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Teitaro Suzuki

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By Teitaro Suzuki
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By Teitaro Suzuki
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Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki

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Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki (October 18, 1870, Kanazawa, Japan – July 22, 1966; standard transliteration: Suzuki Daisetsu, 鈴木大拙) was a famous author of books and essays on Buddhism, Zen and Shin that were instrumental in spreading interest in both Zen and Shin (and Far Eastern philosophy in general) to the West. Suzuki was also a prolific translator of Chinese, Japanese, and Sanskrit literature.

Contents

Early life

D. T. Suzuki was born as Teitarō Suzuki in Honda-machi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, the fourth son of physician Ryojun Suzuki. (The Buddhist name "Daisetz", meaning "Great Simplicity", was given to him by his Zen master Shaku Soen---see below.) Although his birthplace no longer exists, a monument marks its location. The Samurai class into which Suzuki was born declined with the fall of [1] Shaku Soen was an exceptional Zen monk. In his youth, Kosen and others recognized him to be naturally advantaged. Three years after he had received "Dharma transmission" from Kosen at age 25, Shaku Soen took the unique step of traveling to Ceylon to study Pali and Theravada Buddhism and live the alien life of the bhikkhu for three years.

Under Shaku Soen, Suzuki's studies were essentially internal and non-verbal, including long periods of sitting meditation (zazen). The task involved what Suzuki described as four years of mental, physical, moral, and intellectual struggle.

During training periods at Engaku-ji, Suzuki lived a monk's life. He described this life and his own experience at Kamakura in his book The Training of the Zen Buddhist Monk. Suzuki was invited by Shaku Soen to visit the United States in the 1890s. Suzuki acted as English-language translator for a book written by him (1906). Though Suzuki had by this point translated some ancient Asian texts into English, his role in translating and ghost-writing aspects of this book was more the beginning of Suzuki's career as a writer in English.

Career

While he was young, Suzuki had set about acquiring knowledge of Chinese, Sanskrit, Pali, and several European languages. Shaku Soen was one of the invited speakers at the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893. When a German scholar who had set up residence in LaSalle, Illinois, Dr. Paul Carus, approached Shaku Soen to request his help in translating and preparing Oriental spiritual literature for publication in the West, the latter instead recommended his disciple Suzuki for the job. Suzuki lived at Dr. Carus’s home, the Hegeler Carus Mansion, and worked with him, initially in translating the classic Tao Te Ching from ancient Chinese. In Illinois, Suzuki began his early work Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism.

Carus himself had written a book offering an insight into, and overview of, Buddhism, titled The Gospel of Buddha. Shaku Soen wrote an introduction for it, and Suzuki translated the book into Japanese. At this time, around the turn of the century, quite a number of Westerners and Asians (Carus, Soen, and Suzuki included) were involved in the worldwide Buddhist revival that had begun slowly in the 1880s.

Besides living in the United States, Suzuki traveled through Europe before taking up a professorship back in Japan. Suzuki married Beatrice Erskine Lane, a Theosophist and Radcliffe graduate, in 1911. Dedicating themselves to spreading an understanding of Mahayana Buddhism, they lived in a cottage on the Engaku-ji grounds until 1919, then moved to Kyoto, where Suzuki began professorship at Otani University in 1921. While he was in Kyoto, he visited Dr. Hoseki Shinichi Hisamatsu, a famous Zen Buddhist scholar, and discussed Zen Buddhism together at Shunkoin temple in the Myoshinji temple complex.

In the same year he joined Otani University, he and his wife, Beatrice, founded the Eastern Buddhist Society; the Society is focused on Mahayana Buddhism and offers lectures and seminars, and publishes a scholarly journal, The Eastern Buddhist. Suzuki maintained connections in the West and, for instance, delivered a paper at the World Congress of Faiths in 1936, at the University of London (he was an exchange professor during this year).

Besides teaching about Zen practice and the history of Zen (or Chan) Buddhism, Suzuki was an expert scholar on the related philosophy called, in Japanese, Kegon – which he thought of as the intellectual explication of Zen experience.

Still a professor of Buddhist philosophy in the middle decades of the twentieth century, Suzuki wrote some of the most celebrated introductions and overall examinations of Buddhism, and particularly of its Chinese Chan school (though he usually referred to this sect by the term "Zen," which is the Japanese pronunciation of its name). He went on a lecture tour of American universities in 1951, and taught at Columbia University from 1952-57.

Suzuki was especially interested in the formative centuries of this Buddhist tradition, in China. A lot of Suzuki's writings in English concern themselves with translations and discussions of bits of the Chan texts the Biyan Lu (Blue Cliff Record) and the Wumenguan (Gateless Passage), which record the teaching styles and words of the classical Chinese masters. He was also interested in how this tradition, once imported into Japan, had influenced Japanese character and history, and wrote about it in English in Zen and Japanese Culture. Suzuki's reputation was secured in England prior to the U.S.

In addition to his popularly oriented works, Suzuki wrote a translation of the Lankavatara Sutra and a commentary on its Sanskrit terminology. Later in his life he was a visiting professor at Columbia University. He looked in on the efforts of Saburo Hasegawa, Judith Tyberg, Alan Watts and the others who worked in the California Academy of Asian Studies (now known as the California Institute of Integral Studies), in San Francisco in the 1950s.

Suzuki is often linked to the Kyoto School of philosophy, but he is not considered one of its official members. Suzuki took an interest in other traditions besides Zen. His book Zen and Japanese Buddhism delved into the history and scope of interest of all the major Japanese Buddhist sects. In his later years, he began to explore the Shin faith of his mother's upbringing, and wrote a small volume about Shin Buddhism, Buddha of Infinite Light. D.T. Suzuki also produced an incomplete English translation of the Kyo gyo shin sho ("The True Teaching, Practice, Faith and Attainment" ) the major work of Shinran, the founder of the Jodo Shinshu school. However, Suzuki did not attempt to popularize the Shin doctrine in the West, as he believed Zen was better suited to the Western preference for Eastern mysticism.[citation needed] He also took an interest in Christian mysticism and some of most significant mystics of the West, specially Meister Eckhart, which he compared with Jodo Shinshu Buddhism.

D.T. Suzuki's books have been widely read and commented on by many important figures. A notable example is An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, which includes a thirty page commentary by famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Other works include Essays in Zen Buddhism (three volumes), Studies in Zen Buddhism, and Manual of Zen Buddhism. Additionally, William Barrett has compiled many of Suzuki's articles and essays concerning Zen into a volume entitled Studies in Zen.

Suzuki's Zen master, Shaku Soen, who also wrote a book published in the United States (English translation by Suzuki), had emphasized the Mahayana Buddhist outlook of the Zen tradition. Contrasting with this, to a degree, was Suzuki's own view that in its centuries of development in China, Zen (or Chan) had absorbed much from indigenous Chinese Taoism. Suzuki believed that the Far-Eastern peoples had a sensitivity or attunement to nature that was acute, by comparison with either the people of Europe or the people of Northern India, generally speaking.

Suzuki subscribed to the idea that religions are each a sort of organism, an organism that is (through time) subject to "irritation" — hence, showing the capacity to change or evolve.

It was Suzuki's contention that a Zen satori (awakening) was the goal of the tradition's training, but that what distinguished the tradition as it developed through the centuries in China was a way of life radically different from that of Indian Buddhists. In India, the tradition of the mendicant (holy beggar, bhikku in Pali) prevailed, but in China social circumstances led to the development of a temple and training-center system in which the abbot and the monks all performed mundane tasks. These included food gardening or farming, carpentry, architecture, housekeeping, administration (or community direction), and the practice of folk medicine. Consequently, the enlightenment sought in Zen had to stand up well to the demands and potential frustrations of everyday life.

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

D. T. Suzuki received numerous honors, including Japan's national Cultural Medal.

Despite Suzuki's pioneering efforts, he was sometimes criticized by some, on the grounds that (1) he was not an ordained Zen monk (2) he was not an academic historian working within an academic institution and (3) his conceptions of Zen were often overly inclusive and general. However, some clearly credible Western scholars, such as Heinrich Dumoulin, have acknowledged some degree of debt to Suzuki's published work, and, most significantly, some of the most important figures of the twentieth century have praised him unreservedly (see below — "About D. T. Suzuki") Nevertheless, Suzuki's view of Zen Buddhism is certainly his very own; as philosopher Charles A. Moore said: "Suzuki in his later years was not just a reporter of Zen, not just an expositor, but a significant contributor to the development of Zen and to its enrichment." This is echoed by Nishitani Keiji, who declared: "...in Dr. Suzuki's activities, Buddhism came to posses a forward-moving direction with a frontier spirit...This involved shouldering the task of rethinking, restating and redoing traditional Buddhism to transmit it to Westerners as well as Easterners...To accomplish this task it is necessary to be deeply engrossed in the tradition, and at the same time to grasp the longing and the way of thinking within the hearts of Westerners. From there, new possibilities should open up in the study of the Buddha Dharma which have yet to be found in Buddhist history...Up to now this new Buddhist path has been blazed almost single-handedly by Dr. Suzuki. He did it on behalf of the whole Buddhist world". That being said, it should be born in mind that Suzuki was not a Zen teacher in any sense of the term and that his work is riddled with inaccuracies, especially concerning the reality of Zen training. The West does indeed owe him an incalculable debt but he cannot be recommended as a source of clear and accurate information on Zen practice or history.

About D.T. Suzuki

"Though perhaps less universally known than such figures as Einstein or Gandhi (who became symbols of our time) Daisetz Suzuki was no less remarkable a man than these. And though his work may not have had such resounding and public effect, he contributed no little to the spiritual and intellectual revolution of our time". -Thomas Merton
"Prophecy is rash, but it may be that the publication of D.T. Suzuki's first Essays in Zen Buddhism in 1927 will seem to future generations as great an intellectual event as William of Moerbeke's Latin translations of Aristotle in the thirteenth century or Marsiglio Ficino's of Plato in the fifteenth". -Lynn Townsend White, Jr
"Suzuki's works on Zen Buddhism are among the best contributions to the knowledge of living Buddhism....We cannot be sufficiently grateful to the author, first for the fact of his having brought Zen closer to Western understanding, and secondly for the manner in which he has achieved this task". -Carl Jung
"That there are today Zen training centers in the United States, Canada, Europe, Mexico, and South America is a tribute to the comprehensive and illuminating works of D.T. Suzuki. And that there is scarcely an educated person in the West today that has not heard of Zen or who hasn't some acquaintance with its tenets is also due to the prodigious labors of this man who, at the age of eighty, came to America to explain this arcane philosophy. In this he evokes the spirit of the redoubtable Bodhidharma". -Philip Kapleau
"It was not merely a sense of mission...or even scholarly drive which provided Suzuki Sensei with his real internal motivation. I believe that behind his activities resided a religious Awakening. As a youth, under the guidance of Zen Master Shaku Soen, he had become deeply realized through penetrating into the root-source of the universe of life-and-death. His "motivation" derived from no other than this realization...This Awakening functioned within Suzuki Sensei as an overwhelming Buddhist spirit of 'vow', aimed at bringing everyone to awaken to the same Reality. His scholarly study of Buddhism was undertaken in order to further this work, it was not the other way around". -Abe Masao
"It was not only Suzuki's ability to transmit the message of Zen that drew me to his work, but also the stunning clarity of his words". -Bono

References

  1. ^ Popular Buddhism in Japan: Shin Buddhist Religion & Culture by Esben Andreasen, p.56, University of Hawaii Press, 1998 ISBN 0-8248-2028-2

Biographic References

  • Fields, Rick How the Swans Came to the Lake (1981) Boulder: Shamballa.
  • Suzuki, D.T. "Early Memories" in The Training of the Zen Buddhist Monk (1965) New York: University Books.

Bibliography

These essays were enormously influential when they came out, making Zen known in the West for the very first time:

  • Essays in Zen Buddhism: First Series (1927), New York: Grove Press.
  • Essays in Zen Buddhism: Second Series (1933), New York: Samuel Wieser, Inc. 1953-1971. Edited by Christmas Humphreys.
  • Essays in Zen Buddhism: Third Series (1934), York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc, 1953. Edited by Christmas Humphreys.
  • Dr. Suzuki also completed the translation of the Lankavatara Sutra from the original Sanskrit. Boulder, CO: Praja Press, 1978, ISBN 0-87773-702-9, first published Routledge Kegan Paul, 1932.

Shortly after, a second trilogy followed:

  • An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Kyoto: Eastern Buddhist Soc. 1934. Republished with Foreword by C.G. Jung, London: Rider & Company, 1948.
  • The Training of the Zen Buddhist Monk, Kyoto: Eastern Buddhist Soc. 1934. New York: University Books, 1959.
  • Manual of Zen Buddhism, Kyoto: Eastern Buddhist Soc. 1934. London: Rider & Company, 1950, 1956.A collection of Buddhist sutras, classic texts from the masters, icons & images,including the "Ten Ox-Herding Pictures".

After WWII, a new interpretation:

  • The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind,London: Rider & Company, 1949. York Beach, Maine: Red Wheel/Weiser, 1972, ISBN 0-87728-182-3.
  • Living by Zen. London: Rider & Company, 1949.
  • Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist: The Eastern and Western Way, Macmillan, 1957. "A study of the qualities Meister Eckhart shares with Zen and Shin Buddhism". Includes translation of myokonin Saichi's poems.
  • Zen and Japanese Culture, New York: Pantheon Books, 1959. A classic.

Miscellaneous:

  • An anthology of his work until mid-50's: Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings of D.T. Suzuki, Doubleday, New York: 1956. Edited by William Barrett.
  • Very early work on Western mystic-philosopher.Swedenborg: Buddha of the North, West Chester, Pa: Swedenborg Foundation, 1996. Trans. by Andrew Bernstein of Swedenborugu, 1913.
  • Transcription of talks on Shin Buddhism.Buddha of Infinite Light. Boston: Shambala, 1998. Edited by Taitetsu Unno.
  • Tribute; anthology of essays by great thinkers.D.T. Suzuki: A Zen Life Remembered. Wheatherhill, 1986. Republished by Shambala.
  • See also the works of Alan Watts, Paul Reps et al


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