Selected Works of D.T. Suzuki, Volume III: Comparative Religion

Selected Works of D.T. Suzuki, Volume III: Comparative Religion

by Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki

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ISBN-13: 9780520965355
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 08/02/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 7 MB

About the Author

Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki (1870–1966) was a Japanese-born scholar and translator who over the course of the twentieth century came to be regarded as one of the leading authorities on Zen and Buddhism generally. He was the author of more than a hundred works on the subject in both Japanese and English and was instrumental in bringing Buddhist teachings to the attention of the Western world. His many books in English include An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Essays in Zen Buddhism, Zen and Japanese Culture, Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist, and Shin Buddhism.

Jeff Wilson is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies at Renison University College, University of Waterloo, and the author of Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture.

Tomoe Moriya is Professor of International Communication at Hannan University in Japan and a coeditor of Issei Buddhism in the Americas.

Richard M. Jaffe is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Duke University and the author of Neither Monk nor Layman: Clerical Marriage in Modern Japanese Buddhism.

Read an Excerpt

Selected Works of D.T. Suzuki, Volume III

Comparative Religion

By Richard M. Jaffe


Copyright © 2016 The Buddhist Society Trust as agent for the Matsugaoka Library Foundation; and Jeff Wilson and Tomoe Moriya
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-96535-5


Letter to Paul Carus (1896)

Patron and employer, Paul Carus (1852–1919) was one of the most important influences in young Suzuki's life. He introduced Suzuki to vital social and intellectual connections in the West that Suzuki called upon throughout his life, and the Open Court Publishing Company (with Carus as managing editor) showcased many of Suzuki's early English writings and translations in its journals, The Open Court and The Monist.

Prior to this, Suzuki had translated Carus's Gospel of Buddha (1894) into Japanese, so it was perhaps natural for his master, Shaku Soen (1860–1919), to advise him to go to the United States. Suzuki had planned to travel to India (more specifically, Ceylon, now Sri Lanka) like his master and had attended the Pali language class of Shaku Kozen (1849–1924) in Yokohama. But around the end of 1895, Soen recommended that he go to America instead. By early 1896, Carus and his father-in-law, Edward C. Hegeler (1835–1910), had agreed to invite Suzuki. However, as a poor student lacking financial support for the cost of travel, Suzuki had to borrow money from his master and other acquaintances to purchase a ticket for a steamer across the Pacific, which explains his "sundry conditions" in the letter. He had to wait until January 1897 to depart for San Francisco.

Carus and Suzuki were drawn together by their shared interest in a modernized, scientific religion and the possibility that Buddhism might best fit such a vision. The "booklet" that Suzuki refers to here is Shin shukyo ron (A New Interpretation of Religion), excerpts of which are included in chapter 2 of this volume. Despite his intention to act as a Buddhist priest during his years in the United States, he was never ordained. He did, however, demonstrate the significance of Mahayana Buddhism to English-speaking readers through his writings, interpret for his master when he toured the United States in 1905–1906, and occasionally spoke to sympathizers of Buddhism.

One may wonder why Suzuki stressed that his knowledge of Buddhism was "very limited" when he intended to act as a Buddhist priest. This was most likely due to the Japanese custom of expressing oneself in a humble manner and the fact that he was not ordained. Also, despite his earnest practice at the Engakuji temple, he did not experience kensho until seven months after writing this letter.

The base text for this letter is in the Suzuki Daisetsu zenshu 36:75–76.

* * *

Kamakura, Japan

May 14th, 1896

Dr. Paul Carus

La Salle, Ill.,

My Dear Sir: —

Your favor of April 16th was thankfully received yesterday and I am sorry to inform you that my departure for your country will be delayed until the fall, because there are sundry conditions which hinder my going abroad too soon. But I will not fail to leave Japan during the fall.

I intend to visit as a Buddhist priest, though I am not worthwhile to be entitled so. I am of course a Buddhist, but my knowledge of Buddhism is very limited.

I am now writing a booklet on religion as I understand it. What I am going to say is your philosophy plus Buddhism plus my own opinion. The amalgamation of the three will become the essential feature of my book. Our people are now suffering under the heavy burden of Materialism and Hedonism. Their indifference for [sic] religion in its new and high sense will be forcibly attacked in my book.

With kind regards and best wishes, I remain

Your faithful servant

Teitaro Suzuki


Selections from Shin shukyo ron (A New Interpretation of Religion)

Shin shukyo ron (A New Interpretation of Religion) was published by Baiyo Shoin in November 1896, before Suzuki arrived in the United States for the first time. In the preface, Suzuki explained that the title could also mean "A Treatise on the True Meaning (or Essence) of Religion" and that he intended to describe religion as "objectively" as possible, even though he was a Buddhist. This book was written as a sort of response to the questions raised to Suzuki's Zen teacher Shaku Soen by John Henry Barrows (1847–1902), who had chaired the World's Parliament of Religions in 1893. It contained the Four Great Vows right after the title page, followed by the calligraphy of "Sentei" by Takeda Mokurai (1854–1930) of Kenninji, a foreword by Soen, and a letter from Motora Yujiro (1858–1912), who taught ethics and psychology at Tokyo Imperial University and attended Zen practice at the Engakuji temple. The chapters were:

1. Introduction

2. Religion

3. God

4. Faith

5. Ritual, Worship, and Prayer

6. Religious Founders

7. Humans

8. Non-ego (To Rebut the Fallacy of the Belief in Existence of a Soul)

9. Immortality

10. Relation of Religion and Philosophy

11. Relation of Religion and Science

12. Relation of Religion and Morality

13. Relation of Religion and Education

14. Religion and Social Issues

15. Relation of Religion and State

16. Religion and Home

As was common with Japanese Buddhist intellectuals in the Meiji period (1868–1912), Shin shukyo ron shows clear influence of exposure to nineteenth-century European philosophy, which Suzuki critically absorbed from his studies at Tokyo Imperial University. His modernist and transnationally connected Zen teacher Soen and his own developing international connection with Paul Carus, whose "science of religion" approach is clearly present here, also strongly impacted this document. Suzuki's affinity for American Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) and Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), meanwhile, became more evident after he moved to LaSalle, Illinois, where he worked for Open Court Publishing. On the other hand, we should note that Shin shukyo ron appeared before other commonly cited intellectual influences, such as The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1842–1910) and The Idea of the Holy by Rudolph Otto (1869–1917). As we see here, themes such as religious experience, the essence of true religion, comparative religious studies, and personal crisis and epiphany were already present in Suzuki's thought and likely drew him to those other thinkers, rather than Suzuki being thoroughly influenced by them after reading their works. However, instead of the Western concept of religion that was modeled after Christianity and its theology, the above sixteen chapters also reveal that the young Suzuki tried to present how a Buddhist model of "religion" or "religious experience" would relate to social life. This attempt may explain why he dared to add "New" to the title of the book.

One of the most important things to note is how Suzuki, drawing on Zen Buddhist ideas about the relationship of religious practice to truth, perceived personal experience as a source of information about objective reality — indeed, the most profound and inclusive one, which embraces all phenomena in our everyday lives. Insight gained through activities such as meditation was therefore, for Suzuki at this time, not subjective or emotional but quite rational, scientific, and reliable. He maintained this conviction throughout his corpus, even expanding the idea to assert that the meditative religious experience transcends dualisms like rational and irrational or objective and subjective and is thus all the more rational, correct, and authentic. As we see in his essay "Religion and Drugs" (1966), chapter 29 in this volume, he also asserted that Zen meditation does not encourage one to act insanely or lose one's mind in nonsense. Interestingly, Suzuki's "religion" is revealed to be critical of not only Western Christianity but also traditional Buddhist denominations that prided themselves on conducting rituals in huge decorative temple buildings without reflecting on the essence of religious experience. With such a tendency to critique established Buddhism, Suzuki later joined the Shin Bukkyoto Doshikai (New Buddhist Society), whose members were mostly provocative reformist Buddhist laity.

In Shin shukyo ron we also see how Suzuki, with his "modernist" Buddhist bias, found mainstream Christian ideas outdated, such as theology based primarily on the anthropomorphic God concept, or Christian dualism, which divides God from the rest of the world and thus negates interdependence among phenomena as a whole. However, while Suzuki was clear that God plays no role in Buddhism, he also recognized that he had to find a way to use a particular God concept to communicate effectively with many of his contemporaries. Therefore he searched for a suitable non-Christian "God" that he could use to convey his ideas, eventually settling on a type of postpantheism. This postpantheism appears atheistic from the point of view of mainstream Christianity, and indeed Suzuki had no use for a personal God entirely separate from oneself. Despite this — and his stress on the quotidian, the practical, and the provable — he in no way rejected the reality of the transcendent or sacred dimensions of life. His rejection was of the elements of mainstream Christianity and Islam (although seemingly reflecting the Orientalist image of the latter) that he felt unduly constrict the living truth of reality's genuine sacred qualities.

Thus the young Suzuki's distinct rejection of Christian dualism may well explain his turning toward Swedenborgian ideas, his keen interest in a German mystic, Meister Eckhart (c. 1260–1328), and his later pursuit of universal religious experience.

The base text for these chapters is in SDZ 23:16–41, 105–111. See also Suzuki Teitaro Daisetsu, Shin shukyo ron (Kyoto: Baiyo Shoin, 1896), 19–68, 192–205. We have ignored the stress marks that Soen added in the 1896 version, except for those remaining in SDZ, which are here represented by italics. The translation from the Japanese is by Tomoe Moriya, with assistance from Jeff Wilson and Richard Jaffe.

* * *


Led by various delusions that arise, strangled by numerous maxims yet achieving nothing, [the meaning of one's life] is over when one's body becomes like a clothes hanger or a container of food to digest. Upon contemplating inwardly the mystery of life and nature, one shall inevitably realize how unsettled one's mind has been. Then, this realization will lead us to a sort of agonizing struggle, constantly disturbing our minds like whirlwinds scattering dry leaves or tidal waves in the ocean. At this time, one may vainly try to talk about it or wish to describe it, only to feel overwhelmed by melancholy and groaning agony. This is the very moment of drastic change in the religious mind.

From time immemorial, some people have experienced these kinds of feelings. Temporarily or throughout our lifetime, the disturbing circumstances that provoke such experiences may not arise, yet nonetheless we cannot deny the existence of the religious emotion (shukyoteki kanjo). It is like dark clouds covering the whole sky while the sun retains its illuminating nature. The so-called heroes, particularly, have gone through such fervent religious feelings at least once in their lives (even though they might not clearly perceive their own religious nature, and historical narratives have superficially described their activities without detailing the psychological struggles). Readers, therefore, might fail to recognize the struggles if they do not observe the narratives with keen eyes that can find the truth. Meanwhile, we can easily point out the spiritual awakening of religious people.

Let me start with the first example, Sakyamuni. He was born into a royal family commanding tens of thousands of armed soldiers, fulfilling all manner of desires that people might have. However, he left the court as if he were discarding worn-out sandals and went into retreat in a valley deep in the mountains. That was because he found no mental tranquillity in the gilded castle filled with sensuous enjoyments such as beautiful maids and delicious feasts. Living under trees or on rocks, with one piece of clothing and a bowl, he barely survived without enough food and warm clothing, but still, his mental suffering was overwhelming his physical hardships. Seeing how he regarded the six years of asceticism as if they were a mere drop of candy, we can infer how strong was his religious mind (shukyoshin).

When Bodhidharma arrived in China and advocated the Buddha-mind sect [i.e., Zen], he met with Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty, who could not understand the teachings. Bodhidharma then moved to the Wei Kingdom and spent nine years gazing at the cave wall near the Shaolin Monastery. Huike, an ardent novice with his mind yet to be resolved, entered the Shaolin Monastery and practiced Buddhism for several years. He was so sincere that he spent all night standing [outside the cave] in the snow until it reached his knees, and finally cut off his [left] arm and offered it to the master. This incident reveals that he was so fervent and dedicated in seeking nirvana that he did not mind sacrificing a part of his own body or life.

Muhammad founded Islam. He was initially a merchant, always busy with earning profits, traveling everywhere. But he felt discontent with his life one day and finally retreated into a vast desert and meditated on the mystery without food or sleep. After several days, he received revelation from God and began spreading His words. His passion for preaching the Qur'an with a sword was based on enormous faith and determination that were formed during his reflection in the desert. Imagining his intense, spiritual anguish, one cannot but help feel one's hair stand on end.

It is not known to us how Jesus spent his early years; hence we cannot precisely grasp what he had done during the most active and capable period in his life. Still, there must have been something in the preparatory stage, considering his great contribution later on. My assumption is that this unknown period was a time of great agony, suffering, endeavor, and devotion. In other words, it was probably a time of renouncing his physical body, his [egoistic] mind, and this world.

The above are remarkable examples that are widely known to many. Every religious mind (shukyoshin), broad and narrow, deep and shallow, is unique to each one of us. However diverse they may be, no one can avoid the occurrence [of such religious mind], and it will eventually cause quite a distress in each of us. Now let us observe such consciousness from the point of the biological [pyramid]. The case of Sakyamuni can be considered the highest religious mind in human beings. Descending from the human, groups of animals like cows, horses, dogs, and cats are barely aware of their weak manifestation of religious consciousness. Descending further, groups like fish, birds, insects, and protozoa are even weaker, and they only react to physical contacts and move accordingly. There is nothing particular to say about plants in this sense. Looking up at the highest rank of creature from the lowest rank, it may look almost completely different, although a careful, detailed observation of each creature will reveal that difference between the ranks is trivial. Likewise, the occurrence of religious mind is similar to this. Ordinary people's consciousness may be just like that of an amoeba. If it is compared with that of Sakyamuni, it is like [finding the constellation of] the Plough in the daytime. However, this does not mean they do not have any sense or religious mind.

In the meantime, let us question why ordinary people rouse their religious emotion only slightly.

On a bright, sunny day, birds do not recognize the air filling Heaven and Earth. When a gentle breeze makes calm waves, fish do not appreciate water flowing from the top to the bottom [of the river]. These are because they fail to remember what surrounds them if located [comfortably and] appropriately. When dark clouds cover the whole sky and storms blow down houses and trees, however, [the birds] come to realize that the environment was filled with air. When muddy water rolls toward the sky and raging water tosses a ship and drowns people, then [the fish] realize their bodies are inside water. These are some metaphors of the way ordinary people have a feeble development of religious mind.


Excerpted from Selected Works of D.T. Suzuki, Volume III by Richard M. Jaffe. Copyright © 2016 The Buddhist Society Trust as agent for the Matsugaoka Library Foundation; and Jeff Wilson and Tomoe Moriya. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction by Jeff Wilson and Tomoe Moriya
Editorial Note

1. Letter to Paul Carus (1896)
2. Selections from Shin shukyo ron (A New Interpretation of Religion)
3. Letter to Paul Carus (1897)
4. Christianity in Japan
5. Confucius: A Study of His Character and History
6. Selection from A Brief History of Early Chinese Philosophy
7. Selections from Suedenborugu (Swedenborg)
8. Zen, the Spiritual Heritage of the East
9. A Contemporary Buddhist View of Shinto
10. Swedenborg’s View of Heaven and “Other-Power”
11. Selection from Ignorance and World Fellowship
12. Zen and the Study of Confucianism (Selection from Zen and Its Influence on Japanese Culture)
13. What Is Religion?
14. Selections from Japanese Spirituality
15. Tea-Room Meditations
16. Selections from Essays in Zen Buddhism (First Series)
17. The Predicament of Modern Man
18. The Analytic and Synthetic Approach to Buddhism
19. The Answer Is in the Question
20. The Hands
21. Letter to Mr. Tatsuguchi
22. Review of Meditation and Piety in the Far East
23. Selections from Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist
24. Love and Power
25. Letter to Thomas Merton
26. Wisdom in Emptiness
27. Open Letter to President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev
28. Buddhism and Other Religions
29. Religion and Drugs

Glossary of Chinese and Japanese Terms

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