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#1 2007-07-01 17:12:28

From: Czech Republic
Registered: 2007-03-02
Posts: 189

D.T.Suzuki - reliable source about Zen?


I've seen Suzuki's name mentioned few times on this forum, yet among my friends and in some books I have read he is considered unreliable and misleading. What is your opinion?


Marek Matvija

In passionate silence, the sound is what I'm after.



#2 2007-07-02 04:55:43

Priapus Le Zen M☮nk
Historical Zen Mod
From: St-Jerome, Quebec, Canada
Registered: 2006-04-25
Posts: 612

Re: D.T.Suzuki - reliable source about Zen?

Misleading how? Unreliable why?

I do not find any reasons to discredit his work. His writings are clear and very accurate as far as I am concerned. Maybe sometimes too scholastic but still very good. Now I do understand that he might have been pro emperor at wartime etc.. but hey who wasn’t at the time??? If you were not it was jail or death and then trouble to all your family and even friends so I guess it is very easy to blame him when the folks who do blame him do not have a full understanding of his situation at the time. I guess some people are still wanting to picture Zen teachers as saints flying on little clouds with white beards.

Sebastien 義真 Cyr
春風館道場 Shunpukan Dojo
St-Jerome, Quebec, Canada



#3 2007-07-02 07:13:49

From: Nashville, TN
Registered: 2005-10-10
Posts: 183

Re: D.T.Suzuki - reliable source about Zen?

I can suggest a good read by Suzuki, 'D.T. Suzuki On the Indian Mahayana'. Among all the technical sanskrit terminologies, Suzuki is actually very clear and expressive in his viewpoints on the bodhisattva and emptiness(I guess as one can be). Also, a chapter at the end making some correlations between christian mysticism(Eckhardt) and buddhism. -kerry

The temple bell stops, but the sound keeps coming out of the flowers. -Basho



#4 2007-07-02 09:00:19

From: Portland, ME
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 613

Re: D.T.Suzuki - reliable source about Zen?

There are several reasons why DT Suzuki is often seen as unreliable:

1. He was a philosophical scholar and popularizer of Zen, not a monk or roshi. In other words, for some people he lacked "street credibility."

2. He was Rinzai-centric. Dogen scarcely makes it into his pantheon.

3. Most importantly, his style of scholarship was out of step with the more historicist studies that were becoming the norm in academia. His work was imbued with a "true believer" attitude toward Zen and an insistence on Zen as part of a general mystical impulse across cultures (for instance his comparisons of Zen with Meister Eckhardt). At the same time more historicist scholars, sometimes atheists such as Hu Shih with no particular religious axe to grind, were placing Ch'an in context as a product of Tang culture and one among many divergent spiritual practices. This type of scholarship, which has become the accepted methodology, makes Suzuki's enthusiasm and mysticism seem old-fashioned or even orientalist.

But none of this makes him really unreliable. As with all interpretative literature, you have to put his work in context and examine other authors as well. As a diligent scholar, he probably got most of his facts straight. As a true believer he had his own point of view that fit well with the new 1950's Western counter-cultural take on eastern religions and on mysticism. For some people this puts him closer to Alan Watts than to hard-core academics or to "real monks."

On a personal note, in high school there is no way I would have read Hu Shih or anybody's doctoral dissertation (nor was there a Zen monastery in the Long Island burbs). I read DT Suzuki because John Cage had read him, and I discovered that Suzuki went quite a few steps deeper than the only other available Zen books by Watts and Paul Reps and the peripherally Zennist Beats. Reading DT Suzuki at that time completely changed my life.

Last edited by nyokai (2007-07-02 09:43:17)



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