’s spiritual guide, Paul Carus
became his intellectual mentor, who in some ways infl uenced Suzuki’s
future career and writings even more profoundly than his Japanese
teacher. With a PhD from a German university, Carus had impressive
credentials to introduce his Japanese assistant to the profundities of
Western philosophy. In addition to his fairly extensive writings on
Buddhism and Asian thought, Carus served as editor of The Open
Court and The Monist, important philosophical journals at the turn of
the century. As Carus’s assistant, Suzuki performed a wide variety
of tasks, though he devoted most of his time to assisting Carus with
his Asian translations and carrying out editorial tasks connected
with the publication of The Open Court and The Monist. As a result
of these duties, his mastery of English rapidly improved—a fl uency
that would prove crucial in his future career as an interpreter of Zen
to the West.9
One of the two men’s earliest collaborations was a translation of
the Tao Te Ching. Suzuki laboriously translated word-for-word from
Chinese into English, which Carus then put into his own words, after
comparing his assistant’s version with available European translations.
In 1906 they prepared translations of two other Daoist works,
published as T’ai-Shang Kan-Ying P’ien and Yin Chin Wen, and then
undertook a translation of the Analects of Confucius. During these
years in La Salle Suzuki also translated a number of Carus’s other
writings into Japanese, including a pamphlet on Chinese philosophy
and several Buddhist short stories.10 Happily, Suzuki found time for
his own research and writing as well. Over his eleven years as Carus’s
assistant, the young Japanese published his fi rst scholarly reviews
and articles in English, including brief pieces on Confucius and Buddhism
in The Open Court and more extended essays on Asvaghosa, the
fi rst Buddhist Council, and early Chinese philosophy in The Monist.11
Finally, during these crucial formative years Suzuki also published
his fi rst two scholarly books in English, a translation of Asvaghosa’s
Discourse on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana (1900) and his
pioneering Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism (1907).
Suzuki’s extended sojourn in America was critical in shaping
his future career as a Zen transmitter to the West in several ways.
First and perhaps most important, it gave him the necessary skills—a
familiarity with Western philosophic conceptions, command of English,
and editorial experience—needed to reach Western readers. His
publication of some thirty books in English, which sold widely among
Western readers, emphasize how well he learned from the American
apprenticeship. Second, the eleven years under Carus’s tutelage
greatly furthered his education as a future scholar. With the rise of
research universities in the later nineteenth century, aspiring scholars
were forced to spend years in graduate school honing their research
and writing skills. Suzuki, who stopped short of a bachelor’s degree,
acquired the basic skills under Carus’s direction at the offi ce of the
Open Court Publishing Company. Trained in one of Germany’s ranking
universities and holding a doctorate in philosophy, Carus was
superbly equipped to initiate the young Japanese into the complexities
of Western scholarship and philosophical analysis.
The evidence of Carus’s infl uence on Suzuki may be detected
in the close similarities between the two men’s approach to scholarship.
Like Carus, Suzuki combined scholarship and advocacy, with
both men going well beyond disinterested analysis in their promotion
of personal philosophic and religious positions. Suzuki’s emphasis
on Buddhism’s compatibility with modern science closely paralleled
Carus’s insistence on the compatibility of science and religion. And it
is surely no coincidence that when Suzuki subsequently founded the
Eastern Buddhist as a vehicle for the promotion of Buddhist scholarship,
its format and contents mirrored that of The Open Court and The
Monist. Like Carus’s journals, the Eastern Buddhist offered its readers
popular as well as scholarly articles and emphasized both English
translations and philosophical expositions of Asian religious works.12
Without the extended apprenticeship under Carus, Suzuki might still
have made his mark as a Buddhist scholar; but it seems unlikely that
he would have become one of the twentieth century’s most infl uential
proponents of Asian thought.
Suzuki left America to return to Japan in 1908 at the age of thirtyeight,
where he would remain for the next forty years with the exception
of occasional trips abroad. During his return to Japan, he stopped
off in Europe for several months to copy Buddhist manuscripts at
the Bibliotheque Nationale and for two months at the Swedenborg
Society in London, where he undertook a Japanese translation of the
Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell. Though usually
passed over, Swedenborgianism obviously exerted considerable
attraction for Suzuki at this time, another indication perhaps of the
impact of his years with Carus. He seems to have become aware
of Swedenborg while assisting Carus through contact with Albert
Edmunds, a Swedenborgian and Buddhist scholar who frequently
contributed to The Open Court and The Monist. As is well known,
the Swedish philosopher’s thought was an important infl uence on
a number of nineteenth-century American thinkers, including Ralph
Waldo Emerson and the elder Henry James, father of psychologist
William James. At the Swedenborg Society’s invitation, Suzuki
returned to England a second time in 1912 to translate three other
Swedenborgian works into Japanese—The Divine Love and the Divine
Wisdom, The New Jerusalem, and The Divine Providence—and he subsequently
published an introduction to the Swedish mystic’s thought,
Swedenborugu, for Japanese readers. Perhaps because he subsequently
realized that many of his American and European readers would be
uneasy about Swedenborgianism, Suzuki almost never mentioned the
Swedish philosopher again in later years.13
Suzuki’s life and career may be usefully divided into three periods:
the years from 1870 to 1908, the time of preparation and his
American apprenticeship; the period from 1909 to 1949, which he
spent largely in Japan teaching and engaged in scholarship; and the
fi nal years from 1950 to 1966, when he resumed contact with the
West and achieved international fame. After his return to Japan in
1909, Suzuki fi lled a series of teaching positions before accepting a
1921 appointment as professor of Buddhist philosophy at Otani University,
where he would spend much of the remainder of his life. He
never allowed his teaching duties to divert him from scholarship, and
indeed, in the decades after his return to his homeland, published
volume after volume on Buddhism, Zen, and traditional Japanese
culture. With his wife Beatrice Erskine Lane, he also founded and
co-edited The Eastern Buddhist in 1921. The landmark volumes that
would establish his reputation and fame in the West now appeared
in rapid succession: the fi rst volume of his Essays in Zen Buddhism
(1927), his Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra (1930), and the second and
third volumes of the Essays in Zen Buddhism (1933 and 1934), followed
by The Training of the Zen Buddhist Monk (1934), An Introduction to Zen
Buddhism (1934), the Manual of Zen Buddhism (1935), and Zen Buddhism
and Its Infl uence on Japanese Culture (1938). Composed in English,
these volumes once again demonstrated his acquired fl uency in the
language. The works became bibles to eager American Zen students
after World War II.14
During the interwar years Suzuki for the most part lived the
quiet life of a scholar. Thanks to his books and rising international
reputation, he played host to a steady stream of Western visitors interested
in Buddhism, including Charles Eliot, James Bissett Pratt, L.
Adams Beck, Dwight Goddard, Kenneth Saunders, and Ruth Fuller.
In 1936 he returned to the West for the fi rst time in over two decades
to participate in a World Congress of Faiths organized by Sir Francis
Younghusband in London. During this visit, Suzuki met and entered
into a lifelong friendship with Christmas Humphreys, who became
one of the West’s most active promoters of Buddhism.15 While abroad
the Japanese scholar lectured at universities in Great Britain and the
United States before returning home to Japan in 1937, as the dark
clouds of World War II were rising. Though his books were attracting
increasing attention in the West, the numbing events of World War II
would delay Suzuki’s wider Western impact until after 1945.
The coming of World War II and the ascendancy of militarism
in Japan placed Suzuki in a precarious position. The fact that he
had spent over a decade in the United States, married an American
woman, and published extensively in a Western language, undoubtedly
raised the suspicions of Japan’s militarists. At a time of extreme
nationalist feeling when all things Western were frowned upon, it
is not surprising that his publications in English largely ceased after
1938, to be replaced by a fl ood of Japanese publications. Led by Brian
Victoria, some recent scholars have raised disturbing questions
concerning the degree to which Suzuki, as well as members of the
so-called Kyoto School led by Suzuki’s close friend and philosopher
Nishida Kitarø, supported the Japanese war effort during World War
II. Critics note that Suzuki’s spiritual mentor Soen Shaku had hailed
Japanese victories in the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars; that,
beginning in 1935, Suzuki’s writings increasingly emphasized nihonjinron,
the innate spirituality and distinctiveness of Japanese culture;
and that during the war years and after Suzuki never denounced
Japan’s attacks on its neighbors. Meanwhile, in such writings as Zen
Buddhism and Its Infl uence on Japanese Culture, published in 1938, he
emphasized the close connection between Zen and the warrior ethic
of Bushido, which critics have pointed to as the basis for “war Zen”
or “soldier Zen.” Suzuki wrote: “The soldierly quality, with its mysticism
and aloofness from world affairs, appeals to the will-power. Zen
in this respect walks hand in hand with the spirit of Bushido.”16
While critics such as Victoria have clearly raised important
questions about Suzuki’s position, defenders have stepped forward
to counter the charges. Drawing upon materials not included in the
Japanese scholar’s Complete Works, Kirita Kiyohide argues that Suzuki
never accepted the concept of an absolute state and early in his career
questioned the role of the imperial family in magazine articles and
personal correspondence. According to Kirita, Suzuki clearly disapproved
of the recklessness and parochialism of the militarists and
always remained isolated from Japanese politics, with no connection
to the militarists. Moreover, in the years after the war he had urged
his Japanese compatriots to reject state Shintoism and worship of the
state. Revisiting the issue in 2001 with a focus on the ethical implications
of the Buddhist response to the war, Christopher Ives argues that
the critics have not and cannot demonstrate a real linkage between
writings emphasizing what he calls the “Zen-bushido connection” and
the actions of Japanese soldiers and kamikaze pilots in the actual war
zone. Ives concludes that the fl owering of Japanese militarism before
and during the war years had complex, multiple roots.17
What conclusion may be drawn? At the very least it seems clear
that Suzuki chose to go along with, or at least not to resist, his nation’s
war efforts. This hardly seems surprising for the time: Most intellectuals
in Western as well as Asian societies—with some notable exceptions—
supported the war aims of their respective governments. The
tendency to link his views to those of the Kyoto School philosophers
seems overextended; though a close friend of Nishida’s, he cannot be
held responsible for his friend’s or the other members of the Kyoto
School’s views. And the fact that he emphasized the Zen-Bushido
connection in some passages of his scholarly writings hardly qualifi es
him as a fl ag-waving militarist or a major contributor to the Japanese
war effort. At most, his scholarly writings would have provided very
limited encouragement to the Japanese military, who would rarely
have read his works. In retrospect, one might wish that Suzuki had
resisted the militarists; instead, he chose to wait out the war, retreating
to his study to concentrate upon scholarship and writing.
It could be argued that Suzuki’s return to the United States in
1951 as a lecturer on Buddhist philosophy at Columbia University
ignited the American Zen boom of the 1950s and 1960s. Amazingly,
the venerable Japanese author was already eighty-one when he
began his lectures at Columbia. Stimulated by the Beat movement’s
celebration of Zen—led by Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Gary
Snyder—young people across the country began to turn to Zen Buddhism
and to Suzuki’s books as never before. Overnight, the Japanese
octogenarian found himself a celebrity who was constantly sought
out by curiosity-seekers as well as by prominent writers, theologians,
and psychologists. Born fi ve years after the close of the American
Civil War, astonishingly, Suzuki became something of a spiritual hero
to many young people in the 1950s and 1960s. Winthrop Sargeant’s
admiring profi le in The New Yorker in 1957 suggests Suzuki’s iconic
status. Describing the unique impression made by the Japanese
scholar, who regularly lectured on Friday afternoons at Columbia,
Despite his great antiquity—he is eighty-seven—he has the
slim, restless fi gure of a man a quarter of his age. He is
clean-shaven, his hair is closely clipped, and he is almost
invariably dressed in the neat American sports jacket and
slacks that might be worn by any Columbia undergraduate.
The only thing about him that suggests philosophical
grandeur is a pair of ferocious eyebrows, which project
from his forehead like the eyebrows of the angry demons
who guard the entrances of Buddhist temples in Japan.18
Over the following years Suzuki attracted a distinguished audience
to his Columbia lectures, where he continued to teach until 1957.
At one time or another his listeners included neo-Freudian psychologists
Erich Fromm and Karen Horney, modernist composer John
Cage, and philosopher Huston Smith, among others. Philip Kapleau,
who subsequently underwent Zen training at a temple in Japan and
became one of America’s best-known, native-born teachers of Zen,
also attended. While Suzuki’s lectures charmed those able to attend
his classes, most enthusiasts had to rely on his books for acquaintance
with Zen. Opportunely, the 1950s paperback revolution occurred at
just the right time, making his books available to a popular audience
at very low cost. Though he also wrote extensively on Mahayana
and Shin Buddhism, the works that captured the American public’s
imagination were unquestionably the books on Zen. Serious students
perused the three-volume Essays in Zen Buddhism, but most readers
undoubtedly preferred his more popular expositions such as An
Introduction to Zen Buddhism, a concise summary of barely one hundred
pages. Other works that attracted a wide audience included his
Manual of Zen Buddhism and Zen and Japanese Culture. Many readers
(including the author) gained their fi rst exposure to Suzuki’s writings
through such popular anthologies as William Barrett’s Zen Buddhism
(1956) and Bernard Phillips’s The Essentials of Zen (1962), which offered
selections from the Japanese Zennist’s vast body of writings.19
If Suzuki presented the essentials of Zen Buddhism with an
authority and lucidity unmatched by any other scholar in his time,
it is clear that he also brought his own special understanding and
interpretation to the task, which later commentators began to refer
to as “Suzuki Zen.” Several elements may be said to distinguish his
presentation of Zen. First off, the emphasis throughout his writings
refl ected his Rinzai Zen background and preferences. Reading Suzuki,
one might never have realized that, historically, Zen in Japan included
not only the Rinzai school but also Soto and Obaku Zen. Rinzai’s
emphasis upon the role of riddles or koans and the sudden achievement
of spiritual enlightenment or satori contrast sharply with Soto
Zen’s emphasis upon prolonged sitting or zazen and the belief that
illumination develops gradually. Thanks to Suzuki’s infl uence, Zen
for most Americans was Rinzai Zen. The Rinzai emphasis on nonsensical
answers and paradox obviously appealed to many Westerners
in the post-World War II era who were also drawn to existentialism
and Freudianism. (If the Rinzai tradition dominated American Zen in
the 1950s and 1960s, in recent decades Soto Zen has achieved a growing
American acceptance, led by such Japanese teachers as Shunryu
Suzuki, founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, and Hakuyu Taizan
Maezumi, who founded the Zen Center of Los Angeles.)
Secondly, in his presentation of Zen, Suzuki emphasized inner
experience rather than rituals, doctrines, or institutional practices.
Writing in An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Suzuki insisted that “Personal
experience, therefore, is everything in Zen. No ideas are intelligible
to those who have no backing of experience.” In this respect, he
distanced himself from the institutionalized practices of Zen temples
in Japan. Ultimately, he viewed the inner Zen experience as universal,
as the spirit or essence underpinning all religions. “Zen professes
itself to be the spirit of Buddhism, but in fact it is the spirit of all
religions and philosophies,” he wrote.20 When he did bother to notice
Zen’s institutional form, he criticized its narrowness and sectarianism.
By downplaying the rituals of institutional Zen while stressing Zen’s
emphasis on experience and its universality, he obviously widened
Zen’s appeal for Americans.
Thirdly, as presented in Suzuki’s writings, Zen offered an activist
viewpoint that called for engagement with the world, again an
emphasis largely missing in the traditional Zen of Japan. He found
the rationale for such an interpretation in the Zen monastery rule “No
work, no eating,” noting that the daily life of a Zen monk required
a continuous round of cleaning, cooking, and farming. At one point
he even referred to the Zen ideal as a “gospel of work.”21 On another
occasion he went so far as to describe the Zen approach as a “radical
empiricism,” an interesting choice of words that linked the ancient
Japanese tradition to the modern philosophical positions of American
pragmatists William James and John Dewey. If the ultimate Zen
goal remained individual realization, “Suzuki Zen” did not ignore the
responsibility for social action. Writing in 1951, the Japanese scholar
suggested that Zen was as “socially-minded” as “any other religion,”
though its spirit had been “manifested differently.” He proclaimed
that the Zen monastery was not meant “to be a hiding place from
the worries of the world.”22
Finally, despite his insistence on Zen’s irrationality and nonlogical
nature, “Suzuki Zen” presented the Zen experience as a coherent
and all-embracing perspective on reality—in effect, as a philosophy. I
say this while recognizing that throughout his writings he again and
again asserted that Zen Buddhism was neither a philosophy nor a
religion and while acknowledging his repeated objections to all efforts
to present the Zen experience as an intellectual system. However,
even as he denounced philosophizing as a futile exercise, his books
present a philosophic interpretation of Zen. (There is an obvious
analogy to Freud: though the founder of psychoanalysis emphasized
the role of the irrational throughout his writings, he was surely no
irrationalist.) As a Zen Buddhist, Suzuki must have appreciated the
paradox involved. In writing so many books attempting to explain
Zen, he obviously violated one of Zen’s most fundamental assumptions;
and, indeed, he sometimes described his numerous publications
as “my sins.” Though steadfastly denying that he was a philosopher,
his writings on Zen clearly offer a philosophic presentation of Zen.23
Knowing his background, one should not be surprised by this philosophic
bent. After all, his American mentor had been trained as a
philosopher, while his close friend Nishida Kitarø ranks as Japan’s
greatest twentieth-century philosopher. Signifi cantly, many of Suzuki’s
articles appeared in important philosophical journals such as The
Open Court, The Monist, and Philosophy East and West.
The fi nal years of Suzuki’s life from 1950 until his death in 1966
were years of astonishing activity and widening international fame. In
addition to his high-profi le lectures at Columbia University, he became
a regular participant at the Eranos Conferences in Ascona, Switzerland,
which brought together some of the world’s most eminent scholars,
theologians, and psychologists. He also took part in the Third
and Fourth East-West Philosophers’ Conferences held in Hawai’i in
1959 and 1964 and in a 1957 conference on Zen and psychoanalysis
organized by Erich Fromm in Cuernavaca, Mexico. In his eighties, he
continued to publish new works almost yearly, including his Studies
in Zen (1955), Zen and Japanese Buddhism (1958), Mysticism: Christian
and Buddhist (1957), and Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis (1960), the
latter two revealing his desire to link Buddhist tradition and Western
thought. Though perhaps a surprising choice for an elderly Japanese
man in his eighties, during these later years New York City became
his home away from home. Curiously for such a noisy and bustling
center, one of the city’s attractions was that it provided a quiet refuge
where he could do his work; in Japan he was constantly besieged by
a stream of visitors.
A full examination of Suzuki’s amazingly prolifi c career as a
writer and scholar would require many more pages than are available
here. However, three generalizations concerning his Zen writings
and their role as a source of the modern West’s understanding of Zen
stand out. First, though almost automatically identifi ed with Zen, it is
striking that he did not really begin to focus on Zen Buddhism until
the 1927 appearance of the fi rst volume of his Essays in Zen Buddhism,
when he was already fi fty-seven years old. (He did publish a brief,
unnoticed piece on Zen in the 1906–1907 volume of the Journal of the
Pali Text Society.) In the West at least the tendency has been to ignore
his extensive non-Zen writings. In fact, nearly all of his early publications,
including numerous contributions in The Open Court and The
Monist and his fi rst scholarly book, Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism,
focused upon Mahayana Buddhism and Buddhism generally—not on
Zen Buddhism. It may be that in his desire to reach a wider Western
audience he found it best in the beginning to emphasize Buddhism’s
broad message rather than its sectarian differences. In later years
he paid increasing attention to Jodo Shinshu or Shin Buddhism, an
interest encouraged by his long association with Otani University, a
Jodo Shinshu institution.24 To put it differently, early and late Suzuki
focused much attention on both Mahayana and Shin Buddhism; Zen
Buddhism was never his sole interest.
Secondly, despite his Western reputation as a great scholar
whose publications offer the authoritative presentation of Zen Buddhism,
his writings clearly reveal a spirit of advocacy. Infl uenced by
his teacher Shaku Soen as well as Meiji-era Buddhist thinking, he
came to his studies of Buddhism not as a disinterested scholar, but
as a believing Buddhist committed to the defense and exposition of
the Buddha’s way as a spiritual choice. Though he certainly deserves
his reputation as a great scholar whose translations and scholarly
publications continue to provide illumination, we a must always
remember that the ultimate goal of his scholarship was not knowledge
for knowledge’s sake, but the presentation of Buddhism and Zen
Buddhism as religious choices. This stance may, of course, be viewed
as positive, depending upon one’s perspective. If his personal Buddhist
commitments may be cited by critics as a distorting infl uence,
the fact that he was a practicing Buddhist would only have increased
the authority of his writings for others.
Thirdly, it is clear that much of Suzuki’s success in the West
stemmed from his ability to simplify Zen for a general audience. In
the best sense of the word, he was a popularizer. In his writings he
regularly passed over complexities, eliminated technical terms, and
offered well-chosen stories to make his points. By largely ignoring
the differences in the historical forms of Buddhism while emphasizing
its core teaching, he made it much easier for Westerners to
understand and embrace the Buddhist message. And by blurring
the differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism and
between the Ch’an Buddhism of China and the Zen Buddhism of
Japan, he also made Buddhism seem much more unifi ed and more
universal than the facts justified.
In concluding, we may turn fi nally to the contemporary scholarly
evaluation of Suzuki’s published works on Zen Buddhism. Hailed
by a generation of Western readers as the world’s greatest authority,
what are contemporary scholars saying? The answer seems to be that,
while his works are still frequently cited, his interpretation of Zen has
come under severe attack. While the intensity of this criticism has
greatly increased in recent years, it should be noted that the questioning
goes back at least to the 1950s. One of the earliest critics, Chinese
historian Hu Shih charged in 1953 that by ignoring Zen’s historical
roots, Suzuki was greatly distorting its lineage and teachings. Objecting
to Suzuki’s contention in the second volume of his Essays in Zen
Buddhism that Zen was “above space-time relations” and “even above
historical facts,” Hu Shih insisted on the importance of recognizing
Zen’s roots in the Ch’an Buddhism of China. Obviously stung by Hu
Shih’s attack, Suzuki responded with uncharacteristic harshness that
Zen needed to be “understood from the inside” rather than from the
outside as in Hu Shih’s approach.25 In the 1960s other critics, led by
R. J. Zwi Werblowsky and Ernst Benz, complained that Suzuki’s writings
were diluting and psychologizing Zen’s teachings, encouraging
a widespread misunderstanding among Westerners.26
The criticisms have greatly increased since the 1980s as a revisionist
view has become dominant. The emerging consensus seems to be
that the Zen Buddhism that D. T. Suzuki presented in his many books
represents a modern, Western-infl uenced Zen that broke sharply with
the traditional Zen of Japan. Presenting arguments too complex to
summarize here, the two leaders in this reevaluation, Bernard Faure
and Robert Sharf, have produced meticulously documented critiques
that argue that the Japanese Zennist has, in effect, reconceptualized
Zen, greatly distorting its traditional teachings. In his Chan Insights and
Oversights, Faure suggests that, like his close friend Nishida Kitarø,
Suzuki had both adopted and reversed Western Orientalist assumptions.
In their description of Zen they had effectively “inverted” the
image created by earlier Christian missionaries, replacing the hostile
Christian view by an idealized image of Japanese culture and Zen.
Insisting that the importance of Suzuki’s work has been greatly exaggerated,
Faure attacks Suzuki’s Rinzai sectarianism, his tendency to
emphasize mysticism as a common foundation for Zen and Christianity,
and his nativist tendencies. Faure concludes that Suzuki’s interpretation
was very much colored by his isolation from his own people
and marginality in Japanese culture. Leaving Japan for the United
States as a young man, his thought revealed “his confrontation with
Western values,” including Christianity, psychoanalysis, and existentialism—
all of which had profoundly distorted his Zen view.27
In his important essay, “The Zen of Japanese Nationalism,” published
in the History of Religions in the same year as Faure’s Chan
Buddhism, Robert Sharf added his voice to those critical of Suzuki’s
reinterpretation of Zen. Beginning with the infl uence of Meiji-era
Buddhism, Sharf documents the degree to which Suzuki’s view of
Zen was transformed by his personal experiences. The most important
infl uences were his early years in the United States, the infl uence
of the Western conception of “direct” experience through William
James, and his attraction to nativist and nihonjinron ideas of Japanese
“innate spirituality.” Like Faure, Sharf concludes that the common
feature of “virtually all” Japanese writers responsible for the modern
Western interest in Zen, and certainly Suzuki, was their “relatively
marginal status within the Japanese Zen establishment.”28
Perhaps the criticisms have now gone far enough, with a need
to strike a better balance. While the fi ndings of scholars such as Faure
and Sharf unquestionably demonstrate how much the Japanese scholar
reinterpreted traditional Zen teachings, they do not diminish Suzuki’s
immense importance as a transmitter of Zen and Asian thought to the
West. Indeed, his very success in recasting Zen Buddhism as a modern,
universal, yet quintessential expression of Japanese culture made
it possible for Zen to reach Western intellectuals and seekers who
would not otherwise have found such an exotic tradition attractive.
Clearly, as many have noted, Buddhism must become an American
Buddhism to put down roots, and the same is true for Zen Buddhism.
Through the centuries the adherents in all religious traditions have
frequently disagreed concerning the permissible limits in the adaptation
of the core teaching to new conditions. The tension between past
and present, between tradition and change have been present always.
For most Americans, traditional Japanese Zen, or even the Meiji-era
Zen that sought to adapt itself to modern conditions, would have
seemed too foreign for acceptance. In the future, Suzuki’s historical
reputation will rest less on the “correctness” of his interpretation of
Zen than on his critical role as its transmitter to the West. In the
midst of a needed reevaluation of his role as an interpreter of Zen,
we should not lose sight of his extraordinary contributions as an infl uence
in introducing Americans and the West to Zen Buddhism.
1. Lynn White, Jr., ed., Frontiers of Knowledge in the Study of Man (New
York: Harper, 1956), 304–05; Bernard Faure, Chan Insights and Oversights: An
Epistemological Critique of the Chan Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1993), especially chap. 2, “The Rise of Zen Orientalism”; and Robert
Sharf, “The Zen of Japanese Nationalism,” History of Religions 33 (August
2. Daisetz T. Suzuki, “Early Memories,” The Middle Way 39 (November
1964): 101–08. Quote on p.103. In a long career as a writer that began
in his twenties and extended into his nineties, the Japanese scholar rarely
spoke of his own life. For other biographical sources, see the Suzuki Memorial
Issue, published after his death in The Eastern Buddhist, N.S., 2 (August 1967),
which includes memories and testimonials by friends and associates. Masao
Abe, ed., A Zen Life: D. T. Suzuki Remembered (New York: Weatherhill, 1986)
reprints eight pieces from the memorial issue, along with additional contributions
including Suzuki’s “An Autobiographical Account” on pp. 13–26.
Biographical materials in Japanese are included in the ongoing multivolume
Suzuki Daisetz Zenshu (The Complete Works of D. T. Suzuki) (Tokyo: Iwanami
Shotem, 1968– ). Also see Margaret H. Dornish’s dissertation, “Joshu’s
Bridge: D. T. Suzuki’s Message and Mission. The Early Years, 1897–1927”
(PhD diss., Claremont Graduate School, 1969), which remains helpful, and
A. Irwin Switzer’s brief sketch, D. T. Suzuki: A Biography, ed. John Snelling
(London: The Buddhist Society, 1985).
3. Suzuki, “Early Memories,”101.
4. See Shokin Furuta, “Shaku Soen: The Footsteps of a Modern Japanese
Zen Master,” Philosophical Studies of Japan 8 (1967): 67–91.
5. See James E. Ketelaar’s excellent Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan:
Buddhism and Its Persecution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).
6. Suzuki, “Early Memories,” 107. He describes his spiritual struggles
during this period on pp. 105–08.
7. For the role of Asian delegates at the Parliament, see chap. 13, “The
Parliament of Religions: The Closing of One Era and the Opening of Another,”
in Carl T. Jackson, The Oriental Religions and American Thought: Nineteenth-
Century Explorations (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1981), 243–61 and
Richard H. Seager, The World’s Parliament of Religions: The East/West Encounter,
Chicago, 1893 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995). Also see Judith
Snodgrass, Presenting Japanese Buddhism to the West: Orientalism, Occidentalism,
54 Carl T. Jackson
and the Columbian Exposition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
2003), which provides a more detailed analysis of the Japanese Buddhist participation
at the Parliament.
8. Quoted in Larry A. Fader, “The Philosophically Signifi cant Western
Understandings of D. T. Suzuki’s Interpretation of Zen and Their Infl uence
on Occidental Culture Examined Critically in Relation to Suzuki’s Thought as
Contained in his English-Language Writings” (PhD diss., Temple University,
1976), 37. Fader’s dissertation remains useful. For Suzuki’s account of his
association with Carus, see his “A Glimpse of Paul Carus,” in Joseph Kitagawa,
ed., Modern Trends in World Religions—Paul Carus Memorial Symposium (La
Salle: Open Court Press, 1959), ix–xiv. Harold Henderson questions Suzuki’s
recollection that he had originally come to the United States at Carus’s invitation,
arguing that in fact he came at his own request with the desire to study
philosophy with Carus. See Henderson, Catalyst for Controversy: Paul Carus of
Open Court (Carbondale: South Illinois University Press, 1993), 101.
9. For this formative period in Suzuki’s life, see Suzuki, “Early Memories,”
101–08 and Shojun Bando, “D. T. Suzuki’s Early Life in La Salle,” The
Eastern Buddhist N.S., 2 (August 1967): 137–46.
10. For a more detailed examination of Carus’s interest in Asian
thought and association with Suzuki, see the author’s “The Meeting of
East and West: The Case of Paul Carus,” Journal of the History of Ideas 29
(January–March l968): 73–92.
11. See D. T. Suzuki, “Confucius,” The Open Court 13 (November 1899):
644–49; “The Breadth of Buddhism,” The Open Court 14 (January 1900): 51–53;
“Acvaghosha, the First Advocate of the Mahayana Buddhism,” The Monist 10
(January 1900): 216–45; “The First Buddhist Council,” The Monist 14 (January
1904): 253–82; and “A Brief History of Early Chinese Philosophy,” The Monist
17 (July 1907): 415–50, continued in ibid., 18 (April 1908): 242–85 and ibid.
18 (October 1908): 481–509.
12. Indeed, Suzuki’s original intention was to publish two magazines
with exactly the same difference in emphasis as Carus’s, one a monthly “to
be devoted to a popular exposition of Buddhism” and the other, a quarterly,
“in which more scholarly articles” would be published. See Editorial, The
Eastern Buddhist 11 (January–February, March–April 1922): 387.
13. For Suzuki’s involvement with Swedenborg, see Andrew Bernstein’s
introduction to D. T. Suzuki, Swedenborg: Buddha of the North (West Chester:
Swedenborg Foundation, 1996), 5–12. The volume provides a translation of
Suzuki’s Swedenborugu and other Swedenborgian writings from the Japanese,
as well as several essays analyzing his indebtedness to Swedenborgianism.
14. For a listing of his most important book and pamphlet publications,
see the bibliography in Masao Abe, A Zen Life, 235–46.
15. See Christmas Humphreys, “Buddhism in England 1920–1980: A
Personal Study in Dharma,” The Middle Way 55 (February 1981): 153–64 and
Both Sides of the Circle: The Autobiography of Christmas Humphreys (London:
George Allen & Unwin, 1978).
American Reception of Zen Buddhism 55
16. Cited in Brian A. Victoria, Zen at War (New York: Weatherhill,
1997), 106, a key work. For an excellent collection of essays that addresses
the issue with reference to the Kyoto School, see James W. Heisig and John
C. Maraldo, eds., Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of
Nationalism (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1994). Also see Sharf,
“The Zen of Japanese Nationalism,” and Graham Parkes’s “The Putative Fascism
of the Kyoto School and the Political Correctness of the Modern Academy,”
Philosophy East and West 47 (July 1997): 305–36.
17. See Kirita Kiyohide, “D. T. Suzuki on Society and the State,” in
Heisig and Maraldo, Rude Awakenings, 52–74 and Christopher Ives, “Protect
the Dharma, Protect the Country: Buddhist War Responsibility and Social
Ethics,” The Eastern Buddhist N.S., 33:2 (2001): 15–34.
18. See Winthrop Sargeant’s charming portrait, “Great Simplicity,” The
New Yorker 33 (August 31, 1957): 34–36ff. Quote on p. 36.
19. William Barrett, ed., Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings of D. T. Suzuki
(Garden City: Doubleday, 1956) and Bernard Phillips, ed., The Essentials of
Zen Buddhism: An Anthology of the Writings of Daisetz T. Suzuki (New York:
E.P. Dutton, 1962).
20. D. T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism (New York: Grove
Press, 1964), 33, 44.
21. D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism. First Series (London: Luzac,
22. D. T. Suzuki, “The Philosophy of Zen,” Philosophy East and West 1
(July 1951): 14.
23. On this point, see Hiroshi Sakamoto, “D. T. Suzuki as a Philosopher,”
The Eastern Buddhist N.S., 11 (Oct. 1978): 33–42, who argues that though
“not a philosopher” in the formal sense, Suzuki developed a distinctive “system
of philosophy of his own.”
24. See his Collected Writings on Shin Buddhism (Kyoto: Shinshu Otaniha,
1973). Galen Amstutz discusses Suzuki’s Shin interests in “Modern Cultural
Nationalism and English Writing on Buddhism: The Case of D. T. Suzuki
and Shin Buddhism,” Japanese Religions 22 (July1997): 65–86.
25. See Hu Shih, “Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism in China: Its History and
Method,” Philosophy East and West 3 (April 1953): 3–24 and D. T. Suzuki, “Zen:
A Reply to Hu Shih,” ibid., 25–46. Quote on p.26. The reverberations caused
by Hu Shih’s article continued for years after, with Arthur Waley proposing
a middle position in “History and Religion,” Philosophy East and West 5 (April
1955): 75–78. James D. Sellmann revisited the controversy as recently as 1995
in his “A Belated Response to Hu Shih and D. T. Suzuki,” Philosophy East and
West 45 (January 1995): 97–104.
26. See R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, “Some Observations on Recent Studies
of Zen,” in E. E. Urbach et al., eds., Studies in Mysticism and Religion Presented
to Gershom G. Scholem (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1967), 317–35 and the
review of Benz’s book Zen in Westlicher Sight in The Eastern Buddhist N.S., 1
(September 1965): 126.
56 Carl T. Jackson
27. See chap. 2, “The Rise of Zen Orientalism,” in Bernard Faure, Chan
Insights and Oversights, especially pp. 52–74. Quotes on pp. 53 and 63.
28. Sharf, “The Zen of Japanese Nationalism,” 1–43. Quote on p. 40. The
article was reprinted in revised form in Donald S. Lopez’s excellent collection,
Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism under Colonialism (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1995). Also see Sharf’s follow-up piece, “Whose
Zen? Zen Nationalism Revisited,” in Heisig and Maraldo, Rude Awakenings,