D T Suzuki - a word of praise

Discussion in 'Buddhism' started by Tariki, May 23, 2007.

  1. Tariki

    Tariki New Member

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    D T Suzuki is well known in Buddhist circles as being one of the first true "easterners" to bring genuine knowledge of zen/buddhism to the West. Perhaps to some he is now "old hat" and out-dated, yet I have just been reading his book, first published in 1907, "Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism", and quite frankly it is a revelation. The scholarship displayed is immense, and not just from "eastern" sources, but Suzuki also reveals a deep knowledge of "western" ideas, both from Philosophy (Kant) and the more poetic (Whitman)

    And to read Suzuki expounding the reality of the "dharmakaya", the heart of reality, as "wisdom", "love", "compassion" - even "will" - and this backed up by reference to so many other Buddhist authorities from the past, from Indian, China and Japan.................

    The copy of the book that I have is an old Schocken paperback, spine split, pages falling out, held together by hope and a prayer.........Yet what a blessing!

    :)
     
  2. Snoopy

    Snoopy Active Member

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    Well I can't praise him and I don't want to bury him...as I've read nothing by him. However I have just been reading about him in Zen Master Who? and there seem to be two main points acknowledged about him. The first if that he was of course seminal in bringing Buddhism to the West, specifically Rinzai Zen to the US I think. Secondly, he was (not uniquely of course) apparently strongly supportive of the Japanese government's racist and ultra-nationalistic views during WW2. ("fanatical, jingoistic, and occasionally anti-Semitic" referring to various priests including Suzuki).

    s.
     
  3. Tariki

    Tariki New Member

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    Hi Snoops,

    At the moment I am trying to find some sort of biography of Suzuki, but can only trace a couple, one of which is only of 63 pages. I have found various biographical references on the Net. The only real and hard reference I could find re World War 2 and the attitude of Suzuki is.......that he was "under suspicion of the Japanese Government for his opposition to militarism"

    Maybe "suzuki" is as common as "smith" is in the UK? Have we the same "suzuki"? Have I.............have you!

    Anyway, whatever, what he was is what he was. Can you provide a link to the article you mention?

    Thanks
    :)
     
  4. Snoopy

    Snoopy Active Member

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    Hi,

    I'm pretty sure we're talking about the same DT Suzuki!

    It's a book, not an article, which you can see here:

    Amazon.com: Zen Master Who?: A Guide to the People and Stories of Zen: Books: James Ishmael Ford

    As I say, I've no axe to grind, this is the sum total of what I've read about him, I think.

    s.
     
  5. Francis king

    Francis king New Member

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    yes have come across Suzuki, he writes well
     
  6. Tariki

    Tariki New Member

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    Well, as I said, what he was is what he was, yet I must admit to finding it very difficult to associate Suzuki - from what I have known and read of him - with being .....apparently strongly supportive of the Japanese government's racist and ultra-nationalistic views during WW2. ("fanatical, jingoistic, and occasionally anti-Semitic" )..........:eek:



    Perhaps "apparently" holds the key?
     
  7. Snoopy

    Snoopy Active Member

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    If you’re interested in seeing where this leads, the quotes were from the book I cited but were actually references to other books (which I have not read). These are:

    Zen at War by Brian Daizen Victoria.

    Amazon.com: Zen at War (2nd Edition): Books: Brian Daizen Victoria


    Zen War Stories by Brian Daizen Victoria.

    Amazon.com: Zen War Stories (Routledgecurzon Critical Studies in Buddhism): Books: Brian Victoria

    Rude Awakening: Zen, the Kyoto School and Question of Nationalism by James Heisig and John Maraldo.

    Amazon.com: Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, & the Question of Nationalism (Nanzan Studies in Religion and Culture): Books: James W. Heisig,John C. Maraldo



    s.
     
  8. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    Hi everybody!

    The Japanese religion's support of WWII is well-known and well-documented. I remember hearing a story where the Zen buddhists in Japan raised enough money to pay for a battleship! Many religious people in Japan were very pro-war.

    In their defense, it has been said their being pro-war was required, and being anti-war could have cost them their lives. (How many of the pro-war Japanese clergy were secretly anti-war? Who can tell?)

    It must also be remembered there were no such things as constitutional rights, etc., in old Japan. A person could be thrown in jail for simply speaking one word against the Emperor.
     
  9. jiii

    jiii ...

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    I recently read Zen Master Who? myself, and for me, the notes on
    Suzuki's jingo-antics were definitely new information. I've read a
    good deal by Suzuki, who wrote very eloquently about Zen, and was also
    a commendable scholar to boot. When Ford mentions that Suzuki's
    influence was great, that is no understatement. His writings, though
    certainly subject criticism, attest to his in-depth experience with
    Zen, Buddhist philosophy, and the history of Buddhism, in general.
    Sharing a fate similar to that of his occasional colleague, Alan Watts,
    he has been labelled a popularizer by many modern commentators... a
    person that succeeded primarily in generating interest, but whose
    explanations were not particularly accurate, or excessively capable of
    misleading inquirers. In my personal opinion, that's an unfair
    characterization, though valid objections can be made to
    their style of exposition.

    (Watts credibility tends to take a larger hit than Suzuki's, I think.
    Though, Ford mentions in Zen Master Who? that Suzuki lacked many
    writings on meditation. If a lack of focus on meditation was one of
    Suzuki's most prominent criticisms, it is one of Watts' strengths.)

    The issue of D.T. Suzuki's nationalism is certainly surprising one, and though I don't doubt it's truth, I think it may have the ability to sound much worse than it was. You know...it's one of those 'oh gosh, how shocking!' types of things that generally show-up when somebody's reputation is about to be demolished (can you imagine the contrived scandal that would've taken place if Suzuki were still alive today?). I have in mind the actor that played Kramer (Cramer?) on Seinfeld, for instance. The guy is an a**h*le...doesn't mean he was a bad comic or actor. But suddenly people can only look at the actor and see a racist. Here's a question for you: maybe an a**h*le can be a good comic, but can an a**h*le be a good Zen practitioner...maybe even a teacher? Perhaps contrary to the spirit of Zen, I'm going to say: Don't answer that question too fast.

    Now, I'm not trying to say that it should be ignored. The exploration of such seemingly conflicting behaviors in Suzuki, 'ferocious' nationalism and compassionate Buddhism, probably offer an excellent opportunity to learn a thing or two about Zen (even if it does nothing to help us towards enlightenment). In general, I don't think it should be down-played, but I think it would be needless to over-react to this 'achilles heel' of D.T. Suzuki. It should be remembered and genuinely taken into consideration that Japan, at that time, was facing tumultuous and, in some cases, tragic pangs of change in their society. The very fabric of their way of life was beginning to tear apart as a result of exposure to the Western world...the world, at large. The hundreds of years that had preceded were perhaps not always peaceful years, being plagued by civil power struggles, but they were years during which Japan enjoyed isolation from most of the world and were free to develop inwardly and create or contribute lavishly to such amazing traditions as Zen, calligraphy, sado, bonsai, bonseki, poetry, martial arts, and artistic craftsmenship. The war represented the possible destruction of all of the beautiful things they had discovered within their uniquely Japanese minds.

    Suzuki was surely a Zen man, but he was also a Japanese man. His nation's cultural identity, perhaps the nation itself, was facing possible destruction! All the people of his country were completely uncertain of how they were going to fit into this new, much larger, much more intimidating world. And, hey, looked what ultimately happened down the road... it culminated in Japan getting bonked with the two most devastating bombs ever used. These were tough, if not desperate, times.

    Again...I'm not excusing him. I'm simply saying: take in the full environment in which this occurred. In retrospect, I'm not really all that surprised.
     
  10. Tariki

    Tariki New Member

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    jiii, thanks so much for that................like yourself, Suzuki's "jingo-antics" was new news to me. Apart from his actual writings and his dialogues/letters with Thomas Merton, I knew very little about his life. And was fed on a diet of quotes such as that of Herbert Read, who said of Suzuki that he "combined the innocence of a child with the holiness of a saint"........I still find the idea of "jingo-antics" difficult to grasp, yet.............

    When we are confronted by a human being who impresses us as truly great, should we not be moved rather than chilled by the knowledge that they might have attained their greatness only through their frailties?

    (Lou Andreas-Salome, biographer of Freud)

    And another memory just popped into my head, concerning the meeting in New York between Merton and Suzuki during the sixties. Merton read out a little bit from the writings of a South American theologian, part of which was the line......Praise be to God that I am not good. Merton recorded that Suzuki was deeply moved by this, and said........That is so important

    Hey, on reflection, I'm beginning to like the guy a little bit more.........:D
     
  11. Snoopy

    Snoopy Active Member

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    No Zen student can help but be devastated by learning that our childhood heroes -- Shaku Soen, D.T. Suzuki, Sawaki Kodo, Harada Daiun Sogaku, Yasutani Hakuun, Omori Sogen, Yamada Mumon, and many others -- were enthusiastic supporters of Japanese imperialism. Far from calling for peace, far even from serving as a moderating influence, Japanese Buddhist leaders vocally endorsed the killing of Chinese, Korean, American, or any other people who lacked the supposedly superior understanding of the Japanese people. The pseudo-dharma jibberish that these "enlightened masters" put in print to condone murder and cultural exploitation is agonizing to read.

    …a review snippet referring to one of the above books.

    On a less traumatic level, Zen Master Who? covers some of the scandals that have rocked American zen establishments in the past. Usually involving sex with students but also alcoholism. It seems to be “Not as I do but as I say.” Now we are all fallible humans but it is the rank hypocrisy that is so annoying. It’s no better than scandals involving Catholic priests; in fact at least they don’t claim to have achieved some sort of “enlightenment”. Clearly not that enlightened. Reminds me of John Major’s Back to Basics family values farce while he was busy committing adultery. But that’s even more off topic! Sorry. As you were…

    s.
     
  12. Tariki

    Tariki New Member

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    No need for apologies...................Yours truly has indulged in his own debunking a while back on another forum, when I was seeking to speak of the value of doubt, and one unwary poster refered to a well known Tibetan Buddhist who spoke of doubt as "rat-****". Knowing just a little concerning this particular "master" I replied something like...........If I ended up driving cars into brick walls in a drunken stupor I think that I would value a drop of ratshit, not least if it concerned my own "enlightenment"........:eek: Boom!Boom! Oh yes, the mild mannered tariki (not to say Dookie) can hit out just like the rest when his ganger is up...........:cool:

    It does raise deep questions concerning the "necessary" (?) link between wisdom and compassion (the twin towers), which has often been the theme of many past posts of mine. Jack Kornfield touches on this subject in his book "After the Ecstasy the Laundry", and quotes Pir Vilayat Khan, the "75 year old head of the Sufi Order in the West as saying........

    Of so many great teachers I've met in India and Asia, if you were to bring them to America, get them a house, two cars, a spouse, three kids, a job, insurance, and taxes.....they would all have a hard time.


    Anyway, enough.........or perhaps not! Anyone, please feel free to contribute to this particular theme - the relationship between "morality" and "wisdom"?
     
  13. Tariki

    Tariki New Member

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    Having said the above, there remains the small reference I quoted earlier concerning Suzuki and WW2.....

    The only real and hard reference I could find re World War 2 and the attitude of Suzuki is.......that he was "under suspicion of the Japanese Government for his opposition to militarism"

    ?????

    Ref......Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki: Information from Answers.com (Beginning of paragraph four)
     
  14. Tariki

    Tariki New Member

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    Well, back to the original "praise"..............

    Found the following snippet as I trawled the Net, lured by Snoopy's detour.......(not to say "hi-jack".....)

    Interestingly, later in life Suzuki was more inclined to Jodo Shin (True Pure Land) practice on a personal level, seeing in the doctrine of Tariki, or other power as opposed to self power, an abandonment of self that is entirely complementary to Zen practice and yet to his mind even less willful than traditional Zen.

    :)
     

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