Monday, March 28, 2005

Also not helpful...

is posts such as this one at "Counter-cult Apologetics."

Rather than deal with issues I've already mentioned, let's go to this "also recommended" article by one Rev. Ralph Allan Smith in that post, and note additional misstatements and falsities there...

  • The author makes the typical Christian apologist's mistake about zen by looking for a "proof text" and attempting to falsify it. D.T. Suzuki wrote many valuable things, but for Zen Buddhists, Suzuki's writings are not authoritative.

  • The "monism" of zen, while alluded to by Suzuki, is in actuality a poor choice of words. However, even Suzuki notes that "pantheism" is in effect erroneous as a descripton of the zen view of the world, but, rather penentheism. Now I think even that is inapt as a descriptor; to state that would be like having a "philosphy" that rigidly guides how you play tennis. You may have a style of game that suits you, but the part of the brain that conjures up philosphies is not really heavily involved.

  • The following text is particularly strange, misleading, and invites a response:

    It is remarkable that living through a century that is characterized by its political theories and atrocities, Suzuki has so little to say on the subject. What he does say, however, is important:

    Zen has no special doctrine or philosophy, no set of concepts or intellectual formulas, except that it tries to release one from the bondage of birth and death, by means of certain intuitive modes of understanding peculiar to itself. It is, therefore, extremely flexible in adapting itself to almost any philosophy and moral doctrine as long as its intuitive teaching is not interfered with. It may be found wedded to anarchism or fascism, communism or democracy, atheism or idealism, or any political or economic dogmatism. It is, however, generally animated with a certain revolutionary spirit, and when things come to a deadlock -- as they do when overloaded with conventionalism, formalism, and other cognate isms -- Zen asserts itself and proves to be a destructive force. [21]

    Now, perhaps it is profound honesty which says in the face of the foulest historical facts that Zen can be wedded with the likes of Hitler or Stalin. It is possible, of course, that though Suzuki referred to these political philosophies, he would have repudiated their representatives. But by 1959, when the revised edition of his Zen and Japanese Culture was published, should it not have been sufficiently clear that the history of fascism and communism was written with the blood and tears of untold numbers of men, women, and children who suffered the most outrageous oppression not merely from the inhuman leaders who have become the infamous symbols of those ideologies, but from the faceless and nameless bureaucratic monsters which those systems brought forth in abundance? And even if, in spite of the values of enlightenment, Suzuki could have been uninformed in 1959 about communism, is it at all conceivable that he was ignorant of the atrocities of Hitler and the Nazis, or that he would not have realized the complicity of the German nation in the murderous crimes of its leaders?

    My third illustration is related to the second and may be summed up in the question, Why does Suzuki say nothing to say about Japan's political life in the twentieth century? According to Christmas Humphreys, Suzuki, who was born in 1870, attained enlightenment in the 1890's, which means that he lived through the war between Japan and Russia, World War I, Japan's political transformation, her invasion of Korea and China, and World War II. During the first half of the twentieth century, Suzuki taught in various Japanese universities and traveled frequently to the West. He wrote numerous books, gave lectures and met prominent intellectuals from all over the world. In 1934, he visited Korea, Manchuria, and China. He spent World War II in Kamakura writing books.

    Here, then, we have a well-traveled, well-read, well-informed Zen master who lived through the worst days of the twentieth century as a mature and even "enlightened" adult. The history of Japan in the first half of the twentieth century includes political assassinations beyond number in a time when Japan's political parties are described as "legal mafias," [22] a secret police no less monstrous than that of the Nazis or Soviets, and the exploitation and cruel oppression of Japan's oriental neighbors. Concerning all of this brutal history, Suzuki has no comment, no wisdom to teach us, and no apologies for his Asian neighbors.

    The responses I would enumerate to this are as follows:

    • Christianity also can be and has been wedded to democracy, anarchism, fascism and communism in the 20th century.

    • No serious Zen practitioner will argue that Zen was misused by the Japanese in World War II; taking Suzuki's writings here as any kind of proof-text on Zen here is especially misleading. While many Japanese did misuse Zen to support the war (although it was Shinto that emphasized the cult of the emperor) there were also cases of Zen priests who used Zen specifically to subvert the dictatorship in Japan, among them, Dharma-heirs of Suzuki's teacher Shaku Soen. In addition, Zen teachers were specifically involved in helping to terminate Japan's war effort in Japan. The fact that people did not employ Buddhist precepts did not mean the Buddhist precepts were "false," but merely that they were not practiced. Apologies by Zen teachers have been made, but this guy would rather not consider them, or doesn't know about them. "Reverend" Smith would do well to focus instead on the historical record of his own religion.

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