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Zen and Pragmatism--A Reply (Comment and Disussion)
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Zen and Pragmatism--A Reply (Comment and Disussion)


Philosophy East and West 4, no. 2, JULY 1954.

(c) by The University Press of Hawaii



              WHEN  I READ Dr.  Ames's  able  and stimulating
        article,"Zen and Pragmatism,"(1) I regretted  that  I
        had  not  made  my  points  clear  enough  in  my Zen
        articles, but at the same  time  I was  thankful  for
        having  incited  him to prepare  such an illuminating
        paper.  I  realize  that  I  make  many  inconsistent
        statements   in   my   presentation   of  Zen,  which
        unfortunately   cause  my  readers  some  trouble  in
        understanding  Zen, In the following  I will  try  to
        give--in  brief-as much light as I can on my views so
        far made public. The one most-needed point in coming.
        around  to the Zen way  of viewing  reality  is that,
        negatively  stated, Zen  is where  we cannot  go  any
        further  in our ordinary  way of reasoning, and that,
        positively,  Zen   is  "pure   subjectivity."   "Pure
        subjectivity"  requites  a great deal of explanation,
        but I must be brief here.
            When  we  have  an experience, say,when  I see  a
        flower and when I begin to talk about this perception
        to others  or to myself, the  talk  inevitably  falls
        into two pans: "this side"  and "that  side."  '"That
        side" or "the other side"  refers  to the flower, the
        person  to whom the talk is communicated, and what is
        generally  called an external world, "This side".  is
        the talker  himself, that  is, "I" Zen takes  up this
        "I" as the subject  of its study.  What  is "I"? That
        is,who is the self  that  is engaged  in talking  (or
        questioning)? How does the talker  come to know  "me"
        when  I am the talker  himself? How can I make myself
        "him"? If I succeed, I am no more  "I" but  "he," and
        "he" cannot  be expected to know "me." As long as "I"
        am the talker, "I" am talking  about me not as myself
        but as somebody who stands beside or opposite me. The
        self  is  an ever-receding  one, one  who  is forever
        going away from the "self." The self can never be the
        self-in-itself  when  the self is made the object  of
        the talk.
            In other words, to talk or to question is an act,
        and so the talker or questioner is the actor. As soon
        as the actor begins to talk about himself, he,

        (1) Philosophy  East  and  West,  IV, No.  1  (April,
            1954), 19-33.


        the  actor,  is  no  more  himself-he  turns  into  a
        projection;  he  becomes  a shadow  of  himself.  The
        talking  is always  about something, never  the thing
        itself.  However  much one may talk, the talking  can
        never  exhaust  the  thing.   However  minutely   and
        precisely  one may describe an apple or analyze it in
        every    possible    way,   chemically,   physically,
        botanically,  dietetically, or  even  metaphysically,
        the apple itself is never there in these descriptions
        or analyses  One must become the apple itself to know
        what it is--knowing  in  its   ordinary  sense is not
            To be more  exact, perhaps, the  self  cannot  be
        understood when it is objectified,  when  it  is  set
        up on the other  side  of experience  and not on this
        side. This is what I mean by "pure subjectivity." The
        psychologists  may talk about  the self  in terms  of
        structure, or Gestalt, or pattern  of combination, or
        something  else, but all these terms never touch  the
        "self" itself. The self escapes from all these meshes
        of  conceptualization  or  objectification.  But, for
        this  reason,  we  cannot  declare  "self"  to  be  a
        non-entity  or  a mere  emptiness, for  the  self  is
        always   asserting   itself   and  demanding   to  be
        recognized  as such.  This has been so ever since the
        awakening  of  consciousness, which  made  an ancient
        sage exclaim, "Know thyself!" The self has really  an
        unfathomable  meaning,  that  is,  the self can never
        be objectively defined or verified.  Anything subject
        to objectification  thereby limits itself and forever
        ceases to be itself.
            "I am that I am"(2)--whatever its original Hebrew
        meaning  may have been--is  the fittest name for God.
        It is the  "I am"  of "I am before  Abraham  was."(3)
        Metaphysically, this corresponds  to "Being is Being"
        or,   according   to   John   Donne,   "God   is   so
        omni-present... that God is an angel in an angel, and
        a stone  in a scene, and  a straw  in a straw."(4) "I
        am," or "I am that I am," or "a straw is a straw," or
        a mountain is a mountain"  is in my terminology  pure
        or absolute subjectivity.  But we must remember  that
        as  soon   as  this  passes   on  to  the  plane   of
        intellection all  turns  into  mete  verbalism.  Pure
        subjectivity   or  subjectum  is  a  person,  not  an
        abstraction.  There  fore,  it  hears,  it  sees,  it
        grasps, it runs, it even  gets angry, though  it does
        not forget smiling, too. It is the hands, feet, ears,
        and eyes.  When it is cold, it shivers;  when hot, it
        perspires. It sleeps and eats. It is Rinzai's "man of
        no title."  He is an altogether  lively  agent When a
        monk  asked, "What  is the  man  of no title?" Rinzai
        came down from the seat and, grasping the monk by the
        throat, commanded, "Speak, speak! " The  monk  failed
        to "speak"  whereupon  the Master, pushing  him away,
        declared, "What a dried-up dungscraper is this man of
        no title!"

        (3) Exodus 3:14.

        (4) John 8:58.

        (5) Sermon VII.


            From the objective or "that-side"  point of view,
        Rinzai's  action may seem altogether  irrational  and
        unexplainable.  But Zen is not there; Zen is on "this
        side, "  and  does   not  want  to  be  rational   or
        explainable.  What it wants  is to have  us "get into
        it" and be it and the actor  himself.  When  this  is
        accomplishes, a certain state of consciousness arises
        and what is known as satori  takes  place.  From this
        satori   Zen  builds  up  its  philosophy.   Whatever
        objectivity  or  intellectualization  or  utilitarian
        purposefulness  there  is in Zen, it all starts  from
        this  satori  experience.  Where  this  is absent, we
        inevitably get involved in the interpretation  of the
        "that-side"   aspect   of,  for   instance,  Rinzai's
        declaration   of  the  "man  of  no  title"  and  the
        treatment  he accorded to the questioning  monk.  The
        "that-side"  aspect is mere superficiality  and never
        gives  us  the  inside  or the  "this-side"  view  of
        reality.  There  is  here  a storehouse  of  infinite
        richness,  filled  with  all  possibilities,  as  the
        Buddhist  would say, "endowed with values (gu.nas) as
        numerous  as the sands of the River Ganga." It is not
        emptiness  as is supposed  by some Western critics of
        Buddhism.  If it is  an  emptiness, it is one  filled
        with  abundance-it  is fullness  of things.  As it is
        full, it wants  to express  itself.  An empty  vessel
        never overflows.
            Kingyuu (Chin-niu) was one of the chief disciples
        of Baso (Ma-tsu, d. 788).  When the dinner hour came,
        he carried the rice-holder  up to the refectory  and,
        dancing  and  laughing,  made  the  announcement,  "O
        bodhisattvas, come  and  eat!" This, it  is recorded,
        was kept up by the venerable  elder for twenty gears.
        What did he mean?
            One  of the  commentators  remarks: "What  is the
        idea  of Kingyuu's  acting  in such  an extraordinary
        manner? If the dinner  hour  was to be announced, why
        did he not, as they ordinarily  do, strike  the board
        and beat the drum? What  did he mean by carrying  the
        rice-vessel  himself  and performing  strange antics?
        Did  he go insane? If he wanted  to demonstrate  Zen,
        why did he not go up to the Dharma-hall  and give his
        sermons formally  from the pulpit, probably  striking
        the chair  or raising  the hossu? What necessity  was
        there  for  him  to  resort  to  such  an  outlandish
            "People  nowadays  fail  to understand  what  the
        ancient worthies had in their minds when they behaved
        strangely.  Did  not the first  patriarch  make  this
        unmistakable  declaration  when he first came to this
        country:  'A   special   transmission   outside   the
        suutra-teaching  which  is no other  than  the unique
        transmission  of the seal of mind'? Kingyuu's  upaaya
        (expediency) ,  too,  consists   in  making  you  see
        directly  into the meaning of things and in saying to
        yourselves,'Yes, yes, this is it!' "(5)

        (5) Yengo   (Y乤n-wu,  1566-1642) ,  author   of  the
            Hekigan-shu      (Pi-yen-chi)     ("Blue     Rock


            No  doubt, Kingyuu's  behavior  came  out  of the
        exuberance  of his  satori  experience.  When  a monk
        later  asked  a Master  about  Kingyuu's  idea  of "O
        bodhisattvas, come and eat!" the Master answered, "It
        is much like celebrating  an  auspicious   event   by
        means  of  a  feast."  Still  later,  another  Master
        observes,   "What   auspicious   event   is   to   be
        celebrated!" All  these  remarks  point  to an  event
        taking place on "this side." If they were transferred
        to   "the   other    side"    for   an   intellectual
        interpretation, they would fail to yield any fruitful
        solution.  Zen Masters  always try to keep their eyes
        inwardly  on "this side," because it is hem that they
        get into "the moment of living" (sheng-chi, ネ诀 ).
            This  was not all, however;  there  was something
        more   in  Kingyuu's   gesture.   He  was   not  only
        self-expressive  but  communicative.  Seccho  of  the
        Sung Dynasty  comments: "It is all tight, but them is
        something  in Kingyuu  not altogether  of good will."
        (6) This  is the  Zen  way  of  commenting  on  other
        Masters  generally.  "Not of good will"  is not to be
        understood  in its literal sense.  "Not of good will"
        means "good will," for Kingyuu intended to help those
        hungry  "bodhisattvas"   awake  to  the  meaning   of
        reality, for which  they  were  searching.  The "good
        will"  becomes  "nor a good  will"  when them  is any
        unworthy motive behind it, for it vitiates everything
        it  touches.   Seccho   challenges  Kingyuu  somewhat
        playfully, as if to say, "Are  you really  free  from
        motives unworthy of a Zen student!"
            Seccho's    versified   comment   on  the   whole
        "case"(7) is given here in order  to demonstrate  how
        Zen deals with matters of pure subjectivity.

              Behind a mass of white clouds a hearty laugh he
              Carried  by both  hands  it is delivered  up to
              If one were like a golden-haired lion,
              Even   three   thousand   miles   away,  should
              the  crookedness of things be seen.

        Is Kingyuu  merely making  the monks eat the rice? Or
        is there something  out of the ordinary besides chat!
        If a man could really understand  this  procedure, he
        would really be like a golden-haired  lion, and would
        not   be   waiting   for   Kingyuu  to  come  to  him
        carrying  the rice  bowl and dancing  about  He would
        know the whole business  even before  anything  is at
        all enacted.  Then the show would  not be worth  even
        the snapping  of fingers.  Therefore, the Masters are
        never  tired  of advising  us not  to be looking  for
        reality in words or letters.
            From  these  remarks, quoted  at random  from the
        original  Zen textbooks, we can see in what  kind  of
        mental or spiritual atmosphere those Masters

        (6) Hs乪h-tou, 980-1052.

        (7) Hekigan-shu, Case 74.


        are living and enjoying  themselves.  We will also be
        able to observe, at least tentatively, that there  is
        a rich, field for study on "this side" of our everyday
        experience.  Even when we designate this field as the
        field  of  pure  experience, we cannot  see  the  Zen
        Masters t坱e-?t坱e.
            Let  us  now  proceed  to  see  "this  side,"  if
        possible, from its negative aspect.  For this purpose
        I will quote  another  "case"  from the Hekigan.(8) A
        monk asked Baso (Ma-tsu): "Apart  from every possible
        predicate  one can make  of reality, will  you kindly
        tell me directly without any medium what reality is?"
        This  is a rather  modern  rendering;  I have avoided
        giving a literal translation  of the original because
        it contains  some  allusions  to Zen tradition  which
        complicate  the  matter, and  we are  not  at present
        concerned  with them.  It is enough  if we know where
        the main  point  is, and  this  is that  the monk  is
        moving   on   the   other   side   of  our   everyday
        consciousness  or experience, that his standpoint  is
        one  of  objectivity  or  intellectualization,  where
        logic is the sovereign.  The monk knows that if a man
        made any kind of statement  about ultimate reality he
        would most decidedly meet the Master's opposition  or
        get a blow of his stick.  Therefore, taking  away the
        weapon  from the Master's  hand which  the latter  is
        most  likely  to use upon  him, he demands  that  the
        Master  give  him  a  direct, non-mediated, and  most
        concrete   presentation   of  what  goes  beyond  all
        affirmation and negation. If this question were given
        to  a philosopher  he  would  have  to  write  a book
        embodying  all his highly abstract  thoughts.  If the
        work were  handed  over  to the monk, the monk  would
        very likely commit it to the fire and say: '"There is
        still  something  left  untouched  in your work and I
        want that."  He may then extend  his hand and keep up
        his supplication, which is also his condemnation.  As
        long as we are on the other  side we can never  cease
        our search for a satisfying answer.
            How did Baso  meet  the dilemma  proposed  by the
        monk? The monk  was even ready  to snap  at him if he
        showed   any  sign  of  moving   this  way  or  that,
        negatively  or positively.  Baso  was  a perfect  Zen
        expert.  He knew  thoroughly  where  the monk  stood,
        because  as long  as the monk was wanting  to "catch"
        Baso, this very attitude  was the weakest spot, so to
        speak, on the monk's part.  Baso nonchalantly blurted
        out: "I don't feel well enough  today to answer  you.
        You had better  go to Chizo  the elder and ask him."
            Now the question  is: Did Baso the Master  really
        feel  tired  at the moment? Or did  he not feel  like
        arguing with the monk? Or was this daily triviality a
        real answer to the monk's metaphysical question?
            There is another series of question: Did the monk
        really want to get an

        (8) Ibid, Case 73.


        answer from the Master  in the way of information  or
        did he want to see how the Master  would  respond  to
        his  most  puzzling  question? Was  the  monk  in  an
        attitude  of challenge, or merely  in the noviciate's
        frame of mind?
            The matter is not so simple as it appears. Yengo,
        one   of   the    commentators, puts  in his  bit  of
        observation: "If I were Baso, I would, as soon as the
        monk  finishes  his questioning, beat him hard on his
        back with the stick  and chase  him right  out of the
        room  and see  if he came  to a realization  or not."
        Yengo  does  not stop here, however, but goes on: "If
        I, on the  other  hand, were  the monk, I would, when
        Base ends  his talk,  spread   my  seat-cloth  before
        him and make bows to him and see how the Master would
            In actuality  the monk  did not proceed  as Yengo
        suggested.   To   all  appearance he obediently  went
        to Chizo   (Chih-tsang) the elder as directed  by the
        Master and asked him the same question  as he did the
        Master.  Chizo   said, "Why  not ask the Master?" The
        monk said, "It is the Master  himself  who sent me to
        you."  Thereupon  Chizo   told  the  monk, "I have  a
        headache today and am unable to answer you.  I advise
        you to go to Yekai  (Hui-hai), our elder brother, and
        ask him about it."
            The monk, like an innocent  child, went  to Yekai
        as told  by  Chizo  and asked  him the same question.
        Yekai said, "As to that, I am unable  to give you any
            The monk  now did not know  what  to do but to go
        back  to  Baso  the  Master  and  report   the  whole
        procedure to him. The Master did not make any special
        comment, but simply said this: "The grey-haired   Zo,
        the dark-haired Kai."
            What  does  all this mean? From  the intellectual
        point  of view it does not make sense in any possible
        way.  It started with a highly metaphysical  question
        in regard  to the nature  of reality.  The monk  knew
        that  any  proposition  one can make  about  it would
        never hit the mark, as it refuses  to be caught up by
        the  hook  of verbalism.  But  without  appealing  to
        reason and language what way is left for human beings
        to find  reality? None  of the  consultants  the monk
        went to helped  him, as far as he could  see.  He was
        evidently  like most of us whose efforts  are to have
        the problem  solved  on "the other side" of our daily
        experience.  What did those three  Zen experts  mean,
        after  all,  by  appearing   to  avoid  giving   some
        reasonable, or  coherent, or  at  least  common-sense
        answer  to the poor monk who was earnestly  in search
        of  the  truth?  To  cap  all  those  "apologies"  or
        "excuses"  not to give  the monk  at least  something
        intelligible, we  have  the  Master's  final  verdict
        regarding  the two elder's hair or head.  Is this not
        astounding? Who would


        ever  have expected  in Zen to see such an anticlimax
        to the all-seriousness  of the monk's quest after the
        ultimate reality?
            When Baso the Master's  final sentence is read in
        English we may say it yields some meaning, though not
        in connection  with  the monk's  question.  Now Yengo
        tells   us  that   "the   dark-haired   Kai  and  the
        grey-haired   Zo"  is to be comprehended  in the same
        light as the following statement also made by Baso to
        Ho,  the lay devotee.(9) Ho  once  asked  Baso: "What
        kind  of man is he who goes  companionless?" This  is
        like asking  about  God, we might  say, or about  the
        Absolute, because either goes without  any companion,
        has no mate  to  go  with,  is  altogether  free  and
        independent. Baso's answer was, "I will tell you when
        you drink  up in one draught  the whole river  of Sei
        (Hsi)." In what possible relationship can this advice
        stand to the hair-color  of the two elders? As far as
        "the  other  side"  or the objectivity  of things  is
        concerned, we find absolutely  nothing between Baso's
        two statements: the one about  drinking  up the whole
        river and the other about the kind of hair the elders
        have.  How could they be connected? But Yengo insists
        that  one is to be read  in the  light  of the other.
            Yengo  further  advises  us  that  if we wish  to
        understand   Zen  we  must  cut  all  the  roots   of
        thinking(10) and look all by ourselves into the right
        vein of-things(11) and then for the first  time be at
        home with ourselves. And again he will remark: "It is
        like  swinging  the  sword  in the  air: it does  not
        matter how far or how near it hits.  Only let us take
        hold  of  [reality]  where  there  is  clearness  and
        transparency  on all  sides."  Where, let  me ask, is
        this  clearness  and transparency  where  we can come
        face face  with  reality? It is no other  than  where
        absolute  emptiness  ('suuyataa) is, which means  the
        limit  of objectivity, where "the other side"  can go
        no further: this  is where  pure subjectivity  reigns
        supreme.  And this is where  the meaningless  phrase,
        "the  dark-haired  Kai and the grey-haired   Zo," has
        its full meaning.
            Now let  us listen  to what  Seccho   has  in his
        versified commentary on this "case" on negativity:

              Zoto byaku Kai-to koku!(12)
              Even  for  the clear-eyed  monks, difficult  to
              Horse the Master(13) treads over all the people
              of the world;
              Compared  with  him, Rinzai  is  not  quite  an
              expert pickpocket.
              Away  from  the  four  phrases  and beyond  one
              hundred negations
              [where do we go],
              Heavens above, humans below,  it  is  'I' alone
              who knows."

        (9)  'P'ang Ch?shih,  of  the  latter  half  of  the
             thirteenth century.

        (10) 種  i-k坣.

        (11) タń chang mai li.

        (12) In Chinese: Tsang-t'on pal Hai-t'on bei!

        (13) Ba (so) means " a horse.


            An ancient  Zen  master  says: "Don't  ask me any
        question, for the answer is where the question  comes
        from."   You  may  go  around   with  your  question,
        metaphysical  or otherwise, among all the Buddhas  of
        the past,present, and future, and you  will  not  get
        any  satisfactory  answer, for  it is you  alone  who
        holds the key to your question.  However  far you may
        go on "the other side," the realm of objectivity  has
        its limit, and when  you come  to it, the only  thing
        you can do is to make  a leap  over it.  And the leap
        will bring you back to where you started.  "The other
        side"  is nowhere  else  but  "this  side."  "Heavens
        above, humans below, it is 'I' alone who knows." This
        questioner, negator, talker, and writer-they all come
        back to "I," whoever this may be.  They have traveled
        so many miles  away  from  home--all  in a dream, for
        when awakened "I" finds itself at the same old place.
            When negation  after negation  was carried in our
        metaphysical quest for reality all that we discovered
        was that there was nothing on "the other side" except
        the negator himself. But the negator could not negate
        himself,  which   would   mean   suicide,  and   this
        self-killing   is  something  a  man  as  man  cannot
        execute, because  what  he  thinks  he  has  finished
        killing is not himself but his conceptualized shadow,
        which, like a phantom, always follows the real self.
            As long as conceptualization  goes on, there will
        be no discovery  of the real self.  The self is to be
        sought  where it is cozily  settled  at home, perhaps
        looking at the cucumbers  or the beans, after a day's
        work  in his  vegetable  garden.  So, when  the  monk
        approached, he was  really  too  tired  to stare  his
        "intellectual"  activities.  Let the monk mumble  the
        "Zoto   byaku  Kai-to  koku" for several  times as if
        it were a mystic phrase (dhaara.nii);  his "self' may
        be discovered laughing behind a mass of white clouds.
            If Dr. Ames and other scholars who are interested
        in Zen were able to shift  once  for all the position
        on "the other side" of out daily experience and visit
        "this  side," where  Zen has its abode, they would, I
        am sure, understand  all that I have so  far tried to
        elucidate,  and  see  where  my  inconsistencies  and
        contradictions come from.  I may have occasion again,
        I hope, to elaborate  more fully the subject  which I
        have rather summarily treated here

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