D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

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D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

Postby admin » Sat Mar 30, 2019 1:15 am

Part 1 of 2

D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis 鈴木大拙 禅 ナチス (上)
by Brian Daizen Victoria
October 21, 2013
The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus
Volume 11 | Issue 43 | Number 4



Part One


The always contentious, sometimes highly emotional, debate over D.T. Suzuki’s relationship to Japanese fascism continues unabated. Among other things this is shown by reader reactions to a recent article in Japan Focus entitled “Zen as a Cult of Death in the Wartime Writings of D.T. Suzuki". This debate can only intensify by the further assertion of a wartime relationship between D.T. Suzuki and the Nazis or, more precisely, a positive or sympathetic relationship between Suzuki and the Nazis. This article, in two parts, will explore that possibility though conclusive proof of such a relationship will not be included until the second part.

Fig. 1 - D.T. Suzuki

Satō Gemmyō Taira, a Buddhist priest in the Shin (True Pure Land) sect, who identifies himself as a disciple of Suzuki in the postwar years, adamantly rejects the possibility of a positive relationship between Suzuki and the Nazis. On the contrary, he insists that at least as far back as the fall of 1936 Suzuki clearly and publicly expressed his opposition to both Hitler and Nazi policies. Satō writes:

Although Suzuki recognized that the Nazis had, in 1936, brought stability to Germany and although he was impressed by their youth activities (though not by the militaristic tone of these activities), he clearly had little regard for the Nazi leader, disapproved of their violent attitudes, and opposed the policies espoused by the party. His distaste for totalitarianism of any kind is unmistakable1

In truth, I myself had long wondered about the possibility of some kind of relationship between Suzuki and the Nazis. After all, for much of the Asia-Pacific War the two countries were allied militarily. At the time I published the first edition of Zen at War in 1997, I was puzzled and intrigued by the following cryptic comment in The Essence of Bushidō (Bushidō no Shinzui), a book strongly backed by the Japanese military and published in November 1941, i.e., only one month before Pearl Harbor. Suzuki’s contribution consisted of a chapter entitled “Zen and Bushidō” (Zen to Bushidō). In his introduction, Suzuki’s editor, Handa Shin, wrote: “Dr. Suzuki’s writings are said to have strongly influenced the military spirit of Nazi Germany.”2

On the one hand it can be said that any Nazi use of Suzuki’s writings, if such existed, would be a separate issue from Suzuki’s personal attitude toward the Nazis. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but wonder if Handa’s assertion were true, especially as he offered no proof for his claim. Yet, where could one turn to prove or disprove Handa’s claim? Were the Nazi’s even aware of Suzuki’s writings, let alone influenced by them?

As I pondered these questions, I recalled a relevant passage in Kenneth Kraft’s book, Zen Teaching, Zen Practice. Kraft points out that the first American to make direct contact with D.T. Suzuki in postwar, occupied Japan was Albert Stunkard. Stunkard described his encounter as follows:

I was working in Tokyo as an army medical officer at Sugamo Prison, providing medical care for the men who were being tried for war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. . . . One of the prisoners, later to become recognized as a religious thinker, was [Karlfried] Graf Dürckheim, a German. He used to talk to me about Zen. One day he mentioned Dr. Suzuki, with whom he had studied, suggesting that I visit Dr. Suzuki at his home in a small town not far from Tokyo.

I took up the suggestion and not long afterwards met Dr. Suzuki in his house on the grounds of Engakuji monastery in Kita Kamakura. . . . Dr. Suzuki welcomed me, took the letter of introduction from Graf Dürckheim, and led me inside his house, where he adjusted his spectacles and read the letter. He was slender and a bit frail, with a face dominated by huge eyebrows that curved upwards and outwards. When he had finished the letter, Dr. Suzuki asked me about Dürckheim and the other prisoners at Sugamo.”3 (Italics mine)

While I hadn’t paid much attention to this passage when I first read it, now it brought a flood of questions to mind, first and foremost who was Graf [Count] Dürckheim (1896-1988)? And why was Dürckheim imprisoned as a suspected war criminal? Further, why had a suspected German war criminal been studying with D.T. Suzuki during the war years?

Fig. 2 - Graf Dürckheim

More important, why had Suzuki accepted a suspected German war criminal, almost certainly a Nazi, as his student if, as Satō claims, Suzuki “clearly had little regard for the Nazi leader, disapproved of their violent attitudes, and opposed the policies espoused by the party.” Something didn’t add up. And as if all of these questions were not enough, I was particularly struck by the following comments posted on Wikipedia’s entry for Dürckheim:

Stunkard later became Suzuki's physician. That visit started a chain reaction of visitors to the Suzuki residence, one of whom was Philip Kapleau, author of The Three Pillars of Zen and founder of the Rochester Zen Center. Dürckheim thus was directly responsible for launching Zen into the American mainstream.4 (Italics mine)

Is it possible, I remember thinking, that a Nazi, imprisoned as a suspected war criminal, was “directly responsible for launching Zen into the American mainstream”? Perhaps this was just another of Wikipedia’s many inaccuracies or at least a rhetorical overstatement. Or was it? These were just a few of the questions that drove me to examine the record more carefully.

Suzuki’s Newspaper Articles in October 1936

In pondering where to begin my quest for more detailed information, it appeared that a chronological approach made the most sense, especially as it might reveal any changes in Suzuki’s thinking that occurred along the way. Thus, a close examination of his fall 1936 series of newspaper articles, describing a visit to Germany, seemed a good place to begin inasmuch as this series contained what appear to be Suzuki’s first public comments on the Nazis. Suzuki’s views of the Nazis appeared in the Japanese Buddhist newspaper, Chūgai Nippō, on 10, 11, 13 October 1936.

Although the Nazis had set up large and brutal concentration camps like Dachau for political prisoners as early as 1933, the policy aimed specifically at Jews, known as the “final solution” i.e., their extermination, had yet to be implemented. Nevertheless, various forms of Jewish persecution, as Suzuki himself notes, were already underway, most especially with the passing of the so-called Nuremberg Laws in September 1935. These laws included a ban on sexual intercourse between people defined as Jews and non-Jewish Germans and had the overall effect of preventing Jews from participating in German civic life, even visiting public parks or beaches.

While Suzuki defenders claim Suzuki could not have known in 1936 of the subsequent horrors of Hitler and the Nazis, it is noteworthy that there was at least one Buddhist organization in Japan that understood as early as 1933 just how dangerous and anti-Buddhist the Nazi movement was and strongly condemned it. This group was the "Youth League for Revitalizing Buddhism" (Shinkō Bukkyō Seinen Dōmei).

In May 1933 the All Japan Federation of Buddhist Youth Organizations (Zen Nippon Bukkyō Seinen-kai Renmei) held its third national conference. The federation was composed of more than four hundred and fifty separate Buddhist groups, one of which was the Youth League. League representatives proposed, among other things, that the Federation go on record opposing "anti-foreign, militarist and nationalist ideologies," including movements that promoted the same.

As one expression of such an ideology, Youth League representatives put forward a motion condemning the Nazi Party and its leader Adolph Hitler:

Hitler is a person who is thoroughly suppressing the Jewish people by force and casually burning cultural treasures without a second thought. Furthermore, Hitler crushes without exception all liberals and advocates of peace who are incompatible with the Nazi spirit. Outrages of these kinds are both inhumane and anti-Buddhist, and we must resolutely protest them.5

The response of the conference host, Ōtani University, to this and similar League proposals was, in an unprecedented move, to force the entire conference off-campus to find a new meeting site. Not only that, the All Japan Federation expelled the Youth League from its midst. Given that Hitler had only been appointed Chancellor of Germany in January 1933 it can be said that the League’s representatives were very insightful in their understanding of the Nazis and what their existence portended for Europe, let alone Japan. While there is no proof that Suzuki knew of the events surrounding the Youth League, he was a professor of Buddhism at Ōtani University, and it is difficult to believe that he was unaware of the Youth League’s opposition to the Nazis or the price they paid for it.

1. Germany Reverts to the Dark Ages: Nazi Clarity and Grassroots American Protest, 1933-1934

As soon as Hitler came to power on January 30, 1933, the American Jewish press compared him to Haman, and the plight of Germany's Jews to those of ancient Persia, whom Haman had threatened with extermination. Boston's Jewish Advocate declared on March 7 that Germany's entire Jewish population of 600,000 "is under the shadow of a campaign of murder which may be initiated soon." It drew its readers' attention to an article published a few days before in the London Daily Herald that predicted that the Nazis would initiate a pogrom "on a scale as terrible as any instance of Jewish persecution in 2,000 years." [1] At Purim in mid- March 1933, the festival celebrating the Jews' deliverance from Haman, many rabbis devoted their sermons to condemning the rise of Nazi antisemitism in Germany. Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan indicated that Hitler was even more threatening than Haman in that he was attempting to make the whole world unsafe for Jews. Kaplan predicted that Nazi Germany could ultimately destroy modern civilization and thrust all of humanity "back to the days of ancient barbarism." [2]

On March 20, 1933, shortly after the Nazis assumed power in Germany, the New York Times declared that testimony from Americans returning home from visits to Germany left no doubt that to be Jewish there "now constitutes a crime." It reported the declaration of Prussian high commissioner Hermann Goering and minister of propaganda Josef Goebbels that the "Jewish vampire" was responsible for "all the troubles from which the Reich is suffering." The Nazi leaders proclaimed that it was "the duty of all Germans to persecute and harass" the Jews. [3] No Jew was exempt from such treatment. The Nazis physically attacked Jews; forcibly shut down Jewish businesses; drove Jewish professors from their lecture halls; barred Jews from practicing law, medicine, and other professions; and embarked on a campaign to prevent them from finding gainful employment in nearly any field. The Manchester Guardian noted that by shutting down Jewish-owned stores and savagely beating Jews in the streets, the Nazis had graphically demonstrated that they were immediately putting into effect a sweeping antisemitic doctrine. [4]

That same month German Jewish refugee Lion Feuchtwanger, whose home had been ransacked by Nazis while he was abroad and his manuscripts destroyed, told the New York Times that the Nazis had initiated "pogroms such as Germany has not seen since the Jewish persecutions of the fourteenth century," which were precipitated by the ludicrous accusation that Jews had caused the Black Death that destroyed one-third of Europe's population. Feuchtwanger had spoken with Jewish refugees in Paris, who told him of acts of antisemitic violence they had experienced or witnessed in Germany compared to which "the atrocities during the war paled." These refugees had insisted to Feuchtwanger that "[e]very Jew in Germany must expect to be assaulted in the street or to be dragged out of bed and arrested, to have his goods and property destroyed." Jews were dragged from automobiles and beaten, just because they were Jews. "Day after day," the corpses of Jews slain in antisemitic attacks were found "mutilated beyond identification." [5]

An American just returned from Berlin told the New York Times that he had cut short his trip there after witnessing a platoon of Nazi storm troopers brutally beat Jewish businessmen at a restaurant who had refused to purchase Goebbels's newspaper Der Angriff. Seizing the Jews, the storm troopers formed a double line and forced them to pass through a gauntlet to exit the restaurant. As each of the Jews attempted to make his way to the door, every storm trooper, "first on one side and then on the other, smashed him in the face," with brass knuckles and "kicked him with heavy boots," turning his face into "beef steak." [6]

A British visitor to the German capital described a similar anti-Jewish atrocity to the London Daily Herald not long afterward. As he sat in a cafe, five Nazis entered and without any provocation repeatedly beat the Jewish proprietor with rubber truncheons. They left the premises shouting, "Get out, you cursed Jew!" As the proprietor lay unconscious on the floor in a pool of blood, his wife rushed to his side and cradled his battered head in her lap. When the British visitor asked her to call for an ambulance, she replied, "What good is that? There are only Nazi doctors ... and they will not attend to anyone attacked by the Nazis." [7]

The American and British press provided extensive coverage of such incidents of antisemitic violence, which occurred with great frequency during the early months of Nazi rule. On March 25, 1933, the Manchester Guardian emphasized that the Nazi terror "did not consist of sporadic excesses [and] was not a series of disorders" but was "systematic and integral" to the Nazi system of government. [8]

The Nazis delighted not only in beating defenseless Jews, including the elderly and women, but in publicly degrading them. On April 4, 1933, the Manchester Guardian published a photograph, taken at Chemnitz in Saxony, that a Social Democratic refugee had smuggled out of Germany, showing grinning Nazis parading a Jew through the streets in a refuse cart. At Worms in late March 1933, the Nazis arrested three Jews, took them to a Sturmabteilung (SA) headquarters, and subjected them to a terrible beating. The storm troopers then entertained themselves by forcing the Jews to strike each other with cudgels. [9] Several days later in the same city, the Nazis confined arrested Jews in a pigsty. [10]

On April 1, 1933, the Hitler government staged a nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses and professional establishments, signaling the Nazi intention of making it impossible for Jews to earn a living. Fully half a million Nazi storm troopers enforced the boycott, forming squads in front of Jewish stores and offices that warned customers not to enter them. H. R. Knickerbocker, Pulitzer-prize winning Berlin correspondent of the New York Evening Post, reported that storm troopers had forcibly prevented his Evening Post colleague Albion Ross from entering a Jewish-owned department store in the Rosenthalerstrasse, and beat him after they ejected him from the doorway, shouting, "Damn dog!" while a policeman looked on indifferently. [11]

After reading Knickerbocker's dispatches from Berlin in the Evening Post, John Haynes Holmes, minister of New York City's Community Church, wrote to him that Germany had reverted to the Dark Ages. [12] Particularly frightening was the symbol that the storm troopers pasted over the entrance to every Jewish-owned store and physician's and lawyer's office as a "badge of shame": a yellow circle on a black background. This was the mark Christians had required Jewish businessmen, lawyers, and physicians to use during the Middle Ages to identify themselves, and it indicated a reversion to the vicious antisemitism of that era. [13]

James G. McDonald, League of Nations high commissioner for refugees from 1933 to 1935, stated that the boycott, which he observed in Berlin, was effective because it demonstrated "that Jewish trade could be completely stifled." McDonald noted that although the Nazis had scheduled the boycott to last only a day, "an equally destructive discrimination against all Jews in law, medicine, school, civil service, shops, and industry ... continue[d] unabated." [14]

The day after the boycott, the National Socialist Women's Federation in Berlin called on German women to never again patronize a Jewish store, physician, or attorney, and to ensure that their families did not "until Jewry has been destroyed." It reminded German women that they were "fighting a holy war." [15]

On April 7, 1933, the Hitler government enacted a law discharging Jews from the civil service. Professors were included because universities in Germany were administered by the state. Jews were defined as persons with at least one Jewish grandparent, and non-Jews married to Jews were included in the decree. Only those who were war veterans or had been appointed to their posts prior to 1914 were exempted, because of pressure from President Paul von Hindenburg. As a result, many of Germany's leading academics and intellectuals were forced into exile. [16]

As succeeding chapters will show, Germany's institutions of higher learning quickly deteriorated to the point that they could not properly be called universities. Martha Dodd, daughter of William E. Dodd, U.S. ambassador to Germany from 1933 to 1938, who had served as president of the American Historical Association, stated that when she lived with her father in the Third Reich, Germany's universities were just "elevated institutions of Nazi propaganda." She recalled that Ambassador Dodd, a longtime professor who had studied in Germany at the University of Leipzig around the turn of the century, "was so shocked and sickened" by the damage the Nazis inflicted on higher education that "he dreaded even passing through a university town." He refused to accept any honorary degree from a German university. [17]

On April 24, 1933, Frederick T. Birchall, New York Times correspondent in Berlin, wrote that the Jews in Germany were facing an impending catastrophe. The Nazis had relegated them to a position even lower than second-class citizens - they were "to be like toads under the harrow." [18] Thousands of them had been deprived of homes and driven from employment but lacked the funds necessary to leave. American reporter Dorothy Thompson wrote in Berlin in May 1933 that Germany's Jews were "truly in a hopeless state," because they were no longer permitted to earn a living. [19] Those Jews with the means to escape Germany were required by the Hitler government to leave behind nearly everything they had. The New York Times reported in early May that Jewish refugees were arriving in Paris at a rate of 200 a day, and that nearly all were "reduced to a state of poverty." [20]

During the spring and summer of 1933, American and British journalists continued to publish alarming reports about Nazi persecution, drawn from their own observations and investigations, and from refugees able to flee to France, the Saar, the Netherlands, Poland, and Spain. By April 1933, the Nazis had confined an estimated 45,000 political opponents and Jews in newly established concentration camps and in SA headquarters, known as Brown Houses, that the Manchester Guardian called "nothing less than torture chambers." [21] (SA members were known as Brown Shirts, and brown was the Nazi color.)

A Manchester Guardian correspondent, reporting from Germany, declared that "[t]he inquirers by digging only an inch below the surface, will in city after city, village after village, discover such an abundance of barbarism committed by the Brown Shirts that modern analogies fail." He considered the storm troopers far more dangerous and sadistic than American gangsters, professional killers whom they somewhat resembled. The American gangster at least led a life of danger, confronting far more powerful armed government forces. By contrast, the German government's armed police and military forces were allied with the storm troopers. The Brown Shirts, carrying revolvers and pistols, and in some places armed with carbines and steel helmets, confronted as adversaries "helpless Jewish shopkeepers" and "defeated and unarmed Republicans." [22]

American newspaper reporters posted in Berlin emphasized to James G. McDonald on his visit there in the spring of 1933 the horror of Nazi brutality and antisemitism. Charles Elliot of the New York Herald Tribune told McDonald that "the degree of violence and intolerance was unprecedented in Western Europe." McDonald found Pulitzer Prizewinning reporter Edgar Ansel Mowrer, Berlin correspondent for the Chicago Daily News, "highly overwrought" when he met with him on March 30, 1933. Mowrer "could talk of little but terror and atrocities" and described the Nazi leaders as "brutes [and] sadists," McDonald noted in his diary. [23]

McDonald also found very ominous Adolf Hitler's remarks to him about what he planned to do to Germany's Jews in a personal conference with the Fuehrer in Berlin on April 8, 1933. When McDonald returned to the United States later in the month, he reported that Hitler had told him: "I will do the thing that the rest of the world would like to do. It doesn't know how to get rid of the Jews. I will show them." McDonald told James Warburg, son of prominent Jewish banker Paul Warburg, that Hitler had said at their meeting, "I've got my heel on the necks of the Jews and will soon have them so they can't move." In his conversation with Warburg, McDonald "predicted that German Jews would retrogress to medieval ghetto status." [24]

Because no country allowed any significant number of Jewish refugees to enter, Germany became, as Lord Melchett stated in May 1933, "an absolute death trap" for its 600,000 Jews. Lord Melchett emphasized that "there was no escape of any kind" for them. [25] New York Times correspondent Otto Tolischus wrote from Berlin in September 1933 that, if other countries including the United States lowered their immigration barriers, there was no doubt that "the vast majority" of Jews would leave Germany immediately. But unfortunately, "few of those seeking to emigrate entertain any hope of finding room in the other western countries." [26]

Tolischus stated that the majority of Jews in Germany were doomed. Because under the Hitler regime "Jews are in practice barred from all higher schooling and all the 'academic' professions," they had no prospects other than manual laborer. He noted that German Jews already referred to the older members of their community as "the lost generation," fated to struggle for a short time living on handouts "and then die out." [27]

Michael Williams, editor of the Catholic magazine The Commonweal, returning in June 1933 from a trip to Germany to investigate Nazi persecution, also considered the plight of Jews in Germany so desperate that they could not survive there. Williams stated that the Nazis' intention was to "absolutely eliminate the Jewish portion of the German nation." Williams asserted in the New York Times that the Nazi oppression of Jews "probably surpasses any recorded instance of persecution in Jewish history." He called the situation of Jews in Germany "deplorable beyond words." Williams appealed to the League of Nations to "come quickly and strongly to the rescue!" to prevent "the worst crime of our age" from proceeding: "the deliberate extinction of nearly 1,000,000 men, women, and children." [28]

That same month, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) published the 112-page White Book, designed to provide the American public with as complete an account as possible of the Hitler government's antisemitic laws and regulations, and of Nazi brutality and threats against Jews, from 1923 until May 1933. The AJC White Book, whose publication was announced in the New York Times, presented translations of the complete text from the official German law gazette, of "the numerous decrees promulgated under Chancellor Hitler prohibiting the employment of Jews in the professions, State services, [and] the schools." This was followed by eyewitnesses' reports of "the acts [of] oppression and violence" against Germany's Jews. [29]

American Jewish leaders observing developments in Germany during the summer and fall of 1933 concluded that Jews had no future there. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, honorary president of the AJCongress, who spent time in Europe that summer speaking with refugees from Germany, wrote that "the Jews of Germany are finished." Judge Julian Mack stated that the Jews in Nazi Germany faced a fate worse than they had in Inquisitorial Spain, [30] Alexander Brin, editor of Boston's Jewish Advocate, one of America's leading English-language Jewish weeklies, on his return to the United States in October 1933 after a trip to Germany, called the Hitler government "the most barbaric and savage movement since the Dark Ages." [31]

In September 1933, Germany's most eminent novelist, Thomas Mann, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, expressed the deepest pessimism about the impact of Hitler's rule. Mann had chosen to go into exile in France because of his anti-Nazi convictions. Emphasizing that Nazi rule was not an ephemeral phenomenon but would have long-term impact, he declared that Nazi policies would transform Germany into a place "intellectually so barren" that it would take "centuries before she can regain something of her former intellectual and cultural prestige." [32]

Albert Einstein, the most renowned exile from Nazi Germany, publicly condemned the Hitler regime from the beginning. Outside the country when the Nazis assumed power, Einstein declared that he would never return to Germany, and stated: "I do not desire to live in a country or belong to a country where the rights of all citizens are not respected and where freedom of speech among teachers is not accorded." [33] He appealed for world protest against Nazism. Shortly after the Nazis came to power they ransacked Einstein's weekend home at Caputh, outside Berlin, and confiscated his belongings. They also seized his bank account and securities. [34] In March 1933, Einstein resigned from the Prussian Academy of Sciences, to which he had belonged since 1913, in protest against Nazi policies. He expressed disgust with German scientists who had "failed in their duty to defend intellectual values." [35] Einstein sailed permanently for the United States in October 1933 and never went back to Germany. He became a faculty member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, a center for research and postgraduate training organized by Jewish educator Abraham Flexner on an endowment by Jewish department store magnate Louis Bamberger and his sister, Caroline Bamberger Fuld. [36]

Because of Einstein's stature as one of the most eminent scientists of modern times, the American press gave particular attention to his denunciations of Nazi persecution of Jews and political opponents. The Hitler government's abusive and insulting treatment of such a highly respected man of learning was further confirmation to many in the West that Germany had lapsed into barbarism.

When the Hitler government arrested British journalist Noel Panter of the London Daily Telegraph in late October 1933 on charges of transmitting "atrocity reports" abroad and espionage, the American press speculated that the Nazis were attempting to extend to the foreign press the censorship it enforced on German newspapers. Panter was charged with espionage because, in reporting on a speech Hitler made in Kelheim, Bavaria, he had noted the military character of the massive storm troopers' demonstration that accompanied it. Panter described 20,000 uniformed storm troopers goose-stepping past SA chief of staff Ernst Roehm, "with rifles at the slope and with steel bayonets," and noted participation by the Reichswehr (German army) in the demonstration. Germany had recently withdrawn from a League of Nations disarmament conference, and the SA's display of military equipment raised fears in the West that the Hitler government was preparing for a significant military buildup. [37]

The American press, like the British, voiced grave concern about Panter's arrest and the Nazis' refusal to allow him counselor any contact with British consular officials, although academia remained silent. The New York Times reported that British public opinion was "thoroughly aroused" over Panter's imprisonment. The Nazis held Panter incommunicado for three days, denying him even a toothbrush or razor, while the British cabinet met to discuss its options and the British press expressed "the strongest editorial indignation." Panter faced at least two years in prison under the charges. British emissaries managed to gain access to Panter after three days, and six days later the Hitler government expelled the British journalist from Germany. Arriving in Britain, Panter declared in a radio address that liberty had completely vanished from Germany. [38]

Summing up eleven months of Nazi rule in late December 1933, the New York Times concluded that the calendar year was ending with Germany's Jews in a dismal situation. They had been degraded to "pariahs." The Hitler regime had shut down a large proportion of Jewish-owned businesses and forced a great many others to "replace Jewish directors, managers, and other important employees with Nazis." The minister of finance had decreed that tax and customs officials refuse contact with "non-Aryan" representatives of businesses, even if they were war veterans. The New York Times noted that many marketplaces and fairs prohibited Jews from engaging in any business, and that some of Germany's towns now forbade Jews from entering them. [39] Jews were virtually barred from the professions and from higher education.

The New York Times also reported that the Nazis had made life miserable for Jewish children in the common and intermediate schools. They were ostracized and harassed by their fellow pupils and teachers. The Times cited the account of the twelve-year-old daughter of an American diplomat in Germany, who described how the teacher on a class excursion had separated the Jewish pupils from the rest of the class and ordered them to keep their distance from the" Aryans" on their walk. School curricula gave significant emphasis to the propagation of Nazi antisemitic doctrines. [40] Alexander Brin wrote in October 1933 that Germany's public schools had promulgated so much antisemitism in the classrooms that were the Hitler regime to be "overthrown tomorrow," it would probably take generations to repair "the damage that has been done by the poison instilled into the minds of the children." [41]

During late 1933 and early 1934, some of the journalists in the West best informed about German affairs, who had visited Nazi Germany for extended periods during the early phases of Hitler's rule, astutely warned about the very real possibility of a large-scale genocide of Germany's Jews. Writing in November 1933 in the Jewish magazine Opinion, edited by Stephen S. Wise, Belgian journalist Pierre van Paassen, drawing on interviews with Jews that he had recently conducted in three widely separated cities in Germany, stated that "the position of the German Jews is getting worse every day" and called for international action to save the German Jewish community "from physical extinction." He endorsed Rabbi Wise's call for the settling of 150,000 German Jews in Palestine. But van Paassen warned that unless such a plan were carried out at once, "there will be no 150,000 German Jews left to be settled in Palestine." [42]

Dorothy Thompson wrote in Opinion in March 1934 that the Nazis' aim was "to eliminate the Jews." Thompson, wife of novelist Sinclair Lewis and a non-Jew, had served as Berlin correspondent for theNew York Evening Post and had published a series of articles in May 1933 on Nazi atrocities against Jews in the Jewish Daily Bulletin and for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. In her Opinion article, entitled "Germany Is a Prison," Thompson stated that because the Nazis were unable "to assassinate half a million Jews in cold blood," they had launched a "cold pogrom," forcing the Jews to leave Germany "by closing down one by one opportunities to earn a living or educate their children beyond the elementary grades, and by social ostracism." This "campaign of persecution" had caused a large number of Jews in one year of Nazi rule to leave Germany, despite the enormous difficulties of stiff immigration barriers everywhere in the world. Those Jews remaining in Germany, driven by the Nazis from their businesses, jobs, and schools, faced economic catastrophe. [43]

By the spring of 1934, the American reading public had access to books in which prominent journalists, politicians, and Jewish leaders described Nazi Germany as barbaric and detailed Nazi atrocities. In March a symposium entitled Nazism: An Assault on Civilization was published that included passionate denunciations of the Hitler regime by former New York governor and presidential candidate Al Smith, Unitarian minister John Haynes Holmes, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, and writer Ludwig Lewisohn. AFL president William Green and reformer Alice Hamilton analyzed and forcefully condemned Nazi labor and women's policies, respectively. Dorothy Thompson described the "wanton cruelties" inflicted by the Nazis. In the concluding article, Governor Smith wrote that if Nazism prevailed, those who had fought "for spiritual and political freedom have fought in vain." [44] Germany Unmasked by Robert Dell, veteran Manchester Guardian correspondent, appeared at the same time. It opened with a statement by a diplomat stationed in Berlin: "The conditions here are not those of a normal civilized country and the German Government is not a normal civilized Government and cannot be dealt with as if it were one." [45]

That spring, the American and British press reported yet another ominous development in Germany: the Nazis' revival of the medieval blood libel accusation, which they aggressively disseminated throughout the Reich using official party newspapers. The blood libel, which had no basis in fact, charged the Jews with kidnapping Christian children, torturing and murdering them to mock Jesus, and draining their blood to mix with matzoh at Passover (Pesach) and with Purim pastries. On May 1, 1934, Julius Streicher, Nazi gauleiter of Franconia and political commissar of the Bavarian state government, published a special May Day edition of the Nazi newspaper Der Sturmer of 130,000 copies, devoted to documenting 131 alleged Jewish ritual murders from 169 B.C.E. to 1929 C.E. The May Day ritual murder issue contained two heavily underscored red banner headlines declaring "Jewish murder plot against non-Jewish humanity exposed." The cover depicted two Jews, one holding a bloodstained knife and the other collecting in a dish streams of blood gushing from the slashed throats of "Aryan" women. Other illustrations showed "children being done to death in the most revolting circumstances by Jews." [46]

The London Times called Der Sturmer's ritual murder issue "a crudely horrible production" that was "designed to excite racial fanaticism to a bloodthirsty pitch." [47] Besides the "obvious incitements to violence" against Jews, the Times editorialized that reviving the ludicrous and long-discredited blood libel accusation "did grave damage to the intellectual reputation of the new Germany." [48]

Western journalists believed that the publication of Der Sturmer's special ritual murder issue placed all of Germany's Jews in immediate physical danger because, as the London Times noted, the person responsible was no less than Julius Streicher, "one of the most prominent members of the Nazi 'inner circle.'" The New York Times reported that succeeding issues of Der Sturmer were "as full of anti-Jewish hatred as their predecessors" and that they published "the usual caricatures and epithets." [49]

Indeed, belief in the blood libel accusation against the Jews was sufficiently widespread in Germany that it had inspired a pogrom shortly before the appearance of Der Sturmer's May Day issue. During the night of March 25-26, 1934, residents of the town of Ellwangen, Mittelfranken (Central Franconia), in Bavaria smashed the windows of Jewish homes, while onlookers shouted in chorus: "In this Pesach there flows no Christian but Jewish blood." [50]

The publication of the ritual murder issue of Der Sturmer coincided with the Hitler regime's opening of a series of special performances of the intensely antisemitic Oberammergau Passion Play, discussed in Chapter 4, which was highly popular among American exchange students studying in Germany and visiting American academics. The Nazis believed that exposing Americans to the passion play's images of the Jews as a race forever cursed for their crime of deicide would help them spread antisemitism abroad. In May 1934, they decided to exploit Der Sturmer's ritual murder issue in the same manner. The New York Times reported that Julius Streicher, in a storm trooper's uniform, had in Nuremberg personally presented a copy of the issue to each of the nineteen members of a delegation of British journalists on their way to attend the passion play at Oberammergau. [51]

In the latter part of the month the Berlin periodical Fridericus and Der Deutsche, organ of the German Labor Front, also put forward the blood libel accusation. Fridericus warned that "[t]hrough the Jews, peoples and their culture die" and predicted that there no longer would be any more room for Jews in Germany. How the Jews' removal was to be accomplished, by expulsion or by extermination, it did not say. [52]

-- The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses, by Stephen H. Norwood

Be that as it may, Suzuki went to England in 1936 where he delivered a set of lectures that he would publish as his famous Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture in 1938 (republished in the postwar era as Zen and Japanese Culture). Following the conclusion of his lecture tour in England, he went to Paris to conduct bibliographical research, and then on to visit some distant relatives living at the time in Rüdesheim am Rhein, a small village on the Rhine River west of Wiesbaden.

Fig. 3 - Rüdesheim am Rhein

In connection with his visit to Rüdesheim, Suzuki published a series of articles in the Buddhist newspaper Chūgai Nippō under the title “From a Spot on the Banks of the Rhine” (Rain kahan no ichigū kara). The initial sections of his article consisted of a fairly ordinary travelogue in which Suzuki described such things as visits to local churches and reflections on the cultural implications of the stone-based architecture of Germany versus the wood-based architecture of Japan. He then went on to describe the political events he observed while in Germany, including the following description of the Nazis and his thoughts about them.

I would like to express my appreciation to the late Kyoko Selden, Senior Lecturer in Japanese at Cornell University, and James Mark Shields, Associate Professor at Bucknell University, for their helpful suggestions and advice throughout the translation process. That said, the final responsibility for the accuracy of the translation, not to mention the accompanying commentary, is mine alone.


My relative has been living in this city [i.e., Rüdesheim am Rhein] for a long time and has many acquaintances. When he meets his acquaintances they exchange greetings by giving the Nazi salute and saying, “Heil Hitler!” When I asked my relative the reason for his celebration of Hitler, what he told me is briefly as follows:

Before Hitler arrived on the scene there were many political parties in Germany. As a consequence, political affairs were unable to find a direction and citizens became more and more depressed as time went on. They were at their wit’s end, wondering what was to become of them. Hitler, however, was able to unite the people and lead us with a definite goal in mind. Thus we have never experienced a greater sense of relief than we have today. While we don’t know much about politics, we have never enjoyed greater peace of mind than we have now. Isn’t that reason enough to praise Hitler?

This is what my relative told me, and I agree this is quite reasonable.

Changing the topic to Hitler’s expulsion of the Jews, it appears there are considerable grounds for this, too. While it is a very cruel policy, when looked at from the point of view of the current and future happiness of the entire German people, it may be that, for a time, some sort of extreme action is necessary in order to preserve the nation. From the point of view of the German people, the situation facing their country is that critical.

On occasion, in England, too, I have encountered Jews. I recently met a young self-professed wealthy poet who had been persecuted and expelled from Germany. After listening to his story, I felt sorry for him because he suddenly found himself living in poverty in a foreign land. As regards individuals, this is truly a regrettable situation.

Fig. 4 - 1936 Nazi Rally in Nuremburg

Recently the Nazis held a major rally in Nuremburg. At that time Hitler announced what may be considered to be the principles underlying the expulsion of the Jews. These principles are as follows:

The Jews are a parasitic people who are not indigenous, i.e., who develop no connection to the land. They are neither farmers nor industrial workers. Instead, they are merchants situated between producers and consumers. As such they are the class that extracts profits from both groups. In this respect, i.e., in intellectual terms, it can be said that they are far more developed than the indigenous German people. After the Great War [WW I] they rushed like a flood into Germany. Taking advantage of the German people’s exhaustion, they monopolized profits in the commercial sector while utilizing their power in the political arena solely to advance their own interests. As a result, the German people became increasingly fearful with the result that someone like Hitler appeared on the scene. That is to say, the expulsion of the Jews is an action taken in self-defense. It is the resistance of indigenous people to immigrants from outside.

The fact that they have no country is karmic retribution (J. gōhō) on the Jews. Because they have no attachment to the land and are wanderers, it is their fate to intrude into state structures created by others. As a result they are primarily involved in intellectual activities, an area in which they have shown great ability. Intellectual activities broadly interpreted means that they are members of the ruling class. In the case of today’s German people they find it extremely difficult to accept their country being disturbed by a foreign race.

This appears to be the feelings and assertion of Hitler and others.

It is for this reason that the Nazis fiercely attack Soviet Russia. They claim that the core of the Communist Party, beginning with Stalin himself, is composed of either Jews themselves or their relatives who have some connection to them and that, since people like these are up to no good, one of the great missions of the German people is to crush Soviet Russia. The speeches given by the leaders at the recent Nazi rally in Nuremburg, among others, were very extreme. They directly attacked the Soviet Union as their great enemy of the moment. They said as much as could be said in words, completely ignoring diplomatic niceties and attacking them viciously. From looking at the newspapers, you can get a good sense of their truly fierce determination. People are saying that if, in the past, the leaders of one country had done something like this it is inevitable that within twenty-four hours the other country would have declared war. In any event, the Nazis’ determination is deadly serious!

Fig. 5 - Hitlerjugend

The Nazis have focused their attention on youth movements, including engagement in volunteer labor and marching with spades on their shoulders with the goal of communing with nature. I believe this is something that is truly fine no matter in what country it takes place. I will, however, not immediately judge the rights and wrongs of a situation in which totalitarianism (J. zentaishugi) is overly emphasized and everyone has to wear military uniforms. That said, placing a spade on one’s shoulder and harvesting the bounty of the earth without payment as a form of mutual assistance is something I would most definitely like to have Japanese youth do.

Setting aside the question of Communism’s ideology, the people at its core are intellectuals who have never been intimately connected with the land. Furthermore, their ideology is something that has been directly imported from abroad and has no roots in the history of that country. Taking their claims to be absolute, they butcher those who oppose them without hesitation. This is something that others and I can in no way approve. While it is true that Nazis and Fascists also insist on totalitarianism, in one sense it can be said that theirs is a form of resistance to Communist actions. Or it can also be understood as turning the Communists’ methods to their own advantage.

Fig. 6 - Stahleck Castle

About an hour and a half boat ride south from the city of Rüdesheim is an old city on the other shore known as Bacharach. On the mountain behind this city is an old castle called Stahleck Castle. This has been restored in recent years as a lodging for male and female youth groups. The outside of the castle has been maintained as it was with stones piled one on top of another in what is clearly a solid structure. The interior, though plain, has been modernized and made into a well-appointed facility.

During the summer, youth groups are accommodated here where they lead a disciplined life and visit nearby historical sites. Nazi lecturers are invited to speak on such things as Nazi views and institutions as well as engage in discussions. The room where medieval knights once met is now used as a lecture hall, and in it is a bust of Hitler. The youth in the hall explained that this is the only bust that Hitler had made for youth groups. Although only half of the castle tower remains, I was informed there are plans to completely restore it in the near future. If I had more historical and architectural knowledge of old castles I would be able to share more interesting impressions but, unfortunately, I am unlearned in these matters so I cannot do any better than this.

In any event, in Japan there should be a better understanding of the purpose of the lifestyle followed in a Zen temple. I would like to have youth experience this. Further, inasmuch as youth in the True Pure Land sect [of Buddhism] and others have aspects that appear to be overly aristocratic I would like to see them, too, practice the lifestyle of Zen training monks (J. unsui), communing with the earth and developing the habit of unstintingly devoting themselves to labor. This is, of course, what the German youth movement is doing, but we have had a method of character building in Japan from ancient times.

At this point Suzuki ends his discussion of the Nazis and concludes his article with some final comments on differences he noted between Buddhism and Christianity based on what he had seen in Germany.


The first thing to be noted about the above is that it is one of two competing translations of the same material. Satō Kemmyō Taira, in collaboration with Thomas Kirchner, made a second translation that is available here: [Satō, Kemmyō Taira. “Brian Victoria and the Question of Scholarship.” The Eastern Buddhist 41/2, pp. 147-150].

Some readers may want to read Satō’s translation first before reading the following comments, although that is not necessary. What is remarkable about these two translations is how starkly they differ in their portrayal of Suzuki’s comments on the Nazis. Given Satō’s earlier comments it will not surprise the reader to learn that his translation serves not only to exonerate Suzuki from any possible Nazi sympathies, but also portrays him as a critic and a brave opponent of Nazi policies, especially their oppressive treatment of Jews.

By comparison, the translation that I provide here, presents Suzuki’s views in a more nuanced manner, suggesting at least some degree of sympathy or at least understanding of the Nazis and their policies. Readers familiar with Japanese are invited to read the article in the original as attached in Appendix II.

At any rate, these two translations, one that completely exonerates Suzuki and the other that implicates him, vividly demonstrate the crucial role played by the translator who, at least to some degree, ends up being an “interpreter” of the text’s meaning, especially in light of the often ambiguous nature of the Japanese original. It is also a vivid reminder of just how dependent the reader is on the competence of translators, including their political and religious affiliations as well as their personal agendas. In short, in the world of translations is definitely a case of reader beware!

Preliminary Background Remarks

So how then does one go about deciding which of two significantly different translations is correct? The traditional way, of course, is to undertake a lexical analysis, i.e., a careful word-by-word, phrase-by-phrase comparison of the original text with each of the translations. That is to say, to question which translation more accurately conveys the meaning of the original?

Those inclined to traditional textual exegesis are invited to read Appendix I of this article. There readers will find an introduction to the key differences between the two translations together with an analysis of the Japanese terms leading to these differences. The major difficulty with this approach, however, is that, at least for the non-specialist reader, these discussions can easily be viewed as semantic quibbling. Is there no better method than this?

The author’s view is that when faced with translations of political, not to mention religious, texts, it is helpful, even crucial, to examine the Zeitgeist or “spirit of the times” in which they were written. Further, examination of the prevailing Zeitgeist should be matched by a similar exploration of the inner world-view of the writer. While such studies may not in themselves be definitive in determining the meaning of a text, they can at least serve as a helpful guide to the probable or likely meaning of a text.

In short, the societal context within which a piece is written, coupled with the writer’s personal background, are important and often neglected methods for determining the meaning of a text. In Suzuki’s case, the question is not only the meaning he himself meant to convey, but also, what the editors of a major Buddhist newspaper would have allowed him to say in October 1936. As Sueki Fumihiko, one of Japan’s leading historians of modern Japanese Buddhism, points out: “When we frankly accept Suzuki’s words at face value, we must also consider how, in the midst of the situation as it was then, his words would have been understood.”6 In other words, what would Suzuki’s readers have thought he meant?

Fig. 7 - Signing of Anti-Comintern Pact

Societal Background

In examining the larger societal context, first and foremost is the fact that October 1936, the time these articles were written, was just one month before the signing of the first overtly military pact between Japan and Germany. Known as the Anti-Comintern Pact, it was signed in Berlin on November 25, 1936.7 Ostensibly it was directly against the Communist International (aka Comintern) but in reality it was directed against both the Soviet Union and Communism in general. The Pact read in part:

"recognizing that the aim of the Communist International, known as the Comintern, is to disintegrate and subdue existing States by all the means at its command; convinced that the toleration of interference by the Communist International in the internal affairs of the nations not only endangers their internal peace and social well-being, but is also a menace to the peace of the world desirous of co-operating in the defense against Communist subversive activities."8 (Italics mine)

The key element of this pact was the absolute rejection of Communism on the part of both the German and Japanese governments. This was not simply an expression of foreign policy but represented key domestic policy for both nations. In Japan’s case, the Japanese Communist Party had been immediately banned following its creation in July 1922. Further, between 1928 and 1937 some 60,000 people were arrested for harboring “dangerous thoughts” whether they were procommunists, radical socialists, anarchists, pacifists or simply labor organizers.9

Needless to say, Suzuki was not among those 60,000 arrested nor was he even questioned. This is despite the fact that, according to Satō, Suzuki’s newspaper article was “another example of Suzuki taking a public stance at odds with the ideology of the Japanese militarist government.”10 (Italics mine) As implied by the word “another,” Satō claims that throughout the war years Suzuki continued his opposition, however muted, to the militarist government, again without ever being questioned, let alone detained or censored, concerning anything that he wrote or said. If true this would be almost an unprecedented feat for that period.

Nevertheless, in light of the preceding background information, there is one area of broad agreement between the two translations, i.e., Suzuki was clearly opposed to the Soviet-style Communism. Among other things, this is because he clearly regarded it as a “totalitarian” form of government. Needless to say, his condemnation of Soviet-style Communism would have been widely welcomed in official Japan, as well as Germany, at a time when these two countries were about to sign the Anti-Comintern Pact.

Yet, it is significant that even in the course of condemning Communism in Russia Suzuki wrote: “Setting aside the question of Communism’s ideology, the people at its core are intellectuals who have never been intimately connected with the land.” (Italics mine) Is it possible that Suzuki was not opposed to Communism per se but, instead, to the Soviet version of that ideology? This is at least one possible interpretation of why Suzuki suggested Communism’s “ideology” should be exempted from discussion.

inasmuch as youth in the True Pure Land sect [of Buddhism] and others have aspects that appear to be overly aristocratic I would like to see them, too, practice the lifestyle of Zen training monks (J. unsui), communing with the earth and developing the habit of unstintingly devoting themselves to labor. This is, of course, what the German youth movement is doing
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Re: D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

Postby admin » Sat Mar 30, 2019 1:15 am

Part 2 of 2

Personal Background

To further understand the plausibility of this interpretation, we need to have a basic understanding of Suzuki’s political orientation, at least at one period in his life. This topic has been but little studied yet is key to understanding not only Suzuki’s opposition to Soviet-style Communism, but even more importantly, his possible resultant sympathy for the Nazi movement. How is this possible?

First, we need to understand that in his youth Suzuki had been attracted to socialism. He first described his interest in a series of letters written to his close friend Yamamoto Ryōkichi (1871–1942). On January 6, 1901 Suzuki wrote:

Recently I have had a desire to study socialism, for I am sympathetic to its views on social justice and equality of opportunity. Present-day society (including Japan, of course) must be reformed from the ground up. I’ll share more of my thoughts in future letters.11 (Italics mine)

On January 14, 1901 Suzuki wrote Yamamoto:

In recent days I have become a socialist sympathizer to an extreme degree. However, my socialism is not based on economics but religion. This said, I am unable to publicly advocate this doctrine to the common people because they are so universally querulous and illiterate and therefore unprepared to listen to what I have to say. However, basing myself on socialism, I intend to gradually incline people to my way of thinking though I also believe I need to study some sociology.12 (Italics mine)

In a February 27, 1902 letter to Yamamoto, then head teacher at the No. 2 Middle School in Kyoto, Suzuki urged the latter to teach socialist principles to his students:

Although from its inception opposition to self-seeking has been a principle of socialism, if that is something that cannot be put into practice all at once, at least you could teach the principle of justice and clarify the great responsibility (or duty) the wealthy and aristocrats have for [the condition of] today’s society. If you feel it is too dangerous to oppose the present [social] structure, then how about simply hinting at these truths?13

Aside from indicating Suzuki’s strong interest in socialism, these passages also make it clear that even as early as 1902 Suzuki was aware of the danger facing those who taught socialist principles in a Japan that even then had begun to crack down on “dangerous thoughts” imported from the West. This awareness is, I suggest, critically important in explaining why Suzuki never openly advocated socialism following his return to Japan in 1909 following more than a decade long residence in the U.S. (1897-1908). Nevertheless he did once express his socialist sympathies, yet only to an English-speaking audience in his 1907 book, Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism:

As long as we live under the present state of things, it is impossible to escape the curse of social injustice and economic inequality. Some people must be born rich and noble and enjoying a superabundance of material wealth, while others must be groaning under the unbearable burden imposed upon them by cruel society. Unless we make a radical change in our present social organization, we cannot expect every one of us to enjoy an equal opportunity and a fair chance. Unless we have a certain form of socialism installed which is liberal and rational and systematic, there must be some who are economically more favored than others.14 (Italics mine)

That love is "the fulfilling of the law", and therefore the keystone of every sound system of ethics, is a truth on which I need scarcely insist. The final proof that the ethics of self-realisation are sound to the core lies in the fact that the path of self-realisation, besides emancipating from egoism and sensuality, leads all who walk in it, first into the foreglow and then into the sunshine of love. But it is with the social rather than the ethical aspect of self-realisation that I am now concerned. And the social aspect of the fact which has just been stated is obviously of vital importance. Love, which is commensurate with life, has innumerable phases. One of these is what I have called the communal instinct, - the sense of belonging to a community, of being a vital part of it, of sharing in its life, of being what one is (in part at least) because one shares in its life. If Socialism is to realise its noble dream, this instinct, strongly developed and directed towards the well-being of the whole social order, must become part of the normal equipment of every citizen. And if this is to come to pass, self-realisation must be made the basis of education in all our schools. What it has done for the children of Utopia, in the way of developing their communal instinct and making their school an ideal community, it is capable of doing for every school in England, - I might almost say for every school on the face of the earth.

There are faddists who advocate the teaching of patriotism in our elementary schools. There are Local Education Committees which insist on citizenship being taught in the schools under their control. By teaching patriotism and citizenship is meant treating them as "subjects", finding places for them on the "time-table", and giving formal lessons on them. Where this is done, the time of the teachers and the children is wasted. The teaching of patriotism and citizenship, if it is to produce any effect, must be entirely informal and indirect. Let the child be so educated that he will develop himself freely on all the sides of his being, and his communal instinct will, as I have said, evolve itself in its own season. Until it has evolved itself, patriotism and citizenship will be mere names to him, and what he is taught about them will make no impression on him. When it has evolved itself, he will be a patriot and a good citizen in posse [potentially], and will be ready on occasion to prove his patriotism and his good citizenship by his deeds, or, better still, by his life. (12)

While the communal instinct is evolving itself, first in the school and then in the community at large, the standard of reality will, by a parallel or perhaps identical process, be transforming itself in all the grades of society. The inward will be taking the place of the outward standard; and men will be learning to form a different conception of "the good things of life" from that which now dominates our social life. The Socialist will then have his opportunity. That any member of the community should be in physical want or irremediable misery, will begin to be felt, partly as a personal grief, partly as a reflection on himself, by each member of the community in turn; and steps will begin to be taken - what steps I cannot pretend to forecast - to make physical want and irremediable misery impossible. Meanwhile, with the gradual substitution of the inward for the outward standard of reality, the mad scramble for wealth and possessions and distinctions will gradually cease, the conception of what constitutes "comfort" and of what are the real "necessaries of life" will be correspondingly changed, and men will begin to realise that of the genuine "good things of life" - the good things which the children of Utopia carry with them into the world, and which make them exceedingly rich in spite of their apparent poverty - there are enough and more than enough "to go round."....

No, we must change our standard of reality before we can hope to reform society. Where the outward standard prevails, where material possessions are regarded as "the good things of life", the basis of society must needs be competitive rather than communal, for there will never be enough of those "good things" to satisfy the desires of all the members of any community. And even if the socialistic dream of state-ownership could be universally realised, the change - so long as the outward standard of reality prevailed - would not necessarily be for the better, and might well be for the worse. Competition for "the good things of life" would probably go on as fiercely as ever; but it would be a scramble among nations rather than individuals, and it might conceivably take the form of open warfare waged on a titanic scale. (11) Even now there are indications that such a struggle, or series of struggles, if not actually approaching, is at any rate not beyond the bounds of possibility. And on the way to the realisation of the collectivist ideal, we should probably have in each community a similar struggle for wealth and power among political parties, - a struggle which would generate many social evils, of which civil war might not be the most malignant.

-- What Is and What Might Be: A Study of Education in General and Elementary Education in Particular, by Edmond Holmes

Fig. 8 – Cover of Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism

Needless to say, it is surprising to find a political statement of this nature in a book claiming to be an introduction to the Mahāyāna school of Buddhism, not least of all because Suzuki calls for a “radical change in our present social organization.” Yet, when placed in context, this passage is no more than a public expression of his January 1901 letter to Yamamoto in which Suzuki called for society to be “reformed from the ground up” in accordance with socialist values.

Further, Suzuki’s socialist sympathies could not help but impact on his understanding of one key Buddhist teaching—the doctrine of karma. For centuries karma had been invoked, particularly in East Asia, to explain, if not justify, why some people were born “rich and noble” and others unbearably poor. Simply stated, the claim was made that the rich were rich due to the good karma they had acquired through their meritorious deeds in this and past lives. On the other hand, the poor (including those born with physical impairments) were being punished for the evil deeds of their past.

In Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism, Suzuki made a radical break with this traditional view, dismissing its advocates as no more than “pseudo-Buddhists.” Instead, Suzuki claimed:

No, the doctrine of karma certainly must not be understood to explain the cause of our social and economic imperfections. The region where the law of karma is made to work supreme is our moral world, and cannot be made to extend also over our economic field. Poverty is not necessarily the consequence of evil deeds, nor is plenitude that of good acts. Whether a person is affluent or needy is mostly determined by the principle of economy as far as our present social system is concerned.15

Once the cause of poverty was assigned to “our present social system” (i.e., a class-based, capitalist society) it was but a short step, at least in that era, to view socialism as the means to eliminate what Suzuki called “the curse of social injustice and economic inequality.”

Possible Interest in Nazi Socialism

As we have seen, Suzuki was clearly opposed to Russian-style, or Soviet Communism. Yet, there is no compelling evidence to suggest he abandoned his socialist sympathies following his return to Japan in 1909. One sign that he maintained them was his support for educational reform while teaching English at Gakushūin, the ultra-conservative “peers school” for the children of Japan’s aristocratic families. Lacking evidence to the contrary, Suzuki might best be described as a “closet socialist” following his return to Japan. Yet, even if this were true, how might it help to explain a possible sympathy for the Nazis?

Fig. 9 – Entrance to Gakushūin

In terms of understanding Nazi ideology, perhaps the biggest stumbling block in contemporary thinking is the failure to fully appreciate the meaning of the acronym “Nazi.” That is to say, this acronym has all but lost its original meaning, instead, having become a symbol for “evil” pure and simple. Originally, however, “Nazi” was an acronym formed from the first two syllables of the German pronunciation of the word "national." The full title of Hitler’s party was the National Socialist German Workers' Party (G. Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei). In 1927, i.e., before coming to power in 1933, Hitler described his ideology as follows:

We are socialists, we are enemies of today's capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are determined to destroy this system under all conditions.16 (Italics mine)

Today, of course, we have seen the horrors resulting from Hitler’s alleged socialism. However, in 1936 it was still possible to see in a revived and increasingly prosperous Germany (albeit based on regimentation, armaments production, etc.) the results of an economic and political system creating a stable, relatively egalitarian society, especially when compared with the previous state of economic chaos at the end of the Weimar Republic. Given this, it is not surprising that Suzuki would endorse his relative’s assertion that “Hitler…was able to unite the people and lead us with a definite goal in mind. Thus we have never experienced a greater sense of relief than we have today.”

In addition, it is readily understandable that the appellation “national” would have had a special resonance for Suzuki. That is to say, the Nazi variety of socialism, unlike its Soviet counterpart, claimed to be rooted in the national character, history and values of the German people. For a scholar like Suzuki, this emphasis on a culturally rooted socialism could not fail to have been attractive, for he was consumed by the uniqueness of Japanese Zen and the culture he claimed it had produced.

This does not mean, however, that Suzuki was oblivious to certain defects in Nazism, most especially its oppressive treatment of German Jews. But it is in Suzuki’s discussion of the Jews that we first see a pattern emerging that will characterize Suzuki’s entire discussion of the Nazis. The pattern is this: at first glance Suzuki appears to oppose this or that aspect of the Nazi’s actions or policies, but then, just at the point where one might expect him to condemn those same policies, he offers an excuse or apology for them.

In the case of Jews, Suzuki forthrightly recognizes that the Nazis have enacted “a very cruel policy.” Further, he clearly empathizes with the plight of the formerly wealthy, now impoverished Jewish poet-refugee he met in London. “I felt sorry for him. . . .This is truly a regrettable situation,” Suzuki laments. Yet, on the other hand, Suzuki also states: “. . .when looked at from the point of view of the current and future happiness of the entire German people, it may be that, for a time, some sort of extreme action is necessary in order to preserve the nation. From the point of view of the German people, the situation facing their country is that critical.” (Italics mine)

In effect, Suzuki employs a very traditional Japanese psycho-cultural apologia here and throughout this article, i.e., yes, the Nazis are taking some harsh, disagreeable actions but, unfortunately, given the extreme situation the Germans are in, shikatta ga nai, that is to say, “it can’t be helped” even if “as regards individuals” it leads to some regrettable results.

Let me stress that I am not the first investigator to note Suzuki’s attitude in this respect. Sueki Fumihiko, introduced above, wrote the following in a 2008 Japanese language article entitled: “Japanese Buddhism and War—principally D.T. Suzuki” (Nihon Bukkyō to Sensō--Suzuki Daisetsu o chūshin toshite): “While in Germany Suzuki expressed approval of the Nazis. As for the persecution of the Jews, [Suzuki wrote]: ‘It appears there are considerable grounds for this, too.’”17 (Italics mine)

I stress Sueki’s comments because all too often in the emotional debate over Suzuki’s wartime record, charges of “mistranslation,” “sentences taken out of context” have been bandied about in an attempt to discredit any suggestion of Suzuki’s wartime culpability. In this case, however, the conclusions reached by a highly respected Japanese scholar of Buddhism have simply been rendered into English. That said, it is at least theoretically possible that both this scholar and the author are wrong. Hopefully, this possibility will be recognized as highly unlikely by the end of this article.

A further example of the aforementioned pattern can be seen with regard to Suzuki’s treatment of the “totalitarian” nature of the Nazis. Are Nazis totalitarians? Yes, they are Suzuki says, but then he adds: “While it is true that Nazis and Fascists also insist on totalitarianism, in one sense it can be said that theirs is a form of resistance to Communist actions. Or it can also be understood as turning the Communists’ methods to their own advantage. (Italics mine)

So, according to Suzuki, both the Russian Communists and the Nazis are totalitarians but there is one major difference – the Nazis have been forced to adopt this strategy in order to counter the Soviet menace, i.e., it is not an inherent feature of Nazi ideology. In fact, to the contrary, it is actually a method of turning the Communists’ violent strategy back on themselves. These words are directed toward the people of a country in which one of its chief martial arts, i.e., judo, is based on exactly the same premise – turning the size and strength of one’s opponent to one’s own advantage.

Suzuki defenders might wish to point out that in much of his commentary Suzuki is merely serving in the role of an amanuensis, i.e., faithfully recording the Nazis’ rationale for their actions without interjecting his own opinion. Yet, as we have seen, there were a number of times in his commentary when Suzuki did clearly express support for certain of the Nazis’ actions, e.g., bringing order and stability to Germany or creating youth service organizations.

More importantly, Suzuki also demonstrated that he was equally capable of registering his opposition to some policies, i.e., at least those of Soviet Communists. “Taking their claims to be absolute, they butcher those who oppose them without hesitation. This is something that others and I can in no way approve of.” (Italics mine) Yet, by comparison, never once does Suzuki unequivocally voice his opposition to any Nazi action or policy.

On the contrary, in one fashion or another, Suzuki always provides either a rationale, or extenuating circumstances, that justify Nazi actions or claims. In the case of Nazi youth organizations, for example, Suzuki states: “I will, however, not immediately judge the rights and wrongs of a situation in which totalitarianism is overly emphasized and everyone has to wear military uniforms.” (Italics mine) One senses Suzuki’s discomfort with this rigid uniformity, but he nonetheless states that he will not immediately judge whether it is right or wrong thing to do. Once again, one comes away with the feeling that “it can’t be helped” in light of the situation prevailing in Germany.

When the Zeitgeist is taken into account, it is clear that Suzuki’s comments condemning Soviet Communism mesh perfectly with an era when Japan was about to join Germany in an anti-Communist, anti-Russian pact. The fact that “the Nazis fiercely attack Soviet Russia,” and “directly attacked the Soviet Union as their great enemy of the moment,” all the while displaying “a truly fierce determination,” would have been warmly welcomed in that era. In short, what better ally could Japan hope for in what was not simply an international treaty but the morphing of an anti-Communist domestic policy into an international crusade?

When read in the context of the times, Suzuki’s articles are actually a cleverly worded apologia for the Nazis. Suzuki addresses all of the criticisms leveled at the Nazis, i.e., their oppression of the Jews, their totalitarianism, their regimentation of youth, their fanatical hatred of Soviet Communism and ultimately supplies a convincing rationale for all of their extremist stances within the context of the times. And it must not be forgotten that had he done otherwise, the Chūgai Nippō, given the prevailing atmosphere of the day, would not have dared to publish Suzuki’s articles let alone pay him for his services.

If this latter claim seems dubious, let me share the following interview with Bandō Shinji, former chief editor of the Chūgai Nippō, held on September 30, 2013 in this newspaper’s Kyoto office. Asked whether his newspaper would have published articles critical of the Nazis in October 1936, Bandō replied: “The editors of this newspaper would not have criticized the Nazis in light of the Japanese government’s clear intention to create an anti-Communist treaty with Germany. Had Suzuki written such critical articles the editors would have required him to change the contents.”

Bandō continued: “In fact, the editors had no need to ask Suzuki to change his articles since the contents reflected the pro-Nazi thinking of many Japanese at that time.” But wasn’t Suzuki opposed to the Nazi’s oppression of the Jews? Bandō replied, “Yes, Suzuki was concerned about the plight of individual Jews but recognized that Germany was in such a precarious position that their anti-Jewish policies couldn’t be helped.” But didn’t Suzuki try warn the Japanese by using the word erai(えらい),which can mean “frightening,” to describe the Nazi’s hatred of Soviet Communism? Bandō explained, “In the context in which Suzuki used that word, erai means that the Nazis possessed an ‘extraordinary determination’ (naminami naranu ketsui なみなみならぬ決意) to oppose Russian Communism. Their determination would have been welcomed in 1936 Japan.” Needless to say, Bandō is perfectly capable of reading Suzuki’s article in Japanese. Thus, in light of this and everything we have seen, the thrust of Suzuki’s article is inescapable.


If Satō and other Suzuki supporters are to be believed, Suzuki was so successful in disguising his persistent, if subdued, antiwar efforts that he was never questioned, censored, let alone arrested, for anything he said or wrote during the entire wartime period. This is especially significant given that Suzuki continued to write unabated, even prolifically, throughout the wartime period.

Additionally, as noted in the introduction, Suzuki maintained a personal relationship with Count Karlfried Dürckheim, perhaps the Nazi’s leading propagandist in Japan throughout the war. Proof of their relationship is to be found in his diaries from this period. Interestingly enough, Suzuki wrote his diaries in English so there can be no doubt about their meaning. For example, we learn that Suzuki met Dürckheim on numerous occasions from at least the beginning of 1939 through the end of the war, e.g., on January 16, 1939 Suzuki wrote: “Special delivery to Durkheim (sic), at German Embassy.”

18 The following day, on January 17, 1939: “Telegram from Dürkheim.”19 On July 14, 1942: “Telegram to Graf [Count] Dürckheim re his invitation to lunch tomorrow,”20 and on February 15, 1943: “Went to Tokyo to take lunch with Graf von Dürkheim and stayed some time with him.”21

Fig. 10 - Ambassador Eugen Ott

Further, Suzuki’s contact with leading Nazis was by no means limited to Dürkheim alone. On January 18, 1939 Suzuki wrote: “Went to Tokyo soon after breakfast. Called on Graf. [Graf] Durkheim at German Embassy, met Ambassador [Eugen] Otto [Ott], and Dr. [space left blank] of German-Japanese Institute. Lunch with them at New Grand.”22 On February 4, 1943 Suzuki took part in a dinner party to honor the ambassador: “Went to Imperial Hotel to attend dinner party given to Amb. Ott and his staff,”23 and on February 16, 1943 Suzuki received “a box of fruits in recognition of my presence at a dinner party in honor of Amb. Ott of Germany.”24

Suzuki’s diaries also contain frequent references to his lectures at German-related venues starting as early as May 28, 1938: “Lecture at German research institute for K.B.S. in the evening.” Additionally, Suzuki lectured at the German Society on September 13, 1943; German residents in Tokyo on October 4, 1943; the German Club on December 10, 1943; and the German Society, once again, on December 15, 1943.25

In light of these activities it must be said that if in October 1936, as Satō claims, Suzuki “clearly had little regard for the Nazi leader, disapproved of their violent attitudes, and opposed the policies espoused by the party” he had a decidedly strange way of expressing his opposition. So strange, in fact, it defies credibility.

Nevertheless, if there is a “smoking gun” to be found in terms of a close or sympathetic relationship between Suzuki and the Nazis it is not to be found in the preceding translation given both its brevity and a certain studied ambiguity. Rather, it will be found in the details of Suzuki’s multiple contacts with leading Nazis in wartime Japan, most especially Nazi propagandist, Count Karlfried Dürkheim. But who, exactly, was Karlfried Dürkheim? And what was the nature of his relationship with Suzuki? A detailed study of these questions, however, will have to wait until the second part of this article.

Suffice it to say at this point that, ultimately, Dürkheim was not indicted as a war criminal and subsequently freed from Sugamo prison in 1947. He was then repatriated to Germany where, hiding his Nazi past, Dürkheim became known as a deeply Zen-influenced psychotherapist. Some disciples even regarded him as a Zen master, thanks to the Zen training he had allegedly undergone while in Japan. Suzuki, for his part, continued his relationship with Dürkheim well into the postwar era. Once again, this rich and complicated story must wait to be told until the second part of this article, entitled: “A Zen Nazi in Wartime Japan: Count Karlfried Dürkheim, plus D.T. Suzuki, Yasutani Haku’un and Eugen Herrigel.”


Appendices for Suzuki and Nazis (Part One)

Appendix I

A Brief Examination of the Competing Translations

Needless to say, the comments in this article, with the notable exception of those made by Sueki Fumihiko, depend to a large extent on the accuracy of the translation contained herein. Yet, as has been noted, there is an alternate translation by Satō Gemmyō Taira that not only exonerates Suzuki but also turns him into an anti-Nazi hero who dared to publicly speak his mind. Given this, both translations cannot be accurate.

Given space limitations, not to mention the reader’s patience, it is not possible to identify and discuss every discrepancy between the two translations. But, as in Suzuki’s own writings, there is a pattern to be found, in this case a pattern of key mistranslations that, when understood, demonstrate how it is possible to present Suzuki as a critic of the Nazis if not clearly opposed to them.

First, let us examine Satō’s translation of the material concerning the Nazi’s oppression of Jews. As the reader may recall, the author’s translation of Suzuki’s initial comments on the Nazi’s oppression of Jews concluded with the words: “As far as individuals are concerned, this is truly a regrettable situation.” By contrast, Satō’s translation ended with: “The situation of each and every one of these people is sad beyond words.”26

In analyzing these two sentences it can be reasonably claimed that “this is truly a regrettable situation” is an alternate phraseology of “The situation . . . is sad beyond words” although the latter translation is clearly more emotive. However, the real difference between the two sentences lies in the words “As far as individuals are concerned” versus “The situation of each and every one of these people.”

The key to unlocking the difference between these two translations is the original Japanese expression kojin-kojin(個人個人). In this case, the word kojin 個人simply means one individual and the repetition of the second kojin 個人 is a grammatical device to change the singular form of a noun into its plural form, i.e., individual into individuals. Thus, the words “each and every” are not to be found in the original Japanese and are linguistically unjustified. The insertion of these extraneous words changes the tenor, if not the meaning, of the translation by making it appear that Suzuki was opposed to each and every instance of the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews, i.e., a blanket condemnation.

In fact, what Suzuki was expressing was essentially the opposite, That is to say, while Suzuki recognized, and no doubt genuinely regretted, the suffering of individual Jews at the hands of the Nazis, “. . . when looked at from the point of view of the current and future happiness of the entire German people, it may be that, for a time, some sort of extreme action is necessary in order to preserve the nation.” (Italics mine) In short, even while admitting the cruelty of the Nazi’s repression of the Jews, Suzuki nevertheless offered Japanese readers a defense of that policy as something required by the extreme situation the German people found themselves in despite the suffering it entailed for individual Jews.

A second significant mistranslation occurs in connection with Suzuki’s description of the Nazis’ resolute opposition to Soviet Communism. Suzuki writes:

From looking at the newspapers, you can get a good sense of their truly fierce determination. People are saying that if, in the past, the leaders of one country had done something like this it is inevitable that within twenty-four hours the other country would have declared war. In any event, the Nazis’ determination is deadly serious! (Italics mine)

By comparison, Satō’s translation reads:

Reading the newspaper reports, one could sense a terrifying determination. People said that in the past, if a nation’s leaders had done anything like this, within twenty-four hours the other country would have declared war. In any event, the determination of the Nazis is frightening.27 (Italics mine)

The reader can easily recognize that by using the words like terrifying and especially, frightening, Suzuki would seem to be giving a clear warning to the Japanese people – stay away from the Nazis because they will get us involved in a war with Russia!

On the other hand, if the author’s translation is correct, one comes to exactly the opposite conclusion, i.e., the Nazis’ hatred of Communism is fierce and extremely resolute. Therefore, as Bandō Shinji, former chief editor of the Chūgai Nippō, indicated, "Their determination would have been welcomed in 1936 Japan.”

What a difference the translation of only two adjectives can make! But which is correct?

In the case of the first adjective sugoi(凄い) the truth is that it does indeed have a wide variety of meanings, everything from terrifying as Satō asserts to superb, wonderful and amazing at the other end of the spectrum. Thus, at least linguistically speaking, it is not possible to assert that Satō’s translation is erroneous. That said, the translation of the second adjective at the end of the paragraph, i.e., erai (えらい),is far more problematic.

To his credit, Satō recognizes this and, in a footnote, provides the following explanation:

The original reads “tonikaku, Nachisu no ketsui ha erai mono de aru” とに角、ナチスの決意はえらいものである (SDZ, vol. 32, p. 217). The final word, erai, can actually be one of two separate terms, each with its own entry in the dictionary. One, written 偉い, means “great, grand, wonderful, admirable.” The other, written えらい (as in the present case), means “serious, violent, awful, menacing, serious (consequences).” Suzuki here is strongly criticizing the attitude of the Nazi leadership, and hence the latter meaning is clearly indicated.28

In determining which translation is correct, the first point that should be made is that the word erai (えらい)as used here is primarily a conversational expression, definitely not a literary or academic term. This is one reason why there is such a wide variety of possible translations. Thus the meaning very much depends on the speaker’s intent though the context in which it is said is also important. It was for this reason that the author chose the conversational expression “deadly serious” for the translation. The addition of the word “deadly” is simply a means to show just how serious or determined the Nazis were. Satō himself notes that it is possible to translate this adjective as “serious,” but then goes on to claim that Suzuki “is strongly criticizing the attitude of the Nazi leadership,” an assertion that is his interpretation and lacks an unambiguous textual basis.

As previously noted, an equally important factor in determining a correct translation is context. Was Suzuki, as Satō maintains, “strongly criticizing the attitude of the Nazi leadership” or, on the contrary, was he attempting to convey, as the author maintains, the Nazis’ resolute, even fierce, determination to oppose Russian Communism?

In truth, when this paragraph is viewed in isolation, i.e., outside of the context of the entire section concerning the Nazis, it is impossible, at least linguistically speaking, to make a definitive judgment. Yet, as we have already seen in our previous discussion of Jewish oppression, Suzuki actually offered an apology for Nazi oppression rather than condemning it. If this is correct, why would he suddenly change his attitude here? And, as noted above, in the atmosphere prevailing in Japan of October 1936 he would not have been published if he had criticized the Nazis.

The author recently discussed this very issue directly with Sueki Fumihiko, i.e., how was it possible for Satō to so consistently distort the meaning of Suzuki’s words? Sueki responded, “Satō is unable to understand the nuance of the Japanese.”29 Surprised by his response, I replied, “But Satō is a native speaker of Japanese, how could he fail to understand Suzuki’s intent?” Sueki was silent, and in the absence of any further response on his part I added, “When my book, Zen at War was first published, Rinzai Zen scholar-priest Toga Masatake, then director of the Institute for Zen Studies at Hanazono University, said, “In Japanese Zen, loyalty is most important. Loyalty to one's teacher and the tradition is more important than the Buddha and the Dharma.”30

I continued, “In light of Toga’s words, isn’t the real reason Satō, who describes himself as Suzuki’s disciple, acted as he did was because of his intense sense of loyalty to Suzuki?” Sueki did not reply, and I must therefore leave the question of Satō’s motivation for the reader to decide. I can, however, say with confidence that this is a very serious issue, one that goes to the very heart of the Zen belief that the Buddha Dharma is transmitted from the enlightened mind of the master to the enlightened mind of the disciple.

Thus, this is a question that concerns not only Suzuki but also all wartime Zen leaders. That is to say, the question must be asked even if it cannot be answered here: “If Suzuki, or any wartime Zen leader, were shown to have been a supporter of Japanese fascism, let alone a Nazi sympathizer, would they be qualified to teach or transfer the Buddha Dharma (teachings) to their disciples?” Further, if their support of fascism disqualifies them as transmitters of the Buddha Dharma, then what does this say about the teaching authority of their disciples (aka Dharma descendants), many of whom today identify themselves as “Zen masters” in their own right?

Needless to say, this discussion lies far beyond the scope of this article and must await future examination. In the meantime, there is one additional error to pursue, the most egregious of them all. It concerns Suzuki’s statement of his opposition to what he claimed was the manner in which Soviet Communist leaders “butcher those who oppose them without hesitation.” About this, Suzuki unequivocally wrote: “This is something that others and I can in no way approve of.” In Japanese the word for “others and I” is simply jibunra(自分等)in which jibun (自分)means oneself and ra(等)is a suffix that refers to oneself plus others.

In contrast, Satō translates these words as: “This fact is something they are unable to recognize themselves.”31 Clearly both translations cannot be accurate. First of all, when read in context, Satō’s translation conveys little meaning in that mass murderers seldom ever recognize themselves as such. Secondly, from a linguistic standpoint, the major problem is the use of “they” (i.e., the genocidal Soviet Communists) in place of “others and I.” This, despite the fact that there is a perfectly good word in Japanese, i.e., karera(彼ら), that does mean “they.”

Thirdly, the word Satō translates as “recognize” is shukō suru(首肯する), a verb meaning “agree with/support/approve of.” This is coupled with the suffix –gataki (難き)that means “difficult to,” thus the phrase at this point literally means “difficult to agree with/support/approve of.” However, these words are preceding by the adverb “dōshitemo”(どうしても)that means, in negative constructions, “in no way,” “impossible,” or simply “never,” and serves to further strengthen the following words, “difficult to agree with/support/approve of.” Putting all of this together leads to: “This is something that others and I can in no way approve of.”

Even granting the accuracy of my translation, the question becomes, so what? That is to say, what makes Satō’s essentially fabricated translation so important? The answer lies in the fact that it denies Suzuki agency, i.e., a voice and a personal opinion. It is here, for the first time in the article, that Suzuki makes crystal clear his personal opposition to certain policies and actions, albeit those of the despised Soviet Communists. In so doing, this sentence reveals that Suzuki was perfectly capable and willing to express his opposition to those actions he disagreed with. By contrast, and as previously noted, there is not a single instance in which Suzuki clearly expressed his opposition to any policy or action related to the Nazis. Instead, as we have seen, he always provided one or another rationale for those Nazi policies he identified as questionable or, alternatively, suspended judgment of the “rights and wrongs” of their actions in the case of youth regimentation.

Note that the three preceding mistranslations are merely representative of many additional examples that could be given. However, I will not impose further on the reader’s patience. Those readers competent in Japanese will readily identify additional examples. Let me once again note that the original Japanese text is available in Appendix II. In any event, it is clear that, collectively, these mistranslations, including fabrications, represent a concerted effort to change black into white, i.e., what was originally written as an apologia for the Nazis into a seeming rejection of them.

Appendix II

View text of original Japanese article here.
The translated portion of the text begins on p. 216, third line from the right, and ends on p. 219, fifth line from the right.

Brian Victoria, Visiting Research Fellow, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto. Brian Daizen Victoria holds an M.A. in Buddhist Studies from Sōtō Zen sect-affiliated Komazawa University in Tokyo, and a Ph.D. from the Department of Religious Studies at Temple University. In addition to a 2nd, enlarged edition of Zen At War (Rowman & Littlefield), major writings include Zen War Stories (RoutledgeCurzon); an autobiographical work in Japanese entitled Gaijin de ari, Zen bozu de ari (As a Foreigner, As a Zen Priest); Zen Master Dōgen, coauthored with Prof. Yokoi Yūhō of Aichi-gakuin University (Weatherhill); and a translation of The Zen Life by Sato Koji (Weatherhill). He is currently a Visiting Research Fellow at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (aka Nichibunken) in Kyoto.

Recommended citation: Brian Victoria, "D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis," The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 43, No. 4, October 28, 2013.


Batchelor, Stephan. Buddhism without Beliefs, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1998.

Baran, Josh. “Zen Holy War?” (a book review). Tricycle, May 1998.

Benesch, Oleg. “Bushido: The Creation of a Martial Ethic in Late Meiji Japan.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 2011, pp. 1-358. Available on the web as a PDF: Bushido: The Creation of a Martial Ethic in Late Meiji Japan

Cleary, Thomas. Code of the Samurai. Boston: Tuttle Publishing, 1999.

Kraft, Kenneth, ed., Zen Teaching, Zen Practice: Philip Kapleau And The Three Pillars Of Zen, Tokyo: Weatherhill 2000.

Marty, Martin E. “An Exuberant Adventure: The Academic Study and Teaching of Religion,” Academe, 82, no. 6, 1996, pp. 14-17.

Roberts, John G. Mitsui: Three Centuries of Japanese Business, Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1973.

Rosenkranz, Gerhard. Fernost - wohin? Begegnungen mit den Religionen Japans und Chinas im Umbruch der Gegenwart. Heilbronn Verlag Eugen Salzer, 1940. Available on the web in German at: Payer.de.

Satō, Kemmyō Taira. “Brian Victoria and the Question of Scholarship.” The Eastern Buddhist 41/2: 139–166. Available on the web here: Brian Victoria and the Question of Scholarship

-----. “Online document: D. T. Suzuki and the Question of War.” Translated in collaboration with Thomas Kirchner. The Eastern Buddhist 39/1: 61–120.

Shaku, Soyen [Sōen]. Sermons of a Buddhist Abbot. In Zen for Americans. Translated by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki. LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1974. The entire book is available on the web at SacredTexts.

Sharf, Robert H. “The Zen of Japanese Nationalism.” History of Religions, Vol. 33, No. 1. (Aug., 1993), pp. 1-43.

-----. “Whose Zen? Zen Nationalism Revisited” in Rude Awakenings: Zen the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism, James W. Heisig and John C. Maraldo, eds., pp. 40–51. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Snyder, Gary and Nelson Foster, “The Fog of World War II” in tricycle (Summer 2010).

Sueki Fumihiko, “Daisetsu hihan saikō.” Kamakura, Japan: Matsugaoka Bunko Kenkyū Nenpō, No. 24, 2010, pp. 19-36.

-----. “Nihon Bukkyō to Sensō--Suzuki Daisetsu o chūshin toshite (Japanese Buddhism and War—principally D.T. Suzuki).” Paper presented at the Kankoku Nihon Shisō-shi Gakkai on November 29, 2008.

Suzuki, Daisetsu (also Daisetz, D.T., Teitaro). “English Diaries,” Kamakura, Japan: Matsugaoka Bunko Kenkyū Nenpō, No. 21 (2007); No. 23 (2009); No. 25 (2011); No. 26 (2012).

-----. Shin Shūkyō Ron (A Treatise on the New Meaning of Religion), 1896. In vol. 23, Suzuki Daisetsu Zenshū. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1969, pp. 1-147.

-----. “Makujiki Kōzen” (Rush Forward without Hesitation), June 1941. In vol. 16, Suzuki Daisetsu Zenshū. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2001, pp. 121-135. Originally published in Kaikō-sha kiji, June 1941, pp. 17-26.

-----. “A Buddhist View of War.” Light of Dharma 4, 1904.

-----. “The Zen Sect of Buddhism,” Journal of the Pali Text Society, 1906.

-----. Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture. Kyoto: The Eastern Buddhist Society, Otani Buddhist College, 1938. Later reprinted in the postwar period in multiple, expanded editions by Princeton University Press as Zen and Japanese Culture.

Toland, John. Adolf Hitler, New York: Doubleday, 1976.

Victoria, Brian. “The ‘Negative Side’ of D. T. Suzuki's Relationship to War.” The Eastern Buddhist 41/2: 97–138.

-----. Zen at War, 2nd ed., Rowman & Littlefield, Boulder, Colorado, 2006.

-----. Zen War Stories, RoutledgeCurzon, London and New York, 2003.


i Satō, “Brian Victoria and the Question of Scholarship,” p. 147.

2 Quoted in Victoria, Zen at War, p. 111.

3 Quoted in Kraft, Zen Teaching, Zen Practice: Philip Kapleau And The Three Pillars Of Zen, pp. 21-22.

4 Available on the web at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karlfried_ ... ite_ref-28 (accessed August 25, 2013)

5 Quoted in Victoria, Zen at War, p. 71.

6 Sueki, “Daisetsu hihan saikō,” p. 8.

7 The Communist International, abbreviated as Comintern and also known as the Third International (1919–1943), was an international communist organization initiated in Moscow during March 1919. The International intended to fight "by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and for the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the State."

8 Quoted in the Wikipedia entry, “Anti-Comintern Pact.” Available on the web at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Comintern_Pact

9 Roberts, Mitsui: Three Centuries of Japanese Business, p. 307.

10 Satō, “Brian Victoria and the Question of Scholarship,” p. 150.

11 Suzuki, Shokan, in Suzuki Daisetsu Zenshū (hereafter abbreviated as SDZ), vol. 36, p. 204.

12 Ibid., p. 206.

13 Ibid., p. 220.

14 Suzuki, Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism, p. 191.

15 Ibid., p. 189.

16 Toland, Adolf Hitler, pp. 224–225.

17 Sueki, “Nihon Bukkyō to Sensō--Suzuki Daisetsu o chūshin toshite,” p. 4.

18 Suzuki, “English Diaries,” No. 26, 2012, p. 3.

19 Ibid., p. 3.

20 Suzuki, “English Diaries,” No. 21, 2007, p. 114.

21 Suzuki, “English Diaries,” No. 23, 2009, p. 6.

22 Suzuki, “English Diaries,” No. 26, 2012, p. 3.

23 Suzuki, “English Diaries,” No. 23, 2009, p. 4.

24 Suzuki, “English Diaries,” No. 23, 2009, p. 6.

25 Suzuki, “English Diaries,” No. 25, 2011, p. 60; No. 23, 2009, pp. 30-40 inclusive.

26 Satō, “Brian Victoria and the Question of Scholarship,” p. 148.

27 Ibid., p. 149.

28 Ibid., p. 149.

29 This conversation took place on September 4, 2013 in the lobby of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) in Kyoto, Japan.

30 Quoted in Baran, “Zen Holy War?” Tricycle, May 1998.

31 Satō, “Brian Victoria and the Question of Scholarship,” p. 150.
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Re: D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

Postby admin » Sat Mar 30, 2019 4:56 am

Part 1 of 2

The Emergence of Imperial-State Zen and Soldier Zen [Chapter Eight], [Excerpt] from "Zen at War", by Brian Daizen Victoria
Second Edition
© 2006 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.


The involvement of Japan's two major Zen sects, Rinzai and Soto, in their country's war effort was not an isolated phenomenon but part of the overall relationship between institutional Buddhism and the Japanese state. It is important to be aware of this because, as Robert Sharf has noted, from the late nineteenth century onward, proponents of Japanese Zen had promoted it not merely as one school of Buddhism but as "the very heart of Asian spirituality, the essence of Japanese culture, and the key to the unique qualities of the Japanese race."1

A parallel development during this period was the tendency to explain Japan's string of Asian military victories as stemming from the allegedly ancient code of Bushido, the Way of the Warrior. Zen spokesmen identified Bushido as the very essence of Japaneseness. If both Zen and Bushido comprised the essence of Japanese culture, the question naturally arises as to the relationship between these two seemingly disparate phenomena.

The answer to this question is the key to understanding the eventual emergence of "imperial-state Zen" (kokoku Zen). A complete investigation of the relationship between Zen and Bushido is both beyond the scope of this book and unnecessary. The important question for our discussion is not the actual historical relationship so much as how Zen adherents from the Meiji period onward perceived and interpreted it. In other words, what did post-Meiji Zen adherents find in the relationship between Zen and Bushido that justified their own fervent support of Japan's war effort?

We have seen that the Meiji-period connection between Zen and martial prowess became pronounced as early as the Russo-Japanese War, thanks to such personages as Rinzai Zen masters Shaku Soen and Nantembo, as well as the latter's famous student, General Nogi Maresuke. A full explication of the symbiotic relationship alleged to exist between Zen and Bushido comes, however, from a rather surprising source.

Nitobe Inazo That source was a book written in English by Dr. Nitobe Inazo (1862-1933) entitled Bushido: The Soul of Japan and published in 1905. The surprising thing about this book is that it was written not by a Buddhist but a Christian, for Dr. Nitobe identified himself as such in the preface. Nevertheless, he stated that he had chosen to act as a "personal defendant" of the creed "I was taught and told in my youthful days, when feudalism was still in force."2

In chapter 2, "Sources of Bushido." Nitobe clarified the relationship between Bushido and Zen as follows:

I may begin with Buddhism. It furnished a sense of calm trust in Fate, a quiet submission to the inevitable, that stoic composure in sight of danger or calamity, that disdain of life and friendliness with death. A foremost teacher of swordsmanship, when he saw his pupil master the utmost of his art, told him, "Beyond this my instruction must give way to Zen teaching."3

Nitobe offered little detailed explanation of Zen teaching, but he did write that:

[Zen's] method is contemplation, and its purport, so far as I understand it, [is] to be convinced of a principle that underlies all phenomena, and, if it Can, of the Absolute itself, and thus to put oneself in harmony with this Absolute. Thus defined, the teaching was more than the dogma of a sect, and whoever attains to the perception of the Absolute rises above mundane things and awakes "to a new Heaven and a new Earth."4

Although Nitobe's discussion of Zen was limited, he was far more forthcoming in his description of Bushido's role in modern Japan: "Bushido, the maker and product of Old Japan, is still the guiding principle of the transition, and will prove the formative force of the new era."5 When Nitobe sought proof of Bushido's ongoing influence on modern Japan, he found it in none other than the Sino-Japanese war:

The physical endurance, fortitude, and bravery that "the little Jap" possesses, were sufficiently proved in the Chino[Sino]-Japanese war. "Is there any nation more loyal and patriotic?" is a question asked by many; and for the proud answer, "There is not." we must thank the Precepts of Knighthood [i.e. Bushido] ....

What won the battles on the Yalu, in Corea and Manchuria, were the ghosts of our fathers, guiding our hands and beating our hearts. They are not dead, those ghosts, the spirits of our warlike ancestors. To those who have eyes to see, they are clearly visible.6

What, then, of the future? Nitobe devoted the last chapter of his book to that very question. On the one hand, he acknowledged that without feudalism, its mother institution, Bushido had been left an orphan. He then suggested that while Japan's modern military might take it under its wing, "we know that modern warfare can afford little room for its continuous growth."7 Would Bushido, then, eventually disappear?

It should come as no surprise to learn that Nitobe didn't believe Bushido was slated for extinction. On the contrary, in the concluding paragraph of his book, he saw it as still "bless [ing] mankind" with "odours ... floating in the air." His book concludes:

Bushido as an independent code of ethics may vanish, but its power will not perish from the earth; its schools of martial prowess or civic honour may be demolished, but its light and its glory will long survive their ruins. Like its symbolic flower, after it is blown to the four winds, it will still bless mankind with the perfume with which it will enrich life.

Ages after, when its customaries will have been buried and its very name forgotten, its odours will come floating in the air as from a far-off, unseen hill, "the wayside gaze beyond"; -then in the beautiful language of the Quaker poet,

"The traveller owns the grateful sense
Of sweetness near, he knows not whence,
And, pausing, takes with forehead bare
The benediction of the air."8

The proponents of imperial-way Buddhism had been able to put forth the remarkable proposition that the Japanese invasion of China was for that country's benefit. Nitobe's intellectual gymnastics here, tying the code of the Japanese warrior to the poetry of a pacifist Quaker, are no less remarkable.

Nukariya Kaiten Nukariya Kaiten, the Soto Zen priest and scholar who wrote The Religion of the Samurai while lecturing at Harvard University in 1913, only eight years after Nitobe published Bushido, was introduced in chapter 5. In his book he maintained that:

Bushido ... should be observed not only by Japan's soldiers on the battlefield, but by every citizen in the struggle for existence. If a person be a person and not a beast, then he must be a samurai -- brave, generous, upright, faithful, and manly, full of self-respect and self-confidence, and at the same time full of the spirit of self-sacrifice. 9

Kaiten may be said to have anticipated the future use of Bushido in two important respects. The first is that in Japan after the Meiji Restoration, everydtizen was expected to adopt the code of the warrior, in what may be regarded as preparation for the militarization of Japanese society as a whole. Second, for all the admonitions to be "generous, upright, faithful." and so forth, "the spirit of self-sacrifice" would come over time, especially after 1937, to be proclaimed the essential element of Bushido.

Shaku Soen Shaku Soen, too, continued speaking out on what he believed Zen could and should contribute to the nation's advancement. In this context, he joined the discussion of Bushido's modern significance in a book entitled A Fine Person, A Fine Horse (Kaijin Kaiba), published in 1919. The date is significant in that World War I had only just ended. Once again, war had become the pretext for a discussion of Zen's contribution to Japan's military prowess.

In Japan's fight against Germany, Soen lamented what he saw as the Japanese people's increasing "materialism." "extreme worship of money." and general decadence. In his mind the solution was clear: "the unification of all the people in the nation in the spirit of Bushido." For Soen, as for Kaiten, the essence of this code was found "in a sacrificial spirit consisting of deep loyalty [to the emperor and the state] coupled with deep filial piety."10.

Where does Zen fit into the picture? Soen's answer was as follows:

The power that comes from Zen training can be called forth to become military power, good government, and the like. In fact, it can be applied to every endeavor. The reason that Bushido has developed so greatly since the Kamakura period is due to Zen, the essence of Buddhism. It was the participation of the Way of Zen which, I believe it can be said, gave to Bushido its great power.11

The belief that the power resulting from Zen training could be converted into military power was to become an ever more important part of the Zen contribution to Japan's war effort. In fact, as will be seen in the following section, it was the basic assumption underlying the emergence of imperial-state Zen. This said, it is equally important to understand that for Soen, the modern role of Bushido, empowered as it was by Zen, was not limited to military action. He emphasized this point yet again when he stated:

Today, my sixty million compatriots are in the maelstrom of a world war. It can be said that not only military men, but also industrialists, politicians, and the general populace are all equipped with a Bushido-like virile and intrepid spirit. As I look toward to the future economic war, however, I cannot help having some doubts as to whether ... there will be persons who can accomplish wonderfully marvelous deeds.12

For Soen, then, not only was Bushido valuable for all segments of society, starting with the military, but it was also equally valuable in Japan's coming "economic wars."

Fueoka Seisen The discussion of the relationship between Zen and Bushido was not limited to scholarly works on Zen or the writings of a few nationalistic Zen masters. On the contrary, it was to be found in even the simplest of introductory books on Zen. A Zen Primer (Zen no Tebiki), published in 1927 by Fueoka Seisen, is an example of such a work. Seisen focused on historical incidents in which he found a connection between Zen and Bushido. Seisen began his discussion of these incidents with the following observation:

Zen was introduced into Japan at the beginning of the Kamakura period, at a time when Bushido had risen to power. The simple and direct teachings of Zen coincided with the straightforward and resolute spirit of samurai discipline. In particular, the Zen teaching on life and death was strikingly dear and thorough. Because samurai stood on the edge between life and death, this teaching was very appropriate for their training. They very quickly came to revere and have faith in it.13

One of the first incidents Seisen introduced was to become probably the most often cited example of the historical connection between Zen and the warrior spirit. It is an exchange between a Chinese Zen master known in Japan as Sogen (Ch. Ziyuan, 1226-86) and his lay disciple, Hojo Tokimune (1251-84), Japan's military ruler. Tokimune was faced with a series of Mongolian invasions that extended over nearly two decades. Seisen recorded the following exchange between Tokimune and Sogen, which supposedly took place after they had heard the news that the Mongolian invaders were seaborne and on their way to attack Japan:

"The great event has come." said Tokimune.
"How will, you face it?" asked Sogen.
"Katsu!" shouted Tokimune.
"Truly a lion's child roars like a lion. Rush ahead and never turn back!" replied Sogen.14

If this exchange marked the first incident in Japan of the linkage of Zen training to mental military preparedness, it also marked, in Seisen's view, "the enhancement of national glory." Martial incidents of this nature revealed that "the spirits of Japan's many heroes have been trained by Zen," and that "Zen and the sword were one and the same."15

Seisen wanted to make sure his readers understood that the Zen spirit which infused Bushido was, in fact, very relevant to the Japan of their day:

Zen enlightenment is not a question of ability, but of power. It is not something acquired through experience, but is the power that immediately gushes to the surface from one's original nature, from one's original form .... This power can be utilized by persons in all fields, including those in the military, industrialists, government ministers, educators, artists, farmers, and others. It underlies all of these pursuits.16

Everyone in contemporary Japan could utilize the power of Zen, just as everyone could benefit from its "strikingly clear and thorough teaching on life and death."

Following the Manchurian Incident of September 1931 and the establishment of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo the following year, Japan entered a period of ever-increasing military activity on the Asian continent, first and foremost in China. Under these circumstances, the need to further strengthen the bonds between Zen, Bushido, and the state became ever more pronounced. One of the first to respond to this need was Sow Zen master Iida Toin.

Iida Toin Given Toin's previously noted praise for General Nogi, it is hardly surprising to find that he devoted an entire chapter of his 1934 book Random Comments on Zen Practice (Sanzen Manroku) to what he called "warrior Zen" (bujin Zen). The titles of its subsections give a good sense of what this chapter was about."''Zen and Bushido." "What is the Spirit of Japan?" "The Essence of the Japanese People." and "The Flower of Loyalty." Toin insisted that the concepts underlying all of these were "unique to Japan" and "beyorid the ability of foreigners to understand."

Toin summarized his argument intbe final section of this chapter, which was entitled "The Perfection of Warrior Zen." The highlights of this section are as follows:

There is truly no end to the numbers of warriors who from ancient times practiced Zen, and it is important to recognize how much power it gave to Bushido. The fact that of late the Zen sect is popular among military men is truly a matter for rejoicing. No matter how much we might practice zazen, if it had no application to today's situation, it would be better not to do it. Are you, at this moment, prepared to die or not? Can you laugh and find eternal peace? Can you face danger without being disturbed? Do you have the great courage required to sacrifice your personal affections for a just cause?

I call on you to wake from your sleep. I call on you to discard your desire for fame and fortune. Without Zen people could not exist. Without people the nation could not exist. Would you put the nation at risk in order to seek fame and fortune for yourself? If you cannot bear to forgo this, what can you bear to forgo? Zen is the general repository for Buddhism. Is not the goal of our practice to save others before we save ourselves? ... The nobility of spirit expressed in the willingness to sacrifice one's life seven times over to repay the debt of gratitude owed the sovereign is purer than the purest snow. Is not sincerity the true essence of the Japanese spirit?

Death is not the end of everything, A basic principle of the universe is that energy does not dissipate and matter is preserved. Those [leaders) who have great strength will ensure the survival of the many. We must take this matter to heart.

Warrior Zen requires no more than to become a warrior. In both the present and the future, and beyond, it is sufficient to be a warrior. To be lionhearted, plunging forward and never retreating -- this is the perfection of warrior Zen.17

Toin was a disciple and eventual Dharma successor of Harada Daiun Sogaku (1870-1961), whose own similar views on this topic will be introduced shortly. If it is possible to transmit the light of the Dharma lamp from master to disciple, perhaps it is also possible to transmit darkness.

Daihorin Discussion By the beginning of 1937 the likelihood of all-out war between Japan and China was growing. As war approached, discussions and writings detailing the connections among Zen, Bushido, and the imperial military increased. One particularly salient discussion took place on January 16, 1937. Sponsored by the major nonsectarian Buddhist magazine Daihorin, the discussion numbered among its participants the prime minister (army general Hayashi Senjuro), another army general, and a navy vice-admiral. In addition, there were lesser-ranking military officers and representatives from both leading academic institutions and the business community.

The purpose of the discussion was "to clarify the direction the people's minds should be heading in light of the present situation." This could only be done, the participants agreed, by looking at "the relationship between Buddhism and the people's spirit."18 Not surprisingly, the ensuing conversation quickly focused on Zen and the contribution it could make to developing the martial spirit of both those within and without the military. The magazine company's president, Ishihara Shummyo, who was also a Soto Zen priest, had this to say:

Zen is very particular about the need not to stop one's mind. As soon as flintstone is struck, a spark bursts forth. There is not even the most momentary lapse of time between these two events. If ordered to face right, one simply faces right as quickly as a flash of lightning. This is proof that one's mind has not stopped.

Zen master Takuan taught ... that in essence Zen and Bushido were one. He further taught that the essence of the Buddha Dharma was a mind which never stopped. Thus, if one's name were called, for example "Vemon," one should simply answer "Yes," and not stop to consider the reason why one's name was called ....

I believe that if one is called upon to die, one should not be the least bit agitated. On the contrary, one should be in a realm where something called "oneself" does not intrude even slightly. Such a realm is no different from that derived from the practice of Zen.19

If the preceding statement may be considered indicative of the spirit that Zen could contribute to the imperial military, the following statement by army major Okubo Koichi, another military participant in the discussion, demonstrates what it was the military, for its part, sought to find in Zen. He said:

[The soldier) must become one with with his superior. He must actually become his superior. Similarly, he must become the order he receives. That is to say, his self must disappear. In so doing, when he eventually goes onto the battlefield, he will advance when told to advance .... On the other hand, should he believe that he is going to die and act accordingly, he will be unable to fight well. What is necessary, then, is that he be able to act freely and without [mental) hindrance.20

Furukawa Taiga If the preceding comments provide a basic conceptual link among selfless Zen, Bushido, and the imperial military, it was left to Furukawa Taigo to present a detailed exposition of the doctrinal relationship among these entities. Furukawa, it will be recalled, was the popular commentator on Buddhism who had written the book Rapidly Advancing Japan and the New Mahayana Buddhism in 1937. According to Furukawa, Bushido had eight major characteristics: (1) great value placed on fervent loyalty; (2) a high esteem for military prowess; (3) an abundance of the spirit of self-sacrifice; (4) realism; (5) an emphasis on practice based on self-reliance; (6) an esteem for order and proper decorum; (7) respect for truthfulness and strong ambition; and (8) a life of simplicity.21

What, then, was the relationship between the above and Zen doctrine? Furukawa noted six points, which I paraphrase below, though there is considerable repetition and overlap among them.

(1) The doctrine of emptiness is the foundation of all Buddhism. It is, furthermore, the fundamental principle of Zen, providing Zen with its practical orientation. For this reason Zen was able to become the driving force behind the self-sacrificing spirit of Bushido, grounded, as the latter is, on the emptiness of self.

(2) The realistic, this-worldly nature of Zen is based on the teaching that our ordinary world of life and death is identical with Nirvana. Zen takes the position that the ordinary world, just as it is, is the ideal world, and it does not seek salvation in the hereafter. This simple, frank, and optimistic spirit of Zen has enabled it to exert a profound influence on the down-to-earth and patriotic spirit of Japan's warriors.

(3) Within the Mahayana branch of Buddhism, the Zen sect alone has faithfully transmitted the thoroughgoing atheism and self-reliance of early Buddhism. Zen abjures reliance on the assistance of Buddhas or gods. Its goal is to see deeply into one's nature and become a Buddha through the single-minded practice of zazen. Zen thus resonated deeply with the independent, self-reliant, and virile spirit of Japan's warriors.

(4) Zeiltakes a very practical stance based on its teaching of the transmission of enlightenment from master to disciple. This transmission takes place independent of the sutras and cannot be expressed in words. Having discarded complicated doctrines, Zen maintains that the Buddha Dharma is synonymous with one's dignified appearance and that proper decorum is the essence of the faith. This is identical to the silent practicality of Bushido, which rejects theoretical argument and instead urges the accomplishment of one's duty.

(5) In leading a plain and frugal life, Zen practitioners maintain a tradition dating back to Buddha Shakyamuni and his first disciples. This life style appealed to the straightforward and unsophisticated warrior temperament, further promoting the development of these qualities among the warrior class.

(6) Unlike Zen in India and China, Japanese Zen was able to transcend the subjective, individualistic, and passive attitude toward salvation that it inherited and become an active, dynamic force influencing the entire nation. It thereby became the catalyst for warriors to enter into the realm of selflessness. This, in turn, resulted in self-sacrificial conduct on behalf of their sovereign and their country. It was the imperial household that made all of this possible, for the emperor was the incarnation of the selfless wisdom of the universe. It can therefore be said that Mahayana Buddhism didn't simply spread to Japan but was actually created there.22

Furukawa's final point concerning Bushido was that it was wrong to say that the samurai had disappeared at the time of the Meiji Restoration. On the contrary, all Japanese men became samurai at that time. Up to the Restoration, only members of the samurai class were allowed to carry weapons in order to fulfil their duty to protect their sovereign and the country. Now that duty had passed to all enfranchised citizens, and all Japanese men were now samurai, bound to uphold the code of Bushido.

As previously noted, Furukawa wrote the above in 1937, some ten years after Seisen published A Zen Primer and immediately preceding the outbreak of full-scale war with China. At that time all Japanese males were subject to military conscription. This was also a period marked by increasing tension between Japan and the United States and Britain, which, if only to protect their own economic interests in China and throughout Asia, were unwilling to ignore Japanese expansionism.

D. T. Suzuki It was against this backdrop that D. T. Suzuki once again entered the picture. By this time he-had written widely in both English and Japanese and established himself as a scholar of Buddhism in general, and Zen in particular. Suzuki had in fact begun to write about Zen in English as early as 1906, when his essay entitled "The Zen Sect of Buddhism" appeared in the Journal of the Pali Text Society. From this very first English-language effort, Suzuki sought to make his readers aware of the connection between Zen and Bushido, and the inspiration the combination of these two had provided Japan's victorious soldiers in the Russo-Japanese War:

The Lebensanschauung of Bushido is no more nor less than that of Zen. The calmness and even joyfulness of heart at the moment of death which is conspicuously observable in the Japanese, the intrepidity which is generally shown by the Japanese soldiers in the face of an overwhelming enemy; and the fairness of play to an opponent, so strongly taught by Bushido-all these come from the spirit of the Zen training, and not from any such blind, fatalistic conception as is sometimes thought to be a trait peculiar to Orientals.23

Despite this early effort, Suzuki did not make his best-known statement on the relationship of Zen and Bushido until 1938, when he published a book in English entitled Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture. This work was later revised and republished in 1959 by Princeton University Press as Zen and Japanese Culture. Given the almost universal approval this work has met with over the years in both the United States and Europe, it is somewhat surprising to learn that Suzuki's description of the relationship between Zen and Bushido contained in three of this book's eleven chapters is basically a reiteration and elaboration of everything that had come before.

Suzuki began his description of the relationship between Zen and Bushido in the book's second chapter. He described the "rugged virility" of Japan's warriors versus the "grace and refinement" of Japan's aristocracy. He then stated: "The soldierly quality, with its mysticism and aloofness from worldly affairs, appeals to the will-power. Zen in this respect walks hand in hand with the spirit of Bushido ("Warriors' Way")."24 On the one hand, Suzuki claimed that "Buddhism ... in its varied history has never been found engaged in warlike activities." Yet in Japan, Zen had "passively sustained" Japan's warriors both morally and philosophically. They were sustained morally because "Zen is a religion which teaches us not to look backward once the course is decided." Philosophically, they were sustained because "[Zen] treats life and death indifferently."25

Suzuki was clearly taken with the idea of Zen as "a religion of the will."26 Over and over again he returned to this theme. For example: "A good fighter is generally an ascetic or stoic, which means he has an iron will. This, when needed, Zen can supply."27 Less than a page later, Suzuki went on to say: "Zen is a religion of will-power, and will-power is what is urgently needed by the warriors, though it ought to be enlightened by intuition."28

Together with his fascination with the relationship of Zen and willpower, Suzuki is attracted to the relationship between Zen discipline and the warrior:

Zen discipline is simple, direct, self-reliant, self-denying; its ascetic tendency goes well with the fighting spirit. The fighter is to be always single-minded with one object in view, to fight, looking neither backward nor sideways. To go straight forward in order to crush the enemy is all that is necessary for him.29

Although Suzuki first maintained that it was the Zen philosophy of "treat[ing] life and death indifferently" which had sustained Japan's warriors, he then went on to deny that Zen had any philosophy at all. He wrote:

Zen has no special doctrine or philosophy, no set of concepts or intellectual formulas, except that it tries to release one from the bondage of birth and death, by means of certain intuitive modes of understanding peculiar to itself. It is, therefore, extremely flexible in adapting itself to almost any philosophy and moral doctrine as long as its intuitive teaching is not interfered with. It may be found wedded to anarchism or fascism, communism or democracy, atheism or idealism, or any political or economic dogmatism. It is, however, generally animated with a certain revolutionary spirit, and when things come to a deadlock-as they do when we are overloaded with conventionalism, formalism, and other cognate isms - Zen asserts itself and proves to be a destructive force.30

Suzuki's statement that Zen could be found wedded to anarchism or communism is a fascinating comment, since Uchiyama Gudo and his fellow Buddhist priests had earlier attempted to accomplish something very much like that. For their efforts, of course, they were condemned by the leaders of the Soto and Rinzai Zen sects and the leaders of all other sects of Japanese Buddhism.

Perhaps what Suzuki was really trying to do in the above statement was justify the close relationship which by 1938 already existed between Zen and the Japanese military. Not only did Suzuki identify Zen as a "destructive force," but he also wrote favorably of the modern relationship among Zen, Bushido, and Japan's military actions in China:

There is a document that was very much talked about in connection with the Japanese military operations in China in the 1930s. It is known as the Hagakure, which literally means "Hidden under the Leaves," for it is one of the virtues of the samurai not to display himself, not to blow his horn, but to keep himself away from the public eye and be doing good for his fellow beings. To the compilation of this book, which consists of various notes, anecdotes, moral sayings, etc., a Zen monk had his part to contribute. The work started in the middle part of the seventeenth century under Nabeshima Naoshige, the feudal lord of Saga in the island of Kyushu. The book emphasizes very much the samurai's readiness to give his life away at any moment, for it states that no great work has ever been accomplished without going mad -- that is, when expressed in modern terms, without breaking through the ordinary level of consciousness and letting loose the hidden powers lying further below. These powers may be devilish sometimes, but there is no doubt that they are superhuman and work wonders. When the unconscious is tapped, it rises above individual limitations. Death now loses its sting altogether, and this is where the samurai training joins hands with Zen.31

As the following conclusion to the above makes clear, Suzuki was also very concerned with the warrior's ( and soldier's) use of Zen to "master death":

The problem of death is a great problem with everyone of us; it is, however, more pressing for the samurai, for the soldier, whose life is exclusively devoted to fighting, and fighting means death to fighters of either side .... It was therefore natural for every sober-minded samurai to approach Zen with the idea of mastering death.32

Another belief which Suzuki shared with his contemporaries was that Bushido was neither dead nor limited to imperial soldiers, the modern equivalent of Japan's traditional warriors:

The spirit of the samurai deeply breathing Zen into itself propagated its philosophy even among the masses. The latter, even when they are not particularly trained in the way of the warrior, have imbibed his spirit and are ready to sacrifice their lives for any cause they think worthy. This has repeatedly been proved in the wars Japan has so far had to go through.33

Finally, Suzuki could not avoid addressing the fundamental question of how the death and destruction caused by the samurai's sword could be related to Zen and Buddhist compassion. He therefore addressed two chapters (i.e., "Zen and Swordsmanship I" and "Zen and Swordsmanship II") to this very question. He began his discussion by noting what he considered to be the "double office" of the sword:

The sword has thus a double office to perform: to destroy anything that opposes the will of its owner and to sacrifice all the impulses that arise from the instinct of self-preservation. The one relates itself to the spirit of patriotism or sometimes militarism, while the other has a religious connotation of loyalty and self-sacrifice. In the case of the former, very frequently the sword may mean destruction pure and simple, and then it is the symbol of force, sometimes devilish force. It must, therefore, be controlled and consecrated by the second function. Its conscientious owner is always mindful of this truth. For then destruction is turned against the evil spirit. The sword comes to be identified with the annihilation of things that lie in the way of peace, justice, progress, and humanity.34

It is instructive to note here that the tenor of the preceding quote is quite similar to Suzuki's thesis in A Treatise on the New [Meaning of] Religion previously discussed. There he said:

The purpose of maintaining soldiers and encouraging the military arts is not to conquer other countries or deprive them of their rights or freedom .... The construction of big warships and casting of giant cannon is not to trample on the wealth and profit of others for personal gain. Rather, it is done only to prevent the history of one's country from being disturbed by injustice and outrageousness. Conducting commerce and working to increase production is not for the purpose of building up material wealth in order to subdue other nations. Rather, it is done only in order to develop more and more human knowledge and bring about the perfection of morality. Therefore, if there is a lawless country which comes and obstructs our commerce, or tramples on our rights, this is something that would truly interrupt the progress of all humanity. In the name of religion our country could not submit to this. Thus, we would have no choice but to take up arms, not for the purpose of slaying the enemy, nor for the purpose of pillaging cities, let alone for the purpose of acquiring wealth. Instead, we would simply punish the people of the country representing injustice in order that justice might prevail.35

Even more closely related to Suzuki's earlier quote are the sentiments of his master, Shaku Soen. It will be recalled that at the time of the Russo-Japanese War he said: "In the present hostilities, into which Japan has entered with great reluctance, she pursues no egotistic purpose, but seeks the subjugation of evils hostile to civilization, peace, and enlightenment."36 In any event, Suzuki's mental gymnastics on this issue did not stop with the above comments. He went on to directly address the seeming contradictions among Zen, the sword, and killing:

The sword is generally associated with killing, and most of us wonder how it can come into connection with Zen, which is a school of Buddhism teaching the gospel of love and mercy. The fact is that the art of swordsmanship distinguishes between the sword that kills and the sword that gives life. The one that is used by a technician cannot go any further than killing, for he never appeals to the sword unless he intends to kill. The case is altogether different with the one who is compelled to lift the sword. For it is really not he but the sword itself that does the killing. He had no desire to do harm to anybody, but the enemy appears and makes himself a victim. It is as though the sword performs automatically its function of justice, which is the function of mercy .... When the sword is expected to play this sort of role in human life, it is no more a weapon of self-defense or an instrument of killing, and the swordsman turns into an artist of the first grade, engaged in producing a work of genuine originality.37

Previous commentators, it will be recalled, have identified a Buddhist-sanctioned war as an act of compassion. As the above quotation makes clear, Suzuki agreed with this position. He further spoke with apparent approval of the Zen spirit manifested in Japan's military operations in China. Moreover, he clearly approved of a war "identified with the annihilation of things that lie in the way of peace, justice, progress, and humanity." But perhaps his most creative contribution to the discourse of his day was the assertion that the Zen-trained swordsman (and, by extension, the modern soldier) "turns into an artist of the first grade, engaged in producing a work of genuine originality."

Suzuki was, moreover, not simply interested in making his views on the relationship between Zen and the sword known outside of Japan. Less than one month before Pearl Harbor, on November 10, 1941, he joined hands with such military leaders as former army minister and imperial army general Araki Sadao (1877-1966), imperial navy captain Hirose Yutaka, and others to publish a book entitled The Essence of Bushido (Bushido no Shinzui). In his foreword, the book's editor, Handa Shin, explained the importance of Bushido: "It is Bushido that is truly the driving force behind the development of our nation. In the future, it must be the fundamental power associated with the great undertaking of developing Asia, the importance of which to world history is increasing day by day."38 Addressing the reason for publishing the book at that time, Handa said that the book's purpose would be accomplished "if our young men and boys find even a little something enticing in it."39

The connection of this book to the goals and purposes of the imperial military was unmistakable. The book's very first entry consisted of the Field Service Combatants' Code (Senjinkun), promulgated on January 8, 1941, by the army minister at the time, Tojo Hideki (1884-1948). The code, which all imperial army soldiers were required to memorize, had clear religious overtones, including such statements as "faith is power" and "duty is sacred."40 More important, the seventh section, entitled "View of Life and Death; read as if it had come directly from the hands of Suzuki, Shaku Soen, and others of similar views:

That which penetrates life and death is the lofty spirit of self-sacrifice for the public good. Transcending life and death, earnestly rush forward to accomplish your duty. Exhausting the power of your body and mind, calmly find joy in living in eternal duty.41

In addition, the book's final entry consisted of the 1932 "Essentials of the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors" (Gunjin Chokuyu Yogi), the original version of which had been promulgated by Emperor Meiji in 1882.

Suzuki's personal contribution, entitled simply "Zen and Bushido." consisted of a fourteen-page distillation of his earlier thought. It did not cover any new intellectual ground. Suzuki's favorite themes were present as always, including his oft-repeated assertion that "The spirit of Bushido is truly to abandon this life, neither bragging of one's achievements, nor complaining when one's talents go unrecognized. It is simply a question of rushing-forward toward one's ideal."42 The book's editor pointed out in his introduction to Suzuki's essay that "Dr. Suzuki's writings are said to have strongly influenced the military spirit of Nazi Germany."43

In this connection, it is interesting to note the comments made by the Japanese ambassador to Nazi Germany on September 27, 1940. Following the signing of the Tripartite Pact between Japan, Germany, and Italy, a reception was held in Hitler's chancellory in Berlin. In his congratulatory speech Ambassador Kurusu Saburo (1888-1954) said:

The pillar of the Spirit of Japan is to be found in Bushido. Although Bushido employs the sword, its essence is not to kill people, but rather to use the sword that gives life to people. Using the spirit of this sword, we wish to contribute to world peace.44

Whether by design or accident, Suzuki's sentiments as first expressed in 1938 had, two years later, become government policy or, perhaps more accurately, government rationalization.

Seki Seisetsu The Promotion of Bus hi do (Bushido no Koyo) was published in 1942, the year following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a series of talks by Seki Seisetsu (1877-1945), a "fully enlightened" Zen master who served both as the head of the Tenryuji branch of the Rinzai Zen sect and as a military chaplain. A second Rinzai priest, Yamada Mumon (1900-1988), edited this work. After the war, Mumon, Seisetsu's disciple, became president of Hanazono University and chief abbot of the university's ecclesiastical sponsor, the Myoshinji branch of the Rinzai Zen sect.

One of the most striking features of Seisetsu's book is its cover, which depicts the Japanese fairy-tale hero Momotaro. Dressed in samurai clothing, Momotaro stands with his sword pinning down two devils, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. This representation is clearly a slightly humorous reflection of the wartime epithet, "the devilish Americans and English" (kichiku beiei).

Like so many of his predecessors, Seisetsu began his description of Bushido as "being nothing other than the Spirit of Japan." Zen had contributed its "profound and exquisite enlightenment" to Bushido, leading to the latter's "unique moral system." Thus had Bushido become "the precious jewel incorporating the purity of the spiritual culture of the Orient."45

In what was by now a familiar litany, Bushido was said to "prize military prowess and view death as so many goose feathers."46 Samurai "revered their sovereign and honored their ancestors."47 They also valued loyalty, frugality, simplicity, decorum, and benevolence. All of these values were identical with those of modern soldiers. Not only that, these values applied equally to "the people of this country who are now all soldiers, for I believe that every citizen ought to adhere to the Bushido of the present age."48

In his conclusion Seisetsu argued that the unity of Zen, the sword, and Bushido had only one goal: world peace. He wrote:

The true significance of military power is to transcend self-interest, to hope for peace. This is the ultimate goal of the military arts. Whatever the battle may be, that battle is necessarily fought in anticipation of peace. When one learns the art of cutting people down, it is always done with the goal of not having to cut people down. The true spirit of Bushido is to make people obey without drawing one's sword and to win without fighting. In Zen circles this is called the sword which gives life. Those who possess the sword that kills must, on the other hand, necessarily wield the sword which gives life.

From the Zen vantage point, where Manjushri [the bodhisattva of wisdom] has used his sharp sword to sever all ignorance and desire, there exists no enemy in the world. The very best of Bushido is to learn that there is no enemy in the world rather than to learn to conquer the enemy. Attaining this level, Zen and the sword become completely one, just as the Way of Zen and the Way of the Warrior [Bushido] unite. United in this way, they become the sublime leading spirit of society.

At this moment, we are in the sixth year of the sacred war, having arrived at a critical juncture. All of you should obey imperial mandates, being loyal, brave, faithful, frugal, and virile. You should cultivate yourselves more and more both physically and spiritually in order that you don't bring shame on yourselves as imperial soldiers. You should acquire a bold spirit like the warriors of old, truly doing your duty for the development of East Asia and world peace. I cannot help asking this of you.49

To the belief that Zen-sanctioned war was both just and compassionate, benefiting even one's enemy, must now be added the belief that it was all being done "for ... world peace." Like Shaku Soen (and many others) before him, Seisetsu also carried his message of peace and the unity of Zen and the sword to the battlefield on more than one occasion. One such visit took place in February 1938, when Seisetsu, accompanied by his disciple Yamada Mumon, made a sympathy calion General Terauchi Hisaichi (1879-1946) at his headquarters in northern China. More will be said about the relationship between Seisetsu and Terauchi in chapter 10.


The reader will recall that one of the chief goals of the so-called New Buddhism of the late Meiji period was to prove its loyalty to the throne. This theme was further developed by the noted Buddhist scholar Yabuki Keiki (1879-1939), who wrote in 1934 that Buddhism had the potential "to become a most effective instrument for the state."50 In 1943 a Western scholar of Japanese religion, D. C. Holtom, emphasized that "Buddhism fosters the qualities of spirit that make for strong soldiers."51

If the preceding statements held true for institutional Buddhism as a whole, it should now be clear that they were particularly relevant to the Zen school. Leading Zen figures made unsurpassed efforts to foster loyalty to the emperor and make spiritually strong soldiers. Did anyone notice? That is to say, was the imperial military actually influenced by their words and actions?

A quantitative answer to this question, it must be admitted, is almost certainly beyond the realm of historical research. How would one accurately determine, more than fifty. years after the end of the war, either the extent or depth of such influence? This said, it is important to note that the imperial military, the imperial army in particular, was more than merely receptive to the type of Buddhist support described above. It actively solicited that support.

As previously discussed, the military had cooperated with frontline visits by Buddhist priests like Shaku Soen as early as the Russo-Japanese War. From that war Japanese military leaders such as General Hayashi Senjuro had come to realize just how critical spirit was in overcoming a better equipped and numerically superior enemy. In his book The Way of the Heavenly Sword, Leonard Humphreys explained it as follows:

The overriding lesson of the [Russo-Japanese J war appeared to be the decisive role of morale or spirit in combat. Japan's centuries-old samurai tradition had strongly emphasized the importance of the intangible qualities of the human spirit (seishin) in warfare, and this war served to reestablish their primacy. Since spirit was the universally acclaimed key to Japan's victory, the leadership tended to emphasize the irrational quality seishin and rest content with attained levels in the rational elements of war technology and its practical utilization through organization and training. After fifty years of borrowing from the West, the Army, like the people, was now relieved and proud to find new relevance in the nation's traditional values. . . . The sole key to victory lay in Yamatodamashii [Spirit of Japan].52

Based on this belief, the army proceeded between 1908 and 1928 to issue a number of changes to its standing orders. Each new military handbook or field manual placed increasing emphasis on developing military spirit, while actively promoting Bushido as the epitome of that spirit.

One example of this was the new infantry field manual issued in 1909, which made the infantry attack with small-arms fire, followed by a bayonet charge, the imperial army's chief tactical doctrine. This placed the burden for attaining victory on the infantry. Technology was thereby relegated to a secondary role, while the development of an irresistible attack spirit became paramount. A critical part of this spirit was absolute and unquestioning obedience to one's superiors, who acted on behalf of the emperor. Through training, this spirit of obedience had to transcend mere habit and become instinctive, unthinking.

In 1928 a revised The Essential Points of Supreme Command (Tosui Koryo) was issued. The continued emphasis on spirit as superior to material in combat resulted in the deletion in this revision of such words as "surrender." "retreat." and "defense." In addition, the term emperor's army, or kogun, was used officially for the first time. Each infantryman's rifle had the imperial chrysanthemum seal stamped on its barrel and was regarded as a precious, even holy gift from the emperor himself. For this reason, it must never, ever, be allowed to fall into enemy hands.

The year 1928 also marked the debut of a series of books and pamphlets devoted exclusively to developing the military spirit. The first, issued by the Inspectorate General of Military Training, was entitled simply A Guide to Spiritual Training (Seishin Kyoiku no Sanko). This was followed in 1930 by the two-volume The Moral Character of Military Men (Bujin no Tokuso). These works opened a floodgate of both official and unofficial materials written on this topic during the 1930S. Needless to say, Zen-related figures were anxious to have their say.

As we have seen, an earlier popular Buddhist commentator on Bushido, Furukawa Taigo, had identified himself as being engaged "in spiritual training for army officer candidates." This training program was focused chiefly on the officer corps. Cadets were first exposed to it at the military preparatory school level and then further indoctrinated during their eighteen months at the military academy. How effective was this spiritual training? A study by historian Mark Peattie caused him to rate it quite highly. "With the possible exception. of the pre-World War I French army." he wrote, "no other army articulated such an extreme code of sacrifice in the attack."53

The writings of one military officer, Lieutenant Colonel Sugimoto Gora (1900-1937), clearly indicate the type. of soldier this training produced and are a powerful testimonial to the influence that Bushido, incorporating the alleged unity of Zen and the sword, had on both imperial soldiers and the general public. Lieutenant Colonel Gora was destined, albeit posthumously, to become widely known and honored as a "god of war" (gunshin).
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Re: D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

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Born in Hiroshima Prefecture on May 25, 1900, Sugimoto Goro completed his primary and secondary education in local schools. He joined the imperial army in December 1918 and was selected for officer-candidate school the following year. After graduation in 1921, he was appointed to the rank of second lieutenant and attached to the Eleventh Infantry Regiment. Sugimoto continued his military education and was promoted to first lieutenant in 1924. He saw service in the China Incident of 1928 and was awarded the sum of one hundred yen in 1929 as a gesture of appreciation for his service. In 1931 Sugimoto was promoted to captain and assumed the position of battalion adjutant within the Eleventh Infantry Regiment. Shortly thereafter he went on to become a company commander in the same regiment. In December 1931 Sugimoto was ordered to Tianjin in northern China as part of the military response to the Manchurian Incident. He returned to Japan in July 1932 and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for Creating [the Country of] Manchukuo in March 1934. One month later he also received an award of four hundred yen for his participation in that campaign.

Sugimoto was promoted to the rank of major in August 1937 and shortly thereafter dispatched to northern China once again. On September 14, 1937 Sugimoto was mortally wounded in a battle which took place in Shanxi Province. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and awarded several decorations.

Sugimoto was in every sense a good soldier and officer, if not necessarily a particularly distinguished one. The monetary awards and decorations he received, even his final posthumous promotion, were commonplace among the officer corps of a rapidly expanding military. What made him stand out from his peers were his absolute reverence for and loyalty to the emperor, his many years of Zen practice, and his writings, posthumously published under the title Great Duty (Taigi).

The following two passages are representative of his attitude to the emperor. The first of them is taken from the first chapter of his book and was entitled simply "The Emperor":

The emperor is identical to the Great [Sun] Goddess Amaterasu. He is the supreme and only God of the universe, the supreme sovereign of the universe. All of the many components [of a country] including such things as its laws and constitution, its religion, ethics, learning, and art, are expedient means by which to promote unity with the emperor. That is to say, the greatest mission of these components is to promote an awareness of the nonexistence of the self and the absolute nature of the emperor. Because of the nonexistence of the self everything in the universe is a manifestation of the emperor ... including even the insect chirping in the hedge, or the gentle spring breeze.

Stop such foolishness as respecting Confucius, revering Christ, or believing in Shakyamuni! Believe in the emperor, the embodiment of Supreme Truth, the one God of the universe! Revere the emperor for all eternity! Imperial subjects of Japan should not seek their own personal salvation. Rather, their goal should be the expansion of imperial power. Needless to say, they will find personal salvation within imperial power. Inasmuch as this is true, they must pray for the expansion of imperial power. In front of the emperor their self is empty. Within the unity of the sovereign and the people, the people must not value their self, but value the emperor who embodies their self.

Loyalty to the emperor, which is the highest moral training, should never be done with the expectation of receiving anything in return. Rather, it should be practiced without any thought of reward, for the emperor does not exist for the people, but the people exist for the emperor .... The emperor does not exist for the state, but the state exists for the emperor.

This great awareness will clearly manifest itself at the time you discard secular values and recognize that the emperor is the highest, supreme value for all eternity. If, on the other hand, your ultimate goal is eternal happiness for yourself and salvation of your soul, the emperor becomes a means to an end and is no longer the highest being. If there is a difference in the degree of your reverence for the emperor based on your learning, occupation, or social position, then you are a self-centered person. Seeking nothing at all, you should· simply completely discard both body and mind, and unite with the emperor.54

The second quotation comes from the fifth chapter of his book, "The Imperial Way":

The imperial way is the Great Way that the emperor has graciously bestowed on us to follow. For this reason, it is the Great Way that the multitudes should follow. It is the greatest way in the universe, the true reality of the emperor, the highest righteousness and the purest purity .... The imperial way is truly the fundamental principle for the guidance of the world. If the people are themselves righteous and pure, free of contentiousness, then they are one with the emperor; and the unity of the sovereign and his subjects is realized.

Is there anything that can be depended on other than the emperor's way? Is there a secret key to the salvation of humanity other than this? Is there a place of refuge other than this? The emperor should be revered for all eternity. Leading the masses, dash straight ahead on the emperor's way! Even if inundated by raging waves, or seared by a red-hot iron, or beset by all the nations of the world, go straight ahead on the emperor's way without the slightest hesitation! This is the best and shortest route to the manifestation of the divine land [of Japan].

The emperor's way is what has been taught by all the saints of the world. Do not confuse the highest righteousness and the purest purity with mere loyalty to this person or that, for only those who sacrifice themselves for the emperor possess these qualities. This is the true meaning of loyalty and filial piety.55

On the surface, these passages seem to be the writings of an extremist, Shinto-inspired, ethnocentric nationalist, and they seem to have little if any connection to either Buddhism in general or Zen in particular. Sugimoto even goes so far as to advocate abandoning belief in Buddha Shakyamuni. While a whole chapter of his book is devoted to a discussion of the imperial way or the emperor's way (tennodo), there is not the slightest mention of imperial-way Buddhism or imperial-state Zen.

The concept of an imperial way was by no means an invention of institutional Buddhism. From as early as the Meiji period it had been promoted by the state, especially the Department of Education. Joseph Kitagawa described the concept as follows:

The underlying assumption of the "imperial way" was that the nation is in essence a patriarchal family with the emperor as its head. It was taken for granted that individuals exist for the nation rather than the other way around. Equally important was the assumption that some men are born to rule while others are to be ruled because men are by nature unequa1.56

Sugimoto was simply repeating the popular conception of this term, though perhaps in a somewhat more extreme form. Imperial-way Buddhism incorporated the same values. What, then, was Sugimoto's contribution? First of all, Sugimoto also had this to say about Buddha Shakyamuni:

When Shakyamuni sat in meditation beneath the Bodhi tree in order to see into his true nature, he had to fight with an army of innumerable demons. Those who rush forward to save the empire are truly great men as he was, pathfinders who sacrifice themselves for the emperor.57

Though Sugimoto had relatively little to say about Buddhism as such, he readily used Buddhist terminology to make his points. For example, he quoted the Nirvana Sutra on the importance of "protecting the true Dharma by grasping swords and other weapons." He then went on to assert that "the highest and only true Dharma in the world exists within the emperor." Likewise, he quoted the same sutra on the need to "keep the [Buddhist] precepts." Combining these ideas, he concluded that "everyone in the world should grasp swords and other weapons to reverently protect the emperor. This is the world's highest observance of the precepts, the highest morality, and the highest religion."58

In a later chapter entitled "War." Sugimoto also revealed a Buddhist influence: "The wars of the empire are sacred wars. They are holy wars. They are the [Buddhist] practice (gya) of great compassion (daijihishin). Therefore the imperial military must consist of holy officers and holy soldiers."59 As previously noted, the belief that war was an expression of Buddhist compassion had long been an article of faith within institutional Buddhism.

If references to Buddhism in general were relatively limited in Sugimoto's writings, the same cannot be said about his references, both direct and indirect, to Zen. In the introduction to his book he writes, "If you wish to penetrate the true meaning of 'Great Duty: the first thing you should do is to embrace the teachings of Zen and discard self-attachment."60 Sugimoto went on to explain why self-attachment should be discarded: "War is moral training for not only the individual but for the entire world. It consists of the extinction of self-seeking and the destruction of self-preservation. It is only those without self-attachment who are able to revere the emperor absolutely."61

Sugimoto also found inspiration for his beliefs in the teachings of some of Zen's greatest masters. For example, he wrote about Dogen, the thirteenth-century founder of the Soto Zen sect in Japan, as follows:

Zen Master Dogen said, "To study the Buddha Dharma is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self." To forget the self means to discard both body and mind. To discard beyond discarding, to discard until there is nothing left to discard .... This is called reaching the Great Way in which there is no doubt. This is the Great Law of the universe. In this way the great spirit of the highest righteousness and the purest purity manifests itself in the individual. This is the unity of the sovereign and his subjects, the origin of faith in the emperor.62

Sugimoto was equally ready to enlist the greatest of the Chinese Zen masters in his cause. About Nanquan Puyuan (748-834) he wrote:

An ancient master [Nanquan] said, "One's ordinary mind is the Way." ... In the spring there are hundreds of flowers, and in the fall, the moon. In the summer there are cool breezes, and in the winter, snow. Laying down one's life in order to destroy the rebels is one's ordinary mind. If one does not fall victim to an idle mind, this is truly the practice of Great Duty. It is this that must be called the essence of faith in the emperor.63

Sugimoto added that "sacrificing oneself for the emperor is one's ordinary mind." and those who possess this mind are true imperial subjects.64

In addition to passages such as those above that show a direct Zen influence, Sugimoto used a number of Zen terms throughout his writing. For example, he devoted an entire chapter to the question of life and death. In the best Zen fashion he explained that "life and death are identical." As to how one comes to this realization, he stated, "It is achieved by abandoning both body and mind, by extinguishing the self."65

Though that may sound like orthodox Zen teaching, Sugimoto continued:

Warriors who sacrifice their lives for the emperor will not die. They will live forever. Truly, they should be called gods and Buddhas for whom there is no life or death .... Where there is absolute loyalty there is no life or death. Where there is life and death there is no absolute loyalty. When a person talks of his view of life and death, that person has not yet become pure in heart. He has not yet abandoned body and mind. In pure loyalty there is no life or death. Simply live in pure loyalty!66

And finally, closely connected with the above sentiments is the statement for which Sugimoto was destined to be best remembered: "If you wish to see me, live in reverence for the emperor! Where there is the spirit of reverence for the emperor, there will I always be."67

Some might argue that Sugimoto's interpretation of Buddhism and Zen was no more than one ultranationalist's willful distortion of those traditions, but in fact leading Zen masters of the day readily agreed with Sugimoto in his identification of Zen with both war and the emperor. First and foremost of those Zen masters who supported Sugimoto was Yamazaki Ekiju (1882- 1961), chief abbot of the Buttsuji branch of the Rinzai Zen sect and head of the entire sect toward war's end (1945-46).


In one sense it is hardly surprising to find Ekiju lending his support to Sugimoto; after all, Sugimoto had been his lay disciple. Ekiju's support took the concrete form of a one-hundred-four-page eulogy attached to the end of Sugimoto's book. It began:

I once said at a lecture I gave, "The faith of the Japanese people is a faith that should be centered on his imperial majesty, the emperor." At that time Sugimoto said that he was in complete agreement with me. He then went on to add, "I had felt exactly as you do, but I had been unable to find the right words to express it. Present-day religionists raise a fuss about the need for faith, but their faith is mistaken. Buddhists say that one should have faith in the Buddha, or Mahavairocana, or Amida Buddha, but such faith is one that is limited to religion alone. Japanese Buddhism must be centered on the emperor; for if were it not, it would have no place in Japan, it would not be living Buddhism. Buddhism, including Shakyamuni's teachings, must conform to the national polity of Japan."[/quote]

Sugimoto continued,

The Buddhist statues that are enshrined in temples should, properly speaking, have the emperor reverently enshrined in the center and such figures as Amida Buddha or Mahavairocana at his sides. It is only the various branches of the Zen sect in Japan who have his majesty enshrined in the center .... All of Japanese Buddhism should have His Majesty, the emperor as their central object of worship. 68

Ekiju then expressed his own feelings of reverence for the emperor:

For Japanese there is no such thing as sacrifice. Sacrifice means to totally annihilate one's body on behalf of the imperial state. The Japanese people, however, have been one with the emperor from the beginning. In this place of absoluteness there is no sacrifice. In Japan, the relationship between His Majesty and the people is not relative but absolute.69

Ekiju's reverence for the emperor was, if anything, even more extreme than Sugimoto's. Attracted to the absoluteness of Ekiju's position, Sugimoto, already an experienced Zen practitioner, went on to train a further nine years under Ekiju. With evident satisfaction in his lay disciple's level of realization, Ekiju quoted a statement Sugimoto had once made:

The national polity of Japan and Buddhism are identical. In Buddhism, especially the Zen sect, there is repeated reference to the identity of body and mind. In order to realize this identity it is necessary to undergo training with all one's might and regardless of the sacrifice.

Furthermore, the essence of the unity of body and mind is to be found in egolessness. Japan is a country where the sovereign and the people are identical. When imperial subjects meld themselves into one with the august mind [of the emperor], their original countenance shines forth. The essence of the unity of the sovereign and the people is egolessness. Egolessness and self-extinction are most definitely not separate states. On the contrary, one comes to realize that they are identical.70

The egolessness of which Sugimoto spoke is the well-known Zen term of muga (no-self). In his book Zen and Japanese Culture, Suzuki identified muga as being identical with not only muso (no-reflection) and munen (no-thought), but also mushin (no-mind),71 terms which he described as follows:

Mushin (wu-hsin) or munen (wu-nien) is one of the most important ideas in Zen. It corresponds to the state of innocence enjoyed by the first inhabitants of the Garden of Eden, or even to the mind of God when he was about to utter his fiat, "Let there be light." Eno (Hui-neng), the sixth patriarch of Zen, emphasizes munen (or mushin) as the most essential element in the study of Zen. When it is attained, a man becomes a Zen-man, and ... also a perfect swordsman.72

Was Sugimoto, then, the Zen-man of whom Suzuki wrote? It is clear that Ekiju believed he was:

As far as the power of his practice of the Way is concerned, I believe he [Sugimoto] reached the point where there was no difference between him and the chief abbot of this or that branch [of Zen]. I think that when a person esteems practice, respects the Way, and thoroughly penetrates the self as he did, he is qualified to be the teacher of other Zen practitioners. That is how accomplished he was. In my opinion his practice was complete.73

Ekiju compared Sugimoto to Bodhidharma, the legendary fifth-century founder of the Zen sect in China: "Altogether Sugimoto practiced Zen for nearly twenty years. Bodhidharma practiced [meditation] facing the wall for nine years. Sugimoto's penetrating zazen was as excellent as that. He was thoroughly devoted to his unique imperial-state Zen."74 This is Ekiju's first mention of imperial-state Zen, and it appears to be a term that Ekiju invented to describe Sugimoto's emperor-centered faith. It is not found in Sugimoto's writings, but according to Ekiju, Sugimoto did once say:

The Zen that I do is not the Zen of the Zen sect. It is soldier Zen (gunjin Zen). The reason that Zen is important for soldiers is that all Japanese, especially soldiers, must live in the spirit of the unity of sovereign and subjects, eliminating their ego and getting rid of their self. It is exactly the awakening to the nothingness (mu) of Zen that is the fundamental spirit of the unity of sovereign and subjects. Through my practice of Zen I am able to get rid of my ego. In facilitating the accomplishment of this, Zen becomes, as it is, the true spirit of the imperial military.75

Sugimoto went on to explain exactly why it was that the spiritual training provided to the military was focused on the officer class:

Within the military, officers must use this [Zen] spirit in the training of their troops. In the training of troops mere talk is not enough. If you don't set the example or put it into practice yourself, your training is a lie .... What one hasn't seen for oneself cannot be taught to one's troops. As the senior, one must first be pure oneself. Otherwise, one cannot serve the state through extinguishing and discarding the ego.76

There is no real difference between what Sugimoto describes as soldier Zen, what Ekiju calls imperial-state Zen, and the descriptions of imperial-way Buddhism we have examined previously. The same spirit of absolute obedience and subservience to the emperor's will runs through them all.

One interesting question remains. What kind of soldier did Sugimoto, with all his Zen training, actually become? Was he in fact Suzuki's perfect swordsman? Ekiju described Sugimoto's military prowess on the battlefield:

I don't know what degree [of attainment] he had in the way of the sword, but it appears he was quite accomplished .... When he went to the battlefield it appears that he used the sword with consummate skill. . . . I believe he demonstrated the action that derives from the unity of Zen and the sword.77

Ekiju also recorded the following conversation the two men had shortly before Sugimoto went off to fight in China in 1931:

Sugimoto asked, "Master, what kind of understanding should I have in going over there?"

I answered, "You are strong, and your unit is strong. Thus I think you will not fear a strong enemy. However, in the event you face a [numerically] small enemy, you must not despise them. You should read one part of the Prajnaparamita Hridaya Sutra every day. This will insure good fortune on the battlefield for the imperial military."78

This conversation clearly echoes the one seven centuries earlier between Hojo Tokimune and his Chinese Zen master, Sogen, though this time there is no shout of "Katsu!" to demonstrate Sugimoto's level of attainment. Ekiju went on to add that when Sugimoto did eventually return safely from China, he reported, "I died once while I was in Tianjin." About this Ekiju commented, "Through the awareness Sugimoto achieved in becoming one with death, there was, I think, nothing he couldn't achieve."79

Ekiju also described Sugimoto's death, based on reports he had received. Sugimoto had been leading his troops into battle when an enemy hand grenade landed behind him and exploded.

A grenade fragment hit him in the left shoulder. He seemed to have fallen down but then got up again. Although he was standing, one could not hear his commands. He was no longer able to issue commands with that husky voice of his .... Yet he was still standing, holding his sword in one hand as a prop. Both legs were slightly bent, and he was facing in an easterly direction [toward the imperial palace]. It appeared that he had saluted though his hand was now lowered to about the level of his mouth. The blood flowing from his mouth covered his watch .... 80

In Ekiju's mind, at least, this was his lay disciple's finest moment, when he most clearly displayed the power that was to be gained by those who practiced Zen. Sugimoto had died standing up. As the master explained:

From long ago, the true sign of a Zen priest has been his ability to pass away while doing zazen. Those who were completely and thoroughly enlightened, however, ... could die calmly in a standing position .... This was possible was due to samadhi power [joriki].81

Samadhi refers to the concentrated state of mind, the mental "one pointedness," that is achieved through the practice of zazen. Suzuki, Seisen, Furukawa, and others had written of this meditation-derived power, available to Japanese warriors past and present through the practice of Zen. According to Ekijn, Sugimoto's life, and especially his death, were living proof of its effectiveness in battle.

At last Ekijn was ready to complete his eulogy of Sugimoto:

To the last second, Sugimoto was a man whose speech and actions were at one with each other. When he saluted and faced the east, there is no doubt that he also shouted, "May His Majesty, the emperor, live for ten thousand years!" It is for this reason that his was the radiant ending of an imperial soldier. Not only that, but his excellent example should be a model for future generations of someone who lived in Zen ....

Although it can be said that his life of thirty-eight years was all too short, for someone who has truly obtained samadhi power, long and short are not important. The great, true example of Sugimoto Goro was that of one who had united with emptiness, embodying total loyaIty [to the emperor] and service to the state. I am convinced he is one of those who, should he be reborn seven times over, would reverently work to destroy the enemies of the emperor (written on the 11th of February of the 2,598th year of the imperial reign) [1938].82

Although the preceding words mark the end of Sugimoto's book Great Duty, they by no means mark the end of the influence that his writings, and those of his Zen master, were to have on the Japanese people, especially its youth. As Ekijn hoped, Sugimoto did indeed become the model of a military figure who had thoroughly imbibed the Zen spirit. The publication of Great Duty became the catalyst for a flurry of activity, including both long and short written pieces extolling the virtues of this "god of war."

Members of the Rinzai sect were not the only ones eager to promote Sugimoto's ideology. The Soto Zen sect found him equally praiseworthy. One example of this was an article entitled "The Zen of Clothing and Food," which appeared in the April 1943 issue of Sansho, the official organ of Eiheiji, the Soto Zen sect's largest monastery. The article's author, Takizawa Kanyu, wanted to encourage frugality among the Japanese civilian population in anticipation of the decisive battle that he believed was imminent. Looking for a Zen-inspired model of the frugality he advocated, he wrote:

In the past, there were men like the "god of war," Lieutenant Colonel Sugimoto Goro. He never complained about [the quality of] his food. No matter how humble it was, he ate it gladly, treating it as a delicacy. Further, he was indifferent to what he wore, wearing tattered, though never soiled, clothing and hats. This is according to Zen master Yamazaki Ekijn's description of the Colonel as contained in the latter's posthumous book, Great Duty.83

Sugimoto had admirers beyond Zen circles as well, including the support of leading members of the imperial military, especially its officer corps. Two generals contributed works of calligraphy that were published as part of the introduction to Great Duty. When one of Sugimoto's fellow lay Zen trainees wrote a second account of his life, army lieutenant colonel Kozuki Yoshio contributed one of the prefaces. This book, entitled Lieutenant Colonel Sugimoto Goro's Reverence for the Emperor and Zen (Sugimoto Goro Chasa no Sonno to Zen), was written by Oyama Sumita, a government official. Lieutenant Colonel Kozuki's preface concluded with the following words: "For the sake of our imperial nation there is nothing that would make me happier than for this book to result in the birth of a second and third Sugimoto".84

Leading government officials lent their strong support to the promotion of Sugimoto's ideas as well. In a second preface to the same book, the vice-minister of the Communications Ministry, Owada Teiji, wrote:

At present, all the people of our nation have risen to the challenge of attaining the goals of this sacred war. At such a time it is indeed felicitous for this invincible country to have obtained this book, which promotes the rebirth of the Lieutenant Colonel's great spirit within the minds of one hundred million citizens. What an unlimited joy it is for East Asia!85

But Sugimoto's Great Duty was destined to have its greatest impact not on Zen masters, generals, or bureaucrats but on the school-age youth of Japan. In his war recollections, Okuno Takeo wrote of the effect that Great Duty had on his and his schoolmates' lives:

By 1943 and 1944, the war situation in the Pacific War had gradually worsened. Middle school students began to read Sugimoto Goro's Great Duty with great enthusiasm .... By word of mouth we got the message, "Read Great Duty, it's terrific! It teaches what true reverence for the emperor really is!" I was then attending Azabu middle school [in Tokyo].

In 1943 my friends and I took turns reading a single copy of Great Duty that we had among us. As a result, we decided to form a student club we called the Bamboo-Mind Society (Chikushin Kai) to put into practice the spirit of Great Duty . ...

We brought in instructors from the outside and held study meetings. The same kind of Great Duty study circles sprang up in all the middle schools in Tokyo. We then started to communicate among ourselves. . . . I later learned that in almost all middle schools throughout Japan Great Duty had been fervently read and student study societies created.86

While it may be argued that these youth were, after all, still students, it should be remembered that 1943 marked the end of deferments for students in universities, technical colleges, and higher schools. In the lower grades, mobilization took place informally through quotas for youth volunteers (boys fifteen to seventeen years of age) and volunteers for Manchuria-Mongolia Development Youth Patriotic Units. Ienaga Saburo has described this development graphically:

Made responsible for filling the quotas, teachers pressured the children directly by saying, "Any Japanese boy who doesn't get into this 'holy war' will be shamed for life." The teachers would visit a student's home and get his parents' tearful approval. Many boys in their mid-teens became youth pilots and youth tankers, or "volunteered" for service in Manchuria and Mongolia. These rosy-cheeked teenagers were put in special attack units and blew themselves up crashing into enemy ships.87

The unity of Zen and the sword advocated by such Zen leaders as Ekiju and Suzuki had come to this: drafting young boys into special attack units to become the infamous kamikaze (divine wind) pilots headed on a one-way trip to oblivion. Truly may it be said that their lives were now "as light as goose feathers."




1. Sharf, "The Zen of Japanese Nationalism" in History of Religions 33/1 (1993), p. 6.

2. Nitobe, Bushido: The Soul of Japan, pp. xii-xiii.

3. Ibid., p. 11.

4. Ibid., pp. 11-12.

5. Ibid., p. 172.

6. Ibid., pp. 176-88.

7. Ibid., p. 183.

8. Ibid., pp. 192-93.

9. Nukariya, Religion of the Samurai, p. 50.

10. Shaku Soen, Kaijin Kaima, p. 47.

11. Ibid., p. 65.

12. Ibid., p. 67.

13. Fueoka, Zen no Tebiki, p. 150.

14. Ibid., p. 151. The shouted word "Katsu" is meaningless. It has been used in the Rinzai Zen tradition to express a state of mind that has transcended dualism, cut through false notions of self and other, and manifested enlightenment.

15. Ibid., p. 152.

16. Ibid., p. 149.

17. Iida, Sanzen Manroku, pp. 262-63.

18. Ishihara, "Bukkyo Nippon no Shihyo o Kataru Zadankai" (A Discussion on the Aims of Buddhist Japan) in the March 1937 issue of Daihorin, p. 86.

19. Ibid., pp. 117-18

20. Ibid., p. 117.

21. Furukawa, Yakushin Nihon to Shin Daijo Bukkyo, p. 155.

22. Ibid., pp. 156-61.

23. D. T. Suzuki, "The Zen Sect of Buddhism," in the 1906 issue of The Journal of the Pali Text Society, p. 34.

24. D. T. Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, P. 30.

25. Ibid., p. 61.

26. Ibid., p. 61.

27. Ibid., p. 62.

28. Ibid., p. 63.

29. Ibid., p. 62.

30. Ibid., p. 63.

31. Ibid., p. 70.

32. Ibid., pp. 71-72.

33. Ibid., p. 85.

34. Ibid., p. 89.

35. D. T. Suzuki, Shin Shukyo Ron, in vol. 23, Suzuki Daisetsu Zensha, pp. 139-40.

36. Shaku, Sermon of a Buddhist Abbot, p. 201.

37. D. T. Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, p. 145.

38. Handa, Bushido no Shinzui, p. 1.

39. Ibid., p. 2.

40. Tojo Hideki, Senjin Kun, pp. 12-17.

41. Ibid, PP. 18-19. In 1941 the Soto Zen sect made the Senjinkun part of their official collection of "Model Sermons," attaching a section to it entitled "Zen and the Military Spirit." Further, in their book Soldiers of the Sun-The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Imperial Army, Meirion and Susie Harries noted a Buddhist, especially Zen, influence on Tojo Hideki and most of the officer corps. They found this Buddhist influence expressed, among other things, in Tojo's statement that he felt "carefree" once the decision had been made to go to war with the United States. This attitude, they asserted, derived from Zen's emphasis on "giving up of thought," also noting that "It may help to explain the extraordinarily casual attitude of some generals to the practicalities of their campaigns." (p. 336)

42. D. T. Suzuki, "Zen to Bushido" in Bushida no Shinzui, p. 75.

43. Ibid., p. 64. Suzuki's Zen and Japanese Culture first appeared in German in 1941, while the German edition of his Introduction to Zen Buddhism first appeared in 1939. Dr. Karl Haushofer, one of Hitler's chief advisers behind the scenes, wrote:, "The Meiji Restoration could be carried through only with the inherited values of the Japanese feudal period, the unselfish, austere, pure, and really self-sacrificing simplicity which, despite Confucius, put the fatherland and state before the family and the family before the individual, and which was convinced that in the very moment of final sacrifice, it went through the gate to real life. The metaphysical forces which elsewhere were absorbed by doctrines of salvation were here at the disposal of the state, representing a national community of love." Haushofer's comments are included in Tolischus, Tokyo Record, pp. 158-59. Suzuki's Zen and Japanese Culture also influenced Italian fascism through the introduction and high praise it received at the hands of Giuseppe Tucci, then one of Italy's greatest Buddhologists and an unabashed supporter of fascism. (Tucci's comments are included in an article entitled "Giuseppe Tucci, or Buddhology in the Age of Fascism" by Gustavo Benavides in Donald S. Lopez, Jr., Curators of the Buddha-The Study of Buddhism under Colonialism, pp. 161-196.)

44. Quoted in Ichikawa, Fudachi Shimmyo RokulTaia Ki, p. 165. Although the exact date is unknown, sometime before August 1941, Lieutenant General Yamashita Motoyuki, head of the Japanese military mission to the Axis, reported that Hitler had told him how interested he had been in Japan since his youth, including careful study of Japan's war tactics during the Russo-Japanese War. Yamashita went on to say: "Hitler emphasized that in the coming age, the interests of Japan and Germany would be identical, because the two have a common spiritual foundation. And he hinted that he would leave instructions to the German people to bind themselves eternally to the Japanese spirit." As for Ambassador Kurusu, he went on to become a confidant of Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy fuhrer. Following Hess's subsequent flight to England, Kurusu said: "There was something of an Oriental fighter in Hess. He was envious of Japan, whose people are fired with service to the state under the Japanese spirit. He used to tell me: "We too are battling to destroy individualism. We are struggling for a new Germany based on the new idea of totalitarianism. In Japan, this way of thinking comes naturally to the people!" Quoted in Tolischus, Tokyo Record, pp. 158-59.

45. Seki, Bushido no Kayo, p. 21.

46. Ibid., p. 22.

47. Ibid., p. 22.

48. Ibid., p. 30.

49. Ibid., pp. 64-65.

50. Yabuki, Nippon Seishin to Nippon Bukkyo, p. 4.

51. Holtom, Modern Japan and Shinto Nationalism, p. 149.

52. Humphreys, The Way of the Heavenly Sword, pp. 12-16.

53. Peattie, Ishiwara Kanji, and Japan's Confrontation with the West, p. 5. The emphasis on "an extreme code of sacrifice in the attack" in both the French and Japanese armies was more than mere coincidence. When the Meiji government first established a modern War Department in the 1870s, it was the French military system that furnished inspiration and guidance. Although the Prussian model influenced the subsequent formation of the imperial army in the 1880s, the French stress on morale, esprit de corps, and aggressive combat was retained, especially in Japan's military academies. The incorporation of Bushido into the Imperial military represented, in this sense, the imposition of indigenous content upon a Western model.

54. Sugimoto, Taigi, pp. 23-25. The title Taigi may also be translated as "Noble Cause," "Justice," or "Righteousness." 55. Ibid., pp. 36-39.

56. Kitagawa, Religion in Japanese History, p. 187.

57. Sugimoto, Taigi, p. 62.

58. Ibid., p. 53.

59. Ibid., p. 139.

60. Ibid., p. 19.

61. Ibid., p. 140.

62. Ibid., p. 101.

63. Ibid., p. 99.

64. Ibid., p. 143.

65. Ibid., p. 152.

66. Ibid., pp. 153-54.

67. Ibid., p. 156.

68. Ibid., pp. 160-61.

69. Ibid., p. 164.

70. Ibid., p. 167.

71. D. T. Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, pp. 111-127.

72. Ibid., p. 111.

73. Sugimoto, Taigi, p. 192.

74. Ibid., p. 219.

75. Ibid., p. 178.

76. Ibid., p. 179.

77. Ibid., p. 195.

78. Ibid., p. 182.

79. Ibid., pp. 182-83.

80. Ibid., p. 254.

81. Ibid., pp. 255-56.

82. Ibid., pp. 256-57. Ekiju's description of someone "be[ing] reborn seven times over" is a reference to Kusunoki Masashige (1294-1336), a loyalist military leader during the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (1332-90). Having been defeated in battle and facing death, Masashige vowed to be "reborn seven times over in order to annihilate the emperor's enemies."

83. Takizawa, "The Zen of Clothing and Food" (Ishoku Zen) in the September 1943 issue of Sansho (No. 191), p. 741.

84. Oyama, Sugimoto Gor" Chusa no Sonno to Zen, p. iii.

85. Ibid., p. vii.

86. Quoted in Ichikawa, Nihon Fashizumu ka no Shakyo, p. 71.

87. Ienaga, The Pacific War, 1931-1945, pp. 195-96.
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Re: D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

Postby admin » Sat Mar 30, 2019 5:01 am

Part 1 of 2

Other Zen Masters and Scholars in the War Effort, Chapter Nine, [Excerpt] from "Zen at War", by Brian Daizen Victoria
Second Edition
© 2006 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.


It would be comforting, though incorrect, to believe that Ekiju and his "imperial-state Zen" were somehow unique or isolated phenomena within Zen circles during the war years. The truth is that he was merely representative of what other leading Zen masters were saying and doing at this time. For example, there are numerous instances of Zen masters conducting intensive meditation retreats, typically lasting five days, for officers. The retreats would take place in the unit's martial-arts training hall, with the officers using their folded army blankets as makeshift meditation cushions.1

If there is anything that distinguished Ekiju from his contemporaries, it was that his lay disciple Sugimoto Goro came to epitomize what many Zen masters and scholars merely talked about. Yet the importance of this talking by Zen masters should not be underestimated, for, as previously discussed, the government clearly appreciated its importance as a morale booster. Sugimoto described what he believed the appropriate role was of not only Zen but all Buddhist priests:

Each Buddhist temple should be a training center for developing spiritual discipline within the people. Priests should be the leaders of this training. In so doing they can claim the right to be called men of religion.2

Ekiju commended this passage by Sugimoto, commenting that it displayed a "grand attitude."3 Yet he was far from alone in the Zen world in his acceptance of this role for Zen priests.

Hata Esho Soto Zen master Hata Esho, Eiheiji's chief abbot, agreed with Ekiju. He wrote the following in the December 1942 issue of Sansho:

One full year has elapsed since the outbreak of the Greater East Asian War. It is said that the war has entered a stage of protracted fighting. In such a stage the need for materials will increase more and more .... We Zen priests cannot directly produce so much as a grain of rice or a sheet of paper. However, in terms of developing the spiritual power of the people, there is a way for us, incompetent though we be, to do our public duty. I believe that we should do everything in our power to go in this direction.4

If there is any question as to what this leading Soto Zen master thought of Japan's war effort, or Buddhism's relationship to that effort, Esho clarified his position in the same issue of Sansho:

On December 8 Buddha Shakyamuni looked at the morning star and realized perfect enlightenment while seated under the bodhi tree. One year ago, on this very day, through the proclamation of the imperial edict to annihilate America and England, our country started afresh toward a new East Asia, a great East Asia. This signifies nothing less than the enlightenment of East Asia .... As we now welcome the first anniversary of the outbreak of the Greater East Asian War, we realize that the future will not be easy. We must therefore renew our conviction that nothing else but certain victory lies ahead.5

Even before Esho's exhortation, Soto Zen leaders had focused their efforts on developing the spiritual power of the people. Typical of this effort was an article written on January 1, 1941, by the sect's administrative head, Omori Zenkai (1871-1947). He quoted the very same passage from Zen Master Dogen about "forget [ ting) the self" that Sugimoto had previously. Zenkai went on:

The essence of the practice of an [imperial) subject is to be found in the basic principle of the Buddha Way, which is to forget the self. It is by giving concrete form to this essence in any and all situations, regardless of time or place, that Buddhism is, for the first time, able to repay the debt of gratitude it owes the state.5

Yamada Reirin One year later, in 1942, Soto Zen master Yamada Reirin (1889- 1979) wrote a book entitled Evening Talks on Zen Studies (Zengaku Yawa). In postwar years Reirin became president of Komazawa University and then chief abbot of Eiheiji.

Reirin began his book by pointing out that Emperor Kimmei (539-71) first allowed Buddhism into Japan because he recognized that "it would be of service to him."7 Reirin then went on to speculate as to whether or not Buddhism was still able to render such service. He wrote:

Japan has now plunged into the most serious situation it has faced since the beginning of its history. The question is whether or not Buddhism can now be of service to the emperor. In both quantity and quality, it is necessary for Buddhism to provide such excellent service. All Buddhists, regardless of sectarian affiliation, must come forward to do their great duty in support of imperial rule. 8

Reirin clearly believed he was doing his part in this effort. He devoted an entire chapter to addressing one of the most difficult problems on the wartime home front, the consolation of parents whose sons had fallen in battle. Utilizing the Buddhist-influenced folk belief in Japan concerning the transmigration of souls, Reirin provided the following explanation:

The true form of the heroic spirits [of the dead] is the good karmic power that has resulted from their loyalty, bravery, and nobility of character. This will never perish .... The body and mind produced by this karmic power cannot be other than what has existed up to the present . . . . The loyal, brave, noble, and heroic spirits of those officers and men who have died shouting, "May the emperor live for ten thousand years!" will be reborn right here in this country. It is only natural that this should occur.9

Finally, like so many of his predecessors, Reirin pointed out the "virility" Haja Tokimune received from his Zen training.10 Zen made possible the maintenance of an adamantine mind and the welling up of a pure and fiery spirit.11 If one would but "annihilate the ego," he wrote, then an "absolute and mysterious power and radiance will fill one's body and mind."12 together with "an unlimited gratitude to the imperial military" for their "wonderful fruits of battle."13

Kurebayashi Kodo Soto Zen scholars of the period were no less supportive of Japan's war effort than were the sect's Zen masters. One of the sect's best-known scholar-priests, a specialist in the thought of Zen master Dagen (1200-1253), was Dr. Kurebayashi Kodo (1893-1988). In the postwar years he succeeded Yamada Reirin as president of Komazawa University. At the outbreak of full-scale war with China in 1937, he wrote an article entitled "The [China] Incident and Buddhism."

Kodo's article, appearing in the October 1937 issue of Sansho, began with the now standard advocacy of the "just-war" theory. "It goes without saying." he said, "that the North China Incident is a war on behalf of justice." Not only that, but "all of Japan's wars since the Sino-Japanese War have been such wars." And, in case there were any doubt, he added, "Should there be further wars in the future, there is no doubt they will also be just."14

Aside from giving present and future Japanese governments carte blanche to fight whenever and wherever they wished, Kodo's statement is notable for the rationale he provided to justify his position:

The reason [Japan's wars are just] is, I dare say, because of the influence of the Buddhist spirit. The spirit of Japan which was nurtured by Buddhism is ceaselessly working towards cooperation among peoples and eternal peace in the Orient. Without the influence of Buddhism, a thoroughgoing, international fraternal spirit would be impossible.15

Kodo went on to assert that Japan's actions in China were the "practice of compassion:"16

Wherever the imperial military advances there is only charity and love. They could never act in the barbarous and cruel way in which the Chinese soldiers act. This can truly be considered to be a great accomplishment of the long period which Buddhism took in nurturing [the Japanese military]. In other words, brutality itself no longer exists in the officers and men of the imperial military who have been schooled in the spirit of Buddhism.17

Kodo concluded the article by reminding his readers that "it was only the Japanese people who embodied the true spirit of Buddhism. . .. "Without a faith in Buddhism." he asserted, "this nation cannot prosper, nor can humanity find happiness."18 One can only wonder what Kodo would have said to Ienaga's well-documented assertion that "there were s . many atrocities [committed by Japanese troops] that one cannot even begin to list them all."19

Hitane Jozan Kodo was not, of course, the only Zen scholar to voice his support for Japans war efforts. Dr. Hitane Jozan (1873-1954), a scholar-priest at Rinzai Zen sect-affiliated Rinzai Gakuin (the predecessor of Hanazono University), also wrote an article about the same incident. It was entitled, "The Current Incident and the '!ow and Practice of a Bodhisattva," and it appeared in the October 1937 Issue of Zenshu, a monthly periodical jointly supported by all branches of the Rinzai Zen sect.

Jozan began his article with the assertion that up to this point Japan's modern wars had been a matter of self-defense. "It is impossible," he wrote, "to find any other meaning to either the Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War, or the Manchurian Incident [of 1931]."20 The current fighting, however, was different:

Speaking from the point of view of the ideal outcome, this is a righteous and moral war of self-sacrifice in which we will rescue China from the dangers of Communist takeover and economic slavery. We will help the Chinese live as true Orientals. It would therefore, I dare say, not be unreasonable to call this a sacred war incorporating the great practice of a bodhisattva.21

Fukuba Hoshu It was difficult for some adherents of the Zen school to justify the Japanese invasion of China because violence was being employed against the very country that had been the birthplace of their tradition. How could they reconcile repaying the debt of gratitude they felt they owed the classical Chinese Chan patriarchs with the devastation of their homeland?

A colleague of Hidane Jozan at Rinzai Gakuin, a Rinzai Zen scholarpriest named Fukuba Hoshu (1895-1943), provided a way out of this quandary in an article entitled "What Is Japanese, What Is Chinese" (Shinateki to Nihonteki) published in the November 5, 1939 issue of the journal Zengaku Kenkyu. According to Hoshu, the solution was really quite simple. The Chinese Zen masters had never fully realized the true meaning of Zen. That is to say, the Chinese Zen patriarchs' understanding of Zen had been limited by the faulty cultural values of Chinese society, values that the Chinese Zen patriarchs had been unable to overcome. In contrast to this, "the social and historical norms that existed in Japan allowed ... Zen's true nature to be made manifest."22

On the one hand, Hoshu admitted that Chinese society had traditionally valued both loyalty to the sovereign and filial piety to one's parents and family. However, when the two values came into conflict the Chinese "without regret chose filial piety over loyalty."23 What was even worse was that in times of political and economic unrest, the Chinese blamed the ruler for the nation's troubles and "readily believed that a revolution was justified."24 This kind of thinking had, according to Hoshu, brought nothing but internal divisions and turmoil to Chinese society, even to the present day.

Japan, on the other hand, was quite different. It was a country where family and state had become one unified, communal entity due to the fact that "the family had been warmly embraced by the state."25 This, of course, had been made possible because of the existence and benevolence of the imperial house and the contributions made to national morality by such pioneer Zen masters as Eisai, Kokan Shiren (1278-1346), and others. Therefore, "if ever one or the other [loyalty or filial piety] had to be chosen, there is no question that it would be the former ... for this represents the superiority, the absoluteness of the virtue of loyalty in Japan."26

Japanese Zen, then, had both contributed to and benefited from this understanding of loyalty. In concluding his article, Hoshu pointed out that this understanding had facilitated Japanese Zen's recognition that the spread of Zen was identical with (soku) the protection of the state. Hoshu's closing statement was "I believe it is through the manifestation of Zen's true nature [in Japan] that we can repay the benevolence of the Chinese patriarchs."27

Harada Daiun Sogaku There is one other lineage or school of Zen Buddhists whose wartime words and actions are worthy of consideration. This lineage, though relatively small in number, has been quite influential in spreading its interpretation of Zen in the West, especially the United States. The founder of this group was Zen Master Harada Daiun Sogaku (1870- 1961). Philip Kapleau, a prominent descendent of this lineage, described this master in The Three Pillars of Zen:

Nominally of the Soto sect, he [Daiun] welded together the best of Soto and Rinzai and the resulting amalgam was a vibrant Buddhism which has become one of the great teaching lines of Japan today. Probably more than anyone else in his time he revitalized, through his profound spiritual insight, the teachings of Dogen-zenji, which had been steadily drained of their vigor through the shallow understanding of priests and scholars of the Soto sect in whose hands their exposition had hitherto rested ....

Like all masters of high spiritual development, he was the keenest judge of character. He was as quick to expose pretense and sham as he was to detect it. Exceptional students he drove mercilessly, exacting from them the best of which they were capable. From all he demanded as a sine qua non sincerity and absolute adherence to his teachings, brooking not the slightest deviation. Casual observers often found him rigid and narrow, but disciples and students who were faithful to his teachings knew him to be wise and compassionate.28

Another prominent member of this lineage, Maezumi Hakuyu Taizan (1930-95), founder of the Zen Center of Los Angeles, had this to say about Daiun:

Daiun Harada Roshi was a Zen master of rare breadth and accomplishment in twentieth-century Japan .... He became abbot of Hosshinji and during the next forty years, until his death in 1961, made the monastery famous as a rigorous Zen training center, known for its harsh climate, its strict discipline, and its abbot's keen Zen eye.29

Daiun was also one of the most committed Zen supporters of Japan's military actions. If, as Kapleau claims, Daiun "revitalized" Zen, he did so by creating something he called "war Zen" (sensa Zen) as early as 1915, at the time of Japan's entry into World War I. It was in this year that he published A Primer on the Practice of Zen (Sanzen no Kaitei), of which "War Zen" was the eleventh chapter.

The first subsection of this chapter was entitled "The Entire Universe Is at War." For Daiun there was nothing strange about Japan being at war, for "if you look at all phenomena in the universe you will see that there is nothing which is not at war."30 In the natural world, for example, plum seeds try to conquer the world for plums, while rice grains try to conquer the world for rice. The human world is the same, with politicians struggling with one another to conquer the political world, and merchants struggling with one another to conquer the business world.

Buddhism is not exempt from this type of struggle, according to Daiun, for Buddha Shakyamuni himself had conquered demons in the course of realizing enlightenment. Thus, "without plunging into the war arena, it is totally impossible to know the Buddha Dharma." Daiun then went on to point out that "in all phenomena of either the ordinary world or the spiritual world, there is not one where war is absent. How could Zen alone be free of this principle? ... It is impermissible," he wrote, "to forget war for even an instant."31

In fairness to Daiun, aside from his initial praise for Japan's military success, he used the term "war Zen" to describe what he believed should be the appropriate mental attitude of Zen practitioners in their search for enlightenment. The enemy Daiun advocates conquering is the practitioner's ignorance and desire. Even this, he noted, was not the ultimate expression of Zen, for "in the Great Way of the Buddhas and [Zen] patriarchs there is neither war nor peace."32

While Daiun's initial use of "war Zen" may have been metaphoric, by 1934 this was clearly no longer the case. In March of that year he wrote the following in an article appearing in the March 1934 issue of the magazine Chuo Bukkyo:

The spirit of Japan is the Great Way of the [Shinto] gods. It is the substance of the universe, the essence of the Truth. The Japanese people are a chosen people whose mission is to control the world. The sword which kills is also the sword which gives life. Comments opposing war are the foolish opinions of those who can only see one aspect of things and not the whole.

Politics conducted on the basis of a constitution are premature, and therefore fascist politics should be implemented for the next ten years .... Similarly, education makes for shallow, cosmopolitan-minded persons. All of the people of this country should do Zen. That is to say, they should all awake to the Great Way of the Gods. This is Mahayana Zen."33

By 1939 Daiun no longer found it necessary to even discuss antiwar thought. In "The One Road of Zen and War," an article appearing in the November 1939 issue of the magazine Daijo Zen, he wrote:

[If ordered to] march: tramp, tramp, or shoot: bang, bang. This is the manifestation of the highest Wisdom [of Enlightenment]. The unity of Zen and war of which I speak extends to the farthest reaches of the holy war [now under way]. Verse: I bow my head to the floor in reverence of those whose nobility is without equal.34

By the beginning of 1943 the tide of war had clearly turned against Japan. The government called on Buddhist leaders to do their utmost to mobilize the entire civilian population in the war effort. Under these circumstances Daiun wrote the following in the February 1943 issue of the periodical Zen no Seikatsu:

It has never been as necessary as it is today for all one hundred million people of this country to be committed to the fact that as the state lives and dies, so do they .... We must devote ourselves to the practice of Zen and the discernment of the Way. We must push on in applying ourselves to "combat zazen." the king of meditation.35

By the latter part of 1944 the outlook for Japan had become bleak. The unthinkable was becoming thinkable. The home islands might be invaded. In this situation every able-bodied citizen, both young and old, armed often with no more than bamboo spears, was being trained to repel the invaders. In response, Daiun wrote the following article entitled, "Be Prepared, One Hundred Million [Subjects], for Death with Honor!" which appeared in the July issue of that year's Daijo Zen:

It is necessary for all one hundred million subjects [of the emperor] to be prepared to die with honor .... If you see the enemy you must kill him; you must destroy the false and establish the true-these are the cardinal points of Zen. It is said that if you kill someone it is fitting that you see his blood. It is further said that if you are riding a powerful horse nothing is beyond your reach. Isn't the purpose of the zazen we have done in the past to be of assistance in an emergency like this?36

Japan's surrender was a year away. By early 1945 most Buddhist-related publications had closed down as part of the overall effort to funnel all available resources to the military effort. Buddhist leaders, Zen and otherwise, lost their printed voice. Newspapers were still being published, however, and on occasion Buddhist viewpoints were still to be found.

Masunaga Reiho One of the last Zen-related voices to be heard was that of Dr. Masunaga Reiho (1902-81), a Soto Zen priest and scholar who in the postwar years published substantial works in English,37 From May 25 to June 1, 1945, Masunaga wrote a series of articles in the Buddhist newspaper Chugai Nippo entitled "The Source of the Spirit of the Special Attack Forces." He put forth the following argument:

The source of the spirit of the Special Attack Forces lies in the denial of the individual self and the rebirth of the soul, which takes upon itself the burden of history. From ancient times Zen has described this conversion of mind as the achievement of complete enlightenment.38

In equating the suicidal spirit of kamikaze pilots of the Special Attack Forces with the complete enlightenment of Buddhism, Masunaga had taken Zen to the militaristic extreme.
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Re: D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

Postby admin » Sat Mar 30, 2019 5:02 am

Part 2 of 2


The Zen school has long stressed the importance of uniting knowledge with practice. What kind of actions did the Zen sect take to actualize the positions that its leaders took on the war? For the most part, the war-related activities of Japan's two major Zen sects closely paralleled those of other sects. We have already discussed social relief at home and missionary work abroad, but the Zen sect carried out other activities as well.

One example of Zen war-related action was the holding of special religious services designed to ensure victory in battle. The belief in the efficacy of such services had been a part of Mahayana Buddhism prior to its introduction to Japan. It was related to the belief that "merit." a kind of spiritual compensation or reward, was created as a result of meritorious acts, for example, the copying or recitation of sutras, or the construction of temples. Such merit could be transferred to others. In the Mahayana tradition, merit transference was regarded as part of the perfection of morality, one of six such perfections, and an important part of a bodhisattva's practice.39

In Japan, these special services were conducted by all Buddhist sects. The Zen tradition had originally been opposed to such services, regarding them as prayers for worldly favors. However, from the time of Hojo Tokiyori (1227-63) and Hojo Tokimune (1215-84), the nobility and warrior classes, chief patrons of the Zen sect, demanded prayers and services for all sorts of matters and occasions, including the most trivial. Long before the advent of the modern period, Zen temples had been turned into "a sort of seminary of prayers."40

The most common practice in Zen temples came to be the recitation, in whole or in part, of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras. As Rinzai Zen sect-affiliated Imai Fukuzan pointed out in the January 1938 edition of Zenshu, these sutras were thought to be particularly efficacious "because they teach that wherever these sutras are. circulated, various disasters and demons will disappear, to be replaced by good fortune."41 These sutras consisted, in their Japanese version, of some six hundred volumes, and it was typical in ceremonial use to read only a limited number of passages from the total collection. As an alternative, the entire collection might be divided up among the assembled monks and ceremonially "fanned" in grandiose fashion with only the titles being read.

Sojiji The following passage describes one such service held at Sojiji, the second of the two head monasteries of the Soto Zen sect. It appeared on the front page of the November-December 1944 issue of the Soto Shuho, the sect's administrative organ. In this case, the focus of the service was on the completion of a sectwide effort to make millions of handwritten copies of the very short Heart Sutra, which was considered to contain the essence of the teachings. As already noted, copying sutras was regarded as a merit -producing act, especially when done on such a massive scale. The highlights of the article, beginning with its title, are as follows:

The Service to Pray for Certain Victory {Based on the Completion of] the Consecrated Copying of Ten Million Heart Sutras . ...

The great victory that was recently achieved off the coasts of Taiwan and the Philippines astonished the world. Yet, in spite of that, the severity of the terrific counterattack by the American and British enemy, who depend on massive amounts of materials, increases day by day. Outside the country, extremely fierce fighting is taking place on the Philippine island of Leyte. Within the country, the ugly enemy lawlessly dares to bomb the imperial capital and reconnoiter our imperial land. The national crisis on the war front is unprecedented. There has never been a fall as severe as this one, nor has there ever been a greater need for all one hundred million imperial subjects to rouse themselves.

It was our sect that first proposed zealously uniting together for the purpose of the consecrated copying of ten million copies of the Heart Sutra. The goal of this effort is our fervent prayer for certain victory. Burning with enthusiasm, our whole sect, clerics and lay followers alike, applied themselves to this project with the result that they greatly exceeded the planned ten million copies by some one million three hundred and eighty thousand. Some of the copies were written in blood and others were sealed in blood. Some of the copies were written in braille by wounded soldiers who had lost their sight.

We were also deeply moved by the unsurpassed honor to have copies bestowed on us by members of the imperial family. For seven days beginning from September 1, [1944,] the Great Prayer Service was solemnly held at the great monastery of Sojiji. Reverently we prayed for the health of His Majesty, the well-being of the imperial lands, and the surrender of the enemy countries.42

The war situation was tightly woven into the description of this "religious service." Even soldiers who had lost their sight in battle were given a prominent role. Leaders of both the Rinzai and Soto Zen sects also actually changed elements of the concluding "merit transfer verse" (ekobun) of the service to reflect the nation's war priorities and thereby apply the merit generated by the service or other good works to the realization of military goals. According to the April 15, 1942 edition of the Soto Shuho, that sect's newly approved ekobun included such phrases as: (1) unending military fortune and health for the officers and men at the front; (2) continuing victory in the holy war; and (3) enhancement of national prestige. The verse also included the wish, "May the sacred life of His Majesty the emperor extend for ten thousand years and may he be in good health."43

Rinzai Zen Imai Fukuzan, mentioned above, pointed out: "In our sect, religious services have been performed during wartime for more than six hundred years with the goal of enhancing military power."44 It was only after the beginning of the Meiji period, he further noted, that this custom had momentarily fallen into disuse, and only because the old-style military verses were considered to be disloyal to the newly established central government by some senior officials. These officials knew of these verses' original association with the local armies of feudal lords, who had often doubled as temple patrons. They seemed inappropriate for the new regime, since they were not dedicated to the person and the army of the new emperor.

Imai pointed out that there was no longer any reason to be hesitant about resurrecting the military-flavored ekobun of the past. On the contrary, nothing could be more appropriate in light of the outbreak of war with China. A comparison of the pre-Meiji verse he proposed as a model for the Rinzai sect with that subsequently adopted by the Sot6 sect reveals little substantive difference.

Except for one. The bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara (Kannon or Kanzewon in Japanese) was transformed into a martial figure. Avalokiteshvara was "elevated" in the Rinzai verse to the rank of shogun or generalissimo, with the full title Kanzeon Sh6gun Bodhisattva.45 Given the miraculous powers Avalokiteshvara was believed to possess, Japan's military leaders readily welcomed this most well-known of bodhisattvas into their ranks. In the fall of 1939, imperial army general Matsui Iwane (1878- 1948) personally ordered the construction of the Koa Kannon temple on a hillside outside of the city of Atami in Shizuoka Prefecture. The temple's connection to Japan's wartime effort is apparent in its name: "Avalokiteshvara for the Development of Asia." At the temple's formal dedication on February 24, 1940, General Matsui said:

The China Incident [of 1937] has resulted in massive lost of life through the mutual killing of neighboring friends. This is the greatest tragedy of the last one thousand years. Nevertheless this is a holy war to save the peoples of East Asia .... Invoking the power of Avalokiteshvara, I pray for the bright future of East Asia.46

In addition to the statue of Avalokiteshvara enshrined in the main worship hall, Matsui also had a second and larger ceramic statue of the same figure placed on the temple grounds. This latter statue was approximately six feet tall and made out of the blood-soaked earth the general had brought back from his battlefields in China. He regarded it as a memorial to "console the spirits" of both Japanese and Chinese war dead. These noble sentiments notwithstanding, after the war General Matsui was sentenced to death by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East for his role as commander of the Japanese forces involved in the December 1937 Rape of Nanjing.

Fund Raising The conduct of religious services by the Zen sect was only a part of a much larger effort to support Japan's war effort. Leaders of both the Soto and Rinzai Zen sects, as well as other sects of Japanese Buddhism, engaged in fund-raising activities to provide aircraft to the military. The Soto Zen sect began its fund-raising efforts on the fourth anniversary of full-scale war in China, July 7, 1941. Within two weeks, sufficient funds were raised to buy one fighter plane "of the latest model" for the imperial navy and two hospital transport planes for the imperial army. These planes were named Soto No. 1, Soto No .2, and so forth. The September 1, 1941 issue of Soto Shuho contained the following comments about this effort:

In accordance with the national policy of constructing a fully-armed state, our sect, united as one, has contributed [airplanes named] Sow with the hope that the sincerity of this act will be manifested in the majestic form of these planes flying high in the sky of the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere ... and believing this will contribute greatly to the stimulation and growth of the people's spirit.47

The Rinzai Zen sect, specifically the My6shinji branch, made an even greater effort. Although this branch was considerably less than one-third the size of the unified Soto sect, by war's end it had contributed three fighter aircraft to the imperial navy. The last of these fighters, contributed in April 1945, bore the inscription "[ Emperor] Hanazano Myoshinji."

The donation of a few aircraft was not a significant material contribution to the war effort, of course. But these fund-raising efforts were designed primarily as a method to raise the Japanese people's spirit, the focus of the bulk of the Zen and overall Buddhist effort at home and abroad, and within the military itself.

Training In June 1942 the Soto sect established The Wartime Center for the Development of an Instructor Corps to Train Imperial Subjects. The November I, 1943 issue of Soto Shuho used its front page to describe the principles upon which this center was based. The main principle or goal was "the increase of fighting power," under which a total of sixteen subprinciples were arranged in a hierarchy. The first eight subprinciples were, broadly speaking, all war related: (1) Promotion of Belief in Certain Victory; (2) The Establishment of Wartime Life; (3) The Practice of Volunteering Oneself for Public Duty; (4) Clarification of [the Concept of] Our National Polity; (5) Guard and Maintain the Prosperity of the Imperial Throne; (6) Respect the [Shinto] Deities and Revere One's Ancestors; (7) Train the Subjects of the Emperor; and (8) Recompense the Debt of Gratitude Owed the Emperor.

These subprinciples, especially (3) through (8), show the unmistakable influence of the themes first developed in the National Doctrine of the Meiji period. Zen priests, like all Buddhist priests in Japan, were simply being called upon to continue their role as Doctrinal Instructors, with the added duty of promoting belief in certain victory.

Zen priests did; of course, have a unique methodology for the training of imperial subjects: the practice of zazen. Zazen was used not only to train officers and soldiers but also workers-known at the time as "industrial warriors" (sangyo senshi)-in war-industry factories. The training sessions were held either in the factory dormitory or in a nearby Zen temple, and they lasted for up to one week. Participants would seek "to discover, through a thorough-going examination of the self, the origin of the power which enabled them, in their various work capacities, to serve the emperor." They were urged not to forget that "the merit resulting from their practice of zazen would enable them to realize infinite power."48

As Japan's situation gradually grew more critical, Zen priests were called upon to do more than just engage in what was popularly called "thought war" (shisosen). In January 1944, Zen priests who had not been drafted, or were not serving as military chaplains or continental missionaries, were called upon to abandon their "Dharma castles." take up factory work, and "aid in the increased production of military goods."49 This call appeared in the ,February 1, 1944 issue of Soto Shuho, but had been issued by the multisect Great Japan Buddhist Federation (Dainihon Bukkyo Kai). It applied to all Buddhist priests between the ages of sixteen and forty-five. The heart of the announcement read:

As has been said, "The buildup of military power comes from spiritual power." It is for this reason that we ask for a total of approximately ten thousand leading priests from each of the sects to come forth as volunteers and directly engage in production in important industrial factories. At the same time they will be expected to provide spiritual training and guidance to the industrial warriors [in these factories].50

To the war's bitter end, the Way of the Warrior played an important role in all aspects of Japanese society. As the spiritual advocates of this code, Zen priests and the priests of other sects continued to discharge their duties even as they joined the ranks of the "industrial warriors."




1. See reference in Ishihara, "Bukkyo Nippon no Shihyo o Kataru Zadankai" (A Discussion on the Aims of Buddhist Japan) in the March 1937 issue of Daihorin, p. 116.

2.. Sugimoto, Taigi, p. 198.

3. Ibid., p. 198.

4. Quoted in the December 1942. issue of Sansho, pp. 409-10.

5. Ibid., p. 407.

6. Quoted in the 1 January 1941 issue of Soto Shaho (No. 39), p. 1.

7. Yamada Reirin, Zengaku Yawa, p. 2.5.

8. Ibid., p. 26.

9. Ibid., pp. 53-54.

10. Ibid., p. 183.

11. Ibid., p. 190.

12. Ibid., p. 85.

13. Ibid., p. 81.

14. Kurebayashi, "The [China] Incident and Buddhism" (Jihen to Bukkyo) in the October 1937 issue of Sansho (No. 121), p. 375.

15. Ibid., p. 375.

16. Ibid., pp. 376-77.

17. Ibid., p. 377.

18. Ibid., p. 378.

19. Ienaga, The Pacific War, 1931-1945, p. 167.

20. Hitane, "The Current Incident and the Vow and Practice of a Bodhisattva" (Konji no Jihen to Bosatsu no Gangyo) in the October 1937 issue of Zenshu (No. 510), p. 19.

21. Ibid., p. 19.

22. Fukuba, "What is Japanese, What is Chinese" (Shinateki to Nibonteki) in the November 5, 1939, issue of Zengaku Kenkyu (No. 32), p. 102.

23. Ibid, p. 99.

24. Ibid, p. 98.

25. Ibid, p. 98-99.

26. Ibid, pp. 99-100.

27. Ibid, p. 102.

28. Kapleau, The Three Pillars of Zen, pp. 273-74.

29. Maezumi and Glassman, The Hazy Moon of Enlightenment, p. 194.

30. Harada, Sanzen no Kaitei p. 112.

31. Ibid., pp. 116-17.

32. Ibid., pp. 117-18.

33. Quoted in Ichikawa, Nihon Fashizumu ka no Shakyo, p. 163.

34. Ibid., p. 197. In adding a Chinese-style verse to his comments, Daiun followed a time-honored Zen custom. Traditional collections of koan, such as the. Mumonkan (Gateless Barrier) and Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record), typically have verses of appreciation and explanation attached to each of the koan contained in the collection.

35. Ibid., p. 252.

36. Ibid., p. 283.

37. Two of Masunaga's best-known works in English are: (1) The Soto Approach to Zen (Tokyo, 1948) and (2) A Primer of Soto Zen: A Translation of Dagen's Shobogenzo Zuimonki (Honolulu: East-West Center, 1971).

38. As quoted in Ichikawa, Nihon Fashizumu ka no Shakyo, p. 295.

39. The bodhisattva's six perfections of morality are: (1) making both material and spiritual donations to others, (2) leading a moral life, (3) being patient, (4) being vigorous in one's religious practice, (5) practicing meditation, and (6) acquiring wisdom.

40. Nakamura, Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples: India-China-Tibet-Japan, P. 583.

41. Imai, "Wagashu Kodai no Gunji Kankei no Kito to Ekobun" (Prayers and "Merit Transfer Verses" relating to Military Activities in Ancient Times in Our [Rinzai] Sect) in the January 1938 issue of Zensha (No. 513), p. 18.

42. Quoted in the combined November-December 1944 issue of Soto Shuho (No. 12.2.), p. 1. In Japan the belief in the efficacy of sutra copying on the outcomes of battles can be traced back at least as far as Taira no Masakado (d. 940), and his unsuccessful rebellion of 939-40 against the central government. Masakado is recorded as having vowed to copy the Golden Light Sutra in order to ensure the victory of his rebel forces. See Rabinovitch, Shomonki-The Story of Masakado's Rebellion, pp. 138-39, n. 300.

43. Quoted in the 15 April 1942 issue of Soto Shuho (No. 70), p. 6.

44. Imai, "Wagasho. Kodai no Gunji Kankei no Kito to Ekobun" (Prayers and "Merit Transfer Verses" relating to Military Activities in Ancient Times in Our [Rinzai] Sect) in the January 1938 issue of Zensha (No. 513), p. 17.

45. Ibid., pp. 21-22.

46. Quoted in the flyer, "Koa Kannon ni tsuite," prepared by the KOa Kannon Hosan Kai, p. 2. The Koa Kannon temple exists yet today and serves as the final resting place for the ashes (and graves) of generals Matsui Iwane, Tojo Hideki and the five other Class A war criminals executed by the Allies. It is, however, by no means the only temple dedicated to Avalokiteshvara that maintains a military connection. The Tokko (Special Attack) Kannon is located at the Fudo temple in Tokyo's Setagaya ward. Even now, on the eighteenth of every month, a ceremony is held to console the spirits of those kamikaze pilots who hurled themselves against the Allied fleet.

47. Contained in the 1 September issue of the Soto Shuho (No. 55), p. 3. By comparison, it should be noted that the Nishi Honganji branch of the Shin sect donated a total of twenty-two warplanes to the imperial cause.

48. Unnamed reporter, "Sangyo Senshi no Shinjin Rensei" (The Training of the Body and Mind of Industrial Warriors) in the January 1942 issue of Daihorin, P. 137.

49. Quoted in the 1 February 1944 issue of Soto Shuho (No. 113), p. 1.

50. Ibid., p. 1.
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Re: D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

Postby admin » Sat Mar 30, 2019 5:07 am

Part 1 of 2

The Postwar Zen Responses to Imperial-Way Buddhism, Imperial-State Zen, and Soldier Zen, Chapter Ten, [Excerpt] from "Zen at War", by Brian Daizen Victoria
Second Edition
© 2006 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.



Japan's surrender on August 15, 1945, marked the end of imperial-way Buddhism, imperial-state Zen, and soldier Zen. In the wake of Japan's defeat and the Allied Occupation, the sects of institutional Buddhism quickly changed aspects of their daily liturgies to reflect the demise of these movements. Buddhist leaders were faced with the question of how to explain their wartime conduct. Had their actions been a legitimate expression of Buddha Dharma or a betrayal of it?


D. T. Suzuki was probably the first Buddhist leader in the postwar period to address the moral questions related to Buddhist war support. He first broached the topic of Buddhist war responsibility in October 1945, in a new preface for a reprint of Japanese Spirituality (Nihonteki Reisei), originally published in 1944. He began by assigning to Shinto the blame for providing the "conceptual background" to Japanese militarism, imperialism, and totalitarianism. He then went on to discuss the Buddhist role as follows:

It is strange how Buddhists neither penetrated the fundamental meaning of Buddhism nor included a global vision in their mission. Instead, they diligently practiced the art of self-preservation through their narrow-minded focus on "pacifying and preserving the state." Receiving the protection of the politically powerful figures of the day, Buddhism combined with the state, thinking that its ultimate goal was to subsist within this island nation of Japan.

As militarism became fashionable in recent years, Buddhism put itself in step with it, constantly endeavouring not to offend the powerful figures of the day. Out of this was born such things as totalitarianism, references to [Shinto] mythology, "imperial-way Buddhism," and so forth. As a result, Buddhists forgot to include either a global vision or concern for the masses within the duties they performed. In addition, they neglected to awake within the Japanese religious consciousness the philosophical and religious elements, and the spiritual awakening, that are an intrinsic part of Buddhism.

Although it may be said that Buddhism became "more Japanese" as a result of the above, the price was a retrogression in terms of Japanese spirituality itself. That is to say, the opportunity was lost to develop a world vision within Japanese spirituality that was sufficiently extensive or comprehensive.1

Suzuki also attached a large portion of the blame for the militarization of Zen to both Zen priests and the Zen establishment. In an article written in 1946 fox the magazine Zengaku Kenkyu entitled "Renewal of the Zen World" (Zenkai Sasshin), Suzuki called for a "renewal" of Japanese Zen: "Generally speaking, present-day Zen priests have no knowledge or learning and therefore are unable to think about things independently or formulate their own independent opinions. This is a great failing of Zen priests."2 One result of this "great failing" had been Zen's collaboration with the war, including mouthing government propaganda during wartime and then suddenly embracing world peace and democracy in the postwar era. As far as Suzuki was concerned, "it would be justifiable for priests like these to be considered war criminals."3

Interestingly, Suzuki did not deny that the Zen priests he criticized were enlightened, but rather that being enlightened was no longer sufficient for Zen priests:

With satori [enlightenment] alone, it is impossible [for Zen priests] to shoulder their responsibilities as leaders of society. Not only is it impossible, but it is conceited of them to imagine they could do so. . . . In satori there is a world of satori. However, by itself satori is unable to judge the right and wrong of war. With regard to disputes in the ordinary world, it is necessary to employ intellectual discrimination .... Furthermore, satori by itself cannot determine whether something like communism's economic system is good or bad.4

One reason Suzuki gave for this regrettable state of affairs was that Zen had developed under the "oppression" of a feudal society and had been forced to utilize that oppression in order to advance its own interests. It is only human nature, Suzuki pointed out, "to lick the hand that feeds you."5 In addition, Japanese Zen priests had failed to realize that a world existed outside of their own country. Suzuki concluded his article as follows:

In any event, today's Zen priests lack "intellectuality" (J. chisei) .... I wish to foster in Zen priests the power to increasingly think about things independently. A satori which lacks this element should be taken to the middle of the Pacific Ocean and sent straight to the bottom! If there are those who say this can't be done, those persons should confess and repent all of the ignorant and uncritical words they and others spoke during the war in their temples and other public places.6

In all the passages above Suzuki seems to except himself from the need to confess or repent, but in the preface to Japanese Spirituality, he alludes obliquely to his own responsibility: "I believe that a major reason for Japan's collapse was truly because each one of us lacked an awareness of Japanese spirituality."7 If Suzuki accepts any personal responsibility for Japan's collapse, it is responsibility shared equally with each and every Japanese.

Suzuki apparently regarded his active promotion of the unity of Zen and the sword, the unity of Zen and Bushido, as having had no connection to Japan's militarism, and he had very little to say about the possibility that any of his wartime writings may have influenced the course of events. He did, however, refer rather mysteriously to a deficiency in Japanese Spirituality: "This work was written before Japan's unconditional surrender to the Allies. I was therefore unable to give clear expression to the meaning of Japanese spirituality."8 Is Suzuki suggesting that he distorted or censored his own writings in order to publish them under Japan's military government? Apparently not, since later in the same preface he explains the lack of clarity was due to the book's "academic nature," coupled with its "extremely unorganized structure."

Suzuki spoke again of his own moral responsibility for the war in The Spiritualizing of Japan (Nihon no Reiseika), published in 1947. This book is a collection of five lectures that he had given at Shin sect-affiliated Otani University in Kyoto during the month of June 1946. The focus of his talks was Shinto, for by this time he had decided that Shinto was to blame for Japan's militaristic past. According to Suzuki, Shinto was a "primitive religion" that "lacked spirituality." These factors had led to Japan's "excessive nationalism" and "military control."9 The solution to this situation was, in Suzuki's eyes, quite simple: "do away with Shinto."10 But Suzuki also spoke of his own responsibility for events:

This is not to say that we were blameless. We have to accept a great deal of blame and responsibility .... Both before and after the Manchurian Incident [of 1931] all of us applauded what had transpired as representing the growth of the empire. I think there were none amongst us who opposed it. If some were opposed, I think they were extremely few in number. At that time everyone was saying we had to be aggressively imperialistic. They said Japan had to go out into the world both industrially and economically because the country was too small to provide a living for its people. There simply wasn't enough food; people would starve.

I have heard that the Manchurian Incident was fabricated through various tricks. I think there were probably some people who had reservations about what was going on, but instead of saying anything they simply accepted it. To tell the truth, people like myself were just not very interested in such things.11

Even in the midst of Japan's utter defeat, Suzuki remained determined to find something praiseworthy in Japan's war efforts. He described the positive side of the war as follows:

Through the great sacrifice of the Japanese people and nation, it can be said that the various peoples of the countries of the Orient had the opportunity to awaken both economically and politically. . .. This was just the beginning, and I believe that after ten, twenty, or more years the various peoples of the Orient may well have formed independent countries and contributed to the improvement of the world's culture in tandem with the various peoples of Europe and America.12

Here, in an echo of his wartime writings, Suzuki continued to praise the "great sacrifice" the Japanese people allegedly made to "awaken the peoples of Asia."

To his English-reading audience, Suzuki offered a different interpretation of the war. The following appeared in an essay entitled ''An Autobiographical Account." included in the commemorative anthology A Zen Life: D. T. Suzuki Remembered:

The Pacific War was a ridiculous war for the Japanese to have initiated; it was probably completely without justification. Even so, seen in terms of the phases of history, it may have been inevitable. It is undeniable that while British interest in the East has existed for a long time, interest in the Orient on the part of Americans heightened as a consequence of their coming to Japan after the war, meeting the Japanese people, and coming into contact with various Japanese things.13

Added to the awakening of the peoples of Asia, Suzuki tells us that another positive side bf the "inevitable" war was the increased American presence and interest in Japan. In sum, it would seem that both friend and foe alike benefited in some way from Japan's "great sacrifice."

It is also noteworthy that Suzuki did not find war itself "ridiculous" but only the Pacific War, which was "probably" unjustified. Nowhere in Suzuki's writings does one find the least regret, let alone an apology, for Japan's earlier colonial efforts in such places as China, Korea, or Taiwan. In fact, he was quite enthusiastic about Japanese military activities in Asia. In an article addressed specifically to young Japanese Buddhists written in 1943 he stated: ''Although it is called the Greater East Asia War, its essence is that of an ideological struggle for the culture of East Asia. Buddhists must join in this struggle and accomplish their essential mission."14 One is left with the suspicion that for Suzuki things really didn't go wrong until Japan decided to attack the United States. What was it that made this particular war so "ridiculous"?

I suggest the answer is that Suzuki, having previously lived for more than a decade in the United States, knew Japan would be defeated. In support of this conclusion I point to a guest lecture Suzuki presented at Kyoto University in September 1941, just three months before Pearl Harbor. His ostensible topic was "Zen and Japanese Culture." but after finishing the formal part of his presentation, Suzuki added:

Japan must evaluate more calmly and accurately the awesome reality of America's industrial productivity. Present-day wars will no longer be determined as in the past by military strategy and tactics, courage and fearlessness alone. This is because of the large role now played by production capacity and mechanical power.15

Some observers, including Suzuki's former student Hidaka Daishiro, who recorded these remarks, interpret them as "antiwar" statements. Another way to view them is as simple common sense, without any moral or political intent: Don't pick a fight with someone you can't beat! Suzuki did not continue to make such statements of common sense after Pearl Harbor, when Japan had already engaged the United States in combat. Much more important, however, is the fact that he never criticized Japan's long-standing aggression against the peoples of Asia. Suzuki thought that punishing the "unruly heathens" was all right as long as Japan was strong enough to do so.


In the postwar years there have only been four declarations addressing war responsibility or complicity by the leaders of traditional Buddhist sects in Japan's war effort. None of these statements was issued until more than forty years after the end of the war. By comparison, Japan's largest Protestant organization first issued a statement, "A Confession of Responsibility During World War II by the United Church of Christ in Japan," in 1967, twenty years before any Buddhists spoke up-though even that statement was more than a generation in the making. Most leading Japanese Buddhist sects remain silent to this day. None of the branches of the Rinzai Zen sect, for example, has formally addressed this crucial issue, which institutional Japanese Buddhism is only beginning to face.

The first of the four Buddhist sects to make an admission of war responsibility was the Higashi Honganji branch of the Shin sect in 1987. Koga Seiji, administrative head of the branch, read the statement aloud as part of a "Memorial Service for All War Victims" held on April 2, 1987. It read in part:

As we recall the war years, it was our sect that called the war a "sacred war." It was we who said, "The heroic spirits [of the war dead] who have been enshrined in [Shinto's] Yasukuni Shrine have served in the great undertaking of guarding and maintaining the prosperity of the imperial throne. They should therefore to be revered for having done the great work of a bodhisattva ." This was an expression of deep ignorance and shamelessness on our part. When recalling this now, we are attacked by a sense of shame from which there is no escape ....

Calling that war a sacred war was a double lie. Those who participate in war are' both victims and victimizers. In light of the great sin we have committed, we must not pass it by as being nothing more than a mistake. The sect declared that we should revere things that were never taught by Saint [Shinran]. When we who are priests think about this sin, we can only hang our heads in silence before all who are gathered here.16

The Nishi Honganji branch followed suit four years later, in 1991. The following statement was issued by the administrative assembly of the Nishi Honganji branch on February 27, 1991. It was entitled "The Resolution to Make Our Sect's Strong Desire for Peace Known to All in Japan and the World." The central focus of this declaration, however, was the Gulf War coupled with the question of nuclear warfare mentioned in the second and third paragraphs. The sect's own wartime role did not rate mention until the fourth paragraph:

Although there was pressure exerted on us by the military-controlled state, we must be deeply penitent before the Buddhas and patriarchs, for we ended up cooperating with the war and losing sight of the true nature of this sect. This can also be seen in the doctrinal sphere, where the [sect's] teaching of the existence of relative truth and absolute truth was put to cunning use.17

In 1992 the Soto sect published a "Statement of Repentance" (sanshabun) apologizing for its wartime role. If the Rinzai Zen sect has been unwilling to face its past, it cannot be claimed that the postwar leadership of the Soto Zen sect was any more anxious to do so. Yet, a series of allegations concerning human rights abuses by this sect had the cumulative effect of forcing it to do so in spite of its reluctance. Unquestionably, the single most important event in this series of allegations was the sect headquarters' publication in 1980 of The History of the Soto Sect's Overseas Evangelization and Missionary Work (Soto Shu Kaigai Kaikyo Dendo Shi).

In the January 1993 issue of Soto Shuho, the sect's administrative headquarters announced that it was recalling all copies of the publication:

The content of this book consists of the history of the overseas missionary work undertaken by this sect since the Meiji period, based on reports made by the persons involved. However, upon investigation, it was discovered that this book contained many accounts that were based on discriminatory ideas. There were, for example, words which discriminated against peoples of various nationalities. Furthermore, there were places that were filled with uncritical adulation for militarism and the policy to turn [occupied peoples] into loyal imperial subjects.18

Immediately following the above announcement was the Statement of Repentance issued by the administrative head of the sect, Otake Myogen. The statement contained a passage which clearly shows how the preceding work served as a catalyst for what amounted to the sect's condemnation of its wartime role. The statement's highlights are as follows:

We, the Soto sect, have since the Meiji period and through to the end of the Pacific War, utilized the good name of overseas evangelization to violate the human rights of the peoples of Asia, especially those in East Asia. This was done by making common cause with, and sharing in, the sinister designs of those who then held political power to rule Asia. Furthermore, within the social climate of ceasing to be Asian and becoming Western, we despised the peoples of Asia and their cultures, forcing Japanese culture on them and taking actions which caused them to lose their national pride and dignity. This was all done out of a belief in the superiority of Japanese Buddhism and our national polity. Not only that, but these actions, which violated the teachings of Buddhism, were done in the name of Buddha Shakyamuni and the successive patriarchs in India, China, and Japan who transmitted the Dharma. There is nothing to be said about these actions other than that they were truly shameful.

We forthrightly confess the serious mistakes we committed in the past history of our overseas missionary work, and we wish to deeply apologize and express our repentance to the peoples of Asia and the world.

Moreover, these actions are, not merely the responsibility of those people who were directly involved in overseas missionary work. Needless to say, the responsibility of the entire sect must be questioned inasmuch as we applauded Japan's overseas aggression and attempted to justify it.

To make matters worse, the Soto sect's publication in 1980 of the History of the Soto Sect's Overseas Evangelization and Missionary Work was done without reflection on these past mistakes. This meant that within the body of the work there were not only positive evaluations of these past errors, but even expressions which attempted to glorify and extol what had been done. In doing this, there was a complete lack of concern for the pain of the peoples of Asia who suffered as a result. The publication involved claimed to be a work of history but was written from a viewpoint which affirmed an imperial view of history, recalling the ghosts of the past and the disgrace of Japan's modern history.

We are ashamed to have published such a work and cannot escape a deeply guilty conscience in that this work was published some thirty-five years after the end of the Pacific War. The reason for this is that since the Meiji period our sect has cooperated in waging war, sometimes having been flattered into making common cause with the state, and other times rushing on its own to support state policies. Beyond that, we have never reflected on the great misery that was forced upon the peoples of Asia nor felt a sense of responsibility for what happened.

The historian E. H. Carr has said: "History is an endless conversation between the past and the present." Regretfully, our sect has failed to engage in that conversation, with the result that we have arrived at today without questioning the meaning of the past for the present, or verifying our own standpoint in the light of past history. We neglected to self-critically examine our own war responsibility as we should have done immediately after having lost the war in 1945.

Although the Soto sect cannot escape the feeling of being too late, we wish to apologize once again for our negligence and, at the same time, apologize for our cooperation with the war .... We recognize that Buddhism teaches that all human beings are equal as children of the Buddha. And further, that they are living beings with a dignity that must not, for any reason whatsoever, be impaired by others. Nevertheless, our sect, which is grounded in the belief of the transference of Shakyamuni's Dharma from master to disciple, both supported and eagerly sought to cooperate with a war of aggression against other peoples of Asia, calling it a holy war.

Especially in Korea and the Korean peninsula, Japan first committed the outrage of assassinating the Korean Queen [in 1895], then forced the Korea of the Lee Dynasty into dependency status [in 1904-5), and finally, through the annexation of Korea [in 1910), obliterated a people and a nation. Our sect acted as an advance guard in this, contriving to assimilate the Korean people into this country, and promoting the policy of turning Koreans into loyal imperial subjects.

All human beings seek a sense of belonging. People feel secure when they have a guarantee of their identity deriving from their own family, language, nationality, state, land, culture, religious belief, and so forth. Having an identity guarantees the dignity of human beings. However, the policy to create loyal imperial subjects deprived the Korean people of their nation, their language, and, by forcing them to adopt Japanese family and personal names, the very heart of their national culture. The Soto sect, together with Japanese religion in general, took upon itself the role of justifying these barbaric acts in the name of religion.

In China and other countries, our sect took charge of pacification activities directed towards the peoples who were the victims of our aggression. There were even some priests who took the lead in making contact with the secret police and conducting spying operations on their behalf.

We committed mistakes on two levels. First, we subordinated Buddhist teachings to worldly teachings in the form of national policies. Then we proceeded to take away the dignity and identity of other peoples. We solemnly promise that we will never make these mistakes again ....

Furthermore, we deeply apologize to the peoples of Asia who suffered under the past political domination of Japan. We sincerely apologize that in its overseas evangelism and missionary work the Soto sect made common cause with those in power and stood on the side of the aggressors.19

Of all the Japanese Buddhist sects to date, the Soto sect's statement of apology is certainly the most comprehensive. Yet, it almost totally ignores the question of the doctrinal and historical relationship between Buddhism and the state, let alone between Buddhism and the emperor. Is, for example, "nation-protecting Buddhism" an intrinsic part of Buddhism or merely a historical accretion? Similarly, is the vaunted unity between Zen and the sword an orthodox or heretical doctrine? Is there such a thing as a physical "life-giving sword" or is it no more than a Zen metaphor that Suzuki and others have terribly misused?

The most recent statement by a Japanese Buddhist sect concerning its wartime role was issued on June 8, 1994 by the Jimon branch of the Tendai sect, the smallest of that sect's three branches. Its admission of war responsibility amounted to one short phrase contained in "An Appeal for the Extinction of Nuclear [Weapons)." It read: "Having reached the fiftieth anniversary of the deaths of the atomic bomb victims, we repent of our past cooperation and support for [Japan's) war of aggression."20

In spite of the positive good that has issued from the Soto sect's statement of apology, including the posthumous reinstatement of the priestly status of Uchiyama Gudo in 1983, Zen scholars such as Ichikawa Hakugen make it clear that the rationale for Zen's support of state-sponsored warfare in general, and Japanese militarism in particular, is far more deeply entrenched in Zen and Buddhist doctrine and historicaL practice, especially in its Mahayana form, than any Japanese Buddhist sect has yet to publicly admit.


Far more has been written on the relationship of the Zen school to war than on any other school or sect of Japanese Buddhism. This is due to the voluminous writings of one man, the late Zen scholar and former Rinzai Zen priest, Ichikawa Hakugen (1902-86). In the postwar years he almost singlehandedly brought this topic before the public and made it into an area of scholarly research. His writing, in turn, has sparked further investigation of this issue within other sects as well.

Before examining Ichikawa's writings, however, it would be helpful to look at comments made by other Zen adherents to get some idea of the overall tenor of the discussion and to bring the breadth and depth of Ichikawa's contribution into clearer focus. Several Zen scholars after Ichikawa continued to pursue this theme, coming to some remarkable conclusions, and a review of their writings closes out this chapter.

Yanagida Seizan Yanagida Seizan (b. 1922) started life as the son of a Rinzai Zen priest in a small village temple in Shiga Prefecture. As an adult he became the director of the Institute for Humanistic Studies at Kyoto University. Following retirement, he founded and became the first director of the International Research Institute f~r Zen Buddhism located at Hanazono University. In 1989 he presented a senes of lectures on Zen at both Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley.

In 1990 Seizan published a book entitled Zen from the Future (Mirai kara no Zen). This book, containing a number of lectures he had presented in the United States, included material that was both personal and confessional in nature, making it relatively unusual among Zen scholarship. In the book Seizan speaks of his experience as a young Rinzai Zen priest during and immediately after the war:

When as a child I began to become aware of what was going on around me, the Japanese were fighting neighboring China. Then the war expanded to the Pacific region, and finally Japan was fighting the rest of the world. When Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, I had experienced two major wars. As someone who was brought up while these wars were expanding, I did not have the luxury of thinking deeply about the relationship between the state as a sovereign power engaged in war and Zen Buddhism. No doubt this was largely due to the fact that I had neither the opportunity to go to the battlefield nor directly engage in battle. Furthermore, having been brought up in a remote Zen temple, I was completely ignorant of what was happening in the world. In the last phase of World War II, I was training as a Zen monk at Eigenji, proud of being away from the secular world and convinced that my total devotion to Zen practice would serve the state.

At any rate, with Japan's defeat I became aware of my own stupidity for the first time, with the result that I developed a deep sense of self-loathing. From 1945 to 1950 I did not see any point to human life, and I was both mentally and physically in a state of collapse. I had lost many of my friends; I alone had been left behind. We had fought continuously against China, the home country of Zen. We had believed, without harboring the slightest doubt, that it was a just war. In a state of inexpressible remorse, I could find rest neither physically nor mentally, and day after day I was deeply disturbed, not knowing what to do.

There is no need to say how complete is the contradiction between the Buddhist precepts and war. Yet, what could I, as a Buddhist, do for the millions upon millions of my fellow human, beings who had lost their lives in the war? At that time, it dawned on me for the first time that I had believed that to kill oneself on the state's behalf is the teaching of Zen. What a fanatical idea!

All of Japan's Buddhist sects-which had not only contributed to the war effort but had been one heart and soul in propagating the war in their teachings-flipped around as smoothly as one turns one's hand and proceeded to ring the bells of peace. The leaders of Japan's Buddhist sects had been among the leaders of the country who had egged us on by uttering big words about the righteousness [of the war]. Now, however, these same leaders acted shamelessly, thinking nothing of it. Since Japan had turned itself into a civilized [i.e., democratic] nation overnight, their actions may have been unavoidable. Still, I found it increasingly difficult to find peace within myself. I am not talking about what others should or should not have done. My own actions had been unpardonable, and I repeatedly thought of committing suicide.21

Seizan did not, of course, commit suicide, but it is bracing to meet a Japanese Buddhist who was so moved by his earlier support for the war that he entertained the idea of killing himself. The irony is that by comparison with the numerous Zen and other Buddhist leaders we have heard from so far, Seizan bore very little responsibility for what had happened. Yet in the idealism of youth he felt obliged to take the sins of his elders on his own shoulders. He neither sought to ignore what had happened nor place the blame on anyone else.

Seizan's disdain for the way in which the previously prowar leaders of the various sects had so abruptly abandoned their war cries and become "peacemakers." coupled with his overall dissatisfaction with Rinzai Zen war collaboration, led him to stop wearing his robes in 1955:

I recognized that the Rinzai sect lacked the ability to accept its [war] responsibility. There was no hope that the sect could in any meaningful way repent of its war cooperation .... Therefore, instead of demanding the Rinzai sect do something it couldn't do, I decided that I should stop being a priest and leave the sect .... As far as . I'm concerned, [Zen] robes are a symbol of war responsibility. It was those robes that affirmed the war. I never intend to wear them again."22

Seizan's return to lay life did not, however, signal a lessening of his interest in Zen, for he became one of Japan's preeminent contemporary scholars of Buddhism, earning an international reputation for his research into the early development of Chinese Zen, or Chan Buddhism.

Masanaga Reiho Ichikawa Hakugen recorded numerous statements made by these instant converts to peace, Masanaga Reiho prominent among them. During the war, as we noted earlier, Reiho extolled the virtues of Japan's kamikaze pilots. On September 15, 1945, exactly one month after Japan's surrender, Reiho wrote the following:

The cause of Japan's defeat ... was that among the various classes within our country there were not sufficient capable men who could direct the war by truly giving it their all .... That is to say, we lacked individuals who, having transcended self-interest, were able to employ the power of a life based on moral principles .... It is religion and education that have the responsibility to develop such_ individuals ....

We must develop patriotic citizens who understand [the Zen teaching] that both learning and wisdom must be united with practice. They will become the generative power for the revival of our people . . . and we will be able to preserve our glorious national polity .... It is for this reason that religionists, especially Buddhists, must bestir themselves.23

In peace as well as war, it would seem, the national polity required Buddhists to bestir themselves. Reiho certainly did. He became vice-president of Komazawa University.

Yamada Mumon Rinzai Zen master Yamada Mumon was the editor in 1942 of the strongly prowar book by his teacher Seki Seisetsu entitled The Promotion of Bus hi do. As already noted, in postwar Japan Mumon became both president of Hanazono University and chief abbot of Myoshinji, the largest branch of the Rinzai Zen sect.

In 1964 a collection of Mumon's sayings was published in English under the title A Flower in the Heart. Although Mumon did not intend it to be a scholarly work, he nevertheless made some noteworthy observations about both modern Buddhist history and Japan's participation in the Pacific War:

The only time when Buddhism in Japan met a suppression by the hand of a government was during the Meiji Restoration. Then, its ' teachings were denounced and its sacred images desecrated. Only the desperate efforts of its leaders saved it from the fate of an utter extinction, but the price they had to pay for its survival was high, for the monks, they agreed, would take up arms at the time of national emergencies. The dealing was surely regrettable. If those celebrated priests of the Meiji era were deceived by the name of loyalty and patriotism, we of today were taken in by the deceitful name of holy war. As a consequence, the nation we all loved lost its gear and turned upside down. This teaches us that we must beware not so much of oppression as of compromise.24

Interestingly, Mumon described the events from what is basically a third party's point of view. Nowhere does he take personal responsibility for what happened. Later, however, he did broach this topic:

For a long time I have entertained a wish to build a temple in every Asian nation to which we caused so much indescribable sufferings and damages during the past war, as token of our sincere penitence and atonement, both to mourn for their deads and ours and to pray for a perpetual friendship between her and our country and for further cultural intercourses.25 [English as in original]

Here Mumon does at least admit to a collective responsibility for what happened, though he still does not discuss any personal role. Later, however, Mumon tries to justify the war, at least to some degree:

The sacrifices listed above were the stepping stones upon which the South-East Asian peoples could obtain their political independence. In a feeble sense, this war was a holy war. Is this observation too partial? ... "If it were for the sake of the peace of the Far East." a phrase in one of the war-time songs, still rings in my ears.26

In the face of all these contradictions, it is difficult indeed to identify Mumon's true views. This is made even more challenging by a subsequent statement made in Japanese and distributed at the inaugural meeting of the "Association to Repay the Heroic Spirits [of Dead Soldiers]" (Eirei ni Kotaeru Kai) on June 22, 1976. Mumon was one of the founders of this association, whose purpose was to lobby the Japanese Diet for reinstatement of state funding for Yasukuni Shrine, the Shinto .shrine in Tokyo dedicated to the veneration of the "heroic spirits" of Japan's war dead. Mumon's statement was entitled "Thoughts on State Maintenance of Yasukuni Shrine." It contained the following passage:

Japan destroyed itself in order to grandly give the countries of Asia their independence. I think this is truly an accomplishment worthy of the name "holy war." All of this is the result of the meritorious deeds of two million five hundred thousand heroic spirits in our country who were loyal, brave, and without rival. I think the various peoples of Asia who achieved their independence will ceaselessly praise their accomplishments for all eternity.27

To his English-speaking audience Mumon described the war as having been in some "feeble sense" a holy war. To his Japanese audience, however, he invokes "meritorious deeds." "heroic spirits." and the "ceaseless praise" of a Southeast Asia liberated by the Japanese imperial forces. Now the real Mumon speaks up-at least to his Japanese audience. In the introduction to A Flower in the Heart, Umehara Takeshi described Mumon as "one of those rare monks from whose presence emanates a sense of genuine holiness." 28 Questions of "genuine holiness" aside, Mumon clearly persisted in his belief in Japan's holy war even into the postwar period, a belief that has been a credo for conservative Japanese politicians to this day.

Asahina Sagen Asahina Sogen (1891-1979) was the chief abbot and administrative head of the Engakuji branch of the Rinzai Zen sect. It will be recalled that Shaku Soen had earlier been the abbot of this same temple, and though Sogen had never been his disciple, their thinking was quite similar. Furthermore, like Yamada Mumon, Sogen was active in conservative causes in the postwar years, most notably as one of the founders of the ''Association to Protect Japan" (Nihon o Mamoru Kai).

In 1978 Sogen published a book entitled Are You Ready? (Kakugo wa Yoi ka), the last part of which was autobiographical in nature and included extensive comments about the war, its historical background, and his own role in it. Sogen began his discussion, as so many others had, by praising the thirteenth-century military ruler Hojo Tokimune and his Chinese Zen master Mugaku Sogen. According to Sogen, the roots of both Zen involvement in prayer services and the subsequent dose relationship between Zen and the state can be traced back to this period:

The reason that Japanese Zen began to chant sutras in both morning and evening services was due to the Mongol invasion. Although other temples were making a big fuss of their prayers [to protect the country], Zen priests were only doing zazen. They were out of step [with the other sects] and said to be indifferent to the affairs of state. The result was that they began to recite sutras.29

Jumping more than six hundred years to the nineteenth century, Sogen wrote that the Sino-Japanese War had been caused by China, which tried "to put Japan under its thumb" in Korea.30 The subsequent Russo-Japanese War was, in his opinion, due entirely to Russian actions. "Russia rapidly increased its armaments and intended to destroy Japan without fighting. It was decided that if Japan was going to be destroyed without fighting, it might as well have a go at it and be destroyed."31

These remarks were only a warm-up for Sogen's lengthy discussion of the Pacific War. He began this discussion with the following comments:

Shortly after the [Pacific] War started, I realized that this was one we were going to lose. That is to say, the civil and military officials of whom the Japanese were so proud had turned into a totally disgusting bunch ....

I'm not going to mince words-the top-level leadership of the navy was useless. I know because living in Kamakura as I did, I had met many of them .... For example, two dose friends of [Admiral] Yamamoto Isoroku [1884-1943] told me the following story: After the great victory Yamamoto achieved in the air attack on Pearl Harbor, he had a meeting with [General] Tojo Hideki. Yamamoto told him that this was no longer the era of battleships with their big guns. Rather, it was unquestionably the era of the airplane. Therefore every effort should be made to build more airplanes. Yamamoto was right, of course, in having said this.

Tojo, however, being the kind of person he was, in addition to being an army general, was consumed with jealousy, for, unlike the navy, the army had yet to achieve any major victories. The result was that, due to his stubbornness, Tojo told Yamamoto that he refused to accept orders from him because the latter was merely the commander-in-chief of the combined fleet while he [Tojo) was the nation's prime minister. They were like two children fighting. Yamamoto's two friends claimed that because Japan wasn't building more airplanes, it was losing the war.

[Sogen) said to them, "Why wasn't Yamamoto willing to risk his position in opposing him? Why didn't he tell Tojo he would resign his position as combined fleet commander?" ... If I had been there, I would have let go with an explosive "Fool!" ... The army and the navy don't exist for themselves, they exist to defend the country .... With people like these at the top how can they accomplish what is expected of them? We're already losing. With people like them as commanders, we cannot expect to win .... They're only thinking about themselves.32

Even though Sogen claimed to have realized that Japan faced defeat at an early stage of the war with the Allies, he did not withdraw his support for the nation's war effort. On the contrary, he wrote that on numerous occasions he had given lectures and led "training camps" (rensei kai) to help maintain the people's morale. One of his earliest efforts (omitted from his book) was given on national radio (NHK) in July 1939. Speaking in support of the government's newly issued order for a general mobilization of the civilian population, he said:

Lieutenant Colonel Sugimoto Goro was revered as a god of war, having undergone Zen training .... Had he possessed a weak spirit, or lacked the ability to carry out [what needed to be done), he would have been held in contempt by the people, given today's emergency situation. Let us be inspired by the [Zen] expression: ''A day without work is a day without eating." If we were to carry this over into every aspect of our daily lives, that is to say, if we were to dedicate ourselves totally to repaying the debt of gratitude we owe the nation, we would have a splendidly coherent life. Though we found ourselves on the home front and not on the battlefield, we would have nothing to be ashamed of.33

A second lecture, which Sogen did choose to write about, was given at the Naval Technical Research Institute in Tokyo. With evident pride, he twice mentioned that all the members of this institute were university graduates and that it was the most important center for naval technology in Japan. His lecture was given to all two hundred workers at the institute and lasted for a full three hours and twenty minutes. Perhaps embarrassed by its content (within the context of the postwar era), he did not give the details of his talk, but he claimed there was not so much as a cough from his audience the entire time. "I'll be satisfied if what I've said has been of even a small benefit to the state." he concluded.34 As an example of one of the training camps he led, Sogen described a military-sponsored visit of some forty-four wounded war veterans to Engakuji. They underwent Zen training as best they could for a one-week period. When it came time for them to leave, Sogen addressed them:

Even though you have sustained injuries to your eyes or to your hands, you are still brave and seasoned warriors. This is now a time when the people must give everything they have to the state. You, too, have something precious to give. That is to say, transfer your spirit to the people of this nation, hardening their resolve. You were not sent to a place like this to be pampered. I took charge of you because I wanted you to have the resolve and the courage to offer up the last thing you possess [to the state].35

"They cried." Sogen reported, "all of them."36

Sogen was not critical of all those in leadership positions during the war. There was one institution, or figure, for whom he had unwavering respect both during and after the war, the emperor: "The debt of gratitude owed the emperor ... is so precious that there is no way to express one's gratitude for it or to repay it."37 Although Sogen didn't discuss Emperor Hirohito's wartime role, he had nothing but praise for his actions following Japan's defeat. It was the emperor's "nobility of spirit." Sogen maintained, that so moved General Douglas MacArthur, head of the Allied Occupation Forces, that he decided to treat Japan leniently, maintaining its integrity as a single country. It was in this spirit that Sogen left his Japanese readers with the following parting thought: "The prosperity and everything we enjoy today is completely due to the selflessness and no-mindedness of the emperor's benevolence. I want you to remember this. Human beings must never forget the debt of gratitude they owe [others )."38 Though the terms "imperial-state Zen" and "soldier Zen" may have ceased being rallying cries in postwar Japan, Sogen, like Yamada Mumon, demonstrates that their spirit lived on. He was far from the only postwar Zen master to maintain this attitude, a fact which explains, at least in part, why even today not a single branch of the Rinzai Zen sect has ever publicly discussed, let alone apologized for, its wartime role. To do so would call into question not only the modern history of that sect but much of its seven-hundred-year history in Japan.

Ichikawa Hakugen While the Rinzai Zen sect has spawned some of the strongest advocates of imperial-state Zen and soldier Zen, it has also produced some of its most severe critics. Yanagida Seizan may be considered one, though his was at best a limited critique. The Rinzai Zen-affiliated priest and scholar Ichikawa Hakugen took up this challenge on a much broader scope and a much deeper level.

Hakugen's classic statement on the role of Buddhism, particularly Zen, in the wartime era is The War Responsibility of Buddhists (Bukkyosha no Senso Sekinin), published in 1970. Three years before, in 1967, he had begun to examine this issue in Zen and Contemporary Thought (Zen to Gendai Shiso). He developed his ideas still further in a series of articles and books including Religion Under Japanese Fascism (Nihon Fashizumu Ka no Shukyo), published in 1975, and a major article entitled "The Ideology of the Military State" (Kokubo Kokka Shiso) included in Buddhism During the War(Senji Ka no Bukkyo), published in 1977 and edited by Nakano Kyotoku.

In Religion Under Japanese Fascism, Hakugen justified his call for a critical evaluation of the relationship between Buddhism and Japanese militarism:

In recent times, Japanese Buddhists talk about Buddhism possessing the wisdom and philosophy to save the world and humanity from collapse. However, I believe Buddhism first has to reflect on what, if any, doctrines and missionary work it advocated during the Meiji, Taisho, and Showa periods to oppose exploitation and oppression within Japan itself, as well as Korea, Taiwan, Okinawa, China, and Southeast Asia. Beyond that, Buddhism has the duty and responsibility to clarify individual responsibility for what happened and express its determination [never to let it happen again].39

In the preceding work, as well as many of his other works, Hakugen set out to do just what he said needed to be done. He not only clarified individual responsibility but also looked at those doctrinal and historical aspects of both Zen and Buddhism which he believed lent themselves, rightly or wrongly, to abuse by supporters of Japanese militarism. One of the individuals whom Hakugen felt was most responsible for the development of imperial-way Zen was D. T. Suzuki.

Hakugen felt that Suzuki's position as expressed in A Treatise on the New [Meaning of] Religion in the latter part of the Meiji period helped form the theoretical basis for what followed. In justification of this assertion, he quoted the same passage from that treatise introduced in chapter 2. He stated that Suzuki had been speaking of China when he mentioned a "lawless country" in this treatise. Hakugen then went on to say:

[Suzuki] considered the Sino-Japanese War to be religious practice designed to punish China in order to advance humanity. This is, at least in its format, the very same logic used to support the fifteen years of warfare devoted to "The Holy War for the Construction of a New Order in East Asia." Suzuki didn't stop to consider that the war to punish China had not started with a Chinese attack on Japanese soil, but, instead, took place on the continent of China. Suzuki was unable to see the war from the viewpoint of the Chinese people, whose lives and natural environment were being devastated. Lacking this reflection, he considered the war of aggression on the continent as religious practice, as justifiable in the name of religion ....

The logic that Suzuki used to support his "religious conduct" was that of "the sword that kills is identical with the sword that gives life" and "kill one in order that many may live." It was the experience of "holy war" that spread this logic throughout all of Asia. It was Buddhists and Buddhist organizations that integrated this experience of war with the experience of the emperor system.40

Needless to say, Suzuki was not the only Zen adherent who Hakugen believed shared responsibility for the war. Mention has already been made, for example, of Harada Daiun Sogaku, whom Hakugen identified as a "fanatical militarist." Hakugen went on to point out that yet another of Harada's chief disciples and Dharma successors, Yasutani Hakuun (1885-1973) was, in postwar years, "no less a fanatical militarist and anticommunist" than his master.41

Specifically, in 1951, Hakuun established a publication known as Awakening Gong (Gyosho) as a vehicle for his religious and political views. The following passage is typical of his political views:

Those organizations which are labeled right-wing at present are the true Japanese nationalists. Their goal is the preservation of the true character of Japan. There are, on the other hand, some malcontents who ignore the imperial household, despise tradition, forget the national polity, forget the true character of Japan, and get caught up in the schemes and enticements of Red China and the Soviets. It is resentment against such malcontents that on occasion leads to the actions of young [assassin) Yamaguchi Ojiya or the speech and behavior of [right-wing novelist) Mishima Yukio.42

Coupled with Hakuun's admiration for Japan's right wing was his equal distaste for Japan's labor movement and institutions of higher learning. Less than a year after the above, he wrote:

It goes without saying the leaders of the Japan Teachers' Union are at the forefront of the feeble-minded [in this country) .... They, together with the four opposition political parties, the General Council of Trade Unions, the Government and Public Workers Union, the Association of Young Jurists, the Citizen's League for Peace in Vietnam, and so forth, have taken it upon themselves to become traitors to the nation ....

The universities we presently have must be smashed one and all. If that can't be done under the present constitution, then it should be declared null and void just as soon as possible, for it is an un-Japanese constitution ruining the nation, a sham constitution born as the bastard child of the allied occupation forces.43

As for the theoretical basis of Hakuun's political views, he shared the following with his readers six months later: "All machines are assembled with screws having right-hand threads. Right-handedness signifies coming into existence, while left-handedness signifies destruction."44 When Hakuun went to the United States to lead meditation training on seven different occasions between 1962 and 1969, sentiments like the above were noticeably missing from his public presentations. It would appear that they were for domestic consumption only. Yet Hakuun did not hesitate to tell his American students what the true cause of conflict in the world was. In a 1969 essay entitled "The Crisis in Human Affairs and the Liberation Found in Buddhism," he wrote:

Western-style social sciences have been based on a deluded misconception of the self, and they attempt to develop this "I" consciousness. This is dichotomy. As a result, they have reinforced the idea of dichotomy between human beings which has lead to conflicts and fighting. They have even created a crisis which may destroy all of mankind.45

Naturally, Hakugen was sharply critical of "god of war" Sugimoto Goro and his Zen master and eulogist Yamazaki Ekiju:

First, Sugimoto and Yamazaki used Zen as nothing more than a means for the practice of the imperial way. Not only that, but by forcing the meaning and tenets of Zen to fit within the context of a religion centered on the emperor, Zen itself was obliterated.46

Hakugen also pointed out that the Soto Zen sect had gone so far as to actually change its fundamental principles in order to place itself squarely behind the state's war efforts. In 1940 this sect revised its creed to read: "The purpose of this sect is ... to exalt the great principle of protecting the state and promoting the emperor, thereby providing a blessing for the eternal nature of the imperial throne while praying for the tranquility of a world ruled by his majesty."47 In its new creed promulgated following Japan's defeat, the Soto sect dropped the preceding paragraph in its entirety, as it was clearly no longer politically acceptable.

Hakugen was the first postwar Zen and Buddhist scholar to try to determine what Buddhist doctrines or pre-Meiji historical developments might have either contributed to or facilitated Buddhist war collaboration. He identifies one example of a contributing historical development in Zen and Contemporary Thought:

In the Edo period [1600-1867) Zen priests such as Bunan [1603-76), Hakuin [1685-1768), and Torei [1721-92) attempted to promote the unity of Zen and Shinto by emphasizing Shinto's Zen-like features. While this resulted in the further assimilation of Zen into Japan, it occurred at the same time as the establishment of the power of the emperor system. Ultimately this meant that Zen lost almost all of its independence, the impact of the High Treason Incident on the Zen world representing the final stage of this transformation.48

Hakugen also looked for those Buddhist tenets that seem to· have made Buddhism susceptible to militaristic manipulation. One example he gave of such an idea concerned the Buddhist teaching of wago (harmony). Out of harmony, he postulated, had come Buddhism's "nonresistance" and "tolerance":

With what has modern Japanese Buddhism harmonized itself? With State Shinto. With the power of the state. With militarism. And therefore, with war. To what has modern Japanese Buddhism been nonresistant? To State Shinto. To the power of the state. To militarism. To wars of aggression. Toward what has modern Japanese Buddhism been tolerant? Toward the above mentioned entities with which it harmonized. Therefore, toward its own war responsibility.

And I should not forget to include myself as one of those modern Japanese Buddhists who did these things.49

Hakugen's self-indictment was, in fact, quite appropriate, for during the war years he had indeed been a strong advocate of Japan's "holy war." For example, in September 1942, he published an article in Daihorin entitled, "War, Science, and Zen." He began his article with the following observation:

Pacifistic humanitarianism, which takes the position that all conflicts are inhumane crimes, is the sentiment of moralists who don't know the true nature of life. We, on the other hand, know of numerous instances in which peace is far more unwholesome and evil than conflict. In this regard, Nietzsche, who taught the logic of war instead of peace, was a man with a firm grip on living truth rather than the abstractions of pacificists.50
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Re: D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

Postby admin » Sat Mar 30, 2019 5:08 am

Part 2 of 2

Hakugen went on to relate these ideas to Zen:

The words [of Zen master Dogen] discuss the "falling away" of body and mind of both oneself and others. A truly solemn battle must be one in which one conquers not only the evil within the enemy, but within one's own side as well. A conflict which thoroughly incorporates within itself defense, penitence, and liberation, is one that is worthy of the name "holy war."

By protecting. oneself one can truly save others, and through saving others one can undoubtedly be saved oneself. It is in such a war that the "sword which kills" can, at the same time, be the "sword which gives life." It is the creativity which emerges from tragedy that gives the title "holy war" its appropriateness.51

And finally Hakugen becomes quite concrete and specific: "The current war is a fight for 'eternal peace in the Orient'."52

Motivated by his awareness of his wartime complicity, Hakugen tenaciously uncovered layer after layer of factors that had facilitated or caused Buddhism, and Zen in particular, to unite with militarism. Nowhere is this clearer than in his examination of the historical character of Japanese Buddhism that was included in his book The War Responsibility of Buddhists. Hakugen outlined twelve historical characteristics which, developing over the centuries, produced in Japanese Buddhism a receptiveness to authoritarianism. 53

The first of these characteristics was the subservience of Buddhism to the state. Hakugen pointed out that there were a number of Mahayana sutras originating in India that emphasized the role of Buddhism as "protector of the state." These sutras had been particularly welcomed in Japan, where this aspect of Buddhism became even more pronounced. During the Edo period Buddhism came under complete government control and, mixed together with Shinto, evolved into what was essentially a state religion.

As a state religion, Buddhism became a mere shell of its former self. Its attention was now focused on ancestor veneration in the form of funerals and memorial services, making it a religion with a limited social nexus., the extended family. It was antagonistic to Christianity because of the latter's transnational and modern character. Furthermore, the Meiji government's opposition to Christianity and socialism only reinforced Buddhism's opposition to those movements. Buddhism sought to protect itself by ever greater subservience to the state, including opposition to any group or movement that threatened nationalism based on the emperor system and military expansionism.

Hakugen's second characteristic concerned Buddhist views on humanity and society. On the one hand, Buddhism emphasizes the equality of human beings based on their possession of a Buddha nature, the innate potential to realize Buddhahood. On the other hand, the doctrine of karma, with its corollary belief in good and bad karmic retribution, tends to serve as a kind of moral justification for social inequality. Differences in social status, wealth, and happiness are seen as just rewards for good or bad conduct both in this and previous lives, having nothing to do with the political or social structure of society.

Understood in this light, social inequality is not only just, but represents true equality. It is, furthermore, only natural for Buddhism to protect a society with clear differences in social status since such a society facilitates the working out of past karma. Socialism, on the other hand, advocates the . purposeful leveling of these social differences, thus becoming the proponent of "evil equality." As such, it must be rejected.

The third characteristic was concerned with the question of Social morality, the encouragement of go od and the punishment of evil. In this context Hakugen discussed one of Japan's oldest quasi-legal documents, the Seventeen Article Constitution of Prince Regent Shotoku, allegedly promulgated in 604. This Constitution contained the following warning: "If you receive an imperial command, it must be obeyed without fail. The sovereign is heaven, and imperial subjects are the earth .... Should the earth seek to overthrow heaven, there will only be destruction."

Hakugen maintained that as a semistate religion from this period onwards, Buddhism sought to protect not only the state but its hierarchical social structure as well. On the basis of having completely internalized-this essentially Confucian logic over the centuries, Buddhism readily became a faithful servant of the Meiji government's conservative social policies, working to create the ideal imperial subject.

The fourth characteristic concerned both human rights and justice. Hakugen first introduced the Buddhist doctrine of dependent co-arising or causality, explaining that all phenomena are regarded as being in a constant state of flux, born and dying without any permanent substance to them, empty. When this doctrine is applied to the self, it produces the concept of egolessness or no-self, leaving no room for the independence of the individual.

According to Hakugen, this doctrine prevented the development of the Western principle of Natural Law within Buddhism, leaving the modern concepts of human rights and justice without a foundation. In the Seventeen Article Constitution, there is an admonition to "turn one's back on self-interest and embrace the public good." Hakugen believed there existed a direct connection between this and the wartime slogan "exterminate the self and serve the public" (messhi hoko). The "public" referred to, he maintained, was none other than the state and the emperor. Thus, "The teaching of 'no-self' became both a theory and ethic serving mikado imperialism."54

The lack of Buddhist dogma was the fifth characteristic Hakugen identified. Lacking a transcendent, personal God who had to be worshiped and defended, Buddhism failed to establish the type of compelling basic dogma a believer would fight to preserve. In Japan, this resulted in the neglect of both discursive thought and logical theory. Instead, Buddhism concentrated on the inner self, giving the central role to the individual's subjective feelings. There was little concern for the results of external actions.

The sixth characteristic was the concept of on. Forming the heart of Mahayana Buddhist ethics, on is the teaching that a debt of gratitude is owed to those from whom favors are received. Traditionally, on was owed to four classes or types of individuals: (1) one's parents; (2) the ruler; (3) all sentient beings; and (4) either heaven and earth, or the Three Treasures of Buddhism, the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Hakugen argued that in Japan the debt of gratitude owed one's parents had converged with that owed one's sovereign, the emperor, who assumed the role of the head of the entire Japanese family. This produced a corresponding weakening of the sense of universal indebtedness to all sentient beings.

The Buddhist belief in the mutual interdependence of all things was the seventh characteristic. Hakugen stated that this belief led in modern Japan to an organic view of the state coupled with a feeling of intimacy towards it. Encompassed within this viewpoint was the recognition of the preeminence of the state, with the individual being no more than a constituent element. In similar fashion, it meant that capitalists, too, were preeminent, with workers being subsumed beneath them in an extended family system that emphasized harmony and cooperation.

Hakugen's eighth characteristic focused on the doctrine of the Middle Way. He maintained that the Middle Way doctrine of early Buddhism in India had become the operating principle for social development in modern Japanese Buddhism. This did not manifest itself as some type of compromise between extreme left-wing and right-wing political ideology. Instead, it took the form of a constant search for compromise with the aim of avoiding confrontation before it occurred. This lead to an unwillingness to take clearcut positions on social issues as well as very hazy ideas about social reform.

The ninth characteristic centered on the tradition of ancestor veneration. As "nation-protecting Buddhism" assimilated itself to Japan, it promoted the customs and virtues of ancestor veneration. The entire nation came to be regarded as one large family in which loyalty between subject and sovereign was the chief virtue. This logic was extended and employed as a support mechanism for the sacred war as voiced by the wartime slogan "the whole world under one roof" [hakko ichiu].

The tenth characteristic was the idea of "aging." The Middle Ages in Japan gave rise to a culture in which old and mature things were valued. Out of this came such aesthetic concepts as wabi (rustic antiqueness) and sabi (ancient solitariness). According to this way Of thinking, society was based on a set of ancient and immutable laws, especially as regarded its hierarchical structure. To challenge those laws and to suggest new social structures was seen as the act of an immature person who had not fully grasped the laws. The mature person, in contrast, would dismiss proposals for social change, especially those threatening the existing social order, while remaining accepting, obedient, and uncritical of the status quo.

The eleventh characteristic involved Buddhism's emphasis on inner peace rather than justice. Lacking a God as the author of transcendental principles, Buddhism was not compelled to build a Kingdom of God based on justice here on earth. Furthermore, because Buddhism is a religion based on the idea of the emptiness of things, it had almost no basis for maintaining an antagonistic attitude towards State Shinto. Buddhism's focus on the inner peace of the individual also contributed to its failure to encourage and justify the will to reorganize society.

Hakugen's twelfth and final characteristic concerned the Buddhist logic of soku, a copula that means "just as it is" and is related to the Buddhist concepts of suchness and nonduality. Ichikawa contended that the logic of soku, appearing as it does throughout Buddhist thought, leads to a static, aesthetic perspective, a detached, subjective harmony with things. In Hakugen's view, Buddhism lacks a dynamic theoretical basis for either confronting reality or promoting social change.

Each one of the twelve characteristics identified by Hakugen is, certainly, open to debate. Nevertheless, his critique strongly suggests that the issue of Buddhism's collaboration with Japanese militarism is one with very deep roots in Buddhist history and doctrine, by no means limited to Japan alone. For this insight, and much more, future students of this topic will remain indebted to this pioneering scholar.

Hakamaya and Matsumoto The Soto Zen sect has made a beginning in addressing some of the many issues involved in the modern historical relationship between the sect and the Japanese state and militarism. This work continues even now through the ongoing research and writings of such contemporary Soto Zen scholars at Komazawa University as Hakamaya Noriaki (b. 1943) and Matsumoto Shiro (b. 1950 ). Both of these scholars, like Ichikawa Hakugen before them, have undertaken an in-depth look at some of the doctrinal underpinnings of Zen which facilitated, if not prompted, its support for Japanese militarism. They have reached some surprising and radical conclusions.

Matsumoto discusses the relationship of patriotism to Buddhism:

I believe that to love Japan is to love one's self. To me "Japan" is an extension of my own mind and body. As I love my own body, so I love Japan. Self-love, or narcissism, is very enticing and sweet. ... However, love is something which should be directed to others; if it is directed at one's self, it becomes self-attachment.

On the basis of the Buddhist teaching of no-self, I have come to the following conclusions: (1) one should disdain oneself; and (2) one should love only the absolute other (God or Buddha). Therefore, as a Buddhist, based on the teaching of no-self, I must not love Japan, since it is an extension of my self.

Even if I believe I should not love myself, it is certainly true that I am always loving myself; even if I believe I should not love Japan, I cannot avoid loving Japan. However, the teaching of the Buddha is absolute .... A Buddhist must not love Japan [i.e. one's own country].55

Hakamaya's conclusions are no less dramatic. In his 1990 book Critical Buddhism (Hihan Bukkyo), Hakamaya echoed Ichikawa Hakugen's earlier critique of the Buddhist concept of "harmony" (wa):

True Buddhists must, having disavowed the Law of the Sovereign, believe in the Law of the Buddha. They must draw a sharp distinction between Buddhist teachings and anti-Buddhist teachings, using both intellect and language to denounce the latter ....

In the present age dominated by a harmony which is ever ready to compromise, to be opposed to war means to reject harmony. 56

Hakamaya also directed his attention to those Soto Zen masters who supported Japan's war effort. He had the following to say about Sawaki Kodo, whose wartime writings have been previously introduced:

When one becomes aware of Sawaki Kodo's [wartime] call to "Invoke the power of the emperor; invoke the power of the military banner," it is enough to send shivers down one's spine .... Not only was Sawaki not a Buddhist, but he took up arms against [Soto Zen Master] Dogen himself .... 57

This is very strong criticism coming from a Soto Zen-affiliated scholar, for even today that sect continues, on the whole, to regard Kodo as one of its great scholar-priests of this century. But Hakamaya is driven by the belief that Buddhists "must draw a sharp distinction between Buddhist and anti-Buddhist teachings."

Even more surprising, Hakamaya and Matsumoto are ready and willing to subject traditional, nearly sacrosanct Zen doctrines to the test of Buddhist versus anti-Buddhist teachings. Nowhere is this better seen than in Hakamaya's assertion that the doctrine of the original or inherent enlightenment of all sentient beings, which forms a crucial part of East Asian Buddhism in general and Zen in particular, is not a Buddhist concept at all. It is this assertion that serves as the basis of his attack on harmony, claiming that it, too, is "not Buddhism."58

Hakamaya's basic position is that the doctrine that all beings are inherently, therefore originally enlightened (hongaku shiso), violates the fundamental Bnddhist teaching of causality, the twelvefold chain of dependent arising said to have been discovered by Buddha Shakyamuni through his enlightenment experience. Hakamaya sees the doctrine of original enlightenment as affirming an eternal, substantial, underlying essence, often referred to as Buddha nature, on which everything else in the phenomenal world depends or arises from. The teaching of causality, on the other hand, describes a temporal sequence from cause to effect, and is predicated on the logic that if B exists, then A has existed; if A does not exist, then B will not exist. In other words, each precondition is dependent on the one before it, with a total of twelve preconditions linked together and forming an indivisible circle, typically represented in Buddhist art as the Wheel of Life. In this scheme, there is no place for an unchanging substratum such as original enlightenment beneath or behind the phenomenal world.

For a similar reason both Hakamaya and Matsumoto criticize the doctrine of tathagatagarbha (J. nyoraizo), a second foundation of East Asian Buddhism. Unlike original enlightenment, which lacks a Sanskrit equivalent and may well be a later Chinese creation, the latter doctrine is a clear if relatively minor part of the Indian Mahayana tradition.59 In this compound term, tathagata denotes the Eternal Buddha and therefore can also be translated as "suchness," "thusness," or "the absolute." The word garbha literally means a "seed" or "embryo." and refers to the receptacle or womb in which the absolute resides. As a compound, this term refers to the absolute residing as a constituent element, though in embryonic form, within sentient beings-the universal potential for enlightenment waiting to be realized. While the phenomenal world is regarded as ultimately unreal (i.e. non-existent), being devoid of any unchanging self-nature, the realm of the unconditioned absolute, of suchness, is real (existent).

In Japan the doctrine of original enlightenment was expanded over time to embrace the idea that all things, animate and inanimate alike, were inherently enlightened. Hence the famous phrase, often encountered in Japanese literature, that "mountains and rivers, plants and trees, all attain Buddhahood" (sansen somoku shikkai jobutsu). On the surface this appears to an optimistic, even democratic idea, for enlightenment becomes equally and inherently open to all, regardless of wealth, sex, age, education, or nationality, and embraces even the objects of the inanimate world.

The question is, of course, what these abstract doctrinal arguments have to do with Hakamaya's and Matsumoto's social critiques. They discovered that in historical practice these two doctrines produced what they regard as very undesirable consequences, a major one of which is a philosophy of discrimination. They argue that if-a single, unchanging reality underlies all phenomena, then everything in the phenomenal world becomes essentially the same. This includes, of course, such moral distinctions as right and wrong and good and bad, and such social distinctions as rich and poor and strong and weak. Accordingly, there is no longer any need or reason to fight injustice or to right wrongs. Discrimination and injustice come to be regarded as no more than the way things are and ought to be. The moral imperative to act selflessly, to reach out to those in need, disappears.

Hakamaya further argues that original enlightenment functions as an authoritarian idea because suchness is seen as being ineffable, with no place for either words or concepts, let alone faith or intellect. This in turn leads to those Zen terms so beloved by Suzuki and other Zen masters, terms such as "no reliance on words or letters" (furyu monji), "direct intuition" (chokkan), and especially, "no-thought" and "no-reflection." In this connection it may be helpful to recall Suzuki's comments concerning the way of the sword:

In the Kendo ("the Way of the Sword"), what is most essential to attain besides its technique is the spiritual element controlling the art throughout. It is a state of mind known as munen or muso, "no-thought" or "no-reflection." ... It means letting your natural faculties act in a consciousness free from thoughts, reflections, or affections of any kind .... When this is understood, your art is perfect. Finally, Zen and the Sword's Way are one in this, that both ultimately aim at transcending the duality of life and death.60

Matsumoto identified this type of thinking as a philosophy of death and rejected it categorically.

Hakamaya rejected the idea of harmony, calling it an enemy of Buddhism because it inevitably promotes compromise and tolerance-tolerance that is exploited by the powerful in society to maintain the status quo, no matter how unjust it may be. At the same time, it is used to stifle internal dissent, thereby making people easy prey for political propaganda. In one of his strongest statements on this issue, Hakamaya said:

The previous Greater East Asia War was prosecuted in accord with the concept of harmony utilizing [such slogans as] "The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" and "The Whole World Under One Roof." The sons of Japan, unable to become traitors, silently and obediently took their bodies to the battlefield, regarding it as a virtue to do so. If we reflect on this for but a moment, it is clear that it is through faith one becomes a true Buddhist. Should there be an occasion when the Law of the Sovereign and the Law of the Buddha come into conflict, then ... the Law of the Buddha should be chosen. One must never allow oneself to be reduced to a mere physical entity. Instead, the intellect must be used to its utmost to dearly distinguish what is right, and words used to their utmost to criticize what is wrong. I believe this is the way in which faith becomes an activity opposed to war.61

Needless to say, statements like the above have not gone unchallenged within Japanese Buddhist circles. For one, critics want to know what these two scholars consider Buddhism is if the preceding doctrines are dismissed as invalid. Their reply has been to present what they consider to be true Buddhism's three defining characteristics. Briefly, they are: (1) Buddha Shakyamuni's teaching of the law of causality, which denies the existence of any underlying or unchanging substance in the world, including the self; (2) the duty of those who would call themselves Buddhist to act altruistically, or "selflessly." to benefit others; and (3) the use of words and the intellect in making a conscious decision to believe in the law of causality.

Though the positions set forth by Hakayama and Matsumoto are certainly not impervious to criticism (for example, the teaching of the universal possession of the Buddha nature, "with neither superior nor inferior." was a catalyst for Uchiyama Gudo's social activism, which battled social repression and discrimination), the willingness of these two scholars to call into question some long held and cherished tenets of both Japanese Buddhism in general and Zen in particular augurs well for an intellectual revitalization of Japanese Buddhist thought, not least of all within the Zen tradition. It also demonstrates how far Japanese Buddhism has come in the half century since its leaders claimed that it was the only Buddhist country in Asia, the country in which pure Mahayana Buddhism was to be found.

Hirata Seiko As noted above, not one of the numerous branches of the Rinzai Zen sect has ever formally admitted or examined its own war complicity. 62. (Ichikawa Hakugen's critique was personal, not official.) It is difficult to escape the conclusion that this inability to come to grips with its past is due to the fact that the Rinzai sect's complicity was even more thoroughgoing than that of the Soto sect.

In the absence of any formal statement from official Rinzai spokesmen, let us conclude this chapter with a look at the most contemporary statement on Zen war responsibility made by a Rinzai Zen-sect priest, Hirata Seiko (b. 1924). Chief abbot of Tenryuji temple in Kyoto, former Professor of Buddhism at Hanazono University, and a disciple of Seki Seisetsu, Seiko responded to this issue in an article entitled "Zen Buddhist Attitudes to War" which is included in Rude Awakenings (Zen, the Kyoto School, & the Question of Nationalism).

At first glance, Seiko seems to take a position not unlike that of Ichikawa Hakugen. For example, he frankly admitted that Japan's war efforts were, at least in part, "a self-serving attempt on the part of certain Japanese political and economic leaders to jump onto the imperialist bandwagon and carve out a piece of the Asian mainland for themselves." He further stated that "the Pacific War can only be seen as a reckless undertaking that simply reflected the military leaders' ignorance of the international situation."63

Seiko was no less frank in admitting Zen complicity in Japan's wartime activities:

The Zen priesthood is made up of individuals, and as in any religion during times of war, there were among them many who appear to have abandoned the ideals of their faith to embrace the narrower ideals of their country. Not a few Zen priests joined hands with State Shinto and its imperialist view of history in order to promote the war. None of the historical arguments brought forth in their defense (for example, the indignation at the West's colonization of the East ... ) can justify their simple failure to speak out on the Buddhist ideal of nonbelligerence, much less their active support of the war effort.64

There is also another, more subtle, apologist dimension to Seiko's admissions. On the secular level this is manifest in such statements as "the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 can be seen as a defensive strategy by Japan to halt the southward advance of the Russian Empire," or "as the leading power of Asia it was incumbent on Japan to stand up to the [Western] colonizers." 65 That neither the Korean nor Chinese people ever asked to be defended or colonized by Japan seems to have eluded Seiko's grasp.

Seiko's most questionable statements, however, are reserved for his description of the wartime activities of his own Zen teacher, Seki Seisetsu. According to Seiko, Seisetsu was one representative of "domestic criticism of the trend toward militarism." Thus, at the time of an extreme ultranationalist rebellion led by junior imperial army officers on February 26, 1936, Seisetsu wrote a letter to the minister of the army, Terauchi Hisaichi, "urg[ing] him take what action he could to check the reactionary elements in the officer corps." Terauchi was, we are told, "a frequent visitor of the master."66

What Seiko fails to mention, however, is that in spite of the major policy differences between them, the leaders on both sides of the rebellion were ultranationalists, equally committed to the maintenance and expansion of Japan's empire. As far as foreign policy was concerned, the conflict between them was over the best strategy for accomplishing their shared expansionist goals. From the viewpoint of Japan's colonial subjects, it made little difference which side prevailed. In the words of the colloquial Japanese expression, the 'only difference was whether they [the colonial peoples] were to be "broiled and eaten or boiled and eaten."

Seiko goes on to admit that "Unfortunately, the effort bore no fruit, for whatever reason, and Japan continued its downslide into military rule." The reason it bore no fruit, of course, is that it was little more than a factional dispute in the officer corps, both sides of which supported Japan's overseas empire. This is further attested to by the fact that once the central government succeeded in putting down the rebellion (as Seisetsu had requested), Terauchi went on, the following year, to become the commander of the North China area army and lead Japan's full-scale invasion of that country. By the end of the war this "frequent visitor of the master'·' would rise to the rank of field-marshal and command the entire southern area army in Southeast Asia.

Seisetsu went on, as previously described, to write The Promotion of Bushido in 1942. Even earlier, in Septemner 1937, Seisetsu had gone on national radio to say:

Showing the utmost loyalty to the emperor is identical with engaging in the religious practice of Mahayana Buddhism. This is because Mahayana Buddhism is identical with the Law of the Sovereign. The truth is that when the ego has been thoroughly destroyed, that which manifests itself is identical with the Buddha nature. The truth is that when the ego has been thoroughly discarded, that which springs forth is identical with the spirit of Japan. It is the red devils [i.e., Communists] who seek to throw our noble national polity into disarray. We must seek to exterminate the devils at home, while stamping out the devils abroad. This can be accomplished by uniting together as one, working harmoniously, being loyal, and serving the emperor.67

And finally, to what did Seiko attribute the willingness of Zen leaders to support Japanese militarism? Was its cause to be found deeply embedded in Japanese or Chinese Zen doctrines, as Hakugen and Hakamaya have asserted? Could it be connected to organizational Buddhism's early willingness to protect the nation, or Zen's willingness to assert the identity of Zen and the sword? In Seiko's view it could not, for it was all much simpler than that. Just as "the Pacific War can only be seen as a reckless undertaking that simply reflected the military leaders' ignorance of the international situation," so too "the Zen priesthood can be faulted for its ignorance of the international situation at the time of the Pacific War."68 Some fifty years after the end of the war, this Rinzai leader had come to the conclusion that Zen complicity in the wartime deaths of millions upon millions could be explained by ignorance of the international situation.




1. D. T. Suzuki, Nihonteki Reisei in Vol. 8, Suzuki Daisetsu Zensha, pp. 6-7.

2.. D. T. Suzuki, "Zenkai Sasshin" (Renewal of the Zen World) in Vol. 28, Suzuki Daisetsu Zensha, p. 411.

3. Ibid., p. 412.

4. Ibid., p. 413. Compare this quotation with what Suzuki wrote only two years earlier, in 1944, in Nihonteki Reisei (Japanese Spirituality): "When the bright and pure mind [of a Japanese) no longer works on the surface of consciousness but begins to move submerged in its deepest parts, when it is moving unconsciously, without discrimination, without discursive thought, then Japanese spirituality can be recognized." (Suzuki Daisetsu Zensha, Vol. 8, p. 29.)

5. Ibid., p. 415.

6. Ibid., p. 417.

7. D. T. Suzuki, Nihonteki Reisei in Vol. 8, Suzuki Daisetsu Zensha, pp. 7.

8. Ibid., p. 7.

9. D. T. Suzuki, Nihon no Reiseika, p. 34.

10. Ibid., p. 1.

11. Ibid., pp. 5-6.

12. Ibid., p. 7.

13. Quoted in Abe, A Zen Life: D; T. Suzuki Remembered, p. 24.

14. D. T. Suzuki, "Daijo Bukkyo no Sekaiteki Shimei-Wakaki Hitobito ni Yosu" (The World Mission of Mahayana Buddhism-Given to Young People) in Vol. 28, Suzuki Daisetsu Zensha, p. 343.

15. Recorded by Hidaka Daishiro in "Nogi Taisho to Suzuki Daisetsu Sensei no Insho Oyobi Omoide" (Impressions and Remembrances of General Nogi and D. T. Suzuki) contained in Hisamatsu, Suzuki Daisetsu, p. 286. I find even further support for my conclusion in a postwar magazine article written by Suzuki in 1946 entitled "Special Attack Forces." (Tokko Tai). Here Suzuki blamed the Japanese people's "lack of a scientific and technical nature" for the country's defeat. He went on to say: "As for the recent war, the Japanese people revealed from the beginning that as far as their scientific nature is concerned, they were vastly inferior to the peoples of Europe and America. This lack of insight and decisiveness is shown by their complete failure to plan for war; their failure to investigate how much military, economic, and spiritual power the enemy possessed; and their inability to watch for an opportunity to end the war when it became clear that defeat was inevitable. Furthermore, it can be said that Japan was certain to be defeated from the very beginning inasmuch as this country was unable to give the least freshness to the creative power of machinery; or control, organize, master, and efficiently use, scientific technology." (p. 401) This is, of course, the same Suzuki who during the war years urged Zen-inspired warrior-soldiers to "rush forward to one's ideal," ignoring everything else including questions of right and wrong.

16. Quoted in Nihon Shukyo-sha Heiwa Kyogikai, Shukyo-sha no Sensi Sekinin; Zange, Kokuhaku, Shiryo-shu, p. 34.

17. Ibid., p. 39.

18. January 1993 issue of Soto Shuho, p. 26.

19. Ibid., pp. 28-31. To its credit, the Soto sect's administrative headquarters, spearheaded by its Human Rights Division, continues the drive to distance itself from the emperor and the state. This is seen, most notably, in administrative directives issued in 1994 to discourage the inclusion in ritual prayers of references either to the emperor or the term "heroic spirits" (eirei) when referring to the nation's war dead. In addition, the sect's Human Rights Division has also sought to end sectarian practices that support either sexual discrimination or discrimination against Japan's former outcaste group (burakumin).

20. Quoted in Nihon Shukyosha Heiwa Kyogikai, Shukyosha no Senso Sekinin; Zange, Kokuhaku, Shiryo Shu, p. 54.

21. Yanagida Seizan, Mirai kara no Zen, PP. 56-7.

22. Interview in 16 February 1995 issue of Chugai Nippo, p. 8.

23. Quoted in Ichikawa Hakugen, Nihon Fashizumu ka no Shakyo, p. 311.

24. Yamada Mumon, A Flower In The Heart, p. 11.

25. Ibid., p. 28.

26. Ibid., p. 31.

27. The leaflet was entitled "Thoughts on State Maintenance of Yasukuni Shrine" (Yasukuni Jinja Kokka Goji o Omou), as quoted in Maruyama, Nihonjin no Kokoro o Dame ni Shita Meiso, Akuso, Guso, p. 49. Mumon's attempt to find something good about the war is by no means unique among postwar Japanese leaders, especially conservative politicians and some historians. Typically those who seek to affirm Japan's wartime actions point to the liberation of the nations of Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia, from the yoke of Western colonialism. They consistently fail, however, to address Japan's own colonial control of Korea, Taiwan, and Manchuria.

28. Yamada, A Flower In The Heart, p. 7.

29. Asahina Sogen, Kakugo wa Yoi ka, pp. 151-52.

30. Ibid., p. 155.

31. Ibid., p. 157.

32. Ibid., pp 150-64.

33. Quoted in Ichikawa, Nihon Fashizumuka no Shakyo, p. 194.

34. Asahina, Kakugo wa Yoi ka, p. 168.

35. Ibid., p. 171.

36. Ibid., p. 171.

37. Ibid., p. 183.

38. Ibid., p. 189.

39. Ichikawa, Fashizumuka no Shakyo, pp. 22-23.

40. Ibid., p. 35.

41. Ibid., p. 15.

42.Ibid., p. 16. Yamaguchi Ojiya was a rightest youth who stabbed to death the popular leader of the Socialist Party of Japan, Asanuma Inejiro, at an outdoor rally in Tokyo in October 1960. Mishinta Yukio (1925-1970) was a famous novelist well-known in Japan for his rightwing views, which included restoring the emperor to his prewar status. In pursuit of his political goals, Mishima formed his own private army, the Shield Society (Tate no Kai), which trained together with the postwar Japanese military, the Self-Defense Forces. In November 1970 Mishima made a dramatic call for an uprising among members of the Self-Defense Forces. When this failed, he committed ritual suicide at the Self-Defense Force Headquarters in Tokyo.

43. Ibid., p. 16.

44. Ibid., p. 15.

45. Quoted in ZCLA Journal (Yasutani Roshi Memorial Issue), Summer I Fall, 1973, p. 46.

46. Ichikawa, Fashizumuka no Shakyo, p. 87.

47. Sotosha Kyogi. For a survey of the immediate postwar reactions of other Buddhist sects, see Ichikawa, Fashizumu ka no Shukyo, pp. 305-11.

48. Ichikawa Hakugen, Zen to Gendai Shiso, p. 177.

49. Ibid., p. 111-12.

50. September 1942 issue of Daihorin, p. 132.

51. Ibid., p. 139.

52. Ibid, p. 135.

53. See Ichikawa Hakugen, Bukkyosha no Senso Sekinin, pp. 150-54.

54. Ibid., p. 152.

55. Quoted in Paul Swanson's "Zen is Not Buddhism," in Numen 40 (1993), p. 123.

56. Hakamaya Noriaki, Hihan Bukkyo, pp. 297-98.

57. Ibid., p. 297.

58. Ibid., pp. 297-98. See pp. 275-304 for a more complete treatment of this thesis.

59. The short treatise entitled Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana is the primary vehicle through which the doctrines of original enlightenment and tathagatagarbha have been introduced into East Asian Buddhism. Although Chinese Buddhist tradition attributes this treatise to the Indian author Asvaghosha, who lived in the first or second century C.E., most scholars today regard it as an original Chinese composition. For further information on these two terms see either the "Introduction" to Yoshito S. Hakeda's translation, The Awakening of Faith, pp. 3-19, or Paul L. Swanson's article, "Zen Is Not Buddhism," in Numen 40 (1993) pp. 13-14.

60. D. T. Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, p. 127.

61. Hakamaya, Hihan Bukkyo, pp. 293-94. For an in-depth look at the "Critical Buddhism" movement, see Jamie Hubbard and Paul Swanson, eds. Pruning the Bodhi-tree-Storm over Critical Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997.

62. The closest to anything like an official Rinzai examination of its wartime conduct is to be found in a 1984 officially sponsored history of the Myoshinji branch entitled Myoshinji: Roppyaku Gojunen no Ayumi (Myoshinji: Over the Course of Six Hundred and Fifty Years). In the only direct reference to the branch's wartime collaboration, the book's author, Kimura Joyu, first noted the April 1945 donation of the fighter aircraft Hanazono Myoshinji. He then went on to say, " ... [this donation I cannot help but be said to be a reflection of the times," p. 225. Should this be interpreted as a mere oversight, it is noteworthy that in an address given on April 26, 1995, the current president of Hanazono University, Kono Taitsu (b. 1930), had the temerity to suggest to the Myoshinji branch hierarchy that, in conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of the war's end, Myoshinji officially issue a statement repenting its war complicity. As he admitted, however, his proposal went over "like a lead balloon" (nuka ni kugi). For a full discussion of this incident, see Senso, Sengo Sekinin to Sabetsu (Discrimination and Responsibility for the War and its Aftermath), pp. 1-16, edited by Hanazono Daigaku Jinken Kyoiku Kenkyushitsu.

63. Heisig and Maraldo, Rude Awakenings, p. 10.

64. Ibid., p. 11.

65. Ibid., p. 10.

66. Ibid., p. 10. For a description of the February 26th Incident and the events surrounding it, see, for example, Beasley's The Modern History of Japan, pp. 236-57.

67. Quoted in Endo Makoto, Ima no Otera ni Bukkyo wa Nai, p. 157.

68. Heisig & Maraldo, Rude Awakenings, P. 15.
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Re: D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

Postby admin » Sat Mar 30, 2019 5:11 am

Corporate Zen in Postwar Japan, Chapter Eleven [Excerpt] from "Zen at War", by Brian Daizen Victoria
Second Edition
© 2006 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.


During World War II, we have seen, Zen was used a a method to train not only officers and soldiers but "industrial warriors" as well. In postwar Japan, when the "infinite power" supposedly derived from zazen was no longer needed on the battlefield, some Japanese businessmen decided it could be put to use in the rebuilding of Japan's devastated industrial base. The Occupation had introduced democracy and education reform, including anew-emphasis on individual rights, to Japanese society. In addition, the terrible postwar poverty had encouraged the growth of leftist forces, including militant labor unions. Some in the business community saw Zen as a way of restoring the traditional values of discipline, obedience, and loyalty to superiors.


One form the corporate response took was the creation of training programs for their new employees. An article entitled "Marching to the Company Tune," appearing in the June 1977 issue of Focus Japan, an English-language magazine published by the semi-governmental Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), describes the history of these programs:

[These programs] were developed in the late 1950s when companies realized that schools were no longer emphasizing the old virtues of obedience and conformity. Living and training together, sometimes for as long as a month, are designed to artificially recreate the old neglected virtues.1

What better place than a Zen monastery for the artificial recreation of the old neglected virtues? Here monk and lay trainees rise at 3:30 A.M. to meditate, eat rice gruel for breakfast, and endure the winter cold with only tiny charcoal braziers for heat. Extended periods of sitting in the traditional cross-legged lotus posture can be quite painful even for an experienced meditator, let alone a novice. If even the slightest movement is detected, the meditator will be "encouraged" to remain immobile by one or more blows of a long wooden stick known as a kyosaku wielded by a senior monk-monitor. After being struck, the offending meditator is required to place the palms of his hands together and bow as an expression of his appreciation for the blows.

There can be no doubt that this Spartan life style does increase the ability to withstand adversity; and, as George A. DeVos has pointed out, endurance has long been a highly desirable virtue in Japanese business organizations.2 It is, however, in the social rather than the physical environment of a Zen monastery that there is the greatest emphasis on obedience and conformity. To be allowed to enter a monastery as a trainee, a monk is expected to prostrate himself in supplication before the entrance gate for hours, if not days, depending on the monastery. When asked why he wishes to enter the monastery, the monk should reply, "I know nothing. Please accept my request!" indicating that his mind is like a blank sheet of paper, ready to be inscribed by his superiors as they wish. If a monk fails to give the proper answer, he is struck repeatedly with the kyosaku until his shoulders are black and blue and the desired state of mind is achieved.

Once permitted to enter the monastery, the monk finds that everyone is his superior. Even a fellow monk who was admitted only a few hours before· him will automatically precede him on any formal or semiformal occasion, including meals, and exercise some degree of authority over him. Those senior monks who have been in training for more than one or two years seem, to the new entrant, to be superior beings. They not only wield the kyosaku but also determine whether or not the novice's work assignments are performed satisfactorily. These senior monks wear finer and more colorful robes than their juniors and live in more spacious quarters. They also have the official privilege of leaving the monastery for short periods of time and the unofficial privileges of surreptitiously eating meat, drinking alcohol, and keeping petty monetary and in-kind gifts made to the monastery.

There are striking parallels between Zen monastic life and training, and military life and training. During the war Soto Zen master Sawaki Kodo noted that Zen monasteries and the military "truly resemble each other closely." Among other things, this was because both required communal life styles. Kodo continued:

The first thing required in communal life is to discard the self .... In battle those who· have been living together communally can work together very bravely at the front .... Today the state requires that we all follow a communal life style wherever we are, thus repaying the debt of gratitude we owe the state. The spirit of Zen monastic life does not belong to Zen priests alone but must be learned by all the people.3

The prospect of incoming employees learning a communal life style to "repay the debt of gratitude" owed their company is, of course, no less attractive to Japan's business world than it was to the imperial military. Not surprisingly, therefore, corporate Zen training is often conducted in tandem with or in place of so-called "temporary enlistment" (kari nyutai) in the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. In the case of Zen monasteries, senior monks act very much like drill sergeants, and novice monks are their recruits. As one new salesman who had just completed his company's training program noted: "My work has much in common with that of a soldier."4

If senior monks are the drill sergeants, then it is the Zen master or masters who act as the generals or corporate heads. They enjoy the real authority in a Zen monastery and are ultimately responsible for directing the training programs for both monks and lay persons. In the talks they give to incoming trainees, one of the most frequently recurring themes is the Zen phrase daishu ichinyo, which means that all members of the monastic community (daishu) should act as one (ichinyo). When it is time to do zazen, everyone sits. When it is time to eat, engage in long, silent hours of manual labor, or sleep, everyone acts together as if they were one body. To do otherwise is called katte na kodo or "self-willed action" and condemned as the very antithesis of the Zen life. In a Zen monastery, complete conformity is by no means an old, neglected virtue.

Discipline, obedience, conformity, and physical and mental endurance in the face of hardship are not the only features of monastic life attractive to corporate Japan. The traditional Buddhist teaching of the non-substantiality of the self has also been given a unique corporate twist. This twist is well illustrated by Ozeki Soen (b. 1932), the abbot of Rinzai Zen-sect affiliated Daisen'in temple and one of the best-known of the Zen priests conducting employee-training courses. In a collection of his sermons delivered during such training courses, he stated:

Employing your vital life force, you should exert yourselves to the utmost, free of any conceptual thought .... This is what it means to be alive. That is to say, at every time and in" every place, you should work selflessly.5

Sakai Tokugen A further example of Zen's corporate twist is provided by Sakai Tokugen (1912--96), another leading Zen master involved with employee-training programs. Tokugen, a disciple of Sawaki Kodo, was also a former professor of Buddhist Studies at Komazawa University. In the May 1974 issue of Daihorin, he lamented the lack of sincerity in carrying out the orders of one's superiors in postwar Japan:

Sincerity [in carrying out orders 1 means having feelings and actions of absolute service, giving one's all [to the task at hand]. In doing this there can be no thought of personal loss or gain .... By carrying out our [assigned] tasks, we become part of the life of the entire universe; we realize our original True Self .... This is the most noble thing human beings can do.6

For Tokugen, then, selfless devotion to the accomplishment of one's assigned duties is none other than enlightenment itself. Is it any wonder that he has also been a popular leader of employee-training programs? How many Western companies can promise enlightenment as an added employee benefit? Here, certainly, the Protestant work ethic, with eternal salvation as its reward, has met its match.

It should be clear by now that, at its most basic, the same spirit of self-renunciation characterizes both Tokugen's exhortations to be a good worker and those of D. T. Suzuki, Yamazaki Ekiju, Harada Sogaku, and others to be a good soldier. The only difference between them is the object of loyalty and devotion. In premodern Japan, absolute loyalty was owed to one's feudal lord. From the Meiji period onward the focus shifted to the central government and its policies as embodied in the person of the emperor. In postwar Japan the focus shifted once again, this time to the corporation and its interests-which are of course very closely connected in Japan with those of the state.

There is one further aspect of Zen training that is very attractive to Corporate Japan, the practice of zazen itself. The samadhi power supposedly derived from the practice of zazen was originally utilized in Zen training to give the practitioner a deeper insight into his or her own nature and the nature of reality itself. Yet this same power, facilitating as it does complete absorption into the present moment, can be applied to any work, from wielding a samurai sword with lightning swiftness, to fighting selflessly on the battlefield, to manufacturing computer components with flawless precision. What could be more attractive to a Japanese company?

In reality, Japan's defeat meant not the demise of imperial-way Zen and soldier Zen but only their metamorphosis and rebirth as corporate Zen. Perhaps Zen's newest incarnation is more benign than its past variants, in that it does not seem to require loyalty even unto death. But in the mid- 1970s, a new phenomenon was detected among Japan's corporate warriors: karoshi, or "death from overwork." At least some part of postwar Japan's economic miracle must be assigned to the willingness of company employees to work themselves to death.

Katsuhira Sotetsu The emergence of corporate Zen in postwar Japan was not entirely without its critics. Perhaps the most prominent of these was Katsuhira Sotetsu (1922-1983), head of the Nanzenji branch of the Rinzai Zen sect. In his posthumous 1988 book Enlightenment of a Pickle-pressing Stone (Takuan Ishi no Satori) Sotetsu wrote:

Of late there has been a Zen boom, with various companies coming to Zen temples saying they wish to educate their new employees. But it is clear what kind of education they are seeking. They want to educate their employees to do just as they are told. They claim that Zen is good at this. However, their claim is a bunch of rubbish! Zen is not as paltry as all that. It is not so small-minded as to restrict a person to such a limited framework. This said, the responsibility for having sanctioned such a Zen boom lies with the Zen temples themselves.7

During the war years, as a young Zen priest, Sotetsu had volunteered to become a pilot in a special-attack, or kamikaze unit. He frequently begged his unit commander to send him on a mission, but the war ended before he got his wish. Sotetsu wrote about this: "Without entertaining the slightest doubt, I believed I should die for my country, killing even a single enemy. I now recognize that, as a priest, there could be no greater contradiction than this. I will carry this contradiction with me to the day I die."8 In November 1983, at sixty-one years of age, Sotetsu committed suicide.


Zen remains influential in Japanese military circles as well. The reconstituted Japanese military, the Self-Defense Forces, with a budget in 1996 second only to the United States military, continue to call on Zen masters for spiritual guidance despite Japan's so-called "Peace Constitution" of the postwar era.

Sugawara Gido In his 1974 book, If I Die, So What! (Shinde Motomoto) Sugawara Gido (1915-78), the chief abbot of Rinzai Zen sect-affiliated Hokoku Zenji temple, writes with evident pride of his more than ten years of service as an adjunct instructor for the Self-Defense Forces.9 Gido goes on to draw a parallel between the "unwavering faith" displayed by both Fleet Commander Admiral Togo Heihachiro (1848-1934) and Army General Nogi Maresuke during the Russo-Japanese War, and Zen enlightenment.10 As for the Pacific War, he wrote:

There is no doubt that all those involved in the Greater East Asia War had discarded their self-centeredness and, sacrificing their lives, acted on what they believed was right for their country.11 I think they attained the path of Truth [makoto]. If you believe that something is right, that it is the path of Truth, you should rush forward towards it.12

Gido also discussed Bushido, remarking that it was such Kamakura period (1185-1333) Zen masters as Eisai and Dogen who helped develop the samurai spirit, which "regarded the body as of no more value than so many goose feathers and was ever willing to sacrifice life itself in the service of one's lord."13 Gido argued that the ultimate spiritual beauty of Bushido was to be found in two of its uniquely Japanese practices, which he believed continue to course through the veins of the Japanese people: ritual disembowelment (seppuku) and seeking revenge on one's enemies (ada uchi). What made these two acts so compelling was that their practitioners "were well-acquainted with shame, propriety, and Truth." Moreover, the "selfless mind" embodied in these practices was the equivalent of the classical Zen koan Mu. Needless to say, Gido regarded these acts as being "incomprehensible to foreigners."14

In Gido's eyes, one of the most persistent problems facing the Self-Defense Forces was that their members were subjected to various forms of social discrimination at the hands of those. Japanese, including local government officials, who were opposed to the reestablishment of a military force. According to Gido, however, there was no need for Self-Defense Forces soldiers to be concerned about whether they were loved or hated. "Just silently continue polishing your machine guns and cleaning your tanks, even if you don't have to use them for the next two, three, or even five hundred years .... This is where your true life lies."15.

Omori Sogen Omori Sogen (1904-94) began his Zen practice in 1925 as a lay disciple of Seki Seisetsu, abbot of Tenryuji. Sogen claimed to have realized enlightenment at the age of twenty-nine, after having meditated intensely for eight years on the koan Mu. His breakthrough occurred as follows:

I finished zazen and went to the toilet. I heard the sound of the urine hitting the back of the urinal. It splashed and sounded very loud to me. At that time I thought, "Aha!" and I understood I had a deep realization.16

In 1966 Sogen published a book with a familiar ring to its title, Sword and Zen (Ken to Zen). Sogen opened his book by admitting that he didn't know when the phrase "The sword and Zen are one" (ken Zen ichinyo) had first been used.17 Nevertheless, he had no hesitation in stating "there can be doubt that with regard to their ultimate goals and aims, the sword and Zen are identical."18 He described the nature of this unity:

[quote[Zen is the sword of the mind while the sword is the Zen of the sword blade .... For a warrior to discharge his duties he must necessarily clarify the origin of life, and transcend life and death in order to reach the absolute realm .... This is the reason the destiny of the sword is inevitably connected to Zen.19[/quote]

Abstract as this quotation may seem, Sogen was prepared to cut through the metaphorical rhetoric when it came justifying the use of the sword in the defense of "peace and justice":

Can someone tell me just how justice is to be protected and peace preserved? Are there any concrete ways of protecting justice and maintaining peace other than resolutely making evil submit and eliminating those who threaten peace? In order to accomplish this, those [who do such things] must be harmed, even though in one respect it is, I dare say, wrong to do so.20

Sogen was well aware that "protecting justice and maintaining peace [in East Asia]" was precisely the rationale given to justify Japan's wartime actions; he had formerly been an ardent supporter of those same actions. In August 1945, Sogen made plans to preempt the broadcast of the emperor's announcement of Japan's surrender and fight till the end.21 He would have had to have very powerful friends indeed to even know in advance of the emperor's radio broadcast, let alone its contents. But in fact Sogen was very well connected, for he enjoyed the patronage of the Toyama family, the patriarch of which, Toyama Mitsuru (1855-1944), was a central figure in two of Japan's most infamous ultranationalist secret societies, the Genyosha (Dark Ocean Society) and Kokuryokai (Black Dragon Society). The historian David Bergamini described Toyama as the Lord High Assassin of these two secret societies.22 A second historian, E. H.Norman, noted that the two secret societies that Toyama helped run formed "the advance guard of Japanese imperialism ... mold[ing] public opinion in favor of aggression."23

Sogen also praised the elder Toyama for providing him with the wisdom necessary to endure his life of hardship amidst the poverty of the immediate postwar period. Toyama, he wrote, had once told him that "Since ancient times there has never been a person who starved from doing the right thing. If you are doing what is right, heaven will surely provide food. Therefore, even if you starve and die, do the right thing.24 What Sogen conveniently omitted from his account is that, for Toyama, doing the right thing had meant a lifetime of assassinations, drug dealing, and terrorism in Japan's colonies, coupled with political blackmail, intimidation, and backstairs intrigue at home.

Just how close Sogen was to the Toyamas is demonstrated by the fact that Toyama Mitsuru's son, Ryusuke, served as an advisor to the martial arts hall, Jiki Shin Dojo, that Sogen founded in 1933 and headed through the end of the war. For Sogen, Toyama Ryusuke's most attractive feature was his utter fearlessness:

During his [Ryusuke's] student days at Dobun Shoin, a very good friend had tuberculosis. Seeing this person who was depressed and in despair vomit blood, Toyama Sensei said, "Tuberculosis is nothing. Watch this!" and drank down the blood.25

According to Sogen, Ryusuke was "a great man that one can meet only once in a lifetime."26

Because Japan lost the war, Sogen decided "according to the Way of the Samurai." to formally enter the Rinzai Zen priesthood.27 He then went on to become a professor at Rinzai-affiliated Hanazono University in 1970 and its president in 1978. Six years earlier, in 1972, he had established Chozenji International Zen Dojo, complete with a martial arts training hall, in Hawaii. In material published in 1988, Sogen's American disciples described him as having earlier been an antiwar activist. They wrote:

Omori Roshi was influential in government circles before the outbreak of World War II and strenuously appealed to [Prince] Konoe, who was to be the next prime minister, to appoint either Ugaki or Mazaki to the post of Commander of the Army instead of Tojo. He hoped to avert Japan's war with the United States. He blamed his own spiritual weakness for his failure.28

As with D. T. Suzuki and others, the question must be asked as to whether Sogen was opposed to war in principle or merely opposed to fighting a losing war with the United States. The two generals whom Sogen supported, Ugaki Kazushige (1869-1956) and Mazaki Jinzaburo (1876-1956), were both longstanding supporters of Japan's colonial expansion. Ugaki, for example, had willingly accepted appointment as governor general of Korea in 1931. Similarly, there is nothing in the record to suggest that Sogen himself was opposed to the subjugation of Taiwan, Korea, or Manchuria. Thus, even if his "strenuous appeal" to Prince Konoe had been successful, it would have done little or no good for the millions of Chinese, Koreans, and other Asian peoples who became the victims of Japanese aggression, supported by such doctrines as the identity of the sword and Zen.

While corporate Zen is the primary manifestation of imperial-way Zen and soldier Zen in postwar Japan,29 Zen's connection to the Japanese military, and to the sword, has by no means disappeared. Yasutani Hakuun was another of those Zen masters leading retreats for members of the Self-Defense Forces, specifically for officer-candidates at the elite Self-Defense Academy.30 In fact, thanks to the writings and missionary activities of numerous postwar and small numbers of prewar Zen leaders like Yasutani, it can be argued that modern-day variations of imperial-way Zen and soldier Zen are now to be found in the West as well as in Japan, although often without the knowledge or support of their Western adherents. As these Zen variations settle into their new home in the West, the critical question is simply this: Will the doctrine of the unity of Zen and the sword, with all this implies historically, settle in with them?




1. "Marching to the Company Tune" in the June 1977 issue of Focus Japan, p. 36.

2. See DeVos, "Apprenticeship and Paternalism" in Modern Japanese Organization and Decision-Making, pp. 221-23.

3. Sawaki, "Zenrin no Seikatsu to Kiritsu" in the June 1944 issue of Daihorin, pp. 23-25.

4. "Marching to the Company Tune" in the June 1977 issue of Focus Japan, P. 36.

5. Quoted in Maruyama Teruo, Nihonjin no Kokoro o Dame ni Shita Meiso, Akuso, Guso, p. 194.

6. Sakai Tokugen, "Onoda-san to Shoji no Mondai" (The Question of Life and Death and Mr. Onoda) in the May 1974 issue of Daihorin, pp. 23-24.

7. Katsuhira, Takuan Ishi no Satori, p. 100. Sotetsu's critique notwithstanding, there has been no lessening of the Rinzai Zen sect's interest in promoting "corporate Zen" over the intervening years. For example, shortly after the collapse of Japan's so-called "bubble economy" in 1992, the Zen Studies Institute at Hanazono University collaborated with the Rinzai sect's Tenryuji branch to produce a video tape in both Japanese and English entitled "Introduction to Zazeil." The promotional material accompanying this tape began with the following headline: "Zazen, the Generative Power for Overcoming Economic Recession." It went on to add: "Zen, the wisdom fostered by Japanese culture, can be said to be the key to overcoming the current economic slump, the worst since the end of the war .... Zazen is now the focus of businessmen's attention."

8. Ibid., p. 40.

9. See Sugawara Gido, Shinde Motomoto!, p. 182. Gido also mentions on p. 178 that postwar temple visitors sometimes ask if his temple was established during the Pacific War. This is because his temple's name included the word "hokoku" which refers to "repaying the debt of gratitude one owes the state," a popular wartime slogan. Gido, however, informs such visitors that his temple was founded and named by a feudal lord of the Ashikaga family during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). This fact again points to the medieval origins of the unity of Zen and the state, suggesting that its modern manifestation should be considered less an aberration than an extension of its premodern character.

10. Ibid., p. 189.

11. The phrase "Greater East Asian War" (Dai Toa Senso), was the official wartime term for the Pacific War. Due to the militarist connotations of the term, it has generally been shunned in postwar Japan. In fact, during the Allied Occupation (1945-52) its use was officially forbidden. Given this, it can be said that Gido's use of the term here represents, at least to some degree, an endorsement of Japan's wartime actions.

12. Sugawara, Shinde Motomoto!, p. 182.

13. Ibid., p. 187.

14. Ibid., p. 188.

15. Ibid., p. 183.

16. Quoted in Hosokawa and Sayama, "The Chozen-ji Line (Omori Sogen Rotaishi)" in the Journal of the Institute of Zen Studies 3 (1988), p. 2.

17. Omori, Ken to Zen, p. 1.

18. Ibid., p. 69.

19. Ibid., pp. 7-8.

20. Ibid., pp. 206-207.

21. Hosokawa and Sayama, "The Chozenji Line (Omori Sogen Rotaishi)" in the Journal of the Institute of Zen Studies 3 (1988), p. 3.

22. Bergamini, Japan's Imperial Conspiracy Vol. 1, p. 340.

23. Norman, "The Genyosha: A Study in the Origins of Japanese Imperialism" in Livingston, The Japan Reader I, pp. 366-67.

24. Hosokawa and Sayama, "The Chozen-ji Line (Omori Sogen Rotaishi)" in the Journal of the Institute of Zen Studies 3 (1988), p. 3.

25. Ibid., p. 2.

26. Ibid., p. 2.

27. Ibid., p. 3.

28. Ibid., p. 3.

29. The question of the exact number of participants in Zen-influenced corporate training programs is difficult to answer with any degree of specificity. When the author was in training himself at Soto Zen-affiliated Jokuin temple in Saitama Prefecture in the mid-1970s, he helped support some three to four such programs per month, each one of which typically lasted three to four days and involved ten to fifty or more employees. More recently, in an interview on October 3, 1996, Saito Meido, a priest administrator at the Rinzai Zen-affiliated head temple of Myoshinji, informed the author that a total of five hundred and fifty company employees had participated in its corporate-training programs during the first nine months of 1996. Meido went on to add, however, that this represented a significant drop in numbers in comparison with the past, something he attributed to Japan's economic slump.

30. Noted by Sharf, "Zen and the Way of the New Religions" in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 2213-4 (1995), p.422.
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Re: D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

Postby admin » Sat Mar 30, 2019 5:17 am

Part 1 of 2

Was It Buddhism? Chapter Twelve, [Excerpt] from "Zen at War", by Brian Daizen Victoria
Second Edition
© 2006 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.



This book has explored the relationship between institutional Japanese Buddhism, primarily Zen, and the state from 1868 to 1945. Now we turn to the broader issue of the relationship between Zen and war in light of the historical development of Buddhism.

In answering the question "Was it Buddhism?" I contend that both Imperial Way Buddhism and Imperial State/Soldier-Zen can only be understood in the context of their historical and doctrinal antecedents in Japan and East Asia as a whole, extending as far back as the life of Buddha Shakyamuni himself (if not before). Therefore, this chapter surveys 2,500 years of Buddhist social thought and practice, beginning with an introduction to the "social consciousness" of the Buddha and extending through the emergence of modern Japan. In attempting this ambitious sweep in only a few pages, no one is more aware than I that what follows is but the first step in explaining this vast and complex topic.


The basic teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni are well-known, so suffice it to . say, there is nothing in either the Four Noble Truths or the Holy Eightfold Path to suggest support for the use of violence, let alone warfare. On the contrary, two admonitions in the Holy Eightfold Path-"right action" and "right livelihood" -dearly indicate the very opposite.

Right action promotes moral, honorable, and peaceful conduct. It admonishes the believer to abstain from destroying life, from stealing, from dishonest dealings, and from illegitimate sexual intercourse. Instead, the believer should help others lead peaceful and honorable lives.

Right livelihood means that one should abstain from making one's living through a profession that brings harm to others, such as selling arms and lethal weapons, providing intoxicating drink or poisons, or soldiering, killing animals, or cheating. Instead, one should live in a way that does not cause harm or do injustice to others.

Together with right speech, right action and right livelihood form the basis for Buddhist ethical conduct. Underlying all Buddhist ethical conduct is a broad conception of universal love and compassion for all living beings, both human and nonhuman. Thus, based on these fundamental teachings of Shakyamuni, Buddhist adherents could in theory no more participate in that form of mass human slaughter known as "war" than they could purposely take the life of another. Yet ideals and practice often parted ways, as we will explore next.


In accordance with the religious norms of his day, Shakyamuni offered advice on secular as well as purely spiritual matters. One example concerns a dispute that arose over the division of water from the drought-stricken Rohini River, which flowed between two kingdoms, one of them his own homeland of Kapilavastu. It is recorded that when the quarrel reached the point where a battle seemed imminent, Shakyamuni proceeded to the proposed battlefield and took his seat on the riverbank. He asked why the princes of the two kingdoms were assembled, and when informed that they were preparing for battle, he asked what the dispute was about. The princes said that they didn't know for sure, and they, in turn, asked the commander- in-chief. He also didn't know and sought information from the regent; and so the enquiry went on until it reached the husbandmen who related the whole affair. "What then is the value of water?" asked Shakyamuni. "It is but little," replied the princes. "And what of princes?" "It cannot be measured." they said. "Then would you." said Shakyamuni, "destroy that which is of the highest value for the sake of that which is worth little?" Reflecting on the wisdom of his words, the princes agreed to return peaceably to their homes.1

Another example of Shakyamuni's political intervention is said to have occurred in his seventy-ninth year, shortly before his death. King Ajatasattu of Magadha wished to make war on the tribal confederation of Vajji, so he sent an emissary to ask Shakyamuni what his chances of victory were. Shakyamuni declared that he himself had taught the Vajjians the conditions of true welfare, and as he was informed that the Vajjians were continuing to observe these conditions, he foretold that they would not be defeated. Upon hearing this, Ajatasattu abandoned his plan to attack.

Significantly, the first of the seven conditions Shakyamuni had taught the Vajjians was that they must "hold frequent public assemblies." Secondly, they must "meet in concord, rise in concord, and act as they are supposed to do in concord."2 As a noted scholar pointed out, these conditions represent "a truly democratic approach," and "any society following these rules is likely to prosper and remain peaceful."3

A. L. Basham suggests that incidents like these demonstrate Shakyamuni's clear support for a republican form of government, though with the caveat that we are speaking of a form of governance in which there was an executive - sometimes elected, sometimes hereditary-supported by an assembly of heads of families that gathered periodically to make decisions relating to the common welfare.4 Restated in more contemporary terminology, Shakyamuni advocated a political model approaching a small-scale, direct -democracy,-though it is also clear that he did not-deny his counsel to the kings of the rising monarchies of his day.

Other elements of Shakyamuni's stance on violence are illustrated in the lead-up to an attack on his homeland by King Vidudabha of Kosala, the most powerful of the sixteen major kingdoms of his time. Shakyamuni recognized that this time the nature of the feud was such that his words would not be heeded, and he did not attempt to intervene. But even when the very existence of his homeland was at stake, Shakyamuni, his warrior background notwithstanding, refused to take up arms in its defense.

Shakyamuni's teaching on warfare and violence is perhaps best clarified in the Dhammapada, a Pali canonical work. In chapter 1, stanza 1, for example, Shakyamuni states: "For never does hatred cease by hatred here below: hatred ceases by love; this is an eternal law." And again, in chapter 15, stanza 201: "Victory breeds hatred, for the conquered is unhappy. The person who has given up both victory and defeat, that person, contented, is happy." In chapter 10, stanza 129, he says: ''All persons tremble at being harmed, all persons fear death; remembering that you are like unto them, neither strike nor slay." And finally, in chapter 8, stanza 103: "If someone conquers in battle a thousand times a thousand enemies, and if another conquers himself, that person is the greatest of conquerors."5 While scholars doubt these admonitions came directly from Shakyamuni's lips, the admonitions are, nevertheless, entirely consistent with his earliest and most fundamental teachings.

Two further aspects of Shakyamuni's teachings are worthy of mention. First, he was concerned about what we would today call social justice. For example, in the Pali Cakkavattisihanada Sutta of the Digha Nikaya (no. 26), Shakyamuni clearly identified poverty as the cause of violence and other social ills:

As a result of goods not being accrued to those who are destitute, poverty becomes rife. From poverty becoming rife, stealing, ... violence, ... murder, ... lying, ... evil speech, ... adultery, ... incest, till finally lack of respect for parents, filial love, religious piety and lack of regard for the ruler will result.

Likewise, in the Kutadanta Sutta of the same Nikaya (no. 5), Shakyamuni praised a king named Mahavijita who, faced with an upsurge of robbery in his impoverished kingdom, provided his subjects with the economic means to improve their lives rather than imprisoning and executing the wrongdoers.6


Also important is the political or social dimension of the religious organization that Buddha Shakyamuni founded, the Sangha, that is, the community of monks and nuns (organized separately) dedicated to practicing his teachings. Primarily religious in nature, it embodied his concept of an ideal society.

The Sangha was based on noncoercive, nonauthoritarian principles by which leadership was acquired through superior moral character and spiritual insight, and monastic affairs were managed by a general meeting of the monks (or nuns). Unlike a modern business meeting, however, all decisions required the unanimous consent of those assembled. When differences could not be settled, a committee of elders was charged with finding satisfactory solutions.

Ideally, the Sangha was to be an organization that had no political ambitions and in whose ranks there was no striving for leadership. It sought by example and exhortation to persuade men and women to follow its way, not by force. Further, by his completely eliminating the then-prevalent caste system from its ranks, Shakyamuni may rightly be considered one of recorded history's first leaders to practice his belief in the basic equality of all human beings. He clearly hoped that the religious and social ideals of the Sangha would one day permeate the whole of society. This said, the historical subordination of the female Sangha to the male Sangha, through the imposition of eight additional precepts for nuns, betrays the ideal of human equality and points to the existence of a sexist attitude that may date back to Shakyamuni himself.

It is also true that even during the Buddha's lifetime, his Sangha became a wealthy landowner, though the lands referred to were held as the communal property of the various monastic communities.7 The lands themselves had all been donated by the faithful, initially kings, princes, and rich merchants. This raises the question as to what the donors expected of the Sangha in return for their material support. The classic answer is that they expected to acquire "merit," that spiritual reward that promises rebirth in a blessed state to all those who perform good deeds. As one Pali sutra relates, however, the accumulation of merit by the laity can also lead to the more immediate and mundane goals of "long life, fame, heavenly fortune, and sovereign power [italics mine]."8 The fact that King Ajatasattu also looked to Buddha Shakyamuni to forecast the likelihood of his victory against the Vajjians is significant here. Significant, in that it was already widely believed in ancient India that accomplished "holy men" possessed superhuman powers, including the ability to foresee the future.

Related questions are what effect the Sangha's collective possession of ever-greater amounts of land had on its own conduct, and equally important, whether as a major landholder it could fail in its actions and pronouncements to escape the notice and concern of state rulers. Would it be surprising to learn that these rulers also expected something in return for their material support of the Sangha, something approaching a moral endorsement of their rule, or the acquisition of merit, or the utilization of the supposed superhuman powers of Buddhist priests (and sutras) to protect the state from its enemies or ensure victory in battle?


If in the long run the Sangha willingly provided rulers with a moral endorsement, that endorsement was initially given only on the basis that rulers fulfill certain prerequisites or conditions. These conditions were contained in the Jataka stories, five hundred Indian folk tales that had been given a Buddhist didactic purpose and were incorporated into the Pali Buddhist canon sometime before the beginning of the Christian era. Among these tales we find a description of the "Ten Duties of the King," which include, among other things, the requirement that rulers abstain from anything that involves violence and destruction of life. Rulers are further exhorted to be free from selfishness, hatred, and falsehood, and to be ready to give up all personal comfort, reputation, fame, and even their very life if need be to promote the welfare of the people. Furthermore, it was the responsibility of kings to provide (1) grain and other facilities for agriculture to farmers and cultivators, (2) capital for traders and those engaged in business, and (3) adequate wages for those who were employed. When people are provided with sufficient income, they will be contented and have no fear or anxiety. Consequently, their countries will be peaceful and free from crime.9

It was, of course, one thing to present kingly duties in the abstract and another to find kings who actually practiced them. Buddhists discovered one such ruler in the person of King Ashoka (ca. 269-32 B.C.E.), who already controlled much of India at the time of his accession to the throne. Prior to converting to Buddhism, Ashoka is said to have engaged in wars of expansion until the bloodiness of his conquest of the kingdom of Kalinga caused him to repent and become a Buddhist layman, forswearing the use of violence. He then embarked upon a "Reign of Dharma" in which he advocated such moral precepts as nonharming, respect for all religious teachers, and noncovetousness.

In addition to renouncing aggressive warfare, Ashoka is said to have urged moderation in spending and accumulation of wealth, kind treatment of servants and slaves, cessation of animal sacrifices for religious purposes, and various other maxims, all carved as inscriptions and royal edicts on cliff faces and stone pillars throughout his vast realm, which extended almost the entire length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent. Further, he appointed officers known as Superintendents of Dharma for the propagation of religion, and arranged for regular preaching tours. Realizing the effectiveness of exhortation over legislation, he is said to have preached the Dharma on occasion. Ashoka become the archetypal Buddhist ruler, an ideal or Universal Monarch (see chapter 7).

As opposed to this idealized portrait, Indian historian A. L. Basham has pointed to another side of King Ashoka. For example, Ashoka maintained an army and used force against tribal groups that clashed with his empire. Beyond that, one Buddhist description of his life, the Sanskrit Ashokavandana, records that he ordered eighteen thousand non-Buddhist adherents, probably Jains, executed because of a minor insult to Buddhism on the part of single one. On another occasion, he forced a Jain follower and his entire family into their house before having it burnt to the ground. He also maintained the death penalty for criminals, including his own wife, Tisyaraksit whom he executed. In light of these and similar acts, we can say that Ashoka was an archetypal "defender of the faith" who was not averse to the use of violence.

Nor did King Ashoka's remorse at having killed over 100,000 inhabitants of Kalinga lead him to restore its freedom or that of any other of his earlier conquests. Instead, he continued to govern them all as an integral part of his empire, for "he by no means gave up his imperial ambitions."10 In fact, inasmuch as many of his edicts mention only support for Dharma, (a pan-Indian politico-religious term) and not the Buddha Dharma, it is possible to argue that he used Dharma not so much out of allegiance to the Buddhist faith and its ideals, but as a means to centralize power, maintain unity among his disparate peoples, and promote law and order throughout the empire.

At the very least, in promoting Buddhism throughout India, Ashoka was clearly also promoting his own kingship and establishing himself.11 That is to say, an alliance of politics and religion had been born. This is important to note because while Ashoka may have been the first to use Buddhism and the (Buddha) Dharma for what we would today identify as political purposes, he was hardly the last, as we shall see shortly when we examine the development of Buddhism in China and Japan.

A noted Indian political philosopher, Vishwanath Prasad Varma, pointed out that due to King Ashoka's royal patronage, "the Sangha became contaminated with regal and aristocratic affiliations."12 Similarly, the pioneer Buddhist scholar T. W. Rhys Davids remarked that it was the Sangha's close affiliation with King Ashoka that was "the first step on the downward path of Buddhism, the first step on its expulsion from India."13

What is certain is that Ashoka enjoyed a great deal of power over the Sangha. For example, a second Buddhist record of Ashoka's life, the Pali Mahavamsa, states that Ashoka was, with the aid of the great elder Moggaliputta Tissa, responsible for defrocking sixty thousand Sangha members who were found to harbor "false views."14 Ashoka had the power to prescribe passages from the sutras that Sangha members were required to study. Those who failed to do so could be defrocked by his officers.15 In fact, it became necessary to receive Ashoka's permission even to enter the priesthood.16 In short, during Ashoka's reign, if not before, the Raja Dharma (Law of the Sovereign) became deeply involved in, if not yet in full command of, the Buddha Dharma. This too was a harbinger of things to come.

In this connection, both Basham and Rhys Davids identified the concept of a so-called Universal Monarch, or Cakravartin (Wheel-Turning King), as coming into prominence within Buddhist circles only after the reign of Ashoka's father, Candragupta, who ascended the throne sometime at the end of the fourth century B.C.E.17 Thus, the idea of a Universal Monarch, who served as the protector of the Buddha Dharma and as the recipient of the Dharma's protection, did not originate as a teaching of Buddha Shakyamuni himself. Instead, it is best understood as a later accretion that "was an inspiration to ambitious monarchs, ... some [of whom] claimed to be Universal Monarchs themselves."18 It is also significant that as a Universal Monarch and Dharma Protector, Ashoka was accorded the personal title of Dharma Raja (Dharma King), a title he shared with Buddha Shakyamuni.19 This "sharing of titles" would play an important role in China.


Confucian Critique of Early Buddhism in China

Buddhism entered China by way of Central Asia at the beginning of the Christian era. By this time China already had a sophisticated culture of its own that included two well-developed, indigenous, religious-oriented belief systems: Taoism and Confucianism. Buddhist advocates eventually reached an uneasy truce with both Taoists and Confucians, who initially opposed the introduction of this foreign religion.

Chinese Buddhist monks appeased the Taoists by discussing Buddhism in a Taoist vocabulary and proposing Buddhist solutions to unresolved Taoist doctrinal disputes, such as the relationship of the "holy man" to the world. However, it was the compromise reached with the Confucians that was to have the most far-reaching effects on the subsequent development of Buddhism throughout East Asia, including Japan.

The compromise concerned the relationship of the Sangha with the state. As propagators of a universal Dharma, Chinese monks of the Eastern Chin dynasty (317-420 C.E.) asserted they had no need to kowtow (show obeisance) to the emperor. From the popular Confucian viewpoint, this was a heretical doctrine that undermined Confucian advocacy of social harmony derived from a strictly hierarchical conception of society, in which nothing was higher than the "Son of Heaven."

Subordination of Buddhism to the State

While Buddhist monks in southern China (under the Chin dynasty) successfully maintained independence from the state, their northern counterparts did not fare as well. Faced with the non-Chinese rulers of the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534 C.E.), Buddhist monks offered their services as political, diplomatic, and military advisers. They claimed to be able to prophesy not only the outcome of battles and entire military campaigns, but even the rise and fall of empires. According to Kenneth Chen, in offering their technical services to the rulers, these imperial monk advisors were able to persuade them to become staunch supporters of Buddhism."20

In justifying the decision of northern monks to reverence the emperor in accordance with Confucian tradition, Fa-kuo, chief of monks from 396 to 398, came up with an "ingenious solution." Namely, he claimed that then Emperor T'ai-tsu was a living Buddha, the Tathagata himself. Therefore, when a monk bowed down to him, he was not doing obeisance to an emperor but was worshipping the Buddha, an entirely fit and proper act for all faithful.21 Fa-kuo, it should be noted, had been appointed to his position by Emperor T'ai-tsu. Although the effect this had on Fa-kuo's views is unknown, it is significant that a Chinese emperor possessed the authority to make such an appointment over the Sangha. This said, it must also be remembered that Fa-kuo's innovation was based on such Indian precedents as the "sharing of titles" in the Buddhist records of King Ashoka's reign. Furthermore, there was, by this time, scriptural justification for Fa-kuo's position in the Suvarnaprabhasa [Golden Light] Sutra. This Indian Mahayana sutra took the view that while a king is not a god in his own right, he does hold his position by the authority of the gods and is therefore entitled to be called a "son of the gods." It can readily be seen that this position, which is Brahmanical (not Buddhist) in origin, dovetails nicely with the Chinese doctrine of a ruler's Mandate of Heaven. Further paralleling the Chinese doctrine, there is an implicit admission in this sutra (and in its Chinese variant) that revolt against a wicked or negligent king is morally acceptable.

Whatever motives one may ascribe to these northern Buddhist monks, the fact remains they established a pattern that was to characterize Chinese Buddhism down through the ages. That is to say, in return for imperial patronage and protection, Buddhism was expected to serve and protect the interests of the state and its rulers, including the attainment of victory on the battlefield. Thus was the foundation laid for what came to be known in Japan as "Nation Protecting-Buddhism." It can be argued, of course, that this was but an extension of the Sangha's subservience to the state as first observed in India.

Be that as it may, when a subsequent emperor-Wen (r. 581-604) of the Sui dynasty (c. 581-618)-decided to enlist the spiritual aid of Buddhist monks in his military campaigns, he was doing no more than extending a precedent that had already existed for more than two hundred years, at least in northern China. Specifically, Wen constructed temples at sites where he and his father had won important battles, ordering temple priests to hold commemorative services for the spirits of his fallen soldiers. Already in the midst of planning future military campaigns, the emperor wanted to assure his followers that should they fall on some future battlefield, their spirits, too, would be looked after.22

Emperor Wen's innovation was his determination to use Buddhism as a method of unifying all of China. Presenting himself as a Universal Monarch, soon after establishing the Sui dynasty in 581 C.E. he declared:

With the armed might of a Cakravartin King, We spread the ideals of the ultimately benevolent one [that is, the Buddha]. With a hundred victories and a hundred battles, We promote the practice of the ten Buddhist virtues. Therefore We regard weapons of war as having become like incense and flowers [presented as offerings to the Buddha] and the fields of this visible world as becoming forever identical with the Buddha land [italics mine].23

To secure his position still further, Wen gave himself the title Bodhisattva Son of Heaven, and proceeded to have hundreds of stupas built throughout China to enshrine Buddhist relics. This conveyed the unity of king and empire through faith in Buddhism. In doing this, he was once again emulating pious acts by that other great empire builder, King Ashoka. Ashoka allegedly had eighty-four thousand stupas constructed throughout his empire.24

However, for the imperial support it enjoyed, the Sangha always paid a heavy price in the loss of its independence, even in internal affairs, and in increasing subservience to the state. Thus, after Emperor Yang succeeded to the throne in 604 (by killing his father, Emperor Wen), he issued a decree in 607 ending the exemption of monks in southern China from having to pay homage to the emperor and his officials. The Law of the Sovereign was now supreme in China and would remain so, as far as Buddhism was concerned, forevermore. One added "benefit" of this subservience was, however, that Buddhism gained at least a degree of acceptance by the Confucians.

The Sangha's support of state interests did not stop with prophesy, state ritual, and provision of a unifying ideology. By the time of the T'ang dynasty (c. 618-907), some monks had themselves begun to participate directly in politics. During the reign of Wu Tse-t'ien, for example, one monk by the name of Hsueh Huai-i was actually commissioned as a "grand general sustaining the state." As such, he led a number of military expeditions to expel Turks who had invaded China's border regions. Later, Huai-i even attempted to usurp the throne for himself.25

Monks meddling in politics (and warfare) suggests, of course, that decadence had infiltrated the Sangha under imperial patronage. In fact, one official of the time complained that "present-day temples surpass even imperial palaces in design, embodying the last word in extravagance, splendor, artistry, and finesse."26 Thus, when Emperor Hsuan-tsung ascended the throne in 712, he instituted a series of measures to control the Sangha's wealth and power, including limitations on the size of temple landholdings, defrocking of up to thirty thousand "unworthy monks." and requiring government permission before repairs to temples could be made. In order to control the number of entrants into the Sangha, the emperor also initiated a system of granting official "monk certificates" in 747.27

None of these acts, however, can begin to-compare to the suppression of Buddhism that occurred at the hands of Emperor Wu-tsung in 845. At the time, the emperor claimed to have forced 260,500 monks and nuns to return to lay life, while destroying 44,600 monasteries, temples, and shrines, and confiscating their vast, tax-exempt lands and 150,000 slaves.28 Although the emperor's death the following year marked the formal end of the persecution, Buddhism never regained its preeminent position in Chinese life and society. A long period of decline set in, extending to the present day. Only the Ch'an (Zen) and Pure Land schools maintained a certain degree of vitality.


Ch'an's resilience may have derived in part from its syncretism, for Ch'an had incorporated both Taoist and Confucian tenets into its practice and outlook. By the Sung period (960-1279) if not before, it was typical for Ch'an masters (like other Chinese Buddhists) to refer to Buddhism as one leg of a religious tripod that also included Confucianism and Taoism. Japanese Zen Master Dogen, who trained in China from 1223 to 1227, described this syncretism:

Among present-day monks ... not one of them, not even half of one of them, has understood that the Buddha's teachings are superior to those of the other two. It was only Ju-ching, my late master, who understood this fact and proclaimed it ceaselessly day and night.29

Ju-ching, it should be noted, also refused both an honorary purple robe and the title "Ch'an Master" from Emperor Ning-tsung. Further, in the context of explaining the differences between Buddhism and Confucianism, Dogen characterized Confucianism as "merely teach[ing] loyal service to the emperor and filial piety, the latter seen as a method of regulating one's household [italics mine]"30

This syncretism on the part of nearly all Ch'an masters meant that Ch'an, like the rest of Chinese Buddhism, internalized Confucian values, including emphasis on a hierarchical social structure with the emperor at the pinnacle of the social pyramid. Confucians argued that such a configuration would produce social harmony when everyone knew their place in society and faithfully followed the dictates of their superiors.


Although based more on rhetoric than actual historical practice, Ch'an has a reputation for iconoclasm, dismissing, as it does, the need for scholastic study of Buddhist texts and dependence on Buddhist images and rituals. Coupled with Ch' an's emphasis on productive labor, this led, at least initially, to a certain degree of independence from, if not indifference to, the emperor and the imperial state. For example, consider Hui-neng, traditionally seen as the pivotal Sixth Patriarch of the Southern school of Ch'an. Although there are conflicting accounts of his life, the Special Transmission of the Great Master from Ts'ao-ch'i presents this master as being so unconcerned with worldly fame that he refused an invitation from the emperor to visit the imperial court. Notwithstanding this, the emperor still presented him with gifts, one of which was, significantly, a new name for his former residence, that is, Kuo-en-ssu (Temple to Repay the Debt of Gratitude Owed the State).

Hui-neng's disciple Shen-hui (684-758), however, maintained a much closer, if sometimes strained, relationship with the imperial court. Heinrich Dumoulin noted that Shen-hui first took up residence in Nan-yang, not far south of the imperial capital of Lo-yang, in 720 in obedience to an imperial decree. In 745, Shen-hui moved to a temple in Lo-yang, where large crowds were drawn to hear his exposition of Ch'an teachings. This led to charges, perhaps incited by his Northern Ch'an rivals, that he was fomenting social unrest, resulting in his banishment from the capital for three years (753-56).

In 755 when a major rebellion broke out in the northeastern part of the country, Shen-hui was recalled to the capital as a fundraiser for the imperial military. Offering his contributors exemption from both monetary taxation and the requirement to participate in yearly, government-sponsored labor battalions, Shen-hui proved an exemplary fundraiser, and the rebellion was suppressed. The emperor gratefully showered Shen-hui with honors, ensuring that his last days were spent "basking in the graces of the powers that be."31

In light of this and similar episodes, it is clear that Ch'an leaders also willingly served the state's needs, in war as well as peace. In fact, when the Soto and Rinzai sects raised funds to buy fighter aircraft for the Japanese military in the 1930s and 1940s, they were following a Ch'an and Zen precedent with a history of nearly 1,200 years! As for Shen-hui, he continued to be honored even after his death, and in 796 was formally recognized as the Seventh Patriarch, also by virtue of an imperial decree.32 Inasmuch as Shen-hui had been an untiring advocate of the Southern Ch'an school and its doctrine of sudden enlightenment, this imperial recognition was destined to have a major impact on subsequent Ch'an history.

Shen-hui was but one figure in the long-term decline of the Buddhist tradition of nonviolence. Consider the following poem in a sixth-century treatise from the Hsin-hsin Ming by the Third Ch'an Patriarch, Seng-ts'an (d. 606):

Be not concerned with right and wrong
The conflict between right and wrong
Is the sickness of the mind)3

Further, French scholar Paul Demieville pointed out that according to the seventh-century Ch' an text "Treatise on Absolute Contemplation," killing is evil only in the event the killer fails to recognize his victim as empty and dream-like. On the contrary, if one no longer sees his opponent as a "living being" separate from emptiness, then he is free to kill him.34 This antinomian license to kill with moral impunity is the most dangerous, and deadly, of Ch'an's many "insights."

This said, Ch'an's abandonment of Buddhist morality did not go unnoticed or unchallenged. As early as the eighth century, the famous writer Liang Su (753-93) criticized the Ch'an school as follows:

Nowadays, few men have true faith. Those who travel the path of Ch'an go so far as to teach the people that there is neither Buddha nor Dharma, and that neither good nor evil has any significance ... Such ideas are accepted as great truths that sound so pleasing to the ear. And the people are attracted to them just as moths in the night are drawn to their burning death by the candle light [italics mine].35

In reading this critique, one is tempted to believe that Liang was also a prophet able to foresee the deaths over a thousand years later of millions of young Japanese men who were drawn to their own deaths by the Zen-inspired "light" of Bushido. All the more, the millions of innocent men, women, and children who burned with (or because of) them, and who must never be forgotten.

By the Sung dynasty (960-1279), Ch'an monasteries not only maintained friendly relations with the imperial court but had become involved in political affairs as well.36 Emperors granted noted Ch'an masters purple robes and honorific titles such as "Ch'an Master of the Buddha Fruit" or "Ch'an Master of Full Enlightenment." Inevitably, however, imperial favors brought with them increased state control. One result was the establishment of the system of "Five Mountains [i.e., major monasteries] and Ten Temples." In the spirit of Confucian hierarchy, Ch'an temples were classified and ranked, those at the top being blessed with imperial favors. In this case, all of the privileged temples belonged to the Yang-ch'i line of the Linchi (J. Rinzai) school.

Among other things, Ch'an temples operating under imperial patronage were expected to pray for the emperor and the prosperity of the state. In describing this system, Yanagida Seizan wrote:

Given the danger of foreign invasion from the north, Buddhism was used to promote the idea of the state and its people among the general populace .... Inevitably, the Ch'an priests residing in these government temples in accordance with imperial decree gradually linked the content of their teaching to the goals of the state. This is not unconnected to the fact that Zen temples [in Japan] in the Kamakura and Tokugawa periods had ... a nationalistic character in line with the traditional consciousness of the Chinese Ch'an school that advocated the spread of Ch' an in order to protect the nation.37

The succeeding Yuan period (c. 1280-1368) would bring even greater state control of Ch' an and other temples and monasteries. Gradually however, the syncretic tendencies already at work within Buddhism grew ever stronger until by the Ming period (c. 1368-1644) all Chinese Buddhist schools and sects fused into a loose amalgamation of the Ch'an and Pure Land schools. This brought the story of a distinct Ch'an school or movement to an end.

Preliminary Conclusion

In light of this discussion, I would like to make three additional points. First, while Ch'an's iconoclastic tendencies and economic self-reliance may have initially enabled it to maintain a certain distance from the state, over the long term there was a spiritual price for this freedom. That is to say, paralleling a heavy emphasis on the practice of meditation (J. zazen), intellectual stimulation from such activities as lively discussions on points of doctrine were strongly discouraged by Ch'an masters, who insisted on intuitive comprehension and lightning-quick responses within an overall framework of anti-textualism and anti-scholasticism. To some extent, this can be seen as Ch' an's internalization of such Taoist values as spontaneity, originality, paradoxy, innate naturalness, and the ineffability of Truth.38

I am not suggesting that the strong emphasis on meditation or Taoist-influenced values was necessarily "un-Buddhist," but as Kenneth Ch'en pointed out:

The strength and vigor of Buddhism rested on the principle of equal emphasis on all three aspects of the Buddhist discipline -- moral conduct, [meditative] concentration, and wisdom. Special attention to one, to the neglect of the other two, would certainly result in the deterioration of the Dharma.39

The reader will recall that Hakamaya Noriaki also raised a related criticism of Japanese Zen when he said, "True Buddhists must draw a sharp distinction between Buddhist teachings and anti-Buddhist teachings, using both intellect and language to denounce the latter [italics mine]."

My second point is closely connected with the first. I refer to what might be called a "violence-condoning atmosphere" fostered as one dimension of Ch'an's iconoclastic attitude. Historically, this atmosphere began as early as the second patriarch, Hui-k'o (c. 484-590), who, tradition states, cut off his left arm at the elbow to show how fervently he wished to become a disciple of Bodhidharma, the legendary fifth-century Indian founder of the Ch'an school in China. T'ang Ch'an Master Chu-chih is also recorded as having cut off his disciple's finger with a knife after discovering that the latter had been imitating his "one finger Ch'an" (though in doing so, Chu-chih allegedly precipitated the disciple's enlightenment).

Less dramatic, though far more widespread, was the Ch'an use of such training methods as physical blows from both fists and staffs, together with thundering shouts. Lin-chi I-hsuan (d. 866), founder of the Lin-chi school, is the preeminent example of such a "rough and tumble" master. It was this master who taught his disciples:

Followers of the Way, if you wish to have a viewpoint that is in accord with the Dharma, it is only [necessary] that you not be beguiled by others. Whether you meet them within or without, kill them right away! When you meet the Buddha, kill him. When you meet a patriarch, kill him. When you meet an Arhat [enlightened person], kill him. When you meet parents, kill them. When you meet relatives, kill them. Thus you will begin to attain liberation. You will be unattached and be able to pass in and out [of any place] and become free.40

I do not suggest there is a direct link between Ch'an's physical and verbal violence and the later emergence of Zen's support for Japanese militarism. All of the examples given above have legitimate didactic purposes within the Ch'an and Zen tradition. For example, in Lin-chi's oft-misunderstood admonition quoted above, the "killing" referred to is that of detaching oneself from dependency on authority figures, whether they be people or ideas, in order to achieve genuine spiritual liberation. It might be called a dramatic restatement of Buddha Shakyamuni's own final instructions to his disciples:

You must be lamps unto yourselves. You must rely on yourselves and on no one else. You must make the Dharma your light and your support and rely on nothing else.41

Lin-chi's statement, like that of Shakyamuni, is basically antiauthoritarian in that it aims to free the trainee from dependence on anyone or anything outside of his own mind and apart from his own direct experience of the Dharma. Nevertheless, Ch'an's verbal and physical violence, didactic though it be, lent itself to misuse and abuse by later practitioners, especially in Japan. It provided the link that facilitated the connection made between Zen and the sword in feudal Japan, and in turn, between Zen and total war in modern Japan. Note too, that it was Ch'an Master Kuei-shan Ling-yu (771-853) who first referred to the interplay between action and silence in Ch'an as "sword-play."42 Lin-chi was also fond of referring to "swords" and "sword-blades." but the reference was to the "sword of wisdom." a common Buddhist metaphor referring to wisdom that can "cut through" (i.e., eliminate) all discriminating thought and conceptualization, not human flesh!

D. T. Suzuki's application of the Zen phrase "the sword that gives life" (J. katsujin-ken) to the modern battlefield is a particularly pernicious example of the abuse of Zen terminology. This phrase together with its twin, that is, "the sword that kills" (J. satsujin-to), is found in the famous Sung dynasty collection of one hundred Zen koans known as the Blue Cliff Record. In introducing the twelfth koan of the collection, Ch'an master Yuan Wu K'e Ch'in (1063-1135) wrote:

The sword that kills people and the sword that gives life to people is an ancient custom that is also important for today. If you talk of killing, not a single hair is harmed. If you talk of giving life, body and life are lost [italics mine].43

Although phrased paradoxically, it is obvious that the above does not refer to anyone's physical death. Rather, Yuan Wu, once again using the sword as a metaphor for Buddhist wisdom, dramatically restates the classical Zen (and Buddhist) position that the destruction (i.e., the "killing") of the illusory self does not result in the least injury to the true self (hence, "not a single hair is harmed"). Or, expressed in reverse order, "giving life" to the true self inevitably involves the destruction of the illusory self (hence, "body and life are lost"). Thus, whichever sword is spoken of, no one physically dies!

One can only marvel at the fact that the transference of these terms to the real battlefield by later generations, Suzuki and his ilk included, has for so long escaped criticism and condemnation. At least part of the responsibility for this must be laid at the feet of those Ch'an pioneers, like Lin-chi, who chose to incorporate "life-giving" blows and shouts, coupled with a vocabulary of violence, into their instructional regimen. In the hands of lesser men (especially those aided and abetted by the state) these methods became, as has been seen, lethal in the extreme.

Finally, I would point out that the subordination of the Buddha Dharma to the state continues to exert a significant impact on Chinese Buddhism to this very day. In his book Buddhism under Mao, Holmes Welch noted that in 1951-52, Chinese Buddhists raised money for a fighter aircraft named Chinese Buddhist to be used against UN (mainly American) forces in the Korean War. In justifying Buddhist support for the Chinese government's policy of military intervention, a Buddhist leader named Hsin-tao addressed a meeting of Nan-ch'ang Buddhists as follows:

We know that the People's Government absolutely guarantees the freedom of religious belief. We Buddhists must unite as quickly as possible and, with the followers of other religions, completely support the Chinese Volunteer Army and the Korean People's Army. The best thing is to be able to join the army directly and to learn the spirit in which Shakyamuni, as the embodiment of compassion and our guide to Buddhahood, killed robbers to save the people and suffered hardship on behalf of all living creatures. To wipe out the American imperialist demons who are breaking world peace is, according to Buddhist doctrine, not only blameless but actually gives rise to merit [italics mine].44

Once again, America and its allies were fighting "Buddhism." if not necessarily at sea, then at least on the ground and in the air. Once again, Buddhists themselves took up arms, out of a spirit of compassion, to fight the American "demons." As in wartime Japan, scriptural justification was also used in the Buddhist campaign to raise funds for weapons. Chu-tsan, another Buddhist leader wrote,

The [Mahaparilnirvana Sutra advocates wielding the spear and starting battle. Therefore there is nothing contrary to Buddhist doctrine in a Buddhist responding to the appeal to contribute towards fighter planes, bombers, cannons and tanks.45

Ironically, when Tibetan monks revolted against the Communist Chinese Army's occupation of Tibet in 1959, they used the same scriptural evidence to justify their armed resistance.

The Chinese government's political use of Buddhism is by no means at an end, most especially in relation to Tibet. As recently as May 1996, the Chinese government donated a large memorial plaque to a Tibetan temple that read "Protect the State; Benefit the People."46 In doing this, the state (albeit communist) sought to portray itself once again as a patron of Buddhism, but on the same condition as always, that is to say, that Buddhism agree to protect the state. In this instance there was an added "Tibetan twist" to the state's munificence, for clearly Tibetan Buddhists were also expected to protect the unity of the state from those alleged "splittists" (like the Dalai Lama and his supporters) who continued to seek some form of Tibetan autonomy.

In Taiwan, on the other hand, the Nationalist Chinese government has supported Buddhism far more strongly, receiving in return Buddhist leaders' endorsement of that government's longstanding dream to militarily retake the mainland. In light of this, it is not surprising to learn that Taiwanese monks share the same attitude toward Buddhist-endorsed violence as their mainland brethren. One such monk, a disciple of the modern Buddhist reformer T'ai-hsu (1890-1947), said,

According to the Mahayana it is guiltless to kill from compassion. If I kill you, the objective is not to kill you, but to save you, because if I do not kill you, you will kill a great many other people, thus causing great suffering and incurring great guilt. By killing you, I prevent you from doing this, so that I can save both you and them. To kill people from compassion in such a way is not wrongdoing.47

There was, of course, one difference between the refugee monks on Taiwan and in Hong Kong and those on the mainland: the former wished Buddhist-condoned violence to be used against the Communists, instead of on their behalf. As always, the one constant is that the Law of the Sovereign, or in other words, the state and its rulers, is supreme!


Prince Shotoku and the Introduction of Buddhism to Japan

In his History of Japanese Religion, Anesaki Masaharu noted that the Buddha Dharma was closely identified with the state and its interests from its first introduction into Japan from Korea in the sixth century. He wrote, ''A close alliance was established between the throne and the [Buddhist] religion, since the consolidation of the nation under the sovereignty of the ruler was greatly supported by the fidelity of the imported religion to the government."48

This development was far from being uniquely Japanese. On the contrary, it was only a replication of the relationship between Buddhism and the state that already existed on the Korean peninsula. As S. Keel pointed out,

Buddhism [in Korea] was available as the politico-religious ideology which would serve the cause of building a powerful centralized state with a sacred royal authority .... [It] was understood primarily as the state-protecting religion, hoguk pulgyo [J. gokoku Bukkyo] not as the supra-mundane truth of salvation for individuals.49

The subservience of Buddhism to the state in Japan was nothing more than a copy of its Korean counterpart that, in turn, differed little from its Chinese antecedent. In fact, when Emperor Wen had hundreds of stupas built throughout China at the start of the seventh century, envoys from the three Korean kingdoms of Koguryo, Paekche, and Silla requested, and received, relics to take back to their own countries. Prince Shotoku was also greatly impressed by this display of imperial support for Buddhism.50

In Japan, the Sangha's subservience to the state is made clear in the so-called Seventeen Article Constitution of 604, traditionally ascribed to Prince Shotoku. In article 2 of the constitution, Shotoku called on his subjects to "faithfully respect the 'Three Treasures,' i.e., the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha." However, in article 3, he wrote:

Respect the Imperial commands. The ruler is analogous to heaven, the subjects to the earth. The heaven covers the earth, and the earth supports heaven; if the four seasons pass smoothly, everything functions well. But if the earth tries to dominate heaven, it crumbles into powder. For this reason heaven commands and the earth receives, and for the same reason the ruler commands and the subjects obey. Therefore, every subject should respect the Imperial commands, if not there will be confusion [italics mine].51

Although a number of distinctly separate Buddhist sects would later develop in Japan, the one thing they always agreed on was that "the ruler commands and subjects obey." It may be argued that given the fragile nature of Shotoku's only recently unified central government, his emphasis on the supremacy of the ruler was necessary. Thus, it may also be argued that Buddhism made a positive contribution to the subsequent development of Japanese civilization by providing the newly formed state with a highly moral unifying ideology that transcended the clan divisions (and clan deities) of Shotoku's day. What cannot be disputed, however, is that this emphasis on the supremacy of the ruler also set the stage for the historical subservience of Buddhism to the Japanese state.

The Japanese ruler who made the most blatant political use of the Buddha Dharma was probably Emperor Shomu, whose reign lasted from 724 to 748. He focused on the teachings of the Avatamsaka Sutra, particularly its doctrine of a central celestial, or cosmic, Buddha (i.e., Mahavairocana) surrounded by an infinite number of Bodhisattvas. Mahavairocana's mind was believed to pervade all of reality and to be present in all things, the latter being ranked in harmonious interdependence.

With this imagery in mind, Emperor Shomu built the giant central cathedral of Todaiji in Nara and enshrined there a sixteen-meter-high statue of Mahavairocana (J. Dainichi). As Anesaki described it, this cathedral "was to be a symbolic display of the Buddhist ideal of universal spiritual communion centered in the person of the Buddha, parallel to the political unity of national life centered in the monarch."52 Devotion and loyalty to this Buddha became synonymous with the same virtues directed toward the person of the emperor and the state that he embodied. The use of Mahavairocana had the added benefit that as a celestial or Sun Buddha, the Mahavairocana also provided a symbolic link to the indigenous Shinto Sun goddess, Amaterasu Omikami, the mythical progenitor of the imperial house.
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