The postwar era marked the heyday of American Freudianism and its humanistic offshoots — and Suzuki, teaching Zen Buddhism at Columbia University in the 1950s, was at the epicenter of creative psychological thought. Only months before Horney's death in 1952, she accompanied Suzuki and colleagues on a tour of Japanese Zen monasteries and emphasized the importance of his notion of "whole-heartedness" as a vital feature of mental health. Fromm became close friends with Suzuki, and in 1957, sponsored him as a guest speaker for a conference on Zen and psychoanalysis held in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Several years later, the two coauthored an influential book on this topic; like many others, Fromm was greatly touched by Suzuki's personal warmth and kindness.Abraham Maslow, guru of motivational psychology, was another humanistic thinker inspired by Suzuki during these years. Maslow, who pioneered in studying what he called "peak experiences" — that is, sudden moments of joy and meaning — was excited by Suzuki's concept of sono-mama or suchness, as an element of mystical awareness. Sponsoring Suzuki's lectures at Brandeis University, Maslow also regarded Suzuki's Zen teaching of muga, or total absorption, as vital for a psychology of well-being and growth.It is an historical irony, though, that Suzuki had much less impact on Japanese psychology than on its humanistic development in the U.S. and Europe. Why so? Because during the postwar years, Japanese psychologists were eager to establish their field as a rigorous experimentalist science, akin to biology, and looked askance at philosophical or spiritual thinkers. As the Jungian scholar Dr. Shoji Muramoto of Kobe City University of Foreign Studies comments, "Unlike in the West, Suzuki's relevance to modern psychology has hardly been appreciated in Japan outside of a few journal articles. Nevertheless, he was perhaps the first Zen philosopher to deal with Zen as an object of academic study in its philosophical basis and psychological aspects, as well as its history."After retiring from Columbia University in 1957, the elderly Suzuki returned to Japan, where he kept up an active, international schedule of writing, attending conferences, lecturing and receiving awards for his lifetime achievements.Until his death in 1966 at age 95, he influenced a new generation interested in the relevance of Eastern thought — particularly Zen Buddhism — for contemporary civilization. For instance, his writings on Zen meditation later contributed to mindfulness training for health care professionals as a valued therapeutic tool — and now sponsored by dozens of medical schools in the U.S. and elsewhere.As Suzuki astutely saw, the world was hungry for Eastern spiritual wisdom. His final words? "Don't worry. Thank you! Thank you!"
Cheers and Jeers: Tuesday
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