Buddhist Meditations
Zen and Pragmatism
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Zen and Pragmatism

Van Meter Ames

Philosophy East and West

V. 3, No. 1 (April 1954)   pp. 19-33

Copyright 1954 by University of Hawaii Press

Hawaii, USA

p. 19

    It is a rare treat find in the April, 1953, number of Philosophy East and West a controversy between such learned scholars as Hu Shih and Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki about the philosophy which one calls Ch'an and the other Zen. [1] Suzuki is a Buddhist and Hu a pragmatist. The one finds transcendentalism and the other finds naturalism in the same masters, even in the same passages. For Hu, the "Chinese reformation of revolution within Buddhism" of the eighth century consisted in the Ch'an men's renunciation of ch'an as meditation in some celestial sense, and their celebration of what is "plain and profane." He interprets these men as saying, both when they were clear and when they became enigmatic, that life and nature, on the level of their actual immediacy, have a worth beyond words -- as far beyond as if transcendent.


    The dispute is, perhaps, about that subtle aspect of truth which is not so much a matter of fact as of taste. It seems to be a question of emotional tone whether chih should be translated as "knowledge" with Hu or as "praj~naa-intuition" with Suzuki, because the former tones down and the latter tones up. The first may strike the mind's ear as too, intellectual, cool, pedestrian; the second as too fancy. For Suzuki, Buddhist philosophers are after a grasp of suchness or thusness, which may be called "pure experience." This is a neutral expression, toning neither up nor down; and it is so used by William James. It would seem acceptable to Hu Shih as "pure selfconsciousness" would not be, which Suzuki equates with "pure experience." [2] Suzuki objects that Hu's historical approach, impressive as it it, comes at Zen from without. But if Zen flourished as Ch'an in China from A.D. 700 to 1100, the historical approach would appear indispensable; and Suzuki admits: "I have to be a kind of historian myself, I am afraid." [3] He is divided between feeling that no words can do justice to Zen and thinking they may


1. Hu Shih, "Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism in China: Its History and Method," and Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, "Zen: A Reply to Ho Shih," Philosophy East and West, III, No. 1 (April, 1953).

2. Ibid., p. 32.

3. Ibid., p. 39.



p. 20

help; that he and Hu are both sinners in being word-men, [4] in believing that words can dispel misunderstanding "in regard to what Zen is in itself apart from its historical setting." [5] If Zen is not merely a phenomenon of a remote period but a continuing inner experience, history cannot have the last word about it. If, however, Zen is the "pure experience" that even a pragmatist may have, his knowledge about it does not preclude acquaintance with it.

    One should hesitate to write about Zen, now that Suzuki has said there are "two types of mentality: the one which can understand Zen and, therefore, has the right to say something about it, and another which is utterly unable to grasp what Zen is." [6] But this is an intellectualistic-conceptual dichotomy foreign to Zen. And Suzuki has also said that Zen is something that each man must grasp in his own way. "In this respect Zen is absolutely individualistic." [7] Whatever it may be in itself, it seems worth while for a Westerner, upon discovering Zen, to make what he can of it and take what he can assimilate, even though he cannot swallow it whole. It has been various enough to have several interpretations. Orientals still interpret it differently. Is it a mysterious truth beyond understanding, about the world and salvation, as Suzuki more and more would have it, or, as Hu sees it, is it a plea for intellectual emancipation from anything but trying "to be an ordinary human being, having nothing to do"? [8] But if the earthy Ch'an of Hu is not the heavenly Zen that Suzuki has come to offer, Hu does concede that the teaching of Ch'an ceased to be plain-partly for the reason that teaching may be more effective when the learner has to figure it out for himself. If "all the ink in the universe" cannot teach it, perhaps there must be the baffling koan, the stick, the shout, "the traveling on foot." If we cannot agree with Suzuki that "there is no conveying at all" we may accept his saying, "there are no prescribed methods." [9] And we may find that his own procedure shows Zen to be more vital, more human, and easier to appreciate than some of his statements suggest.

    "Zen is life," he has said simply. He means that Zen "contains everything that goes into the make-up of life," including poetry, philosophy, morality, any life-activity; in short, every experience that is not limited. He does not mean that Zen is hidden in life, having to be ferreted out: "all is manifest, and only the dim-eyed ones are barred from seeing it." [10]

    This joyous utterance is at the beginning of his article in the second number of Philosophy East and West, where he refers to the first number to


4. Ibid., p. 30.

5. Ibid., p. 46.

6. Ibid., p. 25.

7. Ibid., p. 45.

8. Ibid., p. 18.

9. Ibid., p. 36.

10. D. T. Suzuki "The Philosophy of Zen," Philosophy East and West, I, No 2 (July, 1951), 3.



p. 21

agree with Harold E. McCarthy's interpretation of Goethe's Faust in the spirit of Zen, and, in a qualified way, with my comparison of Zen with pragmatism and existentialism. "There is something in the theory of Zen that may pass into a form of pragmatism or existentialism, " he grants. His qualification is that the theory of Zen is far from being the whole of Zen, for "Zen is not to be confined within conceptualization," since "Zen is what makes conceptualization possible." [11]


    Pragmatism and existentialism are like Zen in subordinating theory to something experienced rather than thought or argued. Yet, all three are in need of theory. Suzuki observes that "Zen would not be Zen if it were deprived of all means of communication.... Zen must have its philosophy." [12] But he will not let us forget how much more Zen is than its philosophy. Is this not what the existentialist has in mind in saying that existence comes before essence and the pragmatist in saying that the problems of philosophers must be related to the problems of men? The existentialist suffers from the sense of man's alienation from his fellows and the world. If an existentialist is able to overcome anguish and dread, by pitting faith in God against doubt, or by trusting co-operation with other men, he loses his standpoint with his pessimism. And the pragmatist may seem to lose too, much of his individual identity when he goes beyond self-realization to the social pole of his philosophy. Yet William James was not uninfluenced by his father, who told of deliverance from what he had considered "the inappreciable boon of selfhood" when it appeared "the one thing damnable on earth." [13]

    What had seemed an independent and separate self, which might be surrendered to solidarity, gave way in later analysis to recognition of a social self, as in the psychology of George H. Mead. [14] And Dewey has shown that in James's Principles of Psychology [15] the old subjective subject had begun to vanish into an organism "having no existence save in interaction with environing conditions." Then "subject and object do not stand for separate orders or kinds of existence but at most for certain distinctions made for a definite purpose within. experience.'' [16] The teaching of experience as basic --


11. Ibid., p. 3.

12. Ibid., p. 4.

13. William James ed., The Literary Remains of Henry James (Boston: James R. Osgood and Co., 1885), p. 71; quoted by Ralph Barton Perry, The Thought and Character of William James (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1935), Vol. I, p. 20.

14. George H. Mead, Mind, Self and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934).

15. The Principles of Psychology (New York: Holt, 1890).

16. John Dewey, "The Vanishing Subject in the Psychology of James," The Journal of Philosophy, XXXVII, No. 22 (October 24, 1940), 589; reprinted in John Dewey, The Problems of Men (New York: Philosophical Library, 1946), p. 396.



p. 22

pure experience, as James would have it -- is close in Suzuki's insistence that Zen is "life itself," and that any dualism of subject and object is the result of artificial analysis. In fact he has said: "the masters of Zen Buddhism... are not philosophers but pragmatists" became "they appeal to an experience and not to verbalism...." [17] But he expressed himself more happily when he said, "Zen must have its philosophy"; and, if it is wiser to rely on life than on words, are pragmatists not philosophers?

    In trying to say what "life itself" is, Suzuki uses the term `suunyataa or emptiness; whereas our Biblical tradition makes it natural for us Westerners to speak of the fullness of life. Suzuki is quick to add that 'suunyataa is not a negative term but a positive concept, and is not arrived at by abstraction or postulation, for it is "what makes the existence of anything possible." [18] Since there is no division of subject and object in the experience of `suunyataa, the plunge into it requires the doffing of all reasoning. The intellectual procedure which works "in dealing with this world of relativities" will not work "when we want to get down into the very bedrock of reality, which is `suunyataa." There, we are told, "we must appeal to another method; and there is no other method than that of casting away this intellectual weapon and in all nakedness plunging into `suunyataa itself." [19]

    With the revival of irrationalism in our time, this advice to stop thinking and plunge should give pause. One might suppose it easy to plunge; that plunging would not require an assiduous "work of intellection" or reasoning in reverse. But if the plunge takes patient preparation, and it has to do with the art and culture of China and Japan, then what is involved may not be just a rejection of intelligence and a relapse into animality. If the emptiness of 'suunyataa means being emptied or purified of what is worthless, we can understand that it is not negative. But if it empties out whatever is relative, specific, and differentiated, it calls for the negation of pragmatism's radical empiricism. Much Western scientific, artistic, and religious education is, then, largely at odds with Zen. Against it is out emphasis upon ideas, concepts, and distinctions, upon schools, periods, and history. There has been, to be sure, a mystical aspect of art and religion in the West. There have been mystics in out midst. But we have often wondered whether to admire them for what they might accomplish in spite of what they were, whether what they did depended upon what they were, or whether their being was more


17. D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, Second Series (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1952), p. 220.

18. D. T. Suzuki, "The Philosophy of Zen," p. 4.

19. Ibid., p. 5.



p. 23

important than any doing, done or undone. Suzuki might seem to subscribe to the last, but he finds it quite wrong to identify Zen with quietism. It is a strenuous quest. And while the enlightenment, called satori, which it seeks is neither psychology nor philosophy in any usual sense, and is said to, be not at all intellectual, even incomprehensible, it calls for serious, desperate exertion in the spirit of inquiry. Suzuki speaks of this in connection with the koan exercises that have been used to keep Zen from degenerating into quietism or into a merely intellectual understanding. The baffling koan statement is not to be received passively, and not to be meditated on, but used as a pole for vaulting over relativity "to the other side of the Absolute." [20]


    Zen's paradoxical existentialist-sounding language might be dismissed as mystifying, if not for the age-old and renewed testimony that there is something of great significance here, to be rediscovered and found the one thing worth communicating, though scarcely to be expressed Suzuki reports the twelfth-century Tai-hui as calling the end of striving a plunge into the unknown with the cry, "Ah, this!" and declaring that all the scriptures are merely commentaries upon that cry. [21]

    In his 1951 paper Suzuki comes back to this rapturous grasp of the present moment as the experience of 'suunyataa, when its mistakenly supposed negative character is seen to be the altogether positive quality of tathataa or suchness. "Tathataa is the viewing of things as they are," he says, reaffirming Ma-tsu's "everyday thought" about everyday experience as "the highest teaching of Buddhist philosophy." And in this connection Suzuki grants: '"The tathataa-concept is what makes Zen approach pragmatism and existentialism: they all accept experience as the basis of their theorization." But then he says: "Zen, however, is different in a most significant way from pragmatism: Whereas pragmatism appeals to the practical usefulness of truth, that is, the purposefulness of our action, Zen emphasizes the purposelessness of work or being detached from teleological consciousness, or, as Zen characteristically expresses it, not leaving any trace behind as one lives one's life." [22]

    But has not Suzuki fallen into a misapprehension of pragmatism which has too often led to very unfair misrepresentation! There have been turns of phrase in pragmatic writing which, out of context, lend color to such a judgment. James spoke of the cash-value of ideas. He and Peirce and Dewey


20. D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, Second Series, pp. 82, 84, 96, 97 (note).

21. Ibid., p. 93.

22. D. T. Suzuki, The Philosophy of Zen," pp. 6, 7.



p. 24

have emphasized problem-solving. They appealed to results. But James made clear that his "cash-value" was just vivid idiom, borrowed from the market place, for the efficacy of ideas, especially when he denounced what he called "the bitch goddess success." Dewey was annoyed that Russell, who knew better, perversely identified pragmatism with commercialism and the doctrine of might be right. The pragmatist simply seeks to know and do what is good and right in human situations, when they an generalized enough to be thought about, without losing touch more than is unavoidable with their particularity, their suchness. This involves solving problems, finding effective means, seeking results. The pragmatist identifies this procedure with science and social techniques. The Zen Buddhist belongs to a pre-scientific tradition of highly private questing, albeit stimulated by monastery fellowship and old masters. But is one more teleological or practical than the other?

    It is strange for Suzuki to hold against the pragmatist a concern for "the practical usefulness of truth" [23] Zen Buddhism is proudly practical in accepting experience as its basis. The mondo and the koan are recommended for their usefulness, in the search for enlightenment, Suzuki speaks of what will lead to 'suunyataa; he talks about going beyond mere reasoning and of what is defeating or futile in reasoning. Here is one teleological expression after another. And it sounds practical in "view things as they are." The market, with its buying and selling, is often mentioned in Zen writing as one of the things that are, as much as the affirmed tree, bird, mountain, or flower. If "everyday thought" is the ultimate Tao, what is more "everyday" than seeking what is satisfying, avoiding what is not?

    The typical "everyday thought" for Zen and Suzuki is: "I sleep when I am tired, I eat when I am hungry." [24] What could be more teleological, if what is meant is that I sleep because I am tired and eat because I am hungry, which is to say that I sleep for the purpose of resting and eat in order to be filled? If Suzuki replies that there is no separation of means and ends here, no conscious thought of doing something for the sake of something else, Dewey would agree; he always maintained that in normal living there is or should be a coalescence of means and ends. For him, the purpose of problem-solving thought is simply to restore a happy absorption of purpose in what is done for its own sake. This would seem to be much the same as what Suzuki means by a "non-teleological interpretation of life," which he presents as the insight to be attained, the end and goal of living, beyond the limitations of "time, relativity, causality, morality, and so on." [25] The differ-


23. Ibid., p. 7.

24. Ibid., p. 6.

25. Ibid., p. 7.



p. 25

ence is that Dewey is unambiguous in affirming that the coalescence of means and ends is to be achieved in "things as they are," whereas Suzuki, instead of abiding there, talks of arriving at another world of "divine" life. Either this is metaphorical language for what Dewey says plainly, or Suzuki would seem to be indulging now in a dualism alien to his own Taoist-like down-to-earth-while-cloud-high interpretation of Zen. If it weren't for his "Reply to Hu Shih" one might suppose this fracture in his view was apparent only and owing to a manner of speaking and feeling, in sympathy with religious people who express themselves that way. Similarly, James, after working out a biological and functional account of consciousness, spoke of religion as putting us in touch with the "divine" or "ultimate" reality. He said: "The further limits of out being... plunge into an altogether other dimension of existence from the sensible and merely 'understandable' world" [26] And again: "I suppose that my belief that in communion with the ideal new force comes into the world, and new departures are made here below, subjects me to being classed among the supernaturalists of the piecemeal or crasser type. Universalistic supernaturalism surrenders, it seems to me, too easily to naturalism." But is not James saying practically what Dewey says without giving in to supernaturalism or to a naturalism devoid of ideals? "It is this active relation between ideal and actual to which I would give the name 'God,'" [27] Dewey says, finding it natural to make new departures through communion with possibilities and guidance by goals all within experience. Ralph Barton Perry has pointed out that for James "the field of immediately apprehended particularity becomes a continuum which is qualified to stand as the metaphysical reality. Of this continuum James says that "though one part of our experience may lean upon another part to make it what it is in any one of its several aspects in which it may be considered, experience as a whole is self-containing and leans on nothing." [28]

    While Dewey largely identifies thinking with problem-solving for the sake of restoring the flow of immediate experience, he, too, finds this flow to include all that is worth while in life: effort and thought as well as sensations, impulses, reflexes, and habits. Dewey follows James in recognizing not only that relations belong to the perceptual flux but also that conception as an act does, too; though it cuts out meanings which can be used abstractly,


26. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (London, New York, Toronto: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1902), p. 515.

27. John Dewey, A Common Faith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1934), p. 51.

28. R. B. Perry, The Thought and Character of William James (Boston: Little Brown, and Co., 1936), Vol. I, pp. 460-461; quoted from William James, Essays in Radical Empiricism (New York London, Bombay, and Calcutta: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1912), p.193.



p. 26

so that "concepts flow out of percepts and into them again." [29] In discussing the immediacy of artistic-aesthetic experience, Dewey brings out its transformation of the given through intellectual as well as volitional factors. The exciting and satisfying transaction that Dewey calls aesthetic is ordinary and normal, except for being completed and clarified in a fresh focus. Suzuki, when he is down to earth, though with much that is puzzling makes the same point with regard to Zen experience. That it is inherently aesthetic is attested by its influence upon art, [30] several examples of which illustrate his Essays. These paintings place Zen figures in a setting of nature and oneness with other beings, and support this statement of his: "... it is one of the most typical traits of Zen life that the masters and disciples work together in all kinds of manual activity." [31] Hung-jen, the fifth Patriarch, is represented as a pine-planter; Hui-neng, the sixth, as a bamboo-cutter. In the accompanying comment we read that what distinguishes the development of Zen in China and Japan from Indian Buddhism is being "extracted from life itself as it is lived by every one of us," and that being a manual worker helps a master to be "thoroughly democratic in his way of thinking and feeling." [32] Incidentally, this comment stands in unexplained contrast to the statement in an earlier volume that "Zen is by no means a democratic religion. It is in essence meant for the elite." [33]


    When Suzuki is stressing Zen's immediacy and commonplaceness, as expressed by ancient sages, one wonders whether there is anything different here from what people experience anyway, without special aptitude or training. Does the arduous Zen discipline lead where life leads the ordinary mortal? Yes, except that the path is enhanced by greater awareness. Hu tells how their ordinariness helped Ch'an monks to survive the persecution of Buddhism in the ninth century in China: "Ling-yu simply put on the cap and dress of the layman when he was ordered to return a, secular life. He did not want to be in any way different from the people." [34] Clearly his lack of difference was not a lack but a feat. Intellectual transformation


29. William James, Some Problems of Philosophy (New York, London, Bombay, and Calcutta: Long mans, Green, and Co., l911), pp. 47-48.

30. See D. T. Suzuki, Zen Buddhism and its Influence on Japanese Culture (Kyoto: The Eastern Buddhist Society, 1938).

31. D. T. Suzuki, "Zen: A Reply to Hu Shih," p. 40.

32. D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, Third Series (London: Riderr and Company, 1953) , Plates XIX and XX.

33. D. T Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, Second Series, p. 217.

34. "Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism in China: Its History and Method," p. 18.



p. 27

through philosophy is necessary if we are to live to the limit, because it is an expression of life which makes a world of difference, "without leaving a trace" except within. Suzuki's way of putting it is to emphasize Hui-neng's "seeing into one's own Nature" and to say: "This Nature knows no multiplicity, it is absolute oneness, being the same in the ignorant as... in the wise. The difference comes from confusion and ignorance." That is why "we must be instructed" until we can "by ourselves see into the Nature." [35]

    Though preceded by strenuous preparation, suddenly seeing into our Buddha-nature may then seem to do away with thought and striving. Suzuki suggests that we should emulate "the lilies of the field and the fowls of the air" by living a purposeless life, "letting the evil of the day take care of itself." [36] But a purposeless life, if it is to have positive meaning, is free of any purpose except that of being absorbed in living. This is well expressed as "living without a trace." But it is part of many a "traceless" day to deal in some fashion with evil, even for the fowls and lilies, though they neither toil nor spin. They fly and grow. And Suzuki's allusions to the sixth chapter of Matthew are somewhat inaccurate and misleading. The evil of the day is not said there to take care of itself, without out thinking about it, as he suggests. [37] It is the morrow that Jesus tells us not to worry about, with the warning that "the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself." Following this sentence he says, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," plainly meaning that we have enough to do in coping with the evil at hand, without inventing any such presumptuous problem as trying to add a cubit to our stature by taking thought. But there will have to be thought, at least tomorrow. Not that we should not face the troubles we have, but that we should not borrow more before the time comes. If parts of this passage can be read to mean that men should neither toil nor spin, and if the sense is that we should cultivate some gaiety and insouciance through faith in life, the question still remains whether Zen can or ever intended to rule out of life anything so everyday as dealing with evil by thought and effort.

    In the depth of Zen experience, a mountain, after ceasing to be a mountain, is again a mountain. The bird, the me, the flower, is each itself once more. And the market is in its place among the things that are. The tumult and the shouting, the captains and the kings, come back again. Also, the old need to eat and sleep, to live and love and try to do so more humanly. There is the unceasing need to alleviate misery through compassion and


35. D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, First Series (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1949), pp. 217, 218.

36. D. T. Suzuki, "The Philosophy of Zen," p. 7.

37. Ibid.



p. 28

intelligence, and to make more available the appreciation of mountains, flowers, and all the wonder of the nature that we share, which must include the far landscapes of philosophy, the adventures of art and science, all within 'suunyataa. "When we the reasoners realize that 'suunyataa is working, in reasoning itself, that reasoning is no other than 'suunyataa in disguise, we know 'suunyataa, we see 'suunyataa, and this is 'suunyata knowing and seeing itself.... 'Suunyataa knows itself through us, because we are 'suunyataa." [38]

    Unless "reasoning" is to be restricted unrealistically (and what is Zen if not realistic?) to pre-scientific thinking, scientific research must be 'suunyataa in disguise. What in human experience can be left out of 'suunyataa when Suzuki identifies it with tathataa and says that tathataa is "the viewing of things as they are?" [39] One would expect him to say, then, that for Zen any life, including the good life, is found in these things viewed as they occur. But he shies away from the naturalistic implication of what would seem to have been his position, because the actual life of man is largely practical and teleological as well as temporal, and he wants to say that Zen is above all this. "Zen transcends time and, therefore, teleology also." [40]

    Is a Zen interpreter obliged to be logical? Suzuki has said: "Paradoxical statements are... characteristic of praj~naa-intuition. As it transcends vij~naana or logic it does not mind contradicting itself; it knows that a contradiction is the outcome of differentiation, which is the work of vij~naana." [41] But, unless discussion of Zen and its praj~naa-intuition is to be dismissed as worthless because they am the work of vij~naana, the consistency appropriate to such work is to be expected and not to be denied value, even the value of praj~naa; for Suzuki says that "praj~naa is vij~naana and vij~naana is praj~naa." [42] And: "Whenever praj~naa expresses itself it has to share the limitations of vij~naana... praj~naa cannot escape vij~naana." [43]

    Feeling, as Dewey does, that the bane of life is the bifurcation of means and ends, Suzuki also wants to overcome such dubious doubleness; but he does not see how this can be done unless Zen transcends time. He quotes the Dhammapada for support, forgetting perhaps, his Zen point that the scriptures ate only commentaries on the "Ah, this" of the present moment. For the pragmatist, too, the moment is the center of reality, but for him the present moment is experienced as in and of time. Dewey and Mead have followed James, who said: "the practically cognized present is no knife-


38. Ibid., p. 6.

39. Ibid., p. 6, 7.

40. Ibid., p. 8.

41. In Charles A. Moore, ed., Essays in East-West Philosophy: An Attempt at World Philosophical Synthesis (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1951), p. 24.

42. Ibid., p. 25.

43. Ibid., p. 34.



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edge, but a saddle-back, with a certain breadth of its own, on which we sit perched, and from which we look in two directions into time." [44] Then Suzuki insists that it is a mistake to "interpret Zen as annihilating time and putting in its place eternity." After seeming to put time and eternity over against each other as belonging in different worlds, he would have us remember that for Zen "time and eternity are one." [45] But, unless this oneness is taken to mean that time is unreal, eternity itself must be temporal, which is scarcely the idea one gets of it in any writing, unless Zen is the exception, before time was "taken seriously" in a world of events. In the world of Einstein, Whitehead, and Mead, or of any philosophy in keeping with the assumptions of modern science, process and becoming are ultimate. Suzuki himself says: "... there is no eternity outside this time-conditionedness. Eternity is possible only in the midst of... time-process." [46] And if this seems contradictory, the teaching of Zen is "to experience the dissolution of contradictions." [47] We are assured that if we can get back to the pre-analytical suchness of tathataa, the difficulties of logical thought vanish.

    It is helpful here that Suzuki relates tathataa to aesthetic appreciation. Yet, his illustration is puzzling: the haiku poem contrasting the beautiful morning glory with the bucket, which he speaks of as ugly because utilitarian. Why should he think of the beauty of the flower as "not of this earth"? What is of the earth if not a flower? Such squeamishness in a Zen adept is disconcerting to one who has responded to the naturalism of Zen in its celebration of "things as they are," to its teaching that even the supernatural is natural, that the most ordinary life is wonderful, because "then sitteth the old man in all his homeliness"; [48] and that the Buddha is "the dried-up dirtcleaner." [49] Americans singing about "the old oaken bucket" seem truer to Zen than Suzuki when he puts the bucket in a "world of defilements," meaning the world of "the practical affairs of daily life where utilitarianism rules." [50] He speaks of the poetess who wrote about the morning-glory and the bucket as not wanting "to pollute things celestial with anything savoring of workaday business." [51] He goes on to say, "We cannot remain forever in a state of undifferentiation." We come out of it to utter, "Oh, the morning-


44. William James, The Principles of Psychology, vol. I, p. 608.

45. D. T. Suzuki, "The Philosophy of Zen," p. 8.

46. Ibid., p. 9.

47. Ibid., p. 10.

48. Chao-pien, quoted in Alan W. Watts, The Spirit of Zen (London: John Murray, 1936), p. 81.

49. Yun-men, in Suzuki Essays in Zen Buddhism, Second Series, p 93. Hu accuses Suzuki of euphemizing here instead of translating the "profanely iconoclottic" phrase actually used [Hu Shih, "Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism in China," p. 22]. According to Hu, the reference is to Wen-yen, founder of the Yun-men School.

50. D. T. Suzuki, "The Philosophy of Zen," p. 12.

51. Ibid., p. 13.



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glory!" But why should not a Zen man be ready to say "Oh" or "Ah" to the bucket, too? The Taoist idea that nothing is better than hewing wood and drawing water sounds more like Zen. If we follow Suzuki in repudiating the bucket as utilitarian we cannot follow him when he says that "everyday thought" is the ultimate Tao, and quotes the master who said that what he meant by everyday thought was: "I sleep when I am tired, I eat when I am hungry." It would belong to the same thought to say, "I drink when I am thirsty" and "I fill the bucket when it is empty," and "I unwind the vine from the bucket" especially when this can be "done readily without hurting the plant". [52] If, for praj~naa-intuition, 'The One is the all without going out of itself, and each one of the infinitely varied and variable objects surrounding us embodies the One, while retaining each its individuality," [53] how can the bucket be left out? To represent the Zen's tathataa why choose a poem which repudiates a bucket as not belonging to the one reality?


    In the final section of his paper on "The philosophy of Zen," Suzuki defends the Zen man against the charge of "standing aloof from society and from being useful to the community where he belongs." He notes that Zen first developed in agricultural China where "it was natural for the Zen masters to refer constantly to farming and things connected with farming." Here Suzuki does not disapprove utilitarian work or its implements, among which there must be buckets. He drops the attempt he made earlier in the paper to purify Zen of pragmatism when he said: "Whereas pragmatism appeals to the practical usefulness of truth, that it the purposefulness of our action, Zen emphasizes the purposelessness of work or being detached from teleological consciousness." [54] At the close of the paper he seems pleased to say: "Zen literature abounds with such phrases as 'in the market plan,' 'in the middle of the crossroads,' meaning busily engaged in all kinds of work.... The monastery is not meant just to be a hiding place from the worries of the world; on the contrary, it is a training station where a man equips himself... to do all that can possibly be done for his community. All Buddhists talk about 'helping all people to cross the stream of birth and death.'" He even says: "The only thing that makes Buddhists look rather idle or backward in so-called 'social service' work is the fact that Eastern people, among whom Buddhism flourishes, are not very good at organization; they are just as charitably disposed n any religious people and ready


52. Ibid., p. 12.

53. Ibid., p. 13.

54. Ibid., p. 7.



p. 31

to put their teachings into practice.... When we read the history of Buddhism...we notice how Buddhists labored for the welfare and edification of the masses." [55]

    What more could a pragmatist want in the way of "the practical usefulness of truth," except more scientific method and mote chance for all people to try it out? Though Suzuki has identified Zen with "a purposeless life," [56] it would seem to have the same purpose as pragmatism: that of working for human welfare. We may agree with him when he says: "The saddest thing is that most of us are ignorant, benighted, and utterly egocentric in spite of all the churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other institutions of education secular and spiritual." But, while this is the saddest thing, it comes close to what in desperate circumstances may be "the best," namely, insensibility. Realizing, as one would expect a compassionate Buddhist to realize, that a man suffers from the suffering about him and from his helplessness to relieve it, Suzuki exclaims: "The only remedy one can have, if it is granted, is the gospel of insensibility!" His anguished conclusion is that this is not inhuman if things are as bad a they seem and out of our control. He suggests that they may, after all, be our fault, and that God himself may see no recourse but that of "effacing man from the earth." If that is what God is obliged to do, Suzuki asks whether Zen can offer "a philosophy to cope with the situation" [57]

    This question has painful condor. Here is no certainty of having a final answer or guarantee, any more then in pragmatism. Like pragmatism, Zen calls for distrust of authority on principle, along with willingness to heed any hints that tradition can offer. The two philosophies are also alike in skepticism of abstract reason. But Zen approaches the discredited psychology which would separate intellect from other faculties and find a deeper wisdom in a supposedly irrational intuition, whereas pragmatism recognizes that behavior can be intelligent in an empirical way of noticing and comparing notes and making use of highly hypothetical structures, while relying also on observation and the test of sense experience. Perhaps Zen can do the same, but it has been presented by Suzuki as doing without science's combination of empirical investigation and rational procedure.


    The engaging thing about Zen to a Westerner is its promise of a path that may be found and followed by the individual, apart from or in addition


55. Ibid., pp. 14-15.

56. Ibid., pp. 7.

57. Ibid., pp. 15.



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to the vast enterprise of science, which no individual can master or take over alone: a path out of the worries of his little limited self. The Zen path seems accessible and available to the ordinary person if he can make an extraordinary effort. It short-cuts the complexities of science while being naturalistic, it is sober and practical while poetic and exciting, it is even mystical without being spooky. The Zen road without much reading appeals to one swamped with reading. Yet, its texts have charm. They can be read for inspiration though rejected as substitutes for the quest that each man must undertake for himself. Suzuki is revered as an authority on the doctrine of no authority; he interprets books which say to live without books. He confronts the modern world, coming to meet the West with Eastern wisdom, helping the scions of science, in the ancient way of personal word and presence, to see oneness and wonder.

    We might wish that he had taken more account of the differences between the pre-industrial conditions of traditional Zen and our society. One difference is that it would be easier in an agricultural setting to accept the Zen warning against taking books too seriously. Reading now has become not only a practical necessity but almost the only way of learning about Zen in the West. Suzuki and we who respond to him here are readers. So, this Zen man's love of old scriptures in various tongues and his command of modern languages give force to his warning against verbalism. Perhaps a word-burdened generation could be warned in no better way.

    Whatever bothers or intrigues us in Zen, and however we miss reliance on science, the teaching is refreshing that Zen is life. If Zen is life, whatever seems lacking in Zen must be there, if vital. Zen's recommendation of purposelessness can then be seen to have the good use and purpose of releasing life. This high practicality justifies transcending much that passes for practical. The Zen goal is a process that is its own goal. Why argue whether this is teleological or not, rational or not, realistic or religious? If we are to be excited and romantic about anything, why not about being realistic and practical? If we can find in this world an other-worldly afflatus, as Fung Yu-lan has interpreted the men of Ch'an to have done, [58] then Suzuki and Hu are both right in what they contend (if wrong in what they deny). Then the fascination of the philosophy of Ch'an or Zen lies in its being both transcendental and pragmatic, unthinkable as such a combination would be to a gross materialist or to a pure supernaturalist: this living of life for all it is worth and finding it worth infinitely more than people suppose possible


58. Fung Yu-lan, A Short History of Chinese Philosophy (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1948), Chap. 22.



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on the natural level-when they are not enlightened by what may as well be called praj~naa-intuition.

    If Zen is life, the question is, "What is life?" and this leads to asking, "What ought life to be?" And for the living to ask how to live is to inquire how to live now, in this century anti this situation. Resenting the idea that Zen can be confined to its historical setting, Suzuki replies with "the fact that Zen is still fully alive." [59] Being alive with it himself, he can say what it is, regardless of what it may seem to have been in history, and regardless of whatever it has been out of history.

    If it helps us to understand Zen to see it as life, it helps us appreciate life to say it is Zen, or should be Zen. In our desperate need to find our path we may learn from Zen's enigmatic and pragmatic masters. We are coming to see that we cannot do without either science or kindness, that, with them, we might do much. Zen teaches the joy and the joke of doing what needs to be done; shows how simple and good life could be if emancipated. Perhaps we could all have a Zen life if Buddhist compassion were made more pragmatic through science and democracy. If we can develop truly human science and democracy we may be much less helpless. When we are less helpless we can drop "the gospel of insensibility," for it will not be so painful to know what is taking place around us. God can rest from "the gigantic task of effacing man from the earth" if we can attain satori insight. The thunderous humor of it may shake us while we are getting dressed or going to work worth doing, while we are walking because we feel like walking, or sitting when we want to sit. Then we can believe with James that "life is worth living" and, by our belief, "help create the fact." [60] With Dewey we can overcome the dualism of sacred and secular, through his "intense conception of a union of ideal ends with actual conditions." [61] Then, as Rinzai said, nothing would be needed but to go on with our life as we find it: with "no hankering after Buddhahood, not the remotest thought of it." [62]


59. D. T. Suzuki, Zen: A Reply to Hu Shih," p. 26.

60. William James, The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (New York, London, and Bombay: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1897), p. 62.

61. John Dewey, A Common Faith, p. 51.

62. D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, Second Series, p. 281.

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