Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Even in academia, this is a pretty serious offense, isn't it?

Despite what some denialists say,  even in the corporate world, there's a lot of effort made to get the science right, because the company wants to be able to make informed decisions.  It may not propagate the right science to the world at large, but at least it tries to figure out what's going on my experience  of my career of working at over 4 companies.  (Yes, that's 5.)

Seriously, if someone working in my organization was found to be deliberately making results up, results that were defining our company's future  he'd be fired. 

So I had to scratch my head when I read Jundo Cohen's piece on Brian Victoria the other day, and asked myself, "Where is that guy?"  And I read it again when I saw Jundo had sent me an e-mail asking me about his piece at Sweeping Zen.  But, Jundo, truth be told, I really started asking that when I read this at the Zen site: D. T. Suzuki and the Question of War by one Kemmyō Taira Satō, translated in collaboration with Thomas W. Kirchner.  Satō is a Shin Buddhist priest; unfortunately (I'm a bit pressed for time especially today) I wasn't able to look up further credentials of Satō  other than being a "scholar."  But as I'll explain shortly that doesn't matter so much.

Victoria, like Cohen, are Soto Zen priests.  Victoria is well-known in our neck of the woods for writing Zen at War, which did point out that there was some pretty nasty things said by Hakuun Yasutani, who has directly or indirectly influenced much of Zen in the West, including the Maezumi White Plum folks. (Yasutani's been said - I forget where - to have created a new school of Zen apart from Soto/Rinzai but I forget where I read that, incidentally.)

Victoria has been associated with Antioch University; assuming that last link is still valid apparently he can be contacted at: .  Time permitting, I may try to contact him in the next few days, because it behooves all concerned to come to some kind of agreement here. I encourage Jundo to do so as well.

What does Victoria think of what Satō  wrote? Why does that matter? From the Zen site:

Despite its many contributions, however, Zen at War left me with the impression that the author, in his desire to present as strong a case as possible, often allowed his political concerns to take precedence over scholarly accuracy. This was especially the case with regard to his portrayal of Daisetsu Teitarō Suzuki (1870–1966), whom Victoria depicts as an active supporter of the Japanese WWII war effort. This is a very serious accusation, given the importance of the issues raised in Zen at War.

I had the opportunity to become closely acquainted with Suzuki and his views on war when I worked at the Matsugaoka Bunko 松ヶ岡文庫 in Kama- kura under his guidance from 1964 until his death in 1966. This period of contact with Suzuki, as well as my own study of his works in the years since then, have left me with an impression of Suzuki and his thought that is far dif- ferent from the picture presented by Victoria. This disparity, combined with the desire to set the record straight, have inspired the present attempt to clarify what I regard as Suzuki’s true attitude to war.

All scholars employ quotations from relevant texts to support and develop their arguments, and are of course at liberty to select those passages that best suit their purposes. Even so, Victoria’s highly selective citations from Suzuki’s works often seem motivated less by a desire to clarify Suzuki’s actual views than by a determination to present a certain picture of the man and his work. As I read Zen at War, wondering if Suzuki had indeed taken the positions that Victoria attributes to him, I checked each and every quotation against the original Japanese texts, an experience that left me with a number of ques- tions regarding his use of Suzuki’s writings. Ideally, every position attributed to Suzuki in Zen at War deserves close reexamination, but considerations of space do not allow this. I will attempt, nevertheless, to evaluate the points Victoria raises and the evidence he presents as I clarify what I feel are Suzuki’s true views. In the process I will quote rather liberally from his works in order to provide the reader with as a full a context as possible. 

I've read most of Satō's piece and the charges he makes are pretty serious.  Either Victoria was working from highly edited texts himself, or was indeed cherry-picking quotes, but if Satō is to be believed, in any event D. T. Suzuki's not represented based on the context of what Suzuki wrote.  In particular, Suzuki's views of Japan after the war, and his views of Nazi Germany appear to be significantly misrepresented, though in the latter case,  it would not surprise me if a resurrected Suzuki would admit to harboring racist feelings in the 1930s.  But then that was the norm throughout the world then, and to a large extent is now.

One of the interesting notes in the piece was that Suzuki not only had deep connections with  Sōen Shaku (釈 宗演), the first man to bring Zen to America (and the 4th generation of myself), but also Imakita Kōsen (今北洪川)  Shaku's immediate ancestor.

Another point of contention, a serious one, in my opinion, is the idea that Zen and Buddhism should be automatically linked to pacifism.   This is absurdly ahistorical not simply considering the history of Japan, and famous Buddhists such as Suzuki Shōsan,  but geez, going all the way back to Shaolin-si, at least.

So I'm left scratching my head,  if the above is true, why would Victoria have written what he's written?  Does he plan to correct the record if  the critics are found to be true?  And how can that be done?  And what of the academic institutions linked to him? What's their position?

It is true that there was some horrible things done in the name of Buddhism in Japan during the 1930s-1940s.   But that doesn't justify faulty scholarship, if that's the case, here, which though I haven't read the Japanese, seems to be the case if the English versions of what I'm reading are accurate.



genkaku said...

"Another point of contention, a serious one, in my opinion, is the idea that Zen and Buddhism should be automatically linked to pacifism. This is absurdly ahistorical not simply considering the history of Japan, and famous Buddhists such as Suzuki Shōsan, but geez, going all the way back to Shaolin-si, at least."

I can't prove it, but I wouldn't be surprised if Victoria had the Buddhist precepts, rather than pacifism, in mind.

adam fisher

doppler zen said...

This is somewhat of a tangent, but it would certainly be interesting to pursue in greater depth the degree to which Zen and Buddhism are pacifistic (or should be pacifistic, ideally, given the history and propensity for distortion of religious sentiment in wartime).