Thursday, May 19, 2011


Bee free as the wind blows,
as the flowers blossOM,
in the unimpeded Light.
~Daitsetz Teitaro Suzuki


Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki (鈴木 大拙 Suzuki Daisetsu, October 18, 1870 – July 12, 1966, (The Buddhist name "Daisetz", meaning "Great Simplicity", was given to him by his Zen master Shaku Soen) was a famous Japanese 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.


The Samurai class into which Suzuki was born declined with the fall of feudalism, which forced Suzuki's mother, a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist, to raise him in impoverished circumstances after his father died. When he became old enough to reflect on his fate in being born into this situation, he began to look for answers in various forms of religion. His naturally sharp and philosophical intellect found difficulty in accepting some of the cosmologies to which he was exposed.


Suzuki studied at Tokyo University and simultaneously took up Zen practice at Engakuji in Kamakura studying with Shaku Soen (1859–1919). 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. He described this life and his own experience at Kamakura in his book The Training of the Zen Buddhist Monk.


Suzuki married Beatrice Erskine Lane, a Theosophist and Radcliffe graduate, in 1911. Later Suzuki himself joined the Theosophical Society Adyar and was an active Theosophist. He and Beatrice founded the Eastern Buddhist Society; the Society is focused on Mahayana Buddhism and offers lectures and seminars, and publishes a scholarly journal. 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.
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. It 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. 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 also took an interest in Christian mysticism and in some of the most significant mystics of the West, for example, Meister Eckhart.
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.

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