Monday, February 09, 2015



Going Beyond Logic

Most people who have an interest in Zen have read something written by Daisetz T. Suzuki. He was not the first person to bring Zen Buddhism to the West, however, he is considered the outstanding principal at explaining Zen Buddhism to the West

In his book, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Suzuki wrote:

“Is Zen a religion? It is not a religion in the sense that the term is popularly understood; for Zen has no God to worship, no ceremonial rites to observe, no future abode to which the dead are destined, and, last of all, Zen has no soul whose welfare is to be looked after by somebody else and whose immortality is a matter of intense concern with some people. Zen is free from all these dogmatic and religious encumbrances.”

Suzuki is a common name in Japan. The one known as Daisetz T. was born in 1870 in the city of Kanazawa.

When he was only six years old Suzuki’s interests wandered away from elementary school subjects and drifted toward philosophical and spiritual matters. In high school he had a mathematics teacher with a strong interest in Zen, and that interest rubbed off on the youth. In his teens he spent time with both Zen monks and Christian missionaries probing and discussing their ideas.

Family difficulties caused Suzuki to leave high school early and became an English teacher. On his own he moved to Tokyo and enrolled in classes at Waseda University as well as at Tokyo Imperial University. Ever restless, he began commuting to nearby Kamakura to study at Engkuji temple with Rinzai Master Kōsen Imagita.

Kōsen died in early 1892, and Suzuki continued at Engkuji, eventually taking up residence there to study under Kōsen's successor, Soyen Shaku.

You may remember Soyen Shaku as the first Zen master to actually teach in the United States, and Suzuki as his translator.

When Suzuki visited the United States he worked with Open Court Publishing Company, in La Salle, Illinois, on an English translation of the Tao-te Ching. His increasingly strong view that westerners needed a lot of help in their attempts to understand Buddhism led him, in 1907, to publish his first original book in English, Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism.

In 1908 Suzuki traveled to New York and Europe. In Paris he spent hours at the Bibliothèque Nationale copying, photographing, and studying ancient Chinese manuscript replicas of sutras. In London he was hired by the Swedenborg Society to translate Emanuel Swedenborg's Heaven and Hell into Japanese.

Pregnant pause . . . . I know someone is going to ask about Swedenborg . . .

          Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish theologian, scientist, and inventor was born in 1688. In addition to being a philosopher, he was a mystic who had visions and spoke with God. He is best known for his book on the afterlife, Heaven and Hell.

Heaven and Hell gives a detailed description of the afterlife. It deals with God, angels, spirits, and devils, and it addresses the details of who is in heaven and who is in hell. According to Swedenborg the Lord had opened his spiritual eyes so he could talk with unearthly beings.

Of course such humbug attracted people like a magnet, and a religious movement called the Swedenborgian Church sprung up that endures today.

Although Suzuki translated several other Swedenborg writings into Japanese, he apparently did not buy into any part of the new-fangled religion. Returning to Japan he lectured on Buddhism at Tokyo Imperial University. He also taught at Gakushuin, a prestigious university that emphasized the Social Sciences and the Humanities.

In 1911 Suzuki married, and he and his wife continued to live in a cottage at Engakuji until in 1919 when Soyen Shaku died. They then moved to Kyoto where Daisetz became a lecturer, and later a professor, at Ōtani University.

In 1921 the couple began publishing The Eastern Buddhist, an English-language quarterly intended for westerners. The first series of his Essays in Zen Buddhism, published in London in 1927, and the succeeding two series, published in 1933 and 1934, established Suzuki's reputation in England. In April 1936, he was invited to London to speak at the World Congress of Faiths, a conference that was related to the World Parliament of Religions.

When Suzuki’s wife passed away in 1939 he returned to Kamakura and remained there until the end of World War II. He then went to Hawaii, to California, and finally to New York where he taught seminars on Zen at Columbia University. Among his students were psychologist Eric Fromm and composer John Cage, He also had a lasting influence on  psychiatrist, Carl Jung, Trappist priest Thomas Merton, poets Gary Snyder and Alan Ginsberg, and British potter Bernard Leach.

Until his death in Tokyo at age ninety-five, Suzuki continued to travel, lecture, and write on Buddhism. His complete works in Japanese occupy thirty-two volumes. The more than thirty titles he published in English include An Introduction to Zen Buddhism and Zen and Japanese Culture.

D.T. Suzuki was neither a Zen master nor a Zen monk. He was a prolific translator of Chinese, Japanese, and Sanskrit literature, and a skillful lecturer. Although he never formally graduated from any of the schools he attended, he made significant contributions to the understanding of Zen.

            Here are three quotations from D.T. Suzuki:

n  Zen teaches us to go beyond logic.

n  The intuitive recognition of the instant is the act of wisdom.

n  According to Zen, life ought to be lived as a bird flies through the air, or as a fish swims in the water.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


"Swedenborg, too, must come and help New Japan
to be placed once more upon the solid pedestal of spirituality. In concluding
this, I wish to express my gratitude for your having made it possible for me
to peruse Swedenborg with thoroughness, which has opened to me so many
beautiful, noble things belonging to the spirit. My next task will be to purify
my own will through this elevated understanding and thus to appreciate his
wonderful message spiritually."

Friday, February 26, 2016 10:38:00 AM  

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