Lectures on Zen Buddhism

D. T. Suzuki


I referred before to de Rougemont’s recent book, Man’s Western Quest, [1957, French, English translation] in which he names “the person” and “the machine” as two of the features distinguishing the nature of the Western quest after reality.  According to him, “the person was first a legal term in Rome. When Christianity took up the question of the Trinity its scholars began to use it theologically, as is seen in such terms as “the divine person” and “the human person,” which were harmoniously reconciled in Christ. As we use the term now, it has a moral-psychological connotation with all its historical implications. The problem of the person is finally reducible to that of the Self.

According to de Rougemont, therefore, it is impossible for Western people to transcend the dualism residing in the very nature of the person as long as they cling to their historico-theological tradition of God-man or man-God. It is due to this dualistic conflict in the unconscious and its resulting sense of uneasiness that they venture out into time as well as into space. They are thorough extroverts and not introverts. Instead of looking into the nature of the person inwardly and taking hold of it, they strive objectively to reconcile the dualistic conflicts which they discern on the plane of intellection. As to the person itself, let me quote from de Rougemont. According to him: The person is call and answer, it is action and neither fact nor object, and the complete analysis of facts and objects will never yield an indisputable proof of it. (p. 50) The person is never here or there, but in an action, in a tension, in an impetuous rush—more seldom as the source of a happy balance, such as a work of Bach’s gives the feeling of. (p. 55)

This sounds fine. The person is really what de Rougemont describes and is in correspondence with what Buddhists would say about the atman, “is gone to dissolution (visankara).” But what the Mahayanists feel like asking the author of the quotations above cited is: “Who are you to say all these fine things from the conceptual point of view? We like to interview you personally, concretely, or existentially. When you say, So long as I live, I live in contradiction,’ who is this I? When you tell us that the fundamental antinomy of the person is to be taken over by faith, who is the one who takes to this faith? Who is the one who experiences this faith? Behind faith, experience, conflict, and conceptualization there must be a live man who does all this.”

SOURCE: Suzuki, D. T. “Lectures on Zen Buddhism,” in Zen Buddhism & Psychoanalysis, D. T. Suzuki, Erich Fromm, and Richard De Martino (New York: Harper, 1960), pp. 26-27 (excerpt). (Contents: Lectures on Zen Buddhism / by D. T. Suzuki — Psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism / by Erich Fromm — The Human Situation and Zen Buddhism / by Richard De Martino.)

Note: Elsewhere I explain my intense dislike of Suzuki’s Zen ideology. I extracted this quotation because I vaguely remembered a passage in it which I found useful when I read it (the last three sentences quoted above) late in 1977 (finished reading the book December 18). The larger ideological picture, however, calls for severe criticism. — RD

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