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

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

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Part 1 of 4

A Zen Nazi in Wartime Japan: Count Dürckheim and his Sources—D.T. Suzuki, Yasutani Haku’un and Eugen Herrigel
by Brian Victoria
The Asia Pacific Journal
Volume 12 | Issue 3 | Number 2
January 13, 2014

Introductory Note: This is the final article in a three part series on the relationship of D.T. Suzuki and other Zen figures in wartime Japan to Count Karlfried Dürckheim and other Nazis. Part I of this series, "D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis" is available here. Part II, "The Formation and Principles of Count Dürckheim's Nazi Worldview and his interpretation of Japanese Spirit and Zen" is available here. Readers who have not yet done so are urged to read at least Part II of this series that provides crucial background information for understanding Part III.


By the late 1930s Japan was well on the way to becoming a totalitarian society. True, in Japan there was no charismatic dictator like Hitler or Mussolini, but there was nevertheless a powerful "divine presence," i.e., Emperor Hirohito. Although seldom seen and never heard, he occasionally issued imperial edicts, serving to validate the actions of those political and military figures claiming to act on his behalf. At least in theory, such validation was absolute and leftwing challenges to government policies, whether on the part of Communists, socialists or merely liberals, were mercilessly suppressed. For example, between 1928 and 1937 some 60,000 people were arrested under suspicion of harboring "dangerous thoughts," i.e., anything that could conceivably undermine Japan's colonial expansion abroad and repressive domestic policies at home. Added to this was the fact that Japan had begun its full-scale invasion of China on July 7, 1937.

Japan's relationship with Germany was in flux according to the changing political interests of both countries.1 Because of negative international reactions to the Anti-Comintern pact of November 1936, resistance against it increased in Japan soon after it was made, and the Japanese froze their policy of closer ties. However, in 1938 it became clear to Japan that the war against China would last longer than expected. Thus, Japanese interest in a military alliance with Germany and Italy reemerged. On the German side, Joachim von Ribbentrop had become Foreign Minister in February 1938, and as he had long been a proponent of closer ties with Japan, negotiations between the two countries resumed in the summer of 1938.

Joachim von Ribbentrop

Count Karlfried Dürckheim´s first Japan trip was probably connected with the beginning of this thaw in German-Japanese relations. The birth of "total war" in the wake of World War I and even earlier had demonstrated that victory could not be achieved without the strong support and engagement of civilian populations, one aspect of which was not simply knowledge of potential adversaries but of one's allies as well. This meant enhanced cultural relations and mutual understanding between the citizens of allied nations.

It was under these circumstances that Dürckheim undertook what was portrayed as an education-related mission to Japan, a mission that would impact on him profoundly for the remainder of his life. This was not the first such mission Dürckheim had undertaken on behalf of Foreign Minister Von Ribbentrop and Education Minister Bernhard Rust, for he had previously made somewhat similar trips to other countries, including South Africa and Britain. Dürckheim's trip to South Africa took place from May thru October 1934 on behalf of Rust. He conducted research on the cultural, political and educational situation of Germans in South Africa while at the same time promoting the new regime.

During his work in Ribbentrop's office from 1935 to 1937, Dürckheim was a frequent visitor to Britain, around 20 times altogether. His task was to gather information about the image of National Socialism in Britain while at the same time promoting the "new Germany." Toward this end, he met such notables as King Edward VII and Winston Churchill and arranged a meeting between Hitler and Lord Beaverbrook, the owner of the Evening Standard. This was part of Hitler's ultimately unsuccessful plan to form a military alliance with Britain directed against the Soviet Union. Dürckheim's work officially ended on December 31, 1937.

Dürckheim's First Visit to Japan

Dürckheim began his journey to Japan on June 7, 1938 and did not return to Germany until early 1939. According to his biographer, Gerhard Wehr, Dürckheim initially received a research assignment from the German Ministry of Education that consisted of two tasks: first, to describe the development of Japanese national education including the so-called social question,2 and second, to investigate the possibility of using cultural activities to promote Germany's political aims both within Japan and those areas of Asia under Japanese influence.3 Dürckheim arrived by boat and travelled extensively within Japan as well as undertaking trips to Korea, Manchukuo (Japan's puppet state in Manchuria) and northern China. During his travels Dürckheim remained in close contact with the local NSDAP (Nazi) offices and the Japan-based division of the National Socialist Teachers Association.

Count Karlfried Dürckheim

Dürckheim Meets D.T. Suzuki

Dürckheim described his arrival in Japan as follows:

I was sent there in 1938 with a particular mission that I had chosen: to study the spiritual background of Japanese education. As soon as I arrived at the embassy, an old man came to greet me. I did not know him. "Suzuki," he stated. He was the famous Suzuki who was here to meet a certain Mister Dürckheim arriving from Germany to undertake certain studies.

Suzuki is one of the greatest contemporary Zen Masters. I questioned him immediately on the different stages of Zen. He named the first two, and I added the next three. Then he exclaimed: "Where did you learn this?" "In the teaching of Meister Eckhart!" "I must read him again..." (though he knew him well already). . . . It is under these circumstances that I discovered Zen. I would see Suzuki from time to time.4

Although the exact sequence of events leading up to their meeting is unknown, a few points can be surmised. First, while Dürckheim states he had been sent to Japan on an educational mission, specifically to study "the spiritual foundations of Japanese education,"5 it should be understood that within the context of Nazi ideology, education referred not only to formal academic, classroom learning but, more importantly, to any form of "spiritual training/discipline" that produced loyal citizens ready to sacrifice themselves for the fatherland. Given this, it is unsurprising that following Dürckheim's return to Germany in 1939 the key article he wrote was entitled "The Secret of Japanese Power" (Geheimnis der Japanisher Kraft).

Additionally, it should come as no surprise to read that Dürckheim was clearly aware of, and interested in, Suzuki's new book. Wehr states: "In records from his first visit [to Japan] Dürckheim occasionally mentions Zen including, among others, D. T. Suzuki's recently published book, Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture. In this connection, Dürckheim comments: 'Zen is above all a religion of will and willpower; it is profoundly averse to intellectual philosophy and discursive thought, relying, instead, on intuition as the direct and immediate path to truth.'"6

D.T. Suzuki

In claiming this is it possible that Dürckheim had misunderstood the import of Suzuki's writings? That is to say, had he in fact begun what might be called the 'Nazification' of Zen, i.e., twisting it to fit the ideology of National Socialism. In fact he had not, for in his 1938 book, Suzuki wrote: "Good fighters are generally ascetics or stoics, which means to have an iron will. When needed Zen supplies them with this."7 Suzuki futher explained: "From the philosophical point of view, Zen upholds intuition against intellection, for intuition is the more direct way of reaching the Truth...Besides its direct menthod of reaching final faith, 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."8
In light of these quotes, and many others like them, whatever other faults the wartime Dürckheim may have had, misunderstanding Suzuki's explication of Zen was not one of them.

And, significantly, Suzuki was not content in his book to simply link Zen as a religion of will to Japanese medieval warriors. He was equally intent to show that the same self-sacrificial, death-embracing spirit of the samurai had become the modern martial spirit of the Japanese people as a whole:

The Japanese may not have any specific philosophy of life, but they have decidedly one of death which may sometimes appear to be that of recklessness. 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 for one reason or another. A foreign writer on Japanese Buddhism aptly remarks that Zen is the Japanese character.9

Given these words, Dürckheim could not fail to have been interested in learning more about a Zen tradition that had allegedly instilled death-embracing values into the entire Japanese people. Hitler himself is recorded as having lamented, "You see, it's been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn't we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good?"10 Thus Dürckheim's mission may best be understood as unlocking the secret of the Japanese people's power as manifested in the Zen-Bushidō ideology Suzuki promoted. No doubt, his superiors were deeply interested in duplicating, within the context of a German völkisch faith, this same spirit of unquestioning sacrifice for the Fatherland.

It is unlikely that Dürckheim had read Suzuki's book prior to his arrival. Written in English, the Eastern Buddhist Society of Ōtani College didn't publish it in Japan until May 1938. Suzuki reports that he first received copies of his book on May 20, 1938.11 This suggests that it was Embassy personnel, knowing of Dürckheim's interests and Suzuki's reputation, who requested Suzuki's presence. Yet another possibility is that Dürckheim had heard about Suzuki during his frequent trips to Britain, since much of the material in Suzuki's 1938 book consisted of lectures first delivered in Britain in 1936.

It is noteworthy that the first conversation between the two men centered on Meister Eckhart, the thirteenth century German theologian and mystic. On the surface this exchange seems totally innocuous, the very antithesis of Nazism. Yet, as discussed in Part II, Meister Eckhart was the embodiment of one major current in Nazi spirituality. That is to say, within German völkisch religious thought Eckhart represented the very essence of a truly Germanic faith.

Meister Eckhart

Meister Eckhart's reception in Germany had undergone many changes over time, with Eckhart becoming linked to German nationalism by the early 19th century as a result of Napoleon's occupation of large parts of Germany. Many romanticists and adherents of German idealism regarded Eckhart as a uniquely German mystic and admired him for having written in German instead of Latin and daring to oppose the Latin speaking world of scholasticism and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

In the 20th century, National Socialism - or at least some leading National Socialists - appropriated Eckhart as an early exponent of a specific Germanic Weltanschauung. In particular, Alfred Rosenberg regarded Eckhart as the German mystic who had anticipated his own ideology and thus represented a key figure in Germanic cultural history. As a result, Rosenberg included a long chapter on Eckhart, entitled "Mysticism and Action," in his book The Myth of the Twentieth Century.

Alfred Rosenberg

Rosenberg was one of the Nazi's chief ideologists and The Myth of the Twentieth Century was second in importance only to Hitler's Mein Kampf. By 1944 more than a million copies had been sold. Rosenberg was attracted to Eckhart as one of the earliest exponents of the idea of "will" as supreme:

Reason perceives all things, but it is the will, Eckhart comments, which can do all things. Thus where reason can go no further, the superior will flies upward into the light and into the power of faith. Then the will wishes to be above all perception. That is its highest achievement.12

Suzuki would no doubt have readily agreed with these sentiments, for, as we have already seen, he, too, placed great emphasis on will, identifying it as the very essence of Zen.

Rosenberg also included this almost Zen-like description of "Nordic Germanic man":

Nordic Germanic man is the antipode of both directions, grasping for both poles of our existence, combining mysticism and a life of action, being borne up by a dynamic vital feeling, being uplifted by the belief in the free creative will and the noble soul. Meister Eckhart wished to become one with himself. This is certainly our own ultimate desire.13

This said, the fact that there were similarities between Rosenberg's description of Eckhart and Suzuki's descriptions of Zen by no means demonstrates that Suzuki's interest in Eckhart was identical with Rosenberg's racist or fascist interpretation. In fact, Suzuki's interest in Eckhart can be traced back to his interest in Theosophy in the 1920s.

Nevertheless, there is a clear and compelling parallel in the totalitarian nature of völkisch Nazi thought as represented by Rosenberg, as well as Dürckheim, and Suzuki's own thinking. As pointed out in Part II, one of the key components of Nazi thought was that "individualism" was an enemy that had to be overcome in order for the "parts" (i.e., a country's citizens) to be ever willing to sacrifice themselves for the Volk, i.e., the "whole," as ordered by the state. Rudolph Hess, Hitler's Deputy Führer, not only recognized the importance of this struggle but also admitted that the Japanese were ahead of the Nazis in this respect. Hess wrote:

We, too, [like the Japanese] 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.14

Just how "naturally" (or even whether) the Japanese people rejected individualism and embraced totalitarianism is open to debate. Yet, we find Suzuki adopting an analogous position beginning with the publication of his very first book in 1896, i.e., Shin Shūkyō-ron (A Treatise on the New [Meaning of] Religion). Suzuki wrote:

At the time of the commencement of hostilities with a foreign country, then marines fight on the sea and soldiers fight in the fields, swords flashing and cannon-smoke belching, moving this way and that. In so doing, our soldiers regard their own lives as being as light as goose feathers while their devotion to duty is as heavy as Mt. Tai in China. Should they fall on the battlefield they have no regrets. This is what is called "religion in a national emergency."15

The Myth of the 20th Century, by Alfred Rosenberg

Suzuki was only twenty-six years old when he wrote these lines, i.e., long before the emergence of the Nazis. Yet, he anticipated the Nazi's demand that in wartime all citizens must discard attachment to their individual well-being and be ever ready to sacrifice themselves for the state, regarding their own lives "as light as goose feathers." During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5, Suzuki exhorted Japanese soldiers as follows: "Let us then shuffle off this mortal coil whenever it becomes necessary, and not raise a grunting voice against the fates. . . . Resting in this conviction, Buddhists carry the banner of Dharma over the dead and dying until they gain final victory."16 Given these sentiments there clearly was no need for the Nazis to inculcate völkisch values, emphasizing self-sacrifice for the state, into Suzuki's thought, for they had long been present.

In any event, the content of the initial conversation between Suzuki and Dürckheim does suggest why, from the outset, these two men found they shared so much in common. For his part, like "Nordic man" in the preceding quotation, Suzuki frequently equated Zen with the Japanese character.17 In other words, within one of the two major strands of Nazi religiosity, Dürckheim would perhaps have understood, and welcomed, Suzuki as a völkisch proponent of a religion, i.e., Zen, dedicated to, and shaped by, the Japanese Volk. This may well explain what initially drew the two men together and led to their ongoing relationship.

It should also be noted that Suzuki was not the first to recognize affinities between Eckhart and Buddhism. In the 19th century the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer had postulated this connection. He wrote:

If we turn from the forms, produced by external circumstances, and go to the root of things, we shall find that [Buddha] Shākyamuni and Meister Eckhart teach the same thing; only that the former dared to express his ideas plainly and positively, whereas Eckhart is obliged to clothe them in the garment of the Christian myth, and to adapt his expressions thereto.18

As for Dürckheim, his interest in Eckhart, as noted in Part II, can be traced back to the 1920s when he began to practice meditation together with his friend Ferdinand Weinhandl, the Austrian philosopher who later became a professor in Kiel and another strong proponent of National Socialism. Additionally, the Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung identified Eckhart as the most important thinker of his time.

Suzuki's View of Nazi Germany

There is one vital question that warrants our attention, i.e., why had Suzuki accepted an invitation to come to a German Embassy so firmly under Nazi control? In the context of the times, this may not seem so surprising, but it is in fact a very surprising turn of events. Very surprising, that is, if one believes the testimony of Satō Gemmyō Taira, a Shin (True Pure Land) Buddhist priest who, readers of Part I of this article will recall, identifies himself as one of Suzuki's disciples in the postwar period.

Satō claims:

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 unmistakable.19

If, as Satō asserts, Suzuki "opposed the policies espoused by the [Nazi] party," etc. why would he have agreed to meet a Nazi researcher like Dürckheim on his arrival in Japan? And why would he subsequently have continued to meet him "from time to time"? Still further, why would the German Embassy have invited a known critic of the Nazis, someone whom Satō claims had publicly expressed his anti-Nazi views in October 1936, to meet a visiting Nazi researcher less than two years later? While these questions may seem unrelated to Dürckheim's wartime activities in Japan, they do point to a striking parallel between the two men in the postwar period, a parallel that will become apparent below.

First, however, it should be noted that there is an alternate narrative that readily explains Suzuki's willingness to assist a Nazi-affiliated researcher like Dürckheim. This narrative begins by noting that in his 1938 book, Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture, Suzuki wrote:

Zen has no special doctrine or philosophy with a set of concepts and intellectual formulas, except that it tries to release one from the bondage of birth and death and this by means of certain intuitive modes of understanding peculiar to itself. It is, therefore, extremely flexible to adapt itself almost to 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 and economical dogmatism. It is, however, generally animated with a certain revolutionary spirit, and when things come to a deadlock which is the case when we are overloaded with conventionalisms, formalism, and other cognate isms, Zen asserts itself and proves to be a destructive force.20

Given that Suzuki, at least in 1938, claimed that Zen could be wedded to almost any political ideology, fascism included, he would have had no reason for refusing to meet Dürckheim at the German Embassy. As Part I of this article revealed, Suzuki's staunch defender, Satō Gemmyō Taira, was willing to go so far as to fabricate part of his translation of Suzuki's October 1936 newspaper description of the Nazis in order to make it appear his master was critical of this movement. This bears repeating because a similar phenomenon occurred on the part of those who were close to Dürckheim, including his family members.

If in Dürckheim's case it was impossible to deny outright his Nazi connection, then the least his admirers could do was minimize the significance of that connection, for example, by describing his role in wartime Japan as that of a "Kulturdiplomat" (cultural diplomat). This title suggests that Dürckheim did nothing more than engage in "cultural activities" during his nearly eight-year residence in Japan. However, as this article makes clear, Dürckheim was in fact an indefatigable propagandist for the Nazis, anything but a mere cultural envoy. This point will be touched upon again below.

In part, this attempt to disguise Dürckheim's actions as being cultural in nature can be explained by the fact that for the Nazis "culture," like "education," was an all-embracing concept subsumed into the overall struggle for a totalitarian society and state. Thus, the primary focus of Dürckheim's "cultural activities," including his interest in Zen, was his mission to promote the cultural, educational and political policies of the Third Reich in Japan as a part of the overall struggle to ensure the triumph of National Socialism.

As for the frequency of Suzuki's meetings with Dürckheim during his first visit to Japan we know relatively little. However, Suzuki did include the following entries in his English language diary: (January 16, 1939), "Special delivery to Durkheim (sic), at German Embassy";21 (January 17, 1939), Telegram from Dürkheim";22 (January 18, 1939), "Went to Tokyo soon after breakfast. Called on Graf. [Count] Durkheim at German Embassy, met Ambassador [Eugen] Otto [Ott], and Dr. [space left blank] of German-Japanese Institute. Lunch with them at New Grand [Hotel]."23 It is likely that this flurry of activity in early 1939 was connected to Dürkheim's impending return to Germany. If so, Dürkheim's luncheon invitation may well have been by way of thanking Suzuki for the latter's assistance during his stay.

Suzuki's assistance appears to have extended to aiding Dürckheim indirectly during a sightseeing visit he made to Kyoto on November 20-24, 1938. Wehr informs us that while in Kyoto Dürckheim met ikebana master Adashi and participated in a tea ceremony. In describing his visit Dürckheim wrote in his diary: "My loyal companion, Mr. Yanasigawa, was – what a happy coincidence! – Suzuki's secretary."24

Dürckheim's Second Visit to Japan

Dürckheim returned to Japan in January 1940 and remained there throughout the war. It was during this time that his most important work for the Nazis was undertaken. This time Dürckheim travelled to Japan by train through Russia, taking advantage of the new, and once unthinkable, non-aggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. It was, however, this very treaty that had produced a crisis in Germany's relationship with Japan. That is to say, the promising negotiations of 1938 between the two countries had led to nothing, mostly because of Japan's hesitant attitude. As a result, Germany changed its plans and on August 23, 1939 Foreign Minister Ribbentrop signed a "Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics," thereby allying itself with Japan's archenemy. This ruptured the Anti-Comintern pact, and the relationship between the two countries hit rock bottom.

Signing of the Nazi-Soviet Non-aggression Pact

Interestingly, Dürckheim appears to have had advance knowledge of this development. That is to say, in his 1992 book, Der Weg ist das Ziel (The Way is the Goal), Dürckheim recalls:

As soon as I had returned to Germany [from Japan in 1939], Ribbentrop summoned me. In the meanwhile he had become foreign minister, yet he never abandoned people he had worked with. He said to me: "I would like to conclude a treaty with Russia. Here is the draft. You are the first one I'm showing it to. What will the Japanese say?" "Well," I replied, "of course they will not be very happy about it, Mr. von Ribbentrop."25

This incident suggests just how important Dürckheim had already become, at least concerning Japanese affairs.

By the spring of 1940 Germany had achieved an impressive list of military victories leading to the occupation of Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and, most important, France. The defeat of England seemed to be only a matter of time. This led Japan to approach Germany with the goal of ensuring protection of its own sphere of influence in East Asia. As for Germany, as it became clear that the defeat of England would take longer than expected, especially in the face of possible US intervention in Europe as well as East Asia. Thus, Germany, too, once again became interested in a military alliance with Japan. This time renewed negotiations bore fruit in the form of the Tripartite Pact between Germany, Japan and Italy, signed on September 27, 1940.

Signing of the Tripartite Pact

Dürckheim continued to work for Ribbentrop during his second stay in Japan. This time his work included collecting information about Japanese opinion concerning Germany and its policies as well as organizing propaganda for the Nazis, especially at the academic level. About this, Dürckheim recalls:

Then the war started. The day after [Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939] Ribbentrop summoned me and said: "We need somebody to maintain contact with scientists in Japan." I answered: "Mr. Von Ribbentrop, I can't wait to return to Japan." "OK," he answered, "then come back tomorrow and tell me what you want to have [to carry out this task]." The next day I said to him: "I want eighty libraries consisting of one hundred volumes each." "What do you mean?" "Eighty libraries with one hundred volumes in each is a library for every teacher at German schools [in Japan]." He said "OK, approved. I think this is reasonable."26

In addition, Dürckheim sought to place pro-Nazi articles in important Japanese journals while supplying the German Foreign Office's propaganda magazine, Berlin-Rom-Tokyo, with articles about Japan. He also claims to have played a role in the preparation of the Tripartite Pact signed on September 27, 1940.27 Despite his lack of official status in Germany's Foreign Ministry, Dürckheim was clearly an important, even key, figure in promoting the wartime relationship between the two countries.

Gerhard Wehr's View of Dürckheim in Japan

A major divergence in viewpoints is evident in the available descriptions of Dürckheim's activities during his second residence in Japan. This divergence might best be characterized as a divergence between those in Europe who described Dürckheim's residence in Japan from outside Japan, and without knowledge of Japanese, and those who described him from within Japan, primarily from Japanese sources.

Among those in the first category is Gerhard Wehr, Dürckheim's biographer and admirer. Wehr acknowledges that his subject eagerly embraced his new duties as a Nazi emissary: "In the wave of enthusiastic nationalism, Dürckheim saw himself as a useful representative of the 'new Germany' for his people and his employers in Berlin, for the Minister of Foreign Affairs Von Ribbentrop, and for the Minister of Education, Bernhard Rust."28

Wehr further states: "And as his biography shows, it was not hard for him to obey the orders of his superiors." Yet, Wehr immediately adds: "But in the background, there was always this other tendency toward the spirituality of the East, and especially toward Zen Buddhism; later it will be for Zen as a trans-religious attitude in universal man, the practice of spiritual exercise and disciplines."29

Wehr also informs us: "From the outside, in the years 1930 to 1940, Professor Karlfried Graf [Count] Dürckheim seemed to be a cultural envoy of the Third Reich. At the same time, a subterranean process of transformation of which he was hardly conscious was taking place."30

Thus, on the one hand, Wehr admits that, at the very least, Dürckheim was in the employment of the Nazis, but on the other hand he claims that from the very outset of his residence in Japan, Dürckheim was drawn toward the spirituality of the East, most especially Zen.

Yet, what exactly was this transformational "subterranean process" Dürckheim was undergoing? Wehr introduces a quote from Dürckheim describing how his spiritual journey after arriving in Japan led him to practice not only Zen but also traditional Japanese archery and painting as well:

Out of personal preference, I came to know many Zen exercises. I even worked outside of meditation (zazen), especially in archery and painting. It is surprising to notice that from the point of view of Zen, the most varied arts have the same purpose, whether it be archery or dance, song or karate, floral decoration or aikido, the tea ceremony or spear throwing. . . . Done in the spirit of Zen, they are merely different ways aiming toward the same thing: the breakthrough toward the nature of Buddha, toward "Being."31

Wehr goes on to inform his readers that "the thought at the foundation of this special exercise [i.e., archery] . . . is Zen. Further, through his practice of Zen and Zen-influenced arts Dürckheim feels that he is able to approach "the Japanese character," the ultimate expression of which is that "a person realizes himself completely, discovering in his way the Divine. And that is of course what man feels most directly."32 Yet, throughout the entire period Dürckheim pursues his spiritual interests he remains in the service of the Nazis.

The preceding comments raise two interesting questions. First, is Zen practice, especially as it is allegedly found in Japanese arts like archery, really in conflict with the ideology of National Socialism? And second, are all of these arts, particularly archery, really connected to Zen in the first place?

Dürckheim and Eugen Herrigel

Eugen Herrigel

Dürckheim tells us that he was drawn to the practice of archery thanks to Eugen Herrigel, the well-known author of the short classic, Zen in the Art of Archery. According to Wehr:

Dürckheim remembers having read an article by his colleague Eugen Herrigel dealing with the martial arts. He is therefore already familiar with the thought at the foundation of this special exercise that is Zen. And as this master of archery follows the same tradition as Herrigel, it is an added incentive to become initiated in this discipline. "That is what led me to begin this activity. I knew that I would learn things about Japan which would be useful to me and which cannot be found in books or in any other way."33

The first problem with Wehr's description is that subsequent research has shown that Dürckheim did not study archery with a teacher in the lineage of Awa Kenzō, i.e., someone who "follows the same tradition as Herrigel." However, Dürckheim may not have been aware of this. Dürckheim provides a more detailed description in his book Der Weg ist das Ziel (The Way is the Goal): "One day in 1941 a Japanese friend invited me, 'Come with me, my master is here. What master? The master of archery.' This is how I got to know master Kenran Umechi [Umeji]."34

The Japanese scholar Yamada Shoji emphasizes that Umeji was not in Awa's lineage. Instead, he was simply another archery instructor of that era. The only known connection between the two men was that Awa once visited Umeji to query him about a fine point of archery technique. In the aftermath of his visit Umeji's disciples claimed that their master was the greater of the two, going so far as to suggest that Awa was one of Umeji's students. Unsurprisingly, Awa's students adamantly rejected this claim.35

Be that as it may, there nevertheless appears to be a genuine connection between Dürckheim and the martial art of archery. Additionally, Zen is identified as the "foundation of this special exercise." There is, however, yet another problem with this scenario, for as Yamada Shoji has demonstrated, the connection of Zen to archery is, historically speaking, little more than a modern myth, primarily created even in Japan itself by Herrigel:

Looking back over the history of kyūdō [archery], one can say that it was only after World War II that kyūdō became strongly associated with Zen. To be even more specific, this is a unique phenomenon that occurred after 1956 when Zen in the Art of Archery was translated and published in Japanese. . . . This suggests that the emphasis on the relationship between the bow and Zen is due to the influence of Zen in the Art of Archery.36

Yamada reveals moreover that Herrigel himself never underwent any formal Zen training during his five-year stay in Japan from 1924-29. Yamada also informs us that Awa "never spent any time at a Zen temple or received proper instruction from a Zen master."37 Awa did, however, teach something he called Daishadōkyō (Great Doctrine of the Way of Shooting) that included a religious dimension he expressed using elements of Zen terminology. Awa's Japanese students noted this Great Doctrine consisted of "archery as a religion" in which "the founder of this religion is Master Awa Kenzō."38 Herrigel also refers to the "Great Doctrine" but, as Yamada notes: "Herrigel offered no explanation of what the "Great Doctrine" might be, so readers of Zen in the Art of Archery had no way of knowing that this was simply Awa's personal philosophy."39

Yet another key component of Herrigel's archery training was the mystical spiritual experience he claimed to have had, expressed verbally as "'It' shoots" rather than the familiar "I shoot (an arrow)." The spiritual connection came from Herrigel's identification of "It" with "something which transcends the self."40 Inasmuch as this expression appears to resonate with Zen teaching the question must be asked, what's the problem?

The problem is, as Yamada explains: "There is no record of Awa ever having taught: "'It' shoots" to any of his disciples other than Herrigel."41 How is this possible? Yamada's painstaking research led him to the following conclusion:

When Herrigel made a good shot, Awa cried, "That's it!". . . . "That's it" was mistakenly translated to Herrigel [in German] as "'It' shoots," and Herrigel understood "It" to mean "something which transcends the self." If that is what happened, then the teaching of "'It' shoots" was born when an incorrect meaning filled the void created by a single instance of misunderstanding.42

The relevance of this alleged "misunderstanding" to Dürckheim is that the latter shared the same misunderstanding, albeit under a different master with only a tenuous connection to Awa. During an interview with German television at the age of eighty-seven Dürckheim said:

I still remember the day, in the presence of the master, when I shot an arrow and it left on its own. "I" had not shot it. "It" had shot. The master saw this and took the bow in his hands, then took me in his arms (which is very rare in Japan!) and said: "That's it!" He then invited me to tea. That is how archery taught me so much, for the mastery of a traditional Japanese technique does not have as goal a performance, but on the contrary requires the achievement of a step forward on the inner path.43

Dürckheim thus used nearly the same words as Herrigel to describe his mystical experience, i.e., "'It' had shot." Yet, unlike Herrigel, Dürckheim did not claim that his archery master had used these words. Instead, he states that, upon seeing Dürckheim's accomplishment, his archery master said, "That's it!" Not only does this episode provide strong evidence that Yamada's conclusion is correct, but it also suggests that, since neither Herrigel nor Dürckheim were fluent in Japanese, Dürckheim, at least, had the superior interpreter.

That said, where had Dürckheim first learned the expression, "'It' shoots" if not from Herrigel's writings? As noted above, Awa did not employ this expression in his teaching which, in any case, was not based on any Zen training but rather on his own personal philosophy that included Zen expressions. This forces us to recognize that there was no "Zen" in the "art of archery" other than that first created in Herrigel's mind based on a mistaken translation of Awa's words.

For his part, Dürckheim subsequently accepted this mistaken translation at face value. Further, as we have seen, Dürckheim mistakenly believed his archery master "follow[ed] the same tradition as Herrigel."44 Thus, it can be said that while Dürckheim had the superior interpreter, there was nothing "superior" or even "accurate" in either man's understanding of their practice of archery or its non-existent historical relationship to Zen.45

Be that as it may, the importance of this discussion is that the connection of archery to Zen was not an ancient tradition that Herrigel encountered while in Japan, nor was the practice of archery understood as an alternate form or expression of Zen practice. As Yamada, himself an accomplished student of archery, states, Zen's connection to archery is primarily a postwar "myth" that Herrigel himself promoted.46

Finally, it is not surprising that Dürckheim would have also embraced this myth in light of the fact that Herrigel, in his writings from 1936, promoted a völkisch religious understanding very similar to that of Dürckheim. Further, Dürckheim was aware of these 1936 writings before he started his own practice of archery. This völkisch understanding was, however, not the only thing the two men shared in common.
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Re: D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

Postby admin » Fri Aug 09, 2019 12:58 am

Part 2 of 4

A Shared Nazi Past

In a political context, the most important feature Herrigel and Dürckheim shared was their active allegiance to National Socialism, an allegiance that was of great benefit to both of their careers. Herrigel joined the Nazi party on May 1, 1937. The following year he became the vice rector of the University of Erlangen and in 1944 was promoted to rector, a post he held to the end of the war. As Yamada notes: "In a climate where right-minded scholars were leaving the universities in droves, only a person who had ingratiated himself with the Nazis could hope to climb as high as rector."47

During the Nazi era Herrigel wrote such essays as "Die Aufgabe der Philosophie im neuen Reich" (The Task of Philosophy in the New [Third] Reich) in 1934 and "Nationalsozialismus und Philosophie" (National Socialism and Philosophy) in 1935. In 1944, as an expert on Japan, he wrote, "Das Ethos des Samurai" (The Ethos of the Samurai). Herrigel's wartime writings reveal him to have been an enthusiastic Nazi.48 For example, in 1935 Herrigel described Hitler as follows:

The miracle happened. With a tremendous drive that made all resistance meaningless, the German Volk was carried away. With unanimous determination it endorsed the leader. . . . The fight for the soul of the German Volk reached its goal. It is ruled by one will and one attitude and commits itself to its leader with a kind of unity and loyalty that is unique within the checkered history of the German Volk.49

Given this it is not surprising to learn that following Germany's defeat Herrigel was brought before the denazification court at Erlangen. Although he strenuously denied any wrongdoing, he was nevertheless found guilty of having been a Mitläufer (lit. a "runner with") of the Nazis. In terms of guilt, this was one rank below that of a committed Nazi, but it nevertheless resulted in his dismissal from the university. Thereafter he retired, dying of lung cancer in 1955.

Thus, it can be said that, unlike Dürckheim who successfully hid his Nazi past in postwar Germany, Herrigel did pay a price for his wartime collaboration. Had Dürckheim been in Germany at war's end, he, too, might have faced a reckoning. Given his role as a tireless propagandist for the Nazi cause, he might very well have been convicted of having been a Belasteter (Offender), i.e., an activist, militant, profiteer, or incriminated person. The punishment for those convicted of this status was imprisonment for up to 10 years. Thus Dürckheim was fortunate to spend only eighteen months in Tokyo's Sugamo prison.

Dürckheim, Herrigel and Suzuki's Postwar Relationship

There was one additional thing Dürckheim and Herrigel shared in common, i.e., their longstanding relationship with D.T. Suzuki, a relationship that continued into the postwar era. Dürckheim recalls:

[Suzuki] later came to see me at Todtmoos. It was in 1954, and I had just received a telegram of the Protestant Academy of Munich asking me to do a conference on oriental wisdom. I took advantage of his presence to ask him: "Master, could you tell me in a few words what oriental wisdom is?" He smiled and said: "Western knowledge looks outside, Eastern knowledge looks within." I said to myself: "That is not such a great answer. . ." Then he continued: "But if you look within the way you look without, you make of the within a without." That is an extraordinary statement! It reveals the whole drama of western psychology which looks within the way we look without, making of the within a without, that is, an object. And life disappears.50

Dürckheim noted that during his visit Suzuki expressed his interest in meeting Martin Heidegger who lived nearby:

I met Heidegger again twenty years later, when Suzuki, the eighty-year old prophet of Zen visited me and wanted to see him. It was an encounter of a man of the word with a man, who, as a Zen Master, is certain that in opening our mouth we are already lying! For only silence contains truth.51

Martin Heidegger

It should be noted that Heidegger's own Nazi past was also the subject of ongoing controversy in the postwar period inasmuch as he had joined the NSDAP on May 1, 1933, ten days after being elected Rector of the University of Freiburg. However, in April 1934 he resigned the Rectorship and stopped attending Nazi Party meetings. Nevertheless, Heidegger remained a member of the Party until its dismantling at the end of World War II. More recently, scholars in both Germany and America have demonstrated the profound affinities between Heidegger's thought and his reactionary milieu. In the postwar period, Heidegger commented: "If I understand this man [Suzuki] correctly, this is what I have been trying to say in all my writings."52

As for Herrigel, his relationship to the Nazis is, as noted above, far clearer. Herrigel's significant postwar connection to Suzuki is well illustrated in Suzuki's preface to the 1953 English edition of Herrigel's classic. Suzuki wrote:

In this wonderful little book, Mr. Herrigel, a German philosopher who came to Japan and took up the practice of archery toward an understanding of Zen, gives an illuminating account of his own experience. Through his expression, the Western reader will find a more familiar manner of dealing with what very often must seem to be a strange and somewhat unapproachable Eastern experience.53

Suzuki's appreciation of Herrigel's "wonderful little book" is high praise indeed for a man who stated in a 1959 conversation with the Zen scholar Hisamatsu Shin'ichi that no Westerner had yet understood Zen despite the many books that Westerners had written on this topic. Was Herrigel then the single exception? In fact, he was not, for when Hisamatsu asked Suzuki's assessment of Herrigel, Suzuki replied: "Herrigel is trying to get to Zen, but he hasn't grasped Zen itself. Have you ever seen a book written by a Westerner that has?"54 Suzuki was then asked why he had agreed to write the introduction to Herrigel's book? "I was asked to write it, so I wrote it, that's all," he replied.55

There is no reason to believe that Suzuki would have had a higher regard for Dürckheim's understanding of Zen. Dürckheim was, after all, just another "Westerner" and definitely not Japanese. In an article written in June 1941 Suzuki claimed: "The character of the Japanese people is to come straight to the point and pour their entire body and mind into the attack. This is the character of the Japanese people and, at the same time, the essence of Zen."56 Given this, how could any Westerner aspire to understanding "the essence of Zen" while lacking "the character of the Japanese people"?

At the same time, given the historical non-relationship of Zen to archery, the question must be asked as to what this tells us about Suzuki's own understanding of Zen? That is to say, did he knowingly participate in what Yamada described as a postwar "myth"? If so, what was his purpose? Interesting as these questions may be, they lie beyond the scope of this article to explore.

Wehr's Defense of Dürckheim

Unsurprisingly, Wehr provides us with none of this information about Herrigel let alone about any personal relationship Dürckheim may have had to him. Nor, for that matter, does Wehr inform us much about Dürckheim's relationship with Suzuki either during or after the war. His focus is on one thing, weakening Dürckheim's connection to National Socialism while simultaneously strengthening his relationship to Zen:

Reflections such as these still do not reveal the distance which Dürckheim is taking vis-à-vis National Socialism and his own concept of nationalist culture. These two worlds still co-exist for him. He is attempting to harmonize his nationalist ideals and his spiritual interests. He does not yet realize that he will have to make a decision if he continues his inner path. He believes that what Zen Buddhism offers him is a gain to his exterior status.57

Thus, Wehr would have us believe that as Dürckheim's understanding of Zen deepened he was slowly drawn away, if only unconsciously, from the Nazis' worldview to that of Zen. In fact, he would "have to make a decision," i.e., choosing either Zen or National Socialism. But did Dürckheim ever make such a choice? On this crucial point Wehr is silent. The best Wehr could do was to admit: "The quoted biographical documents suggest that it was a very slow process of change."58

Nevertheless, Wehr goes on to claim that Dürckheim became such an accomplished Zen practitioner that he had an initial enlightenment experience known as satori. Not even Herrigel had explicitly claimed this for himself. Wehr wrote:

Toward the end of his stay in Japan, Dürckheim experienced satori, the aim of Zen: a degree of illumination of reality. Through this he achieved the "spiritual break-through toward ultimate reality." In this way a greater Self is uncovered, beyond the ordinary self. This greater Self, and the destiny linked to it, does not spare a person on the inner way from trials. In the following stages of his life, Dürckheim experienced an imprisonment of a year and a half in the prison of Sugamo in Tokyo under the control of the American Occupation.59

Once again the reader is presented with the incongruous relationship between a confirmed Nazi, a suspected war criminal in postwar Japan, and an enlightened Zen practitioner. Yet, when did Dürckheim have his enlightenment experience? Was it before, or after, he was imprisoned at war's end? And who was the Zen master who authenticated Dürckheim's enlightenment experience as is required in the Zen school? Did Dürckheim even train under a recognized Zen master? Wehr once again remains silent.

Wehr does, however, quote Dürckheim in describing his incarceration in the Sugamo prison:

In spite of everything, it was a very fertile period for me. The first weeks I had a dream almost every night, some of which anticipated my future work. In my cell, I was surrounded by a profound silence. I could work on myself and that is when I began to write a novel. My neighbors simply waited for each day to pass. That time of captivity was precious to me because I could exercise zazen meditation and remain in immobility for hours.60

The fact that Wehr tells us Dürckheim experienced satori "toward the end of his stay in Japan" suggests that Dürckheim had what he believed to be satori while in prison, for, as noted, he was incarcerated for some eighteen months under suspicion of being a Class A war criminal before finally being released without trial and repatriated to Germany. If Dürckheim did experience satori in prison, it would have been impossible for a Zen master to verify his experience. Thus, within the norms of the Zen tradition, and without additional clarifying evidence, the authenticity of Dürckheim's claim must remain suspect if not denied outright. Nevertheless, Wehr ends his description of Dürckheim's experience in Japan as follows: "The years in Japan represent a special formation for Dürckheim's later work as teacher of meditation and guide on the inner path."61

In fairness to Dürckheim, it should be noted that upon his return to Germany he did not claim to be a "Zen master" although it appears there were those around him who regarded him as such. About this, Dürckheim said: "What I am doing is not the transmission of Zen Buddhism; on the contrary, that which I seek after is something universally human which comes from our origins and happens to be more emphasized in eastern practices than in the western. What interests us is not something uniquely oriental, but something universally human which the Orient has cultivated over the centuries and has never fully lost sight of."62

In a conference held in Frankfort, Dürckheim went further:

I find it especially shameful that people say: the experiences of Being which Dürckheim brings us are imported from the East. No, the experience of Being is everywhere in the world, even if it is given different names according to the religious life which has developed there, if we understand by the word "Being" the Divine Being. All reflection on Being begins with this experience. . . .This experience can truly help man feel and assist him in living something contradictory to his usual self and his ordinary view of life, and make him suddenly experience another force, another order and another unity. It is obviously greater, more powerful, more profound, richer and vaster than anything else he can live through.63

Yet, in another sense, it can be said that Dürckheim claimed to be far more than a mere Zen master. That is to say, over the years Dürckheim came to express his Zen-induced experience of a "breakthrough of Being" as a breakthrough of Being in Christ.64 Thus, he conceived of himself as having incorporated the essence of Eastern spirituality as encapsulated in Zen into an esoteric understanding of Christianity. Dürckheim states: "Man is in his center when he is one with Christ and lives through Christ in the world without ever leaving the voice of the inner master which is Christ and continually calls him toward the center. Here Christ is not only the 'Being of all things,' nor the intrinsic Path in each one of us, but also Transcendence itself."65

In claiming this, Dürckheim placed himself at the apex of a new, or at least revitalized, religious movement that, on the one hand, enjoyed deep roots within the Christian mystical tradition even while incorporating the "enlightenment experience" of ancient Eastern wisdom. Whereas by the modern era Christian mysticism lacked (or had lost) a clear-cut methodology for achieving Transcendence, the Zen school had maintained a meditative practice based on zazen and allegedly associated arts. Dürckheim could claim to have combined the best of both worlds, placing him in a unique position among religious teachers. In a postwar Germany still struggling to free itself from the bitter legacy of the Nazi era, it is not surprising that Dürckheim would have been an attractive figure.

Nevertheless, to the detached observer it can only be a source of amazement that a once dedicated and tireless propagandist for an utterly ruthless totalitarian ideology could, with a metaphorical flip of the hand, transform himself in the postwar era into someone who embodied the elements of a universal spirituality. That is to say, he became someone who, claiming to have experienced satori, proceeded to incorporate his understanding of Eastern spirituality into a transcendent, mystical form of Christianity, all without having acknowledged, let alone expressed the least regret for, his Nazi past.

As for Wehr, it can be said that, at least by comparison with Satō who falsified Suzuki's opposition to the Nazis, he honestly admitted Dürckheim's Nazi past. Yet, having made this admission, Wehr immediately set about attempting to downplay Dürckheim's Nazi affiliation as much as possible. He did this by replacing his political affiliation to fascism with a Zen-based narrative of spiritual growth that gradually removed Dürckheim from the world of National Socialism even though the latter is described as having been largely unaware of his transformation.

But is this description correct?

The Search for Evidence

In searching for evidence to assess Wehr's description of Dürckheim in Japan, the author could but regret how little space Wehr devoted to such things as his relationship to National Socialism, Zen and Zen figures like Suzuki. It was just at this time, i.e., June 2011, when Hans-Joachim Bieber, Prof. Emeritus of Kassel University, sent me an e-mail that ended as follows:

There is one source which could probably give more information about Dürckheim's encounter with Zen Buddhism and perhaps with D.T. Suzuki personally during his years in Japan: Dürckheim's diaries. They are unpublished and belong to the Dürckheim family in Germany. They have been used by Dürckheim's first biographer (Gerhard Wehr, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, Freiburg 1996). Wehr found out that Dürckheim had been a fervent Nazi. For the Dürckheim family and Dürckheim's students his book was a shock (despite the fact that Wehr basically was an adherent of Dürckheim). And my impression is that since then the family doesn't allow anyone to use Dürckheim's diaries. At least they refused my request.66

In reading this I could not help but empathize with Wehr and the shock he must have felt upon learning of Dürckheim's Nazi past. This author, too, underwent a similar experience when first becoming aware of Suzuki's wartime writings, having originally believed and been inspired by Suzuki when he claimed: "Whatever form Buddhism takes in different countries where it flourishes, it is a religion of compassion, and in its varied history it has never been found engaged in warlike activities."67

At the same time the author could not help but admire Wehr, at least to some degree, for having included Dürckheim's Nazi affiliation in his biography of a figure he clearly deeply admired. The phrase "at least to some degree" is used because Wehr continually tried to show Dürckheim distancing himself from National Socialism in tandem with his growing interest in Zen.

Further, it was impossible not to empathize with Bieber as well. Just as Bieber had attempted to research Dürckheim's wartime record in Germany, the author sought to explore Suzuki's relationship to Dürckheim in Japan. In Bieber's case, the Dürckheim family turned him away, refusing to permit access to Dürckheim's diaries. In the author's case, I met with a stony silence when repeatedly seeking permission to access Suzuki's extensive personal library, known as the Matsugaoka Bunko, located in Kita-kamakura not far from Tokyo.

D.T. Suzuki's Diaries

Nevertheless, there is one significant difference as far as Suzuki's wartime diaries (1936-45) are concerned. That is to say, Matsugaoka Bunko published Suzuki's wartime diaries over a period of six years, from 2007 thru 2012, in their yearly research organ, The Annual Report of the Researches of the Matsugaoka Bunko. Surprisingly, Suzuki kept these diaries in English so there can be no doubt about their meaning.

The diaries show that Suzuki maintained an ongoing relationship with Dürckheim throughout the war years, beginning with a flurry of activity involving Dürckheim in January 1939. There is, further, nothing in these 1939 entries to suggest that this was the first time the two men had met. Thus, it is likely they had met earlier. In addition, following Dürkheim's return to Japan, i.e., on July 14, 1942, Suzuki writes: "Telegram to Graf [Count] Dürckheim re his invitation to lunch tomorrow,"68 and on February 15, 1943: "Went to Tokyo to take lunch with Graf von Dürckheim and stayed some time with him."69

It is noteworthy that Suzuki's contact with leading Nazis in Japan was not limited to Dürckheim. As we have already seen, Suzuki lunched with Ambassador (and Major General) Ott as early as January 18, 1939. Further, 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,"70 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."71

Suzuki's diaries also contain frequent references to lectures at German-related venues beginning as early as May 28, 1938: "Lecture at German research institute for K.B.S. in the evening"72 followed on June 26, 1938 by: "Kurokawa and Kato brought money for my lecture at German Institute."73 Additional references to lectures include: 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, 1943.74

One reason these lectures are important is because Dürckheim states:

When I came to Japan, I did not know anything about Zen. Very soon I met the Zen-master Suzuki, the greatest Zen-scholar of our time. I heard many of his lectures, and through him I discovered Zen.75

Dürckheim's Zen study with Suzuki appears to have consisted of a number of personal meetings punctuated with attendance at Suzuki's lectures on Zen at German venues. Needless to say, simply listening to lectures about Zen does not constitute Zen practice. In fact, an academic understanding of Zen sans practice is often castigated as the very epitome of a mistaken approach to Zen, relying, as it does, on conceptual thought.

In the postwar period Dürckheim was specifically asked about this: "With which Zen exercise did you start your Zen practice? Zen is a kind of practice which one has to learn, isn't it?" To which Dürckheim responded: "My access was through archery."76

Suzuki's luncheon with Dürckheim and Ambassador Ott on January 18, 1939 took place just two months after the massive, coordinated attack on Jews throughout the German Reich on the night of November 9, 1938. This anti-Jewish violence, known as Kristallnacht, or "Night of Broken Glass," was accompanied by the torching of hundreds of synagogues together with their Torah scrolls. Although Kristallnacht was widely condemned by governments, newspapers and radio commentators throughout the world, and despite his many contacts in the English-speaking world, Suzuki was undeterred from maintaining his contacts with Dürckheim and the German embassy either then or for the remainder of the war.

Thanks to the publication of Suzuki's diaries, it can be argued that we have a more detailed picture of Suzuki's wartime actions than we do those of Dürckheim. For example, we now know that between 1938 and 1944 Suzuki met with five Imperial Navy Admirals (Mori, Yamaji, Yamanashi, Nomura and Sato) on eight occasions.77 Moreover, Suzuki was in contact or dined with Count Makino Nobuaki on forty-four occasions between 1930 and 1945 (thirty-one times between 1936-45). The extremely rightwing Makino was one of Emperor Hirohito's closest advisors, having served him as Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal from 1925 to 1935. As late as February 1945 Makino met Hirohito together with six former prime ministers and, despite Germany's impending defeat, urged him to continue the war, saying "the ultimate priority is to develop an advantageous war situation."78

Suzuki's connection to someone as close to the emperor as Makino is indicative of Suzuki's access to Imperial Court circles.79 Additionally, it raises the question of Suzuki's own attitude to the emperor, especially as references to the emperor, either positive or negative, are all but absent from his published writings in either English or Japanese. Some Suzuki supporters have interpreted this absence as a sign that he was either opposed, or at least critical, of the Imperial system and the ultra-nationalism associated with it.

Fortunately, there is one wartime report on Suzuki's view of the emperor supplied, interestingly enough, by yet further wartime German visitors to Japan. The visitors in question were not themselves Nazis but, despite having once come under suspicion by the Gestapo, were nevertheless given permission to travel on Christian mission-related business in both China and Japan. These missionary visitors were Gerhard Rosenkrantz and his wife who visited Japan in 1939. They requested a meeting with Suzuki and met him in the library of what was then Otani College where he was teaching:

"We Buddhists," Suzuki told them, "bow in front of the emperor's image, but for us this is not a religious act. The emperor is not a god because for Buddhists a [Shinto] god can be something very low. We see the emperor in an area high above all religions. Trying to make him a god today means a reduction in the status of the emperor. This brings confusion to Buddhism, Shinto and Christianity."80

Thus, even while denying the emperor's status as a Shinto deity, Suzuki nevertheless justified bowing to the emperor's image as a Buddhist because he was a personage "high above all religions." Suzuki, of course, never publicly denied the emperor's divinity in his wartime Japanese writings.

Regrettably, we cannot be sure what Suzuki told his German audiences because even though nearly seventy years have elapsed since the end of WWII, the attempt to preserve his reputation, similar to that of Dürckheim himself, continues to be an important task for those who were close to both men and now seek to preserve their respective legacies.
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Re: D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

Postby admin » Fri Aug 09, 2019 1:00 am

Part 3 of 4

The View of Dürckheim from within Japan

As for Dürckheim, we do have one observer who had first-hand knowledge of his activities within Japan. He was a German academic by the name of Dr. Dietrich Seckel. Seckel taught in Japan from 1937 to 1947 and later at Heidelberg University from 1965 to 1976. He described Dürckheim's wartime activities in Japan as follows:

Dürckheim also went to Zen temple[s] where he meditated. However, his study and practice of Zen Buddhism has been extremely exaggerated. In particular, I felt this way because, at the same time, he was propagating Nazism. There was something incongruous about this. I recall seeing him at a reception at the German Embassy. At that time he was poking his finger into the breast of one of the most famous Japanese professors of economics who was wearing a brown silk kimono. While explaining the ideology of the German Reich to him, Dürckheim kept pushing the poor professor back until the latter reached the wall and could go no further. I could not help but feel pity for this professor who was the subject of Dürckheim's indoctrination.

Dürckheim thought of himself as a friend and supporter of German teachers [in Japan]. He provided us with everything he could think of. He lectured everywhere ceaselessly with his lectures first being translated into Japanese and then, later on, distributed to all German residents in the original German. His speeches arrived in the mail on an almost daily basis. It was extremely unpleasant. He was what might be called an excellent propagandist who, possessed of a high intellectual level, traveled throughout Japan teaching Nazism and the ideology of the Third Reich."81

The above account is instructive in a number of ways, first of all because it reveals that Dürckheim viewed himself as a friend and supporter of German teachers in Japan. In fact, as we have seen, even during his first visit to Japan in August 1938 he had visited the Japanese faction of the National Socialist Teachers Association (NS-Lehrerbund). There he talked about the principles and forms of national socialist education and the difference between the national socialist understanding of freedom and a liberal conception of it.

Further, Seckel describes Dürckheim as "an excellent propagandist who, possessed of a high intellectual level, traveled throughout Japan teaching Nazism and the ideology of the Third Reich." Neither Dürckheim's intelligence nor his dedication to propagating Nazi ideology can be in doubt. In fact, he was so dedicated in his work that he was awarded the War Merit Cross, Second Class on Hitler's birthday, April 20, 1944. Dürckheim shared this honor with such prominent Nazis as Adolf Eichmann and Dr. Josef Mengele. Yet, what of his interest in Zen? ". . . his study and practice of Zen Buddhism has been extremely exaggerated," Seckel informs us.

We have already learned that early in Dürckheim's first sojourn in Japan he claimed to have met D.T. Suzuki, someone whom Dürckheim describes as "one of the greatest contemporary Zen Masters." Suzuki, of course, was not a Zen master, and he never claimed this title for himself. He was, instead, a lay practitioner and regarded as such by the Rinzai Zen sect with which he was closely affiliated. That said, Suzuki did have an initial enlightenment experience, i.e., satori, as a young man and, unlike Dürckheim, had his enlightenment experience verified by a noted Rinzai Zen master, Shaku Sōen. Additionally, Suzuki also possessed significant academic accomplishments as a Buddhist scholar, especially as a translator of Buddhist texts.

Does this mean, then, that Dürckheim never practiced with a recognized Zen master in Japan? No, for the record is clear that Dürckheim did indeed train, albeit for only a few days, with Yasutani Haku'un, then a Sōtō Zen priest, who, in the postwar era, became a well-known Zen master in West, particularly the U.S. We know about Dürckheim's training with Yasutani thanks to Hashimoto Fumio, a former higher school teacher of German, who served as Dürckheim's interpreter and translator at the German embassy in Tokyo.

Hashimoto described his relationship to Dürckheim as follows:

When Dürckheim first arrived in Japan, he was surrounded by Shintoists, Buddhist scholars, military men and right-wing thinkers, each of whom sought to impress him with their importance. The Count found it difficult to determine who of them was the real thing, and I stepped in to serve as his advisor. In addition, a great number of written materials were sent to him, and my job was to review them to determine their suitability. . . .

In the end, what most interested the Count was traditional Japanese archery and Zen. He set up an archery range in his garden and zealously practiced every day. In addition, he went to Shinkōji temple on the outskirts of Ogawa township in Saitama Prefecture where he stayed to practice Zen for a number of days. His instructor in zazen was the temple abbot, Master Yasutani [Haku'un]. I accompanied the Count and gladly practiced with him.82

Yatsutani Haku'un

Hashimoto relates that it was he who first took an interest in Yasutani because of the latter's strong emphasis on both the practice of zazen and the realization of enlightenment. This emphasis on practice was a revelation for him, for until then his only knowledge of Buddhism had come from scholars who "had never properly done zazen or realized enlightenment."83 In particular, Hashimoto was impressed by Yasutani's 1943 book on Zen Master Dōgen and a modern-day compilation of Dōgen's teachings for the laity known as the Shūshōgi. Hashimoto claimed that Yasutani's book revealed "the greatness of this master [i.e. Yasutani] and the profundity of Buddhism."84 So impressed was Hashimoto that not only did he provide Dürckheim with a detailed description of the book's contents but went on to translate the entire book into German for him.

Thus, Yasutani's book, coupled with Hashimoto's recommendation, was the catalyst for Dürckheim's training at Shinkōji albeit for only "a number of days." Dürckheim could not help but have been aware of Yasutani's extremely right-wing, if not fanatical, political views as clearly expressed in his book. Given this, the author asks for the reader's understanding in quoting extensively from his book. It is done in the belief that if we are to understand Dürckheim's view of Zen we need to become acquainted with the teachings of the only authentic Zen master he appears to have trained under, albeit briefly.

Yasutani described the purpose of his book as follows:

Asia is one. Annihilating the treachery of the United States and Britain and establishing the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere is the only way to save the one billion people of Asia so that they can, with peace of mind, proceed on their respective paths. Furthermore, it is only natural that this will contribute to the construction of a new world order, exorcising evil spirits from the world and leading to the realization of eternal peace and happiness for all humanity. I believe this is truly the critically important mission to be accomplished by our great Japanese Empire.

In order to fulfill this mission it is absolutely necessary to have a powerful military force as well as plentiful material resources. Furthermore, it is necessary to employ the power of culture, for it is most especially the power of spiritual culture that determines the final outcome. In fact, it must be said that in accomplishing this very important national mission the most important and fundamental factor is the power of spiritual culture. . . .

It is impossible to discuss Japanese culture while ignoring Buddhism. Those who would exclude Buddhism while seeking to exalt the Spirit of Japan are recklessly ignoring the history of our imperial land and engaging in a mistaken movement that distorts the reality of our nation. In so doing, it must be said, such persons hinder the proper development of our nation's destiny. For this reason we must promulgate and exalt the true Buddha Dharma, making certain that the people's thought is resolute and immovable. Beyond this, we must train and send forth a great number of capable men who will be able to develop and exalt the culture of our imperial land, thereby reverently assisting in the holy enterprise of bringing the eight corners of the world under one roof.85

For Dürckheim, the words "it is most especially the power of spiritual culture that determines the final outcome" must have been particularly attractive inasmuch as they paralleled his own völkisch understanding of religion. However, without knowledge of modern Japanese Buddhist history, it is unlikely that he would have understood the reference to "those who would exclude Buddhism while seeking to exalt the Spirit of Japan…" Here Yasutani refers to Shinto and Neo-Confucian-inspired criticism dating back to the late Edo period (1600-1867) that condemned Buddhism as a foreign, degenerate religion defiling a divine Japan properly headed by a "living (Shinto) god" (arahito-gami). The reference, of course, is to the emperor. As late as the 1930s Shinto and Neo-Confucian advocates maintained that Buddhism, an outdated foreign import, had nothing to offer modern Japanese society, a position Yasutani vehemently rejected.

Note, too, that the basis of the martial spirit of the Japanese people was described as the "Spirit of Japan" (Yamato-damashii). Yasutani clearly concurred with this belief though he asserted that it was Japanese Buddhism that made the cultivation of this ultranationalist and xenophobic spirit possible. Yasutani even turns Zen Master Dōgen, the 13th century founder of the Sōtō Zen sect in Japan, into the model of an Imperial subject:

The Spirit of Japan is, of course, unique to our country. It does not exist in either China or India. Neither is it to be found in Italy or Germany, let alone in the U.S., England and other countries….We all deeply believe, without the slightest doubt, that this spirit will be increasingly cultivated, trained, and enlarged until its brilliance fills the entire world. The most remarkable feature of the Spirit of Japan is the power derived from the great unity [of our people]. . . .

In the event one wishes to exalt the Spirit of Japan, it is imperative to utilize Japanese Buddhism. The reason for this is that as far as a nutrient for cultivation of the Spirit of Japan is concerned, I believe there is absolutely nothing superior to Japanese Buddhism. . . .That is to say, all the particulars [of the Spirit of Japan] are taught by Japanese Buddhism, including the great way of 'no-self' (muga) that consists of the fundamental duty of 'extinguishing the self in order to serve the public [good]' (messhi hōkō); the determination to transcend life and death in order to reverently sacrifice oneself for one's sovereign; the belief in unlimited life as represented in the oath to die seven times over to repay [the debt of gratitude owed] one's country; reverently assisting in the holy enterprise of bringing the eight corners of the world under one roof; and the valiant and devoted power required for the construction of the Pure Land on this earth.

Within Japanese Buddhism it is the Buddha Dharma of Zen Master Dōgen, having been directly inherited from Shākyamuni, that has emphasized the cultivation of the people's spirit, for its central focus is on religious practice, especially the great duty of reverence for the emperor.86

Interestingly, among other nations, Yasutani excludes even wartime allies, Germany and Italy, from sharing in the uniquely Japanese "Spirit of Japan." Given this, the reader might suspect Dürckheim would have been somewhat alienated by Yasutani's words. In fact, as we have seen, the Nazis readily recognized that every Volk had their own unique spirit and culture. Thus, it was self-evident that the equally unique "German Spirit" (G. Deutscher Geist) propagated by the Nazis would have excluded the Spirit of Japan. Nevertheless, there was nothing to prevent the unique spirits of the three peoples from working closely together, not least of all against common enemies, while simultaneously learning and sharing with one another. Dürckheim mirrored this close collaboration.

By this point readers may be asking, "I thought Buddhism was a religion that forbids killing. Don't both Buddhist laity and clerics undertake to abstain from taking life?" Yasutani did, in fact, recognize this as a problem but asserted nonetheless:

At this point the following question arises: What should the attitude of disciples of the Buddha, as Mahāyāna Bodhisattvas, be toward the first precept that forbids the taking of life? For example, what should be done in the case in which, in order to remove various evil influences and benefit society, it becomes necessary to deprive birds, insects, fish, etc. of their lives, or, on a larger scale, to sentence extremely evil and brutal persons to death, or for the nation to engage in total war?

Those who understand the spirit of the Mahāyāna precepts should be able to answer this question immediately. That is to say, of course one should kill, killing as many as possible. One should, fighting hard, kill everyone in the enemy army. The reason for this is that in order to carry [Buddhist] compassion and filial obedience through to perfection it is necessary to assist good and punish evil. However, in killing [the enemy] one should swallow one's tears, bearing in mind the truth of killing yet not killing.

Failing to kill an evil man who ought to be killed, or destroying an enemy army that ought to be destroyed, would be to betray compassion and filial obedience, to break the precept forbidding the taking of life. This is a special characteristic of the Mahāyāna precepts.87

The assertion that failing to kill an "evil man" is to betray compassion is one of the more extraordinary of Yasutani's claims. Yet, innumerable wartime Zen leaders echoed much of what Yasutani wrote above. There was, however, one area where he had less company. Yasutani was one of only a few Zen masters to integrate virulent anti-Semitism into his pro-war stance. The following are a few representative quotes, the first of which manages to combine Confucian social values, including its sexism, and anti-Semitism:

1. Everyone should act according to his position in society. Those who are in a superior position should take pity on those below, while those who are below should revere those who are above. Men should fulfill the Way of Men while women observe the Way of Women, making absolutely sure that there is not the slightest confusion between their respective roles. It is therefore necessary to thoroughly defeat the propaganda and strategy of the Jews. That is to say, we must clearly point out the fallacy of their evil ideas advocating liberty and equality, ideas that have dominated the world up to the present time.

2. Beginning in the Meiji period [1868-1912], perhaps because Japan was so busy importing Western material civilization, our precious Japanese Buddhism was discarded without a second thought. For this reason, Japanese Buddhism fell into a situation in which it was half dead and half alive, leaving Japanese education without a soul. The result was the almost total loss of the Spirit of Japan, for the general citizenry became fascinated with the ideas of liberty and equality as advocated by the scheming Jews, not to mention such things as individualism, money as almighty, and pleasure seeking. This in turn caused men of intelligence in recent years to strongly call for the promotion of the Spirit of Japan.

3. We must be aware of the existence of the demonic teachings of the Jews who assert things like [the existence of] equality in the phenomenal world, thereby disturbing public order in our nation's society and destroying [governmental] control. Not only this, these demonic conspirators hold the deep-rooted delusion and blind belief that, as far as the essential nature of human beings is concerned, there is, by nature, differentiation between superior and inferior. They are caught up in the delusion that they alone have been chosen by God and are [therefore] an exceptionally superior people. The result of all this is a treacherous design to usurp [control of] and dominate the entire world, thus provoking the great upheavals of today. It must be said that this is an extreme example of the evil resulting from superstitious belief and deep-rooted delusion.88

Finally, almost inconceivably for the knowledgeable observer, Yasutani ends his book by once again invoking Zen Master Dōgen as a supporter of his militarist faith:

At this point in time, nothing is more urgent than the clarification of the true Dharma of Zen Master Dōgen, thereby extolling the great duty of reverence for the emperor, and, at the same time, rectifying numerous unsound ideas, cultivating proper belief among the Japanese people as leaders of the Orient, one hundred million [people] of one mind, equipped with a resolute and immovable attitude.

In this connection I have provided a brief and simple outline of Zen Master Dōgen's Buddha Dharma. Nothing could bring me greater joy than, if through the dissemination of this book, the true Dharma becomes known once again, resulting in the total and complete exaltation of the Spirit of Japan and benefitting both the state and humanity.

Moreover, I am convinced this will become the spiritual foundation for the establishment of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, the standard for cultural activities, and the pillar for the construction of a new world order.89

In his conclusion, Yasutani manages to combine the Buddhist teachings of Zen Master Dōgen, the Spirit of Japan and the militarist "Greater East Co-Prosperity Sphere" into one indivisible and fanatical whole. Thus, if only for a period of a few days, Dürckheim trained under the guidance of one of Japan's most virulently militarist and anti-Semitic of all Zen masters. And as Hashimoto informs us, Dürckheim knew exactly what Yasutani stood for inasmuch as the former had translated all of Yasutani's book into German on Dürckheim's behalf. Since anti-Semitism was not typical of wartime Zen masters, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that for Dürckheim among the most attractive features of Yasutani's teaching was both his embrace of a militarism based on "no-self" and his virulent antipathy to Jews.

And, of course, one should not forget the claim made by Dürckheim's interpreter and translator, Hashimoto Fumio, that Dürckheim had been drawn to Yasutani due to "the greatness of this master" and the fact that Yasutani was unlike Zen scholars who "had never properly done zazen or realized enlightenment." Thus, one cannot help but ask what Yasutani's alleged "enlightenment" consisted of?90 And further, what was the nature of Dürckheim's self-proclaimed experience of satori in light of his training under Yasutani?

In the postwar era, Philip Kapleau introduced Yasutani to the West in his widely acclaimed book, The Three Pillars of Zen, as the very model of an enlightened Zen master even while the latter continued his rightwing activities. For example, in 1951 Yasutani established a journal known as Gyōshō (Awakening Gong) as a vehicle for his religious and political views. Typical of his postwar political views is the following:

It goes without saying the leaders of the Japan Teachers' Union are at the forefront of the feebleminded [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, etc. 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.91

As for the theoretical basis of Haku'un's right-wing political views, he shared the following with his readers a few months later: "All machines are assembled with screws having right-hand threads. Right-handedness signifies coming into existence, while left-handedness signifies destruction.92

Yasutani maintained his relationship with Dürckheim in the postwar years as evidenced by Dürckheim's 1964 publication of Die wunderbare Katze und andere Zentexte (The Wonderful Cat and Other Zen Texts). This book consisted of a collection of texts on archery, fencing and Zen including a section on Zen Master Dōgen's "Fukan-zazengi" (A Universal Recommendation for the Practice of Zazen) with a commentary by Yasutani and translated into German by Hashimoto Fumio, Dürckheim's wartime translator and advisor. The same book also contained a section entitled, "On Zen Practice" comprised of talks given by Yasutani first translated into English by Philip Kapleau.93

According to Wehr, Yasutani visited Dürckheim in Todtmoos in 1966 accompanied by Hashimoto Fumio. Wehr writes that Yasutani came "to greet a kindred spirit." (G. um den Geistesverwandten zu grüßen).94 Further, one year later Yasutani contributed to Dürckheim's 70th birthday commemorative volume.95 That these two men were truly "kindred spirits," in peace and war, there can be no doubt.

D.T. Suzuki's Influence on the Nazis

By comparison with Yasutani, Suzuki may seem absolutely benign. After all, up to this point the record reveals that all Suzuki actually did was provide guidance on Zen to Dürckheim through a combination of personal meetings and public lectures. Dürckheim in turn introduced Suzuki's thoughts, as contained in his 1938 book, to a German audience in a series of articles written in 1939. These actions hardly seem worthy of the claim made by Suzuki's editor, Handa Shin, that "Dr. Suzuki's writings are said to have strongly influenced the military spirit of Nazi Germany."

Yet, Suzuki's diary reveals he initiated the process for his book to be translated and published in Germany on August 8, 1938, i.e., less than three months after its appearance in Japan: "Letters to German publishers re. translation of my book."96 When this effort didn't immediately bear fruit, Suzuki wrote the following entry on January 19, 1939: "Zen and Jap. Culture sent to [Walter] Donat of the Jap-German Culture Institute of Tokyo."97 Dr. Walter Donat was the General Secretary of the Japanese-German Culture Institute and, needless to say, a dedicated Nazi.

German Title of Suzuki's Zen und die Kultur Japans

Suzuki was clearly an active participant, in fact the initiator, of a process that finally led to the publication of his book in Germany in 1941 under the title of Zen und die Kultur Japans (Zen and the Culture of Japan). Like Dürckheim, the translator, Otto Fischer, introduces Suzuki as a "Zen priest" as well as "a professor at the Buddhist Ōtani College in Kyoto."98 In his introduction Fischer also notes that Suzuki was already known to a German audience inasmuch as his book, Die große Befreiung (The Great Liberation) had been published in Leipzig in 1939. This was the German title given to Suzuki's 1934 book, Introduction to Zen Buddhism.

It is no exaggeration to say that Suzuki's new book was translated and published in the right place at the right time. That is to say, even before it was publicly available, it was reviewed in one of Germany's major newspapers. Or more accurately, in the most important newspaper in Germany, the Völkischer Beobachter, (Völkisch Observer) the official newspaper of the Nazi Party with a readership of 1.7 million as late as 1944. By comparison, the New York Times currently (2013) has a daily circulation of 1.8 million.

On January 11, 1942 the Völkischer Beobachter carried a review article featuring four full pages of Suzuki's book. The review's title said it all: "Zen and the Samurai: On the Japanese Warrior's Readiness for Death," (click title to view). Unsurprisingly, the Nazis' supreme interest in Zen was its contribution to the warrior's willingness to die. The words, "death," "die," "deadly" occur no less that fourteen times in these four pages. Typical of these death-related passages is the opening sentence that reads: "The problem of death is a great problem with every one 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 either side of fighters."99

As Suzuki made clear with his reference to "for the soldier," he wanted his readers to understand that his words about Japan's past applied equally to its present. Suzuki also discussed the Hagakure (lit. Hidden under the Leaves), a classic early 18th century work on Bushidō authored by Yamamoto Jōchō (1659-1719), a Zen priest and former samurai:

We read the following in the Hagakure: "Bushido means the determined will to die. When you are at the parting of the ways, do not hesitate to choose the way of death. No special reason for this except that your mind is thus made up and ready to see to the business. Some may say that if you die without attaining the object, it is a useless death, dying like a dog. But when you are at the parting of the ways, you need not plan for attaining the object. We all prefer life to death and our planning and reasoning will be naturally for life. If then you miss the object and are alive, you are really a coward. This is an important consideration. In case you die without achieving the object, it may be a dog-death – the deed of madness, but there is no reflection here on your honor. In Bushido honor comes first.100

The last sentence would no doubt have had a special resonance for members of the SS inasmuch as their motto was "Meine Ehre heißt Treue" (My honor means loyalty.) The SS is, of course, infamous for having run the Nazis' concentration camps. Note, however, that the emphasis on honor and loyalty in both the SS and the allegedly Zen-inspired Bushidō code is not coincidental, for on November 1, 1935 Heinrich Himmler received permission from Adolf Hitler to model the SS on the Japanese samurai. Himmler's ultimate goal was that in a victorious Germany the SS would form an elite force that would rule the country as the samurai once had.

Bill Maltarich describes this development in Samurai and Supermen: National Socialist Views of Japan as follows: "Although Europe had always shown an interest in the samurai, with Germany leading the trend after the alliance with Japan, it was Himmler's SS who saw in this class a far flung and yet nearly perfect analog. Just as the samurai's rigid and high-minded warrior code had, at least in the view of Japan at the time, influenced and bettered the entire Japanese people, the SS would set and was setting the example for the rest of Germany."101

Himmler was so taken with the samurai that he commissioned a booklet on their history and values to be written and handed out to every SS member. The booklet was entitled Die Samurai, Ritter des Reiches in Ehre und Treue (The Samurai, Knights of the Empire in Honor and Loyalty). The booklet's author was Heinz Corraza who wrote at length about the importance of the samurai as the leading force in Japan's rise to world power status. For his part, Himmler wrote the booklet's introduction in which he emphasized the parallel role the SS was expected to play in Germany. He claimed readers would come to "the recognition that it is mostly minorities of the highest worth who give to the people a life that, in earthly terms, is eternal."102

SS Daggers

This helps explain why only four days after the initial review, on January 15, 1942, Suzuki was again introduced in the same newspaper, this time in an article focused on the most important ultra-nationalist in prewar Japan, Tōyama Mitsuru. The section on Suzuki read as follows:

The Japanese D. T. Suzuki recently wrote a book about the meaning of the Zen sect, published by Deutsche Verlagsanstalt in German. We published a section of his book describing the Japanese warrior's preparedness for death in Vol. No. 11 of the Völkischer Beobachter.

Suzuki is a Zen priest and professor at a Buddhist university in Kyoto. If one were to attempt to characterize the Zen sect scientifically, which is difficult, one can conclude that in it Buddhism has been completely revamped to meet Japanese conditions. This is not a unique process but one that has also happened to Christianity in the past, for example with the birth of Puritanism and certain of its oriental forms.

The recent decade in particular has once again led the Zen sect to increased importance in Japan. The battle for Japan's survival is taking place against the powerful backdrop of a history that has been able to survive for two and a half millenniums in a rare concord of race, religion and politics. It is quite understandable that in this difficult time for the existence of the Japanese people, they would retreat to the intellectual roots of their history and regard them as being quite valid for their present. The outstanding national virtues of the Japanese are anchored in the Zen sect, a fact that signifies a monumental endorsement of this practical life-art.

Die Samurai

In words that seem to spring directly from Suzuki's pen, we learn that as with Christianity, "Buddhism has been completely revamped to meet Japanese conditions" resulting in a "rare concord of race, religion and politics." Further, "The outstanding national virtues of the Japanese are anchored in the Zen sect, a fact that signifies a monumental endorsement of this practical life-art." (Italics mine) The author of these words, Ernst Meunier, was a very active Nazi propagandist credited with some 20 wartime works in 32 publications, including two works for the Reichspropagandaleitung (Reich Propaganda Office).

Given this background, it is not surprising that the Nazis celebrated and promoted Suzuki's writings. This may also be connected to the fact that Alfred Rosenberg, deeply attached to Meister Eckhart as he was, and embracing a völkisch understanding of religion, was editor of the Völkischer Beobachter. He certainly would have welcomed Suzuki's presentation of Zen as serving to reinforce the Nazis' own völkisch understanding of religion while, at the same time, inspiring German readers to embrace a death in which even "dying like a dog" was honorable.

Suzuki's supporters will no doubt claim it is unfair to hold Suzuki responsible for the way in which the Nazis (mis)used his writings. But Suzuki's diaries reveal that on at least two occasions he was the one who took the initiative to ensure his death-embracing writings on Bushidō and Zen would be available in Nazi Germany. Further, Suzuki focused on exactly the same Zen-inspired embrace of death in his writings in Japanese that appeared in military-oriented books and journals.

For example, in a lengthy article that appeared in the June 1941 issue of the Imperial Army's officer's journal, Kaikō-sha Kiji (Kaikō Association Report), Suzuki wrote:

It isn't easy to acquire the mental state in which one is prepared to die. I think the best shortcut to acquire this frame of mind is none other than Zen, for Zen is the fundamental ideal of religion. It isn't simply a question of being prepared to die, as Zen is prepared to transcend death. This is called the "unity of life and death" in which living and dying are viewed as one. The fact that these two are one represents Zen's view of human life and the world.

Heinrich Himmler

A translation of the entire article, entitled ""Makujiki Kōzen" (Rush Forward Without Hesitation)" is available here.

Shortly after Suzuki's book appeared, another Nazi expert on the Far East, Prince Albrecht of Urach, once again sought to explicate the "secret" of the Japanese soldier's strength just as Dürckheim had first done in 1939. In fact, he gave his booklet, published in 1942, exactly same title: Das Geheimnis japanischer Kraft (The Secret of Japanese Power). In it he had this to say about Japanese religion in general: "The Japanese are fortunate in having never experienced serious conflict between national interests and personal religious beliefs. . . . Shinto is Japan's primeval faith, it corresponds to the Japanese character so completely that it is never discussed."103

The Secret of Japanese Power

As for Japanese Buddhism, Albrecht opined: "Japanese Buddhism is much more positive and activist than Indian Buddhism. . . . There are countless very active sects of both Buddhism and Shinto that express their religious life not only in Japan itself, but go out into the areas dominated by Japan to give local people an idea of the power and strength of Japanese state religion."

However, the Nazi Prince reserved his highest praise for Zen in what can only be described as a distilled version of Suzuki's views: "The active and yet stoic Buddhism of the Zen-sect perfected and refined the ethos of the Japanese warrior, and gave him the highly ascetical note that still today is the essential feature of Japanese soldiery." Compare this with Suzuki's own description in the German edition of his book, Zen und die Kultur Japans:

Zen discipline is simple, direct, self-reliant, self-denying, and this ascetic tendency goes well with the fighting spirit. The fighter is to be always single-minded with just one object in view which is to fight and not to look either backward or sidewise. To go straightforward in order to crush the enemy is all that is necessary for him. . . . Good fighters are generally ascetics or stoics, which means to have an iron will. When needed Zen supplies them with this.104

Still further, Albrecht had this to say about the role of the sword in Japanese culture:

Since ancient times, the Japanese sword has not only been a means of power, but a symbol for everything that the samurai served. The sword is the symbol of justice that the samurai was obligated to defend under all circumstances. The samurai class had the duty to promote social justice as well. There are countless legends of swords that recall our myths of swords in the Niebelungen tales. There are tales of swords that act on their own, without the necessity of their owners doing anything, of swords wielded as it were by a ghostly hand that struck down dozens of enemies. Other swords drew themselves from their sheaths and struck down unjust and evil foes.

Compare this with Suzuki who wrote:

The sword has thus a double office to perform: the one is to destroy anything that opposes the will of its owner, and the other is to sacrifice all of the impulses that arise from the instinct of self-preservation. The former relates itself with the spirit of patriotism or 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, it is then the symbol of force, sometimes perhaps devilish. It must therefore be controlled and consecrated by the second function. Its conscientious owner has been 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 which lie in the way of peace, justice, progress, and humanity. It stands for all that is desirable for the spiritual welfare of the world at large.105

Albrecht repeatedly informed his readers, as did Suzuki, that the modern Japanese soldier is filled with the spirit of his ancient samurai forbearers: "The spirit of the samurai lives today with the same force that enabled Japan's army, an army of the whole people, to fight its many recent battles. The first requirement of the samurai is a readiness to give his life." Or as Suzuki expressed it, "the samurai's willingness to give his life away at any moment. . . .[for] 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."

Unlike Suzuki, Albrecht does not explicitly identify the Japanese warrior's willingness to die with Zen, yet he ends his booklet with the following explanation of the relationship between Germany and Japan:

National Socialist Germany is in the best position to understand Japan. We and the other nations of the Axis are fighting for the same goals that Japan is fighting for in East Asia, and understand the reasons that forced it to take action. We can also understand the driving force behind Japan's miraculous rise, for we National Socialists also put spirit over the material.

There can be no doubt that throughout his book Suzuki also "put spirit over the material." Similarly, there can now be no doubt that Handa Shin had a basis for his claim in November 1941 that "Dr. Suzuki's writings are said to have strongly influenced the military spirit of Nazi Germany." Just how strong the influence of his writings was, of course, is debatable. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that paralleling the military alliance between Germany and Japan was an attempt to form a völkisch religious alliance in which both Suzuki and Dürckheim, among others, played leading roles. Once again, just how effective or meaningful this religious alliance was in terms of its impact on military affairs is debatable, but, at the very least, the attempt on the part of both men, and those like them, is clear.

Albert Stunkard

Further, there can be no doubt that many Nazis, like Dürckheim himself, recognized in Zen the same völkisch transformation of Buddhism that they claimed Christianity had undergone in the process of "Germanizing" itself. This is despite the fact that many leading Nazis, starting with Hitler, secretly despised Christianity in any form. Anti-Christian Nazi leaders realized, however, they dare not publicly express their opposition if they were to retain the support of the large numbers of Germans who regarded themselves as Christians, both Catholic and Protestant.

For this reason, a völkisch (Germanized) version of Christianity would have to be tolerated in order to serve Nazi interests, at least in the short term. Accordingly, in Dürckheim we see a kind of völkisch religiosity that while it had initially been inspired by Christianity, and employed Christian terms like "God" and "soul," nevertheless avoided reference to Jesus Christ, the Trinity and other central Christian tenets. Whether "Christianity" is an appropriate term to describe such a faith is certainly debatable. Further, thanks to his stay in Japan, Dürckheim's völkisch religiosity was expanded to include what he claimed to be Zen practice and insight.

A related debate concerns the degree to which Suzuki shared a similar völkisch religiosity with reference to Zen and Buddhism. For example, the journalist Arthur Koestler published The Lotus and the Robot in 1960 following a visit to Japan. He criticized Suzuki for the same passages previously introduced, i.e., that Zen could be linked to any "ism" whatsoever, fascism included. Koestler was especially disturbed by Suzuki's claim that Zen was "extremely flexible to adapt itself almost to any philosophy and moral doctrine as long as its intuitive teaching is not interfered with." These passages, he claimed, "could have come from a philosophical-minded Nazi journalist, or from one of the Zen monks who became suicide pilots."106 Had Koestler been acquainted with Dürckheim, he might well have replaced the word "journalist" with "cultural diplomat."

Further, in 1967 the distinguished scholar of Buddhism, R.J. Zwi Werblowsky, criticized the same passages in an article entitled "Some Observations on Recent Studies of Zen." Werblowsky observed: "Dr. Suzuki forgot to add to the list of possibilities also Nazism with its gas chambers (as the annoying Mr. Koestler has rudely pointed out)."107 While these European commentators, one a journalist and the other a scholar of Buddhism, may not have been aware of the völkisch discourse in Suzuki's writings, they certainly understood where this discourse could lead, including its connection to the Holocaust.

An American Buddhist scholar, Robert Sharf, also described what can now be recognized as the vōlkisch elements in Suzuki's writings:

Suzuki would argue that Japanese "spirituality" is a more developed or refined form of a pan-Asian spiritual ethos, and while this ethos is linked with Buddhism, it was not until Chinese Ch'an [Zen] met the samurai culture of the Kamakura period that it would attain its consummate form in Japanese Zen. This theory allowed Suzuki to claim that only in Japan was Asian spirituality fully realized.108

Sharf also noted: "Western enthusiasts systematically failed to recognize the nationalist ideology underlying modern Japanese constructions of Zen."109

Zen Spreads to the West

As noted in Part I of this article, it was Dürckheim who provided Albert Stunkard, an army medical officer at Sugamo Prison in Tokyo, with a letter of introduction to Suzuki, then living in a house on the grounds of Engakuji monastery in Kita Kamakura. Stunkard's visit initiated a stream of visitors to the Suzuki residence, one of whom was Philip Kapleau, subsequent founder of the Rochester Zen Center. Kapleau initially came to postwar Japan as a court reporter for the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal and would have been very well acquainted with the barbaric nature of Japanese fascism, including the "Rape of Nanking" in December 1937 and other war crimes and atrocities. Nevertheless, not only did Kapleau fail to investigate Suzuki's connection to a known Nazi like Dürckheim, he also went on to train and realize satori under Yasutani Haku'un, the same fanatically militarist and anti-Semitic Zen master that Dürckheim had trained under.

Sugamo Prison

Like Dürckheim, but unlike Herrigel, both Yasutani and Suzuki succeeded in leaving behind (or rather "burying") their wartime pasts, presenting themselves to the Western world as the epitome of Eastern spirituality. In the cases of both Dürckheim and Suzuki, this was mixed with equal claims of access to a transcendent, trans-historical, and universal spirituality. In 1961 Suzuki wrote: "The basic idea of Zen is to come in touch with the inner workings of our being, and to do this in the most direct way possible, without resorting to anything external or superadded. . . . Zen professes itself to be the spirit of Buddhism, but in fact it is the spirit of all religions and philosophies.110 (Italics mine) By comparison, in his wartime 1944 book, Nihonteki Reisei (Japanese Spirituality), Suzuki argued for the utter uniqueness of Japanese Zen in what can only be described as a völkisch pretention to earthiness: "It was only when Chinese Ch'an met the samurai culture of the Kamakura that one finds the blossoming of 'authentic spiritual insight,' since the samurai, 'who had immediate connections to the peasantry,' represent a culture 'coming from the earth.'"111

Unsurprisingly, Suzuki never alluded either to the oppressive samurai-peasant relationship, including the right in early modern Japan to strike down any peasant who wasn't properly obeisant, or even to the militaristic character of the samurai. And it was utterly unthinkable that samurai, as members of the ruling class, would come into physical contact with the earth through toiling in the fields.

As for Dürckheim, unlike Yasutani, he did not continue his rightwing political activism, instead presenting himself in the postwar era solely as a spiritual/psychological healer. In fact, Wehr seemed perplexed by Dürckheim's thoroughgoing apolitical attitude in the postwar era, writing: "Surely, from then on [i.e., after the war] his emphatic restraint with respect to statements (in word and deed) that could be interpreted politically is striking. The question, however, is, if a person who experienced Being is not at the same time a contemporary with the duty not to shut oneself off to the larger social process?"112 Much the same thing can be said about Suzuki's similarly apolitical attitude in the postwar period.

Nevertheless, when examined closely, traces of Dürckheim's wartime views are to be found in his postwar writings. For example, Dürckheim described the key Zen understanding of hara (J. lit. stomach), often referred to as the "seat of enlightenment," as follows:

When a man possesses a fully developed hara he has the strength and precision to achieve actions that otherwise he could never achieve, even with the most perfect technique, the closest attention, or the strongest will power. Only what is done with hara succeeds completely, just as life as a whole can be lived in perfection only when a man is truly one with his primordial center. So every manifestation of it whether in battle, in art or in love succeeds for him who has gained hara.113

Kamikaze with puppy

While success in either the arts or love, thanks to being "truly one with [one's] primordial center" is not an ethical question per se, the same cannot be said of success in battle, the essence of which is to destroy the enemy. Yet, for Dürckheim, both during the war and even after it, all of these actions are conflated with one another without the slightest suggestion of incongruity, let alone moral difference. Thus, there is no hint that success in battle might conceivably conflict with the very first precept that all Buddhists, lay or cleric, vow to follow – to abstain from taking life.

In addition, it is interesting to note that even in the postwar period the suicidal kamikaze pilots were a source of inspiration for Dürckheim. In 1949 he wrote that the kamikaze pilots proved "that already in life there is a dying of man that is not only a dying of life, but of death, too."114 And in a conversation shortly before his death he called kamikaze pilots an example of a state of mind "beyond all duality" (G. jenseits aller Dualität).115

Needless to say, possession of a state of mind "beyond all duality" is tantamount to claiming that these typically teenage pilots were fully enlightened and ignoring the pressure they were under from their commanders to sacrifice their young lives. Nevertheless, this claim was by no means unique to Dürckheim. For example, in May 1945 the Sōtō Zen scholar-priest Masanaga Reihō described these pilots as follows: "The source of the spirit of the Special Attack Forces [kamikaze] 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."116

The monumental death and suffering that accompanied World War II (aka the Pacific War in Japan) cannot be attributed to Zen any more than it can to Christianity. Yet, the Zen school's centuries-long connection to Japan's traditional warriors allowed wartime Zen leaders, Suzuki included, to play a leading role in support of Japanese militarism and fascism even though it was only one of many sects of Buddhism (and Shinto) to have done so. When taken as a whole, it is hardly surprising that, as noted above, Hitler would lament, "Why didn't we have the religion of the Japanese who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good?"

Although Hitler is long gone, it is astonishing that even in the postwar period both Dürckheim and Suzuki, not to mention Yasutani, succeeded so well in promoting the "unity of Zen and the sword" in the West. That is to say, promoting a form of a Zen shorn of its ethical roots in Buddhism, most especially the first precept proscribing the taking of life. It was, moreover, a form of martial spirituality that few if any of the disciples and students of these teachers either seriously questioned or took the time to research carefully.

Many Zen practitioners in the US and other Western countries reject the charge that the unity of Zen and the sword is not a Buddhist teaching. Well-known Zen figures Gary Snyder and Nelson Foster, for example, claim that when Suzuki spoke of the sword in relationship to Zen, "he [Suzuki] was speaking metaphorically, not of tempered steel and bloody death but of a figurative sword and the revivifying, transformative experience of 'body and mind falling away.' When the sword plays this sort of role in human life, obviously it is not a weapon of self-defense or an instrument of killing."117

Inasmuch as Westerners were unaware of Suzuki's wartime writings, it is not surprising that they accepted Suzuki's postwar explanation of the manner in which Zen metaphysics infused the body of swordsmanship. Nevertheless, there were a few critics who refused to hold Suzuki blameless for his conflation of Zen and the sword. In 1959 Suzuki defended himself in the publication of an enlarged edition of his original 1938 work, now renamed Zen and Japanese Culture:

Inasmuch as Zen is a form of Buddhism and Buddhism is professedly a religion of compassion, how can Zen endorse the profession of the swordsman? This is a criticism we frequently hear from the readers of my books. But I hope they now have come to understand what lies underneath swordsmanship and how this is related to the training of Zen. For as most students of Oriental culture may understand by this time, whatever field of art the Japanese may study they always emphasize the importance of the "subjective" side of it, giving to its technique a secondary almost a negligible, consideration. . . . Thus the sword is no longer the weapon to kill indiscriminately, but it is one of the avenues through which life opens up its secrets to us.118

In order to aid his readers "to understand what lies underneath swordsmanship and how this is related to the training of Zen" Suzuki's 1959 edition expanded one of the chapters in his 1938 book, i.e., "Zen and Swordsmanship," and added an entirely new chapter, i.e., "Zen and Swordsmanship II." In his expanded chapter a still defensive Suzuki writes:

There has been much misunderstanding in the West as regards the spirit, function and discipline of the samurai . . . . The perfect swordsman avoids quarreling or fighting. Fighting means killing. How can one human being bring himself to kill a fellow human being? We are all meant to love one another and not to kill. It is abhorrent that one should be thinking all the time of fighting and coming out victorious. We are moral beings, we are not to lower ourselves to the state of animality. What is the use of becoming a fine swordsman if he loses his dignity? The best thing is to become a victor without fighting.119

If this quotation suggests that Suzuki became a pacifist in the postwar period, this is not the case, for he continues:

The sword is an inauspicious instrument to kill in some unavoidable circumstances. When it is to be used, therefore, it ought to be the sword that gives life and not the sword that kills. . . . The point is, however, to utilize the art as a means to advance in the study of the Way (tao). When it is properly handled, it helps us in an efficient way to contribute to the cultivation of the mind and spirit. . . . The sword, therefore, is to be an instrument to kill the ego, which is the root of all quarrels and fightings."120 (Italics mine)

This is the same Suzuki who explained the "essence of Zen" to his Imperial Officer readers in June 1941 as follows:

The character of the Japanese people is to come straight to the point and pour their entire body and mind into the attack. This is the character of the Japanese people and, at the same time, the essence of Zen. . . . It isn't easy to acquire the mental state in which one is prepared to die. I think the best shortcut to acquire this frame of mind is none other than Zen, for Zen is the fundamental ideal of religion.

As noted above, a translation of the entire article is available here.

While Suzuki's postwar metaphysical explanations of the relationship of Zen and the sword were widely accepted in the West, there were critics at home, familiar with his wartime writings in Japanese, who were unwilling to do so. The Rinzai Zen scholar-priest Ichikawa Hakugen described Suzuki, starting as early as the first Sino-Japanese of 1894-5, as follows:

[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 an 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.121

And in perhaps the greatest irony, it was Dürckheim's letter of introduction to Suzuki in postwar Japan that directly launched the "unity of Zen and the sword" into the American mainstream. In Europe, Dürckheim had his own contribution to make.
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Re: D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

Postby admin » Fri Aug 09, 2019 1:03 am

Part 4 of 4

Series Conclusion

Let me begin by expressing my deep and sincere appreciation to Professor Karl Baier of the University of Vienna. His research on the völkisch nature of one major strand of Nazi religiosity as it related to Count Karlfried Dürckheim has been a true revelation to me, one that has provided an invaluable prism through which to view not only Nazi but Japanese wartime spirituality as well. I can only hope that readers share my appreciation of Prof. Baier's insights as expressed in Part II of this series.

WW II, in all its manifestations, was the greatest bloodletting in recorded history, with an estimated death toll of some 60 million human beings or 2.5% of the world's population. Of this number, Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union caused the death of somewhere between 22 to 30 million Russians while Japan's invasion of China took the lives of 10 to 20 million Chinese. Additionally, German dead amounted to between 7 and 9 million soldiers and civilians while Japan lost a total of approximately 3 million of its people.

In pointing this out, it is not the author's intent to suggest that Count Karlfried Dürckheim or D.T. Suzuki, let alone any of the other Zen-related persons featured in this series, were directly responsible for this unprecedented carnage. None of these persons killed so much as a single human being in this conflict. Yet, this does not mean they were innocent either.

Both the Nazi and Japanese military leadership were deeply aware of the importance of what the Japanese called shisō-sen or "thought war." In his writings, Suzuki noted that Zen had long "passively sustained" the samurai in battle, i.e., by enhancing their mental concentration and facilitating their acceptance of death. It was this readiness to die that Suzuki, together with his many fellow Zen leaders, sought to inculcate in Japan's modern soldiery and, through his translated writings, among the Nazis as well.

For his part, Dürckheim might well be described as Suzuki's "alter ego" among the Nazis, promoting the Japanese warrior's embrace of death as an ideal model for German soldiery. At the same time, within Japan, Dürckheim tirelessly sought to strengthen the bonds of unity and mutual support between the wartime allies.

In the midst of the massive destruction their countries faced at war's end, not to mention the horrendous destruction their countries inflicted on others, how did these two men react? In the midst of defeat, were they filled with remorse? Or bitterness? Or disillusionment? Did they recognize or repent of the contribution each of them had made to the outcome?

In Dürckheim's case, he wrote the following to a friend in the last days of the war: "The immeasurable suffering of Germany will bring the German people to a higher level and help give birth to a better, less materialistic nation."122 One wonders whether the "immeasurable suffering" Germany imposed on others, especially the people of the Soviet Union, not to mention Jews, was of any concern to him. As for the German people, Dürckheim appears to believe they found themselves in their abject position due to having been overly "materialistic," a condition that, thanks to the war, they would now be able to overcome despite, or perhaps due to, the immeasurable suffering they had experienced.

As for Suzuki, in the months and years following the war he, too, would discover an admirable dimension to Japan's wartime actions. In his 1947 book, Nihon no Reiseika (The Spiritualization of Japan), he wrote: "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."123 To the extent that Western colonialism in Asia was weakened as a result of the war, there is a degree of truth in Suzuki's assertion. However, he failed to recognize the immense suffering of the Chinese, Korean and other Asian peoples who had endured Japanese invasion and colonial rule.

In words written for the consumption of others, there is always the danger they may be directed more toward pleasing the writer's audience than as an expression of the author's own true feelings. Consider this terse entry in Suzuki's diary on August 15, 1945, i.e., the formal date of Japan's surrender: "The meaningless war has thus dramatically [been] brought to an end."124 What was it that made the war "meaningless"? Was it because Japan had lost the war? Or because Japan should never have started the war? Or because it had been a mistake to attack such a powerful nation as the U.S.?

Or perhaps Suzuki meant it was a "senseless" war in that so many people had died for nothing. Readers must decide this for themselves, for we simply don't know Suzuki's inner thoughts. That said, Suzuki does provide a bit more insight into his war-related thinking in a series of diary entries in March 1945 describing the near daily, relentless incendiary bombing of Tokyo and other major Japanese cities by hundreds of B-29s. On March 13, 1945, i.e., some five months before the end of the war, he writes:

[March] 13 Tu. / 40°-55° Overcast all day. / Mostly reading. / Rei came in morning in response to my telegram. Reported about heart-rending sights in Tokyo and extents of ruins caused by the fires. / Mrs Okamoto (Mitsu-ko) dropped in wishing to get information about Tokyo. They both stayed to lunch. / Sad stories of the suffer[er]s heard on every side, is this war worth all that?125

As Japan's cities turned to ashes, accompanied by massive loss of mostly civilian life, Suzuki was no doubt but one of many Japanese asking this same question. Yet, had Japan been winning the war, instead of losing it, would the war have then been "worth all that"? While Suzuki does not address this question he does add in the same entry: "The war caused by ambitions of ignorant and power-thirsty militarists."126

Suzuki's supporters will no doubt point to these words as proof of his longstanding opposition to World War II. If so, the question must be asked what Suzuki's reaction was to the outbreak of the war between Japan, the U.S. and England four years earlier? At the time of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, i.e., December 8, 1941 (Japan time), Suzuki confided to his diary:

[December] 8 Mo./47°- 64°/ Fine weather. / Japanese-American conference reported failure. State of war between Japan and America and England declared in the Western parts of the Pacific. All things move along a line of the inevitable. Human powers altogether helpless to shape their own course of action. / Makino, grandson of Count Makino and student of the Peer's school called. . .127

Here Suzuki effectively claims that war with the U.S. and England was inevitable. While, on the one hand, Suzuki was no war enthusiast, he nevertheless fails to criticize Japan's military masters for having started the war. How could Japanese military leaders, or anyone else, be held responsible when, according to Suzuki, "Human powers altogether helpless to shape their own course of action"?

As for Suzuki's attitude toward Japan's full-scale invasion of China in July 1937, we know nothing since entries for the first 196 days of 1937 are, for whatever reason, missing from the Matsugaoka-published version of his wartime diaries.128 It is clear, however, that Suzuki was aware of Japan's invasion and the linkage being made to Zen-Bushidō ideology. In his 1938 book Suzuki writes:

There is a document recently talked very much about in connection with the military operations in China. 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.129

While these comments don't prove Suzuki supported the invasion, they do suggest that Suzuki had no objection to the linkage being made. And if only in hindsight, it is almost grotesque to even intimate that the Japanese soldier in China was "doing good for his fellow-beings."

What can be said with confidence is that in light of both Dürckheim and Suzuki's postwar writings, neither man expressed the least regret, nor accepted the least personal responsibility, for their moral blindness in having promoted the unconditional acceptance of death on behalf of two aggressive, totalitarian states. As this series has revealed, each one contributed to the greatest war and accompanying loss of life in world history. And, of course, the same thing can be said about Yasutani Haku'un and Eugen Herrigel. All four men, and many others like them, were indeed "kindred spirits."

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 (Nichibunken) in Kyoto.

This is the third in a three part series.

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

II. Karl Baier, The Formation and Principles of Count Dürckheim's Nazi Worldview and his interpretation of Japanese Spirit and Zen

See also

Brian Daizen Victoria, Zen as a Cult of Death in the Wartime Writings of D.T. Suzuki

Recommended citation: Brian Victoria, A Zen Nazi in Wartime Japan: Count Dürkheim, and his Sources-D.T. Suzuki, Yasutani Haku'un and Eugen Herrigel: " The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 3, No. 2, January 20, 2014.

Sources (Part III)

Albrecht, Fürst von Urach. Das Geheimnis japanisher Kraft (The Secret of Japan's Strength). Berlin: Zentralverlag der NSDAP, 1943. Partial English translation available on the Web. (accessed 16 October 2013).

Arai, Kun. "Shūsenzen tainichi doitsujin no taiken" (Experiences of German Residents in Japan before the End of the War) in Bunka Ronshū, No. 15, September 1999.

Bix, Herbert. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.

Dürckheim, Karlfried Graf. Hara: The Vital Center of Man. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2004. Partial audio version available on the Web. (accessed 20 February 2013).

_____. Die wunderbare Katze und andere Zentexte. Weilheim: Wilhelm Barth Verlag, 1964.

_____. Japan und die Kultur der Stille. Munich-Planegg: O. W. Barth-Verlag, 1949.

_____. Mein Weg zur Mitte. Freiburg, Basel, Wien: Herder TB, 1991.

_____. Der Weg ist das Ziel: Gespräch mit Karl Schnelting in der Reihe "Zeugen des Jahrhunderts." Göttingen: Lamuv, 1992.

Emery, Erin. "A place to find peace," The Denver Post, October 30, 2007. Available on the Web at: http://buddhistmilitarysangha.blogspot.jp (accessed December 30, 2013).

Foster, Nelson and Gary Snyder. "The Fog of World War II -- Setting the Record Straight on D.T. Suzuki," tricycle, summer 2010. Available on the Web. (accessed December 29, 2013).

Goettman, Alphonse. Dialogue on the Path of Initiation: The Life and Thought of Karlfried Graf Durckheim. Translated by Theodore and Rebecca Nottingham. Electronically published by Nottingham Publishing, 1998. Available on the Web. (accessed on 17 September 2013).

Herrigel, Eugen. Zen in the Art of Archery. Translated by Richard F.C. Hull with a foreword by D.T. Suzuki and a preface by Eugen Herrigel. New York: Pantheon Books, 1953.

_____. "Die Aufgabe der Philosophie im neuen Reich" (The Question of Philosophy in the New [Third] Reich). Pfilzische Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften, 1934, pp. 26-32.

_____. "Nationalsozialismus und Philosophie." Unpublished typescript, 1935 (kept in the university library of the University Erlangen-Nürnberg).

_____. "Nationalsozialismus und Philosophie" (National Socialism and Philosophy), 1935. Collection of Universitätsbibliotek Erlangen-Nürnberg. Feldpostbriefe der Philosophischen Fakultät 3, 1944, pp. 2-14.

_____. "Das Ethos des Samurai" (The Ethos of the Samurai), 1944.

Kapleau, Philip. The Three Pillars of Zen. Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1965.

Kraft, Kenneth, ed. Zen Teaching, Zen Practice. Tokyo: Weatherhill 2000.

Maltarich, Bill. Samurai and Supermen: National Socialist Views of Japan. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2005.

Rochman, Bonnie. "Samurai Mind Training for Modern American Warriors," Time, September 6, 2009. Available on the Web. (accessed December 29, 2013).

Rosenberg, Alfred. The Myth of the Twentieth Century. First published in German in 1930 as Der Mythus des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts. English translation available on the Web for download.

Satō, Kemmyō Taira in collaboration with Thomas Kirchner. "D. T. Suzuki and the Question of War." The Eastern Buddhist, No. 39/1: pp. 61–120. Available on the web. (accessed on 17 September 2013).

_____. "Brian Victoria and the Question of Scholarship." The Eastern Buddhist, No. 41/2, pp. 139–166. Available on the web. (accessed on 17 September 2013).

Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World as Will and Representation (Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung), Vol 2, 1844.

Sharf, Robert H., "The Zen of Japanese Nationalism." Available on the Web.

_____. "Whose Zen? Zen Nationalism Revisited." Available on the Web.

Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs. Translated by Richard and Clare Winston. New York: Macmillan, 1970.

Sueki, Fumihiko. "Daisetsu hihan saikō," Matsugaoka Bunko Kenkyū Nenpō, No. 24, 2010.

_____. "Nihon Bukkyō to Sensō--Suzuki Daisetsu o chūshin toshite." Paper presented at the Kankoku Nihon Shisō-shi Gakkai on November 29, 2008.

Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro. "Rain kahan no ichigū kara" (From a Spot on the Banks of the Rhine). Chūgai Nippō (newspaper), 3, 4, 6, 11, and 13, October 1936.

_____. "A Buddhist View of War." Light of Dharma 4, 1904.

_____. Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture. Kyoto: Eastern Buddhist Society, 1938.

_____. Zen and Japanese Culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959.

_____. Zen und die Kultur Japans. Trans. Otto Fischer. Stuttgart, Berlin: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1941.

_____. "A Reply from D. T. Suzuki," Encounter 17, No. 4, 1961.

_____. Nihon no Reiseika. Kyoto: Hōzōkan, 1947.

_____. Nihonteki reisei. Tokyo: Daitō shuppansha, 1944; English translation by Norman Waddell as Japanese Spirituality. Tokyo: Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and Japanese Ministry of Education, 1972.

_____. "English Diaries," Matsugaoka Bunko Kenkyū Nenpō, No. 26, 2012.

Tolischus, Otto. Tokyo Record. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1943.

Victoria, Brian. Zen at War. Second edition. Boulder: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.

_____. Zen War Stories. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.

_____. "Zen as a Cult of Death in the Wartime Writings of D.T. Suzuki." The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 30, No. 4, 5 August 2013. Available on the Web. (accessed on 17 September 2013).

Wehr, Gerhard. Karlfried Graf Dürckheim. Leben im Zeichen der Wandlung. Munich: Aktualisierte und gekürzte Neuausgabe, 1996.

_____. "The Life and Work of Karlfried Graf Durckheim" in Becoming Real: Essays on the Teachings of a Master, Alphonse and Rachel Goettmann, ed. Translated by Theodore J. Nottingham. Electronically published by Nottingham Publishing, 1998. Available on the Web. (accessed on 23 October 2013).

R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, "Some Observations on Recent Studies of Zen," in Studies in Mysticism and Religion Presented to Gershom G. Scholem, edited by E. E. Urbach, R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, and Ch. Wirszubski (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1967), pp. 317-35.

Yamada, Shoji. Shots in the Dark: Japan, Zen and the West. Translated by Earl Hartman. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2009.

_____. "The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery' in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, No. 28/1-12, 2001. Available on the Web. (accessed on 17 September 2013).

Yasutani, Ryōkō (better known as Yasutani, Haku'un). Dōgen Zenji to Shūshōgi (Zen Master Dōgen and the Shūshōgi). Tokyo: Fuji Shobō, 1943.

_____. "Glückwunsch zum 70. Geburtstag von Graf Dürckheim von seinem Weggefährten" in Maria Hippius (ed.), Transzendenz als Erfahrung. Beitrag und Widerhall. Festschrift zum 70. Geburtstag von Graf Duerckheim. Weilheim: Wilhelm Barth Verlag, 1966.


1 For the development of the political relationship between Germany and Japan, see Krebs, Gerhard. "Von Hitlers Machtübernahme zum Pazifischen Krieg (1933-1941)" in Krebs, Gerhard / Martin, Bernd (ed.): Formierung und Fall der Achse Berlin-Tokyo. München: Iudicium 1994, pp. 11-26.

2 The term "social question" usually refers to all of the social wrongs connected to the industrial revolution, especially the emergence of class struggles that threaten the unity of a society. In Germany, the concept of "Volksgemeinschaft" (a community of the people) was promoted as the Nazi alternative to deep divisions within modern society. Thus, the Nazis were interested in learning how their Anti-Comintern partner Japan dealt with this issue.

3 Wehr, "The Life and Work of Karlfried Graf Durckheim." Available on the Web. (accessed October 23, 2013).

4 Goettmann, The Path of Initiation: An Introduction to the Life and Thought of Karlfried Graf Durckheim, p. 29.

5 Wehr, "The Life and Work of Karlfried Graf Durckheim." Available on the Web. (accessed October 23, 2013).

6 Wehr, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim. Ein Leben im Zeichen der Wandlung, p. 96.

7 Suzuki, Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture, p.35

8 Ibid., pp. 34-37.

9 Ibid., pp. 64-65.

10 Speer, Inside the Third Reich, p.96.

11 Suzuki, "English Diaries," No. 25, 2011, p. 60.

12 Rosenberg, The Myth of the Twentieth Century, p. 55.

13 Rosenberg, The Myth of the Twentieth Century, frontispiece.

14 Quoted in Victoria, Zen War Stories, frontispiece. See Otto Tolischus, Tokyo Record.

15 Quoted in Victoria, Zen at War, p. 25.

16 Suzuki, "A Buddhist View of War." Light of Dharma 4, 1904, pp. 181–82.

17 See, for example, Suzuki's frequent references to the identity of Zen and Japanese character in "Zen as a Cult of Death in the Wartime Writings of D.T. Suzuki." Available on the Web.

18 Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Vol 2, Ch. XLVIII.

19 Satō, "Brian Victoria and the Question of Scholarship," p. 150.

20 Suzuki, Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture, pp. 36-37.

21 Suzuki, "English Diaries," No. 26, 2012, p. 3.

22 Ibid., p. 3.

23 Ibid., p. 3.

24 Wehr, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim. Ein Leben im Zeichen der Wandlung p. 97.

25 Dürckheim Der Weg ist das Ziel, pp. 41-42.

26 Ibid., p. 40.

27 See Dürckheim: Der Weg ist das Ziel. Gespräch mit Karl Schnelting in der Reihe "Zeugen des Jahrhunderts," pp. 41-42.

28 Wehr, "The Life and Work of Karlfried Graf Durckheim." Available on the Web. (accessed October 23, 2013).

29 Ibid., p. 11.

30 Ibid., p. 10.

31 Ibid., p. 12.

32 Wehr, 'The Life and Work of Karlfried Graf Durckheim.' Available on the Web. (accessed October 22, 2013).

33 Ibid., p. 13. Note that Awa Kenzō had died in 1939 after a prolonged illness. Thus it would have been impossible for Dürckheim to have received instruction from him.

34 Dürckheim, Der Weg ist das Ziel, pp. 43-44.

35 Yamada Shoji shared this information with the author in a personal interview with the author in the common room of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies on October 18, 2013.

36 Yamada, Shots in the Dark, pp. 44-45.

37 Ibid., p. 66.

38 Ibid., p. 65.

39 Ibid., p. 65.

40 Quoted in Yamada, p. 33.

41 Ibid., p. 49.

42 Ibid., p. 53.

43 Wehr, "The Life and Work of Karlfried Graf Durckheim." Available on the Web. (accessed October 22, 2013).

44 Ibid., p. 13.

45 In terms of Zen's alleged connection to the "martial arts," the historical reality is that Zen (Ch. Chan) was introduced to Japan as an independent strand of Buddhist practice in the 13th century just when the warrior or samurai class had wrested political power away from the emperor and aristocracy. For reasons that D.T. Suzuki and others have elaborated, Zen practice appealed to the warrior class and, as a result, was patronized by them. Warriors especially looked to Zen training as a method of overcoming their fear of death. Thus, Zen's true connection was to a specific social class whose occupation was fighting (and dying in) the wars of their feudal lords, wars typically involving the use of the sword. To the extent that Zen has a connection to the "martial arts" it is a connection to fostering a mental attitude allowing one to wield the sword without fear or hesitation.

46 For further discussion of this topic see Yamada Shōji's article, "The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery."

47 Yamada, Shots in the Dark, p. 95.

48 Herrigel's enthusiasm is also attested to by my collaborator, Karl Baier, who has had the opportunity to review his wartime essay, "Die Aufgabe der Philosophie im neuen Reich."

49 Herrigel, "Nationalsozialismus und Philosophie," p. 8.

50 Quoted in Goettmann, Dialogue on the Path of Initiation: The Life and Thought of Karlfried Graf Durckheim, p. 14.

51 Ibid., p. 11.

52 Quoted in Sharf, "The Zen of Japanese Nationalism," p. 1.

53 Quoted in Yamada, Shots in the Dark, p. 207.

54 Ibid., p. 208.

55 Ibid., p. 208.

56 Quoted in Victoria, "Zen as a Cult of Death in the Wartime Writings of D.T. Suzuki." Available on the Web at: http://www.japanfocus.org/-Brian-Victoria/3973.

57 Wehr, "The Life and Work of Karlfried Graf Durckheim." Available on the Web at: http://www.stillnessspeaks.com/assets/b ... 20Real.pdf (accessed October 23, 2013).

58 Wehr, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim – Ein Leben im Zeichen der Wandlung, p. 120.

59 Ibid., p. 14.

60 Ibid., p. 14.

61 Ibid., p. 14.

62 Ibid., p. 15.

63 Ibid., p. 15.

64 Ibid., p. 16.

65 Ibid., p. 18.

66 Contained in an e-mail to the author from Hans-Joachim Bieber on June 15, 2011.

67 Suzuki, Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture, p. 34.

68 Suzuki, "English Diaries," No. 21, 2007, p. 114.

69 Suzuki, "English Diaries," No. 23, 2009, p. 6.

70 Suzuki, "English Diaries," No. 23, 2009, p. 4.

71 Ibid., p. 6.

72 Suzuki, "English Diaries," No. 25, 2011, p. 60.

73 Ibid., p. 63.

74 Suzuki, "English Diaries," No. 23, 2009, pp. 30-40 inclusive.

75 Dürckheim, Der Weg ist das Ziel: Gespräch mit Karl Schnelting in der Reihe "Zeugen des Jahrhunderts," p. 43.

76 Ibid., p. 43. Since the question of archery as a form of Zen practice has already been addressed, it is unnecessary to repeat it here.

77 See related entries in Suzuki, "English Diaries," Nos. 21, 23, 25, 26.

78 Quoted in Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, p. 488.

79 For a discussion of Suzuki's earliest approach to both the emperor and Count Makino, see Victoria, "The 'Negative Side' of D. T. Suzuki's Relationship to War," pp. 113-14.

80 Quoted in Victoria, "Zen as a Cult of Death in the Wartime Writings of D.T. Suzuki." Available on the Web at: http://japanfocus.org/-Brian-Victoria/3973.

81 Arai, "Shūsenzen tainichi doitsujin no taiken," p. 112.

82 Quoted in Victoria, Zen War Stories, pp. 88-89.

83 Ibid., p. 89.

84 Ibid., p. 89.

85 Quoted in Victoria, Zen War Stories, pp. 69-70.

86 Ibid., p. 70.

87 Ibid., pp. 71-72.

88 Ibid., p. 73.

89 Ibid., p. 74.

90 Interestingly, this question has been discussed in recent years by Kubota Ji'un, then abbot of the Zen organization Yasutani created in the postwar era, i.e., the Sanbō-kyōdan (Three Treasures Association). This discussion is available on the Web at: http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/Cri ... ology.html.

91 Quoted in Victoria, Zen at War, p. 168.

92 Ibid., p. 168.

93 Dürckheim, "Fukan-Zazen-Gi. Ein Text des Zen-Meisters Dōgen, erläutert von Meister Hakuun Yasutani, übersetzt aus dem Japanischen von Fumio Hashimoto," pp. 73-91, and "Über die Übung des Zen. Vorlesungen von Zen-Meister Hakuun Yasutani Roshi, englische Übersetzung von Philipp Kapleau, aus dem Englischen übertragen von G. von Minden," pp. 93-118.

94 Wehr, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim: Ein Leben im Zeichen der Wandlung, p. 217.

95 Yasutani, "Glückwunsch zum 70. Geburtstag von Graf Dürckheim von seinem Weggefährten," pp. 475-478.

96 Suzuki, "English Diaries," No. 25, 2011, p. 68.

97 Suzuki, "English Diaries," No. 26, 2012, p. 3.

98 Suzuki, Zen und die Kultur Japans, p. 9.

99 Suzuki, Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture, p. 47. The quoted material extends to the bottom of p. 50 in the English edition. In the German edition, Zen und die Kultur Japans, the quoted material begins on the middle of p. 60 and extends through the top of p. 63. I also wish to extend my appreciation to Sarah Panzer at the University of Chicago who made me aware of this article and provided the newspaper clipping.

100 Suzuki, Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture, p. 49.

101 Maltarich, Samurai and Supermen: National Socialist Views of Japan, p. 155.

102 Quoted in ibid., p. 226.

103 Albrecht, Das Geheimnis japanischer Kraft. All quotations taken from this booklet appear in the partial, non-paginated English translation available on the Web at: http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/japan.htm (accessed October 16, 2013).

104 Suzuki, Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture, p. 35

105 Ibid., pp.66-67.

106 Koestler, The Lotus and the Robot, p. 271.

107 Werblowsky, "Some Observations on Recent Studies of Zen," p. 321.

108 Sharf, "Whose Zen? Zen Nationalism Revisited." Available on the Web at: http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/Cri ... _sharf.pdf.

109 Sharf, "The Zen of Japanese Nationalism." Available on the Web at: http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/Cri ... _sharf.pdf.

110 Suzuki, "A Reply from D. T. Suzuki," Encounter 17, No. 4, 1961, p. 44.

111 Sharf, "The Zen of Japanese Nationalism." Available on the Web at: http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/Cri ... _sharf.pdf.

112 Wehr, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim – Ein Leben im Zeichen der Wandlung, p. 129.

113 Dürckheim, Hara (audio version).

114 Dürckheim, Japan und die Kultur der Stille, p. 51.

115 Dürckheim: Mein Weg zur Mitte, p. 122.

116 Quoted in Victoria, Zen at War, p. 139.

117 Foster and Snyder, "The Fog of World War II -- Setting the Record Straight on D.T. Suzuki," tricycle, summer 2010. Available on the Web. (accessed December 29, 2013).

118 Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, pp. 160-61.

119 Ibid., p. 132.

121 Ibid., pp. 132-34.

122 Quoted in Victoria, Zen at War, p. 167.

123 Wehr, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim: Ein Leben im Zeichen der Wandlung, p. 120.

123 Suzuki, Nihon no Reiseika, p. 7.

124 Suzuki, "English Diaries," No. 23, 2009, p. 101. For a summary of Suzuki's postwar comments on the war see Victoria, Zen at War, pp. 147-52.

125 Ibid., p. 86.

126 Ibid., p. 86.

127 Suzuki, "English Diaries," No. 21, 2007, p. 86.

128 See Suzuki, "English Diaries," No. 25, 2011. Had I received permission to visit Matsugaoka Bunkō, the whereabouts of this missing half-year plus of Suzuki's diary is one of many questions I would have liked to ask. Japan's full-scale invasion of China resulted from an incident that began on evening of July 7, 1937.

129 Suzuki, Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture, pp. 45-46.
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Re: D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

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Part 1 of 2

Zen as a Cult of Death in the Wartime Writings of D.T. Suzuki
by Brian Victoria
August 2, 2013
The Asia-Pacific Journal, Volume 11 | Issue 30 | Number 4




The publication of Zen at War in 1997 and, to a lesser extent, Zen War Stories in 2003 sent shock waves through Zen Buddhist circles not only in Japan, but also in the U.S. and Europe.

These books revealed that many leading Zen masters and scholars, some of whom became well known in the West in the postwar era, had been vehement if not fanatical supporters of Japanese militarism. In the aftermath of these revelations, a number of branches of the Zen school, including the Myōshinji branch of the Rinzai Zen sect, acknowledged their war responsibility. A proclamation issued on 27 September 2001 by the Myōshinji General Assembly included the following passage:

As we reflect on the recent events [of 11 September 2001] in the U.S. we recognize that in the past our country engaged in hostilities, calling it a “holy war,” and inflicting great pain and damage in various countries. Even though it was national policy at the time, it is truly regrettable that our sect, in the midst of wartime passions, was unable to maintain a resolute anti-war stance and ended up cooperating with the war effort. In light of this we wish to confess our past transgressions and critically reflect on our conduct.1

On 19 October 2001 the sect’s branch administrators issued a follow-up statement:

It was the publication of the book Zen to Sensō [i.e., the Japanese edition of Zen at War], etc. that provided the opportunity for us to address the issue of our war responsibility. It is truly a matter of regret that our sect has for so long been unable to seriously grapple with this issue. Still, due to the General Assembly’s adoption of its recent “Proclamation” we have been able to take the first step in addressing this issue. This is a very significant development.2

In the same year, the smaller Tenryūji branch of the Rinzai Zen sect issued a similar statement, again citing the Japanese edition of Zen at War as a catalyst leading to their belated recognition of war responsibility.

In reading these apologies, one is reminded of the “Stuttgart Confession of Religious Guilt,” issued by Protestant church leaders in postwar Germany, in which they repented their support of Hitler and the Nazis. The Confession’s second paragraph read in part: “With great anguish we state: Through us has endless suffering been brought upon many peoples and countries. . . . We accuse ourselves for not witnessing more courageously, for not praying more faithfully, for not believing more joyously, and for not loving more ardently.”3 Nevertheless, there is one significant difference between religious leaders in Japan and Germany, i.e., while the Stuttgart Confession was also issued on 19 October, it was 19 October 1945 not 2001.

It is also true that a relatively small number of German Christians resisted the Nazis, Father Maximillian Kolbe, Martin Niemöller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer being among the best known. Similarly a small number of Buddhist priests, both within the Zen school and other sects, also opposed Japanese imperialism. The common denominator between the two groups, however, was their overall ineffectiveness.4 This is no doubt because no matter what the faith or country involved, institutional religion, with but few exceptions, staunchly supports its own nation in wartime.

The Background to D.T. Suzuki’s Wartime Role

There is now near universal recognition, including in Japan, that the Zen school, both Rinzai and Sōtō, strongly supported Japanese imperialism. Nevertheless, there is one Zen figure whose relationship to wartime Japan remains a subject of ongoing, sometimes deeply emotional, controversy: Daisetz Teitarō Suzuki, better known as D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966).5

Given Suzuki’s position as the most important figure in the introduction of Zen to the West, it is hardly surprising that the nature of his relationship to Japanese imperialism should prove controversial, for if he, too, were an imperialist supporter, what would this imply about the nature of the Zen he introduced to the West?

If the following discussion of Suzuki’s wartime record appears to lack balance, or shades of gray, it is not done out of ignorance, let alone denial, of exculpatory evidence concerning this period in his life. However, evidence of Suzuki’s alleged anti-war stance is well known and, indeed, readily accessible on the Internet.6 Hence, there is no need to repeat it here. That said, interested readers are encouraged to review all relevant materials related to Suzuki’s wartime record before reaching their own conclusions.

As important as Suzuki may be, the debate goes far beyond either the record or reputation of a single man. As recent scholarship suggests, Suzuki was in fact no more than one part, albeit a significant part, of a much larger movement. Oleg Benesch described Suzuki’s role as follows:

[Suzuki’s] writings on bushidō and Zen during the period immediately after the Russo-Japanese War [1904-05] are not extensive, but are significant in light of his role in spreading the concept of the connection of Zen and bushidō, especially during the last four decades of his life. Suzuki can be seen as the most significant figure in this context, especially with regard to the dissemination of a Zen-based bushidō outside of Japan.7 (Italics mine)

While these comments may not seem particularly controversial, Benesch also provided a detailed history of the manner in which Suzuki and other early twentieth century Japanese intellectuals, including such luminaries as Nitobe Inazō (1862-1933) and Inoue Tetsujirō (1855-1944), essentially invented a unified bushidō tradition for nationalist use both at home and abroad. Benesch writes:

The development and dissemination of bushidō from the 1880s onward was an organic process initiated by a diverse group of thinkers who were more strongly influenced by the dominant Zeitgeist and Japan’s changing geopolitical position than by any traditional moral code. These individuals were concerned less with Japan’s past than the nation’s future, and their interest in bushidō was prompted primarily by their considerable exposure to the West, pronounced shifts in the popular perception of China, and an apprehensiveness regarding Japan’s relative strength among nations.8

Benesch later added:

The bushidō that developed in Meiji [1868-1912] was not a continuation of any earlier ethic, but it contained factual elements that were carefully selected and reinterpreted by its promoters. . . .concepts such as loyalty, self-sacrifice, duty, and honor, all of which existed in considerably different forms and contexts to those in which they were incorporated into modern bushidō theories. . . .The most important factor in the relatively rapid dissemination of bushidō was the growth of nationalistic sentiments around the time of the Sino-Japanese [1894-95] and Russo-Japanese wars.9

As this article reveals, Suzuki’s writings on the newly created bushidō ‘code’ were very much a part of this larger nationalist discourse. His personal contribution to this discourse was the presentation of bushidō, primarily to a Western audience, as the very embodiment of Zen, including the modern Japanese soldier’s alleged “joyfulness of heart at the time of death.” In 1906, the year following Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War, Suzuki wrote:

The Lebensanschauung of Bushidō 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 Bushidō – all of 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.10

Suzuki’s praise for, and defense of, Japan’s soldiers as “Orientals” is particularly noteworthy in light of the fact that only two years earlier, i.e., in 1904, Suzuki had himself invoked Buddhism in attempting to convince Japanese youth to die willingly for their country: “Let us then shuffle off this mortal coil whenever it becomes necessary, and not raise a grunting voice against the fates. . . . Resting in this conviction, Buddhists carry the banner of Dharma over the dead and dying until they gain final victory.”11

While comments like these may be interpreted as Suzuki’s ad hoc responses to national events beyond his control, in fact they accurately represent his underlying belief in the appropriate role of religion in a Japan at war. This is clearly demonstrated by the following comments in the very first book Suzuki published in November 1896, entitled A Treatise on the New Meaning of Religion (Shin Shūkyō-ron):

At the time of the commencement of hostilities with a foreign country, marines fight on the sea and soldiers fight in the fields, swords flashing and cannon smoke belching, moving this way and that. In so doing, our soldiers regard their own lives as being as light as goose feathers while their devotion to duty is as heavy as Mount Tai [in China]. Should they fall on the battlefield they have no regrets. This is what is called “religion during a [national] emergency.”12

The year 1896 is significant for two reasons, the first of which is that Suzuki’s book appeared in the immediate aftermath of Japan’s victory in the Sino-Japanese War. This was not only Japan’s first major war abroad but, with the resultant acquisition of Taiwan, marked a major milestone in the growth of Japanese imperialism. Thus, Suzuki’s call for Japan’s religionists to resolutely support the state whenever it went to war could not have been more timely. At a personal level, it was also in December of that year, i.e., just one month after his book appeared, that Suzuki had his initial enlightenment experience (kenshō). This occurred at the time of his participation as a layman in an intensive meditation retreat (sesshin) at Engakuji in Kamakura, and shortly before his departure for more than a decade-long period of study and writing in the U.S. (1897-1908).

As Suzuki’s subsequent statements make clear, his kenshō experience did not alter his view of “religion during a [national] emergency.” Again, this is hardly surprising in light of the fact that Suzuki’s own Rinzai Zen master, Shaku Sōen [1860-1919], Engakuji’s abbot, was also a strong supporter of Japan’s war efforts.

In fact, Shaku’s support of Japan was so strong that during the Russo-Japanese War he volunteered to go to the battlefields in Manchuria as a military chaplain. Shaku explained: “. . . I also wished to inspire, if I could, our valiant soldiers with the ennobling thoughts of the Buddha, so as to enable them to die on the battlefield with the confidence that the task in which they are engaged is great and noble.”13

Once Japan had defeated Russia, its imperial rival, it immediately forced Korea to become a Japanese protectorate in November 1905. This was followed by Japan’s complete annexation of Korea in August 1910, thereby cementing the expansion of the Japanese empire onto the Asian continent. For his part, Suzuki avidly supported Japan’s takeover of Korea as revealed by comments he made in 1912 about that “poor country,” i.e., Korea, as he traversed it on his way to Europe via the Trans-Siberian railroad:

They [Koreans] don’t know how fortunate they are to have been returned to the hands of the Japanese government. It’s all well and good to talk independence and the like, but it’s useless for them to call for independence when they lack the capability and vitality to stand on their own. Looked at from the point of view of someone like myself who is just passing through, I think Korea ought to count the day that it was annexed to Japan as the day of its revival.14

Suzuki’s comments reveal not only his support for Japanese colonialism but also his dismissal of the Korean people’s deep desire for independence. For Suzuki, the future of a poverty-stricken Korea depended on Japanese colonial beneficence.

While no doubt many if not most of Suzuki’s countrymen would have agreed with his position at the time, readers of Zen at War will recognize in both Suzuki and Shaku’s comments early examples of the jingoism that characterized Zen leaders’ war-related pronouncements through the end of the Asia-Pacific War in 1945. Not only did Suzuki admonish Buddhist soldiers to “carry the banner of Dharma over the dead and dying,” they were also directed “not to raise a grunting voice against the fates” as they “shuffle off this mortal coil.” In point of fact, approximately 47,000 young Japanese laid down their lives in the Russo-Japanese War exactly as Suzuki, Shaku and many other Buddhist leaders urged them to do.

The Background to Suzuki’s Article

While the preceding material introduces Suzuki’s attitude to the Russo-Japanese War and his country’s early colonial efforts, it fails to clarify his attitude toward Japan’s subsequent military activities, especially Japan’s aggression against China initiated by the Manchurian Incident of 1931. This aggression would continue and expand for a full fifteen years thereafter, i.e., until Japan’s defeat in August 1945. Suzuki did, however, write an article, “Bushidō to Zen” (Bushidō and Zen), that was included in a 1941 government-endorsed anthology entitled Bushidō no Shinzui (Essence of Bushidō). With additional articles contributed by leading army and navy figures, this book clearly sought to mobilize support for the war effort, both military and civilian. While not originally written for the book, the fact that Suzuki allowed his article to be included indicated at least a sympathetic attitude to this endeavor though it only indirectly referenced the war with China.15

There is, however, yet another lengthy article that appeared in June 1941 in the Imperial Army’s premier journal for its officer corps. The journal, taking its name in part from its parent organization, was entitled: Kaikō-sha Kiji (Kaikō Association Report). Although not formally a government organization, the parent Kaikō-sha (lit. “let’s join the military together”) had been created in 1877 for the purpose of creating Imperial Army officers who were to be of “one mind and body.”16

The Kaikō Association Report was a monthly professional journal dating from July 1888. The journal contained articles on such topics as the latest developments in weaponry, mechanization and aviation but also featured yearly special editions devoted to such military events as the Russo-Japanese War and the Manchurian Incident of 1931. In addition, it regularly devoted substantial space to articles on “thought warfare” (shisō-sen), Japanese spirit (Yamato-damashii), national polity of Japan (kokutai), and “spiritual education” (seishin kyōiku), all key components of wartime ideology.

The journal’s ideological orientation can be seen in the articles that both preceded and followed Suzuki’s own contribution. The article preceding his was entitled “The Philosophical Basis of Spiritual Culture,” and included such statements as: “By comparison with Western laws based on rights, our laws are based on duties. By comparison with a [Western] world that operates according to individualism (kobetsusei), we have created a Japan that operates according to the principles of totality (zentaisei).”17 The article following his, entitled “Concerning the Indispensable Spiritual Elements of Military Aviators,” consisted of a speech by officer candidate Yamaguchi Bunji delivered at the graduation ceremony for the fifty-first class of the Japan Army Aviation Officer Candidate School on March 28, 1941.

As will be seen, Suzuki’s article fit in perfectly with the strong emphasis on “spirit” in this military journal. “Spiritual education” was one of the most important duties for Imperial Army officers. Officers were required to hold regular sessions with the troops under their command in order to introduce examples from Japanese history of the utterly loyal, fearless, and self-sacrificial warrior spirit. That the historical figures Suzuki introduced had acquired their fearlessness in the face of death through Zen practice was clearly welcomed by the journal’s editors, as it was by the leadership of the Imperial Army.18

The article was published in June 1941, i.e., less than six months before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. By then Japan had been fighting in China for four years, and while Japanese forces held most major Chinese cities, they were unable, to their great frustration, to either pacify the countryside or defeat the Nationalist and Communist forces deployed against them. The war was effectively stalemated, yet the death tolls, both Japanese and Chinese, continued to rise relentlessly as Japanese forces took the offensive in a bid to force surrender.

Suzuki Addresses Imperial Army Officers

Suzuki’s contribution took as its title the well-known Zen phrase: “Makujiki Kōzen,” i.e., Rush Forward Without Hesitation!19 Note that the complete English translation of Suzuki’s article is included in Appendix I. Some readers may wish to read the translation prior to reading the following commentary though this is not necessary. In addition, Appendix II contains the entire text of the original article in Japanese.

In the article’s opening paragraphs we find that Suzuki, like his Zen contemporaries, faced an awkward problem. That is to say, on the one hand he could not help but acknowledge that the Zen (Ch., Chan) school had come to fruition, if not created, in China, a country with which Japan had been at war for some four years. Given the massive death and destruction Japan’s invasion of China had caused, including its priceless Buddhist heritage, how could Japanese Zen leaders justify the ongoing destruction of the very country that had contributed so much to their school of Buddhism?

Suzuki addresses this issue by positing Japanese Zen’s superiority to Chinese Zen (Chan) Buddhism. That is to say, Suzuki notes that Zen’s “real efficacy” had only been realized after its arrival in Japan. One proof of this is that in Chinese monasteries meditation monitors use only one hand to hold a short ‘waking stick,’ while their Japanese counterparts hold long waking sticks with both hands just as warriors of old held their long single sword with both hands.

“The meaning of the fact that the waking stick is employed with two hands is that one is able to pour one’s entire strength into its use,” Suzuki claims.

Pouring one’s entire strength into the effort, whether it be waking a dozing meditator or cutting down an opponent, was, for Suzuki, the critical element that Zen and the warrior shared in common. There was no hint of an ethical distinction between the two. Nor did Suzuki acknowledge that in the Sōtō Zen sect, masters continue to employ the short, ‘Chinese-style’ waking stick (tansaku). This last omission is not surprising in that Suzuki typically either ignored, or dismissed, the practice and teachings of this sect.

Suzuki was, furthermore, not content with simply identifying the deficiencies in Chinese Zen, but went on to identify related deficiencies in the “world at large,” including Europe with its single-handed rapiers. That is to say, when non-Japanese fighters wield the sword they do so holding a sword in only one hand in order to hold a shield in the other hand. In so doing, they seek not only to slay their enemy but also to protect themselves, hoping to emerge both victorious and alive from the contest. By contrast, a Japanese warrior holds his sword with two hands because: “There is no attempt to defend oneself. There is only striking down the other.”

Was Suzuki accurate in his implied criticism of non-Japanese fighters for attempting to defend themselves in the midst of combat? While Suzuki didn’t name the “countries other than Japan” he was referring to, when discussing this question with undergraduates in my Japanese culture class, a student well versed in the history of European knighthood replied, “As far as Europe is concerned, there is a long history of employing duel-edged “long swords” with both hands just as in Japan. Further, if Japanese warriors were so unconcerned about their own lives, why did they develop what was at the time some of the strongest armor in the world to protect themselves?”

I had to agree with this student inasmuch as I had observed the same two-handed long swords when visiting the European sword exhibit housed in Edinburgh Castle in the spring of 2012. In any event, by elevating the alleged fearlessness of Japan’s warriors above that of their non-Japanese counterparts, Suzuki clearly demonstrates his nationalistic stance. A nationalism, it must be noted, that was deeply seeped in blood, both in the past and the war then underway.

It should also be noted that the Japanese military had long believed, dating from their victory in the Russo-Japanese War, that they could emerge victorious over a militarily superior (in terms of industrial capacity and weaponry) opponent. In this view, victory over a superior Western opponent, let alone China, was possible exactly because of the willingness of Japanese soldiers to die selflessly and unhesitatingly in battle. By contrast, the soldiers of other countries were seen as desiring nothing so much as to return home alive, thereby weakening their fighting spirit. Suzuki’s words could not have but lent credence to the Japanese military’s (over)confidence.

The themes introduced in his article, especially concerning the relationship of Zen to bushidō and samurai, are all topics that Suzuki had previously written about in both Japanese and English. For example, readers familiar with Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture (published in 1938 and reprinted in the postwar period as Zen and Japanese Culture) will recall that at the beginning of Chapter IV, “Zen and the Samurai,” Suzuki wrote:

In Japan, Zen was intimately related from the beginning of its history to the life of the samurai. Although it has never actively incited them to carry on their violent profession, it has passively sustained them when they have for whatever reason once entered into it. Zen has sustained them in two ways, morally and philosophically. Morally, because Zen is a religion which teaches us not to look backward once the course is decided upon; philosophically because it treats life and death indifferently. . . . Therefore, morally and philosophically, there is in Zen a great deal of attraction for the military classes. The military mind, being – and this is one of the essential qualities of the fighter – comparatively simple and not at all addicted to philosophizing finds a congenial spirit in Zen. This is probably one of the main reasons for the close relationship between Zen and the samurai.20 (Italics mine)

While Suzuki’s officer readers probably would not have welcomed his reference to their “comparatively simple” military minds, the preceding quote nevertheless accurately summarizes the article under discussion here. And to his credit, unlike most other wartime Japanese Zen leaders, Suzuki did not actively incite his officer readers to carry on their violent profession. By contrast, for example, in 1943 Sōtō Zen master Yasutani Haku’un [1885–1973] wrote:

Of course one should kill, killing as many as possible. One should, fighting hard, kill every one in the enemy army. The reason for this is that in order to carry [Buddhist] compassion and filial obedience through to perfection it is necessary to assist good and punish evil. . . . Failing to kill an evil man who ought to be killed, or destroying an enemy army that ought to be destroyed, would be to betray compassion and filial obedience, to break the precept forbidding the taking of life. This is a special characteristic of the Mahāyāna precepts.21

While these kinds of bellicose statements are notably absent from Suzuki’s writings, the current article, when read in its entirety, makes it clear that Suzuki did in fact seek to passively sustain Japan’s officers and men through his repeated advocacy of such things as “not look[ing] backward once the course is decided upon” and “treat[ing] life and death indifferently.” This leads to the question of just how different Suzuki was from someone like Yasutani given that Suzuki’s officer readers were also encouraged to “pour their entire body and mind into the attack” in the midst of an unprovoked invasion of China that resulted in the deaths of many millions of its citizens?

Even readers who haven’t served in the military can readily appreciate the fact that there are two fundamental questions that engulf a soldier’s mind prior to going into battle. First and foremost is the question of self-preservation, i.e., will I return alive? And a close second is - am I prepared to die if necessary? It is in answering the second question, i.e., in providing the mental preparation necessary for possible death, that a soldier’s religious faith is typically of paramount importance. Suzuki was well aware of this, for in promoting Zen training for warriors he wrote elsewhere: “Death now loses its sting altogether, and this is where the samurai training joins hands with Zen.”22

In short, read in its entirety Suzuki seeks in this article to prepare his officer readers, and through them ordinary soldiers, for death by weaponizing Zen, i.e., turning Zen into nothing less than a cult of death. The word ‘cult’ is used here to refer to one of its many meanings, i.e., a religious system devoted to only one thing -- death in this instance. On no less that six occasions throughout his article Suzuki stresses just how important being “prepared to die” (shineru) is, noting that Zen is “the best shortcut to acquire this frame of mind.”

Even if it could be demonstrated that this article was not written specifically for Japan’s Imperial Army officers, little would change, for there cannot be the slightest doubt that Suzuki’s words were intended for a wartime Japanese audience. This is made clear by Suzuki’s statement later in the article that “I think the extent of the crisis experienced then cannot be compared with the ordeal we are undergoing today.” As revealed in Zen at War, by 1941, if not before, all Japanese, young and old, civilian and military, were subject to a massive propaganda campaign, promulgated by government, Buddhist and educational leaders, to accept the death-embracing values of bushidō as their own. Or as expressed by Suzuki in this article: “. . . in undertaking any work one should be prepared to die.” (Italics mine)

Here, the question must be asked as to where this Zen shortcut to being prepared to die came from? Did it come from India, Buddhism’s birthplace, or China, Zen (Chan)’s sectarian home? It most definitely did not, for, as already noted, Suzuki tells us that Zen’s “real efficacy was supplied to a great extent after coming to Japan.” And as he further notes, it was only after arrival in Japan “that Zen became united with the sword.” Unlike the studied ambiguity that typically characterized his war and warrior-related writings in English, and oft-times in Japanese as well, Suzuki was clearly not speaking in this article of some metaphysical sword cutting through mental illusion.

Instead, Suzuki was referring to real swords wielded by some of Japan’s greatest Zen-trained warlords as, over the centuries, they and their subordinates cut through the flesh and bones of many thousands of their opponents on the battlefield, fully prepared to die in the process, using Zen as “the best shortcut to acquire this frame of mind.”

Interestingly, Suzuki admits in this article that some of the famous Zen-related anecdotes associated with Kamakura Regent Hōjō Tokimune (1251-84) may not have taken place.

He writes: “The following story has been handed down to us though I don’t know how much of this legend is actually true.” Compare this admission with Suzuki’s presentation of the same material in Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture. Addressing his English readers, Suzuki wrote that while the exchange between Tokimune and National Master Bukkō (1226-86) is “not quite authenticated,” it nevertheless “gives support to our imaginative reconstruction of his [Tokimune’s] attitude towards Zen.”23

One is left to speculate what Suzuki’s officer readers knew about these allegedly Zen-related anecdotes that his Western readers didn’t know (or perhaps more accurately, weren’t supposed to know).

In any event, when reading Suzuki’s repeated claims about the similarities between Zen and the Japanese, one is left to wonder whether it was Zen that shaped “the characteristics of the Japanese people” or, on the contrary, was it “the characteristics of the Japanese people” that shaped Zen? Or perhaps there was some mystical karmic connection that led both of them down the same path – a path in which to “rush forward without hesitation” and “cease discriminating thought” came to mean “one should abandon life and rush ahead”?

Furthermore, Suzuki is quite willing to privilege his fellow Japanese with a national character that almost inherently disposes them to Zen. For example, Suzuki claims “there are things about the Japanese character that are amazingly consistent with Zen.” That is to say, the Japanese people “rush forward to the heart of things without meandering about” and “go directly forward to that goal without looking either to the right or to the left.” In so doing they “forget where they are.”

If only in hindsight, in reading words like these, it is difficult not be reminded of the infamous and tactically futile “banzai charges” of the wartime Imperial Army let alone the tactics of kamikaze pilots and the manned torpedoes (kaiten) of the Imperial Navy.

Yet, is it fair to interpret Suzuki’s words as expressions of support for such suicidal acts?

One of Suzuki’s defenders who strongly opposes such an interpretation is Kemmyō Taira Satō, a Shin (True Pure Land) Buddhist priest who identifies himself as one of Suzuki’s postwar disciples. Satō writes: “Apart from his silence on Bushido after the early 1940s, Suzuki was active as an author during all of the war years, submitting to Buddhist journals numerous articles that conspicuously avoided mention of the ongoing conflict.” (Italics mine)

As further proof, Sato cites an article written by the noted Suzuki scholar Kirita Kiyohide:

During this [war] period one of the journals Suzuki contributed to frequently, Daijōzen [Mahayana Zen], fairly bristled with pro-militarist articles. In issues filled with essays proclaiming “Victory in the Holy War!” and bearing such titles as “Death Is the Last Battle,” “Certain Victory for Kamikaze and Torpedoes,” and “The Noble Sacrifice of a Hundred Million,” Suzuki continued with contributions on subjects like “Zen and Culture.”24

On the one hand, these statements inevitably raise the question of Suzuki’s attitude to Japan’s attack on the U.S. in December 1941. That is to say, what was it that caused Suzuki to stop writing about such war-related topics as bushidō in the early 1940s? Could it have been his opposition to war with the U.S. versus his earlier support for Japan’s full-scale invasion of China from 1937 onwards? Setting this topic aside for further exploration below, the question remains, inasmuch as Suzuki, at least in June 1941, affirmed such things as the acceptability of a dog’s, i.e., meaningless, death, and noted that “in undertaking any work one should be prepared to die” what basis would he have had for opposing such suicidal attacks?

Yet another of Chan’s deficiencies is that in China, Chan had been almost entirely bereft of a military connection. By contrast, it was only after Chan became Zen in Japan that it was linked to Zen-practicing warriors. In fact, Suzuki claims that from the Kamakura period onwards, all Japanese warriors practiced Zen. Suzuki makes this claim despite the fact that the greatest of all Japan’s medieval warriors, i.e., Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), was an adherent of the Pure Land sect (J. Jōdo-shū) Buddhism, not Zen. Suzuki also urges his readers to pay special attention to the fact that “Zen became united with the sword” only after its arrival in Japan.

For Suzuki it was such great medieval warlords as Hōjō Tokimune, Uesugi Kenshin (1530-78), and Takeda Shingen (1521-73) who demonstrated the impact the unity of Zen and the sword had on the subsequent development of Japan. It was their Zen training that allowed these men to “rush forward without hesitation” and “cease discriminating thought.” If, in the case of Hōjō Tokimune, it can be said that at least his was a defensive war against invading Mongols, the same cannot be said for such warlords as Uesugi and Takeda. They were responsible for the deaths of thousands of their enemies and their own forces, each one of them attempting to conquer Japan. Suzuki lumps these warlords together as exemplars of what can be accomplished with the proper mental attitude acquired through Zen training. Suzuki does not even hint at the possibility that in the massive carnage these warlords collectively reaped, the Buddhist precept against the taking of life might have been violated.

It is instructive here to compare Suzuki’s words with those of Japan’s most celebrated, Zen-trained “god of war” (gunshin) of the Asia-Pacific War. I refer to Lt. Col. Sugimoto Gorō, whose posthumous book, Taigi (Great Duty), first published in 1938, sold over a million copies, a far greater number than I first realized when writing Zen at War.

Sugimoto provided the following rationale for Zen’s importance to the Imperial military: “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.”25 Suzuki was clearly in basic agreement with Sugimoto’s claim.

Suzuki argues that it isn’t sufficient to simply discard life and death. Instead, one should “live on the basis of something larger than life and death. That is to say, one must live on the basis of great affirmation.” But what did this “great affirmation” consist of? Suzuki fails to elaborate beyond stating that it is “faith that is great affirmation.” Yet, what should the object of one’s faith be?

Once again Suzuki remains silent on this critical question apart from stating that the way to encounter this great affirmation is to dig ever deeper to the bottom of one’s mind, digging until there is nothing left to dig. It was only then, he claims, that “one can, for the first time, encounter great affirmation.”
Suzuki admits, however, that this great affirmation is not a single entity but “takes on various forms for the peoples of every country.” Yet, what form does or should it take in a Japan that had invaded and was fighting a long and bitter war with China?

As in many other instances of his wartime writings, and as alluded to above, Suzuki maintains a studied ambiguity that makes it impossible to state with certainty what he was referring to. That said, it is clear that nothing in his article would have served to dissuade his readers from fulfilling, let alone questioning, their duties as Imperial Army officers or soldiers in China or elsewhere. Had there been the slightest question that anything Suzuki wrote might have negatively impacted Imperial Army officers who were to be of “one mind and body,” it is inconceivable that the editors of the Kaikō Association Report would have published it.

In asserting this, let me express my appreciation to Sueki Fumihiko, one of Japan’s leading historians of modern Japanese Buddhism. In an article entitled “Daisetsu hihan saikō” (Rethinking Criticisms of Daisetsu [Suzuki]), Sueki first presented the arguments made by some of Suzuki’s most prominent defenders, namely, that when some of Suzuki’s wartime writings are closely parsed it is possible to interpret them as containing criticisms of the Imperial Army’s recklessness as well as its abuse of the alleged magnanimity and compassion of the true bushidō spirit. Further, Sueki acknowledges, as do I, that in the days leading up to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor Suzuki opposed war with the U.S. Nevertheless, Sueki came to the following conclusion: “When we frankly accept Suzuki’s words at face value, we must also consider how, in the midst of the [war] situation as it was then, his words would have been understood.”26

As for Suzuki’s opposition to war with the U.S., it is significant that his one and only public warning did not come until September 1941, i.e., only three months before Pearl Harbor. The unlikely occasion was a guest lecture Suzuki delivered at Kyoto University entitled “Zen and Japanese Culture.” Upon finishing his lecture, Suzuki initially stepped down from the podium but then returned to add:

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. 27

As his words clearly reveal, Suzuki’s opposition to the approaching war with the U.S. had nothing to do with his Buddhist faith or a commitment to peace. Rather, having lived in America for more than a decade, Suzuki knew only too well that Japan was no match for such a large and powerful industrial nation. In short, Suzuki’s words might best be described as a statement of “common sense” though by 1941 this was clearly a commodity in short supply in Japan.

Be that as it may, when we ask how Suzuki’s Imperial Army officer readers would have interpreted the “great affirmation” he referred to, there can be no doubt they would have understood this to be an affirmation, if not an exhortation, for total loyalty unto death to an emperor who was held to be the divine embodiment of the state. The following calligraphic statement, displayed prominently in every Imperial Army barracks, testified to this: “We are the arms and legs of the emperor.” Due to its ubiquitous nature, Suzuki could not help but have been aware of this “affirmation.” Thus, whatever Suzuki’s personal opinion may have been, he would have been well aware that his officer readers would understand his words to mean absolute loyalty to the emperor.

Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that in one important aspect Suzuki did part way with other wartime Zen enthusiasts, for not withstanding his emphasis on “great affirmation,” Suzuki does not explicitly link Zen to the emperor. Compare this absence to the previously introduced Lt. Col. Sugimoto who wrote: “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.”28

By not engaging in emperor adulation in his wartime writings, Suzuki was unique among his Zen contemporaries. Yet this does not mean that he either opposed the emperor system per se or lacked respect for the emperor. This is revealed by the following statement Suzuki made to Gerhard Rosenkrantz, a German missionary visiting Japan in 1939, in the library of Otani University:

We Buddhists bow in front of the emperor’s image, but for us this is not a religious act. The emperor is not a god because for Buddhists a [Shinto] god can be something very low. We see the emperor in an area high above all religions. Trying to make him a god today means a reduction in the status of the emperor. This brings confusion to Buddhism, Shinto and Christianity.29

Thus, even while denying the emperor’s divinity, Suzuki nevertheless justified bowing to the emperor’s image inasmuch he was a personage “in an area high above all religions.”

Nor should it be forgotten that Suzuki’s article was not written exclusively on behalf of Imperial Army officers alone. As previously noted, a key responsibility of the officer corps was to provide “spiritual education” for their soldiers. Thus, they were in constant need of additional historical examples of the attitude that all Imperial subjects, starting with Imperial soldiers, were expected to possess, i.e., an unquestioning, unhesitant and unthinking willingness to die in the war effort. Suzuki’s writings clearly contributed to this effort though it is, of course, impossible to quantify the impact his writings had.


Let me begin this section in something of an unusual manner, i.e., by offering a “defense” of what Suzuki has written in this and similar articles dealing with warriors, bushidō, and the alleged unity of Zen and the sword. That said, while a genuine defense is offered, it is one that nevertheless has a “hook in the tail.”

My contention is that Suzuki should not be blamed for having distorted or mischaracterized Zen history or practice, especially in Japan, to make it a useful tool in the hands of Japanese militarists. That is to say, on the one hand Suzuki can and should be held responsible for the purely nationalistic elements in his writings, including collaboration in the modern fabrication of an ancient and unified bushidō tradition with Zen as its core. Yet, on the other hand, the seven hundred year long history of the close relationship between Zen and the warrior class, hence Zen and the sword, was most definitely not a Suzuki fabrication. There are simply too many historical records of this close relationship to claim that Suzuki simply invented the relationship out of whole cloth.

Thus, Suzuki might best be described as a skilled, modern day, nationalistic proponent of that close relationship in the deadly context of Japan’s invasion of China. Further, in his English writings, Suzuki did his best to convince gullible Westerners that the so-called “unity of Zen and the sword” he described was an authentic expression of Buddhist teachings. In this effort, it must be said, Suzuki has been, at least until recently, eminently successful.

Some Suzuki scholars attempt to defend the most egregious aspects of Suzuki’s nationalist and wartime writings by pointing out that he may have been coerced into writing them by the then totalitarian state. Certainly, there can be no doubt that Suzuki wrote in an era of intense governmental censorship, with authorities ever vigilant against the slightest ideological deviancy. Nevertheless, the most striking features of Suzuki’s substantive wartime writings are, first of all, that they were never censored, and, secondly, their consistency with his earlier writings, dating back to 1896. That is to say, over a span of forty-five years Suzuki repeatedly yoked religion, Buddhism and Zen to the Japanese soldiers’ willingness to die. Certainly no one would claim that Suzuki was writing under fear of government censorship or imprisonment in 1896.

Where Suzuki did break with the past close relationship of Zen to the warrior class was in transmuting this feudal relationship into one encompassing Zen and the modern Japanese state albeit not specifically with the personage of the emperor. It is in having done this that he can rightly be identified as a “Zen nationalist.”30 Needless to say, he was only one of many such Zen leaders, and when compared with the likes of Yasutani Haku’un, Suzuki was clearly less extreme.31

When we inquire as to the cause or reason for the close relationship between Zen, violence, and the modern state that Suzuki promoted, the answer is not hard to find. In his book, Buddhism without Beliefs, Stephan Bachelor [Stephen Batchelor] provides the following explanation regarding not just Zen but all faiths, i.e., "the power of organized religion to provide sovereign states with a bulwark of moral legitimacy. . .”32 To which I would add in this instance, the power of Zen training to mentally prepare warriors/soldiers to both kill and be killed. Or as Suzuki would have it, to “passively sustain” them on the battlefield.

Having said this, I would ask readers to reflect on the historical relationship of their own faith, should they have one, to the state, and state-initiated violence. Was Batchelor correct in his observation with regard to the reader’s faith? That is to say, have not all of the world’s major religions, like Buddhism, provided moral legitimacy for the state’s use of violence? Is Buddhism unique in having done this or only one further example of Chicago University Martin Marty’s insightful comment that “one must note the feature of religion that keeps it on the front page and on prime time -- it kills”?33

To answer yes to any of these questions is not to excuse, let alone justify, Zen or any other school of Buddhism’s moral lapses in this or any instance. Yet, it does suggest the enormity of the problem facing all faiths if they are to remain true to their tenets, all of which number love and compassion among their highest ideals. At the end of his life Buddha Shakyamuni is recorded as having urged his followers to “work out your salvation with diligence.” In the face of continuing, if not increasing, religious violence in today’s world, is his advice any less relevant to all who, if only in terms of their own faith, seek to create a religion truly dedicated to world peace and our shared humanity?

Brian Daizen Victoria is a Visiting Research Fellow, International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) in Kyoto, Japan.
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Re: D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

Postby admin » Fri Aug 09, 2019 1:04 am

Part 2 of 2

Appendix I (Complete English Translation of Article)

“Makujiki Kōzen” (Rush Forward Without Hesitation).34

I think that most scholars and informed persons will agree that Zen thought is one of the most important factors forming the basis of Japanese culture. Although Zen originally came from India, in reality it was brought to fruition in China while its real efficacy was achieved to a great extent after coming to Japan.

The reason for this is that there are things about the Japanese character that are amazingly consistent with Zen. I think the most visible of these is rushing forward to the heart of things without meandering about. Once the goal has been determined, one goes directly forward to that goal without looking either to the right or to the left. One goes forward, forgetting where one is. I think this is the most essential element of the Japanese character. In this, I think, Zen is one of the strongest factors allowing the Japanese people to rush forward.

For example, the Japanese hold a sword with both hands, not one. Although I have not researched this question extensively, in countries other than Japan they use only one hand to hold a sword. Further, they use their left hand to hold a shield. That is to say, they use one hand to defend themselves while they use the other hand to strike the enemy. Although my knowledge is limited, this is what I think as I observe the world at large. However, a sword in Japan is held with two hands. There is no attempt to defend oneself. There is only striking down the other. That is to say, one discards the body and plunges toward the other. This is the Japanese people’s way of doing things. And it also happens to be the Zen way of doing things.

I became aware of this from [my experience in] a Zen meditation hall. In a Japanese meditation hall there is something called a waking stick (keisaku). A waking stick is made of wood and is about 121 cm long. It is an implement used to strike someone who is practicing zazen in a situation where their shoulders become stiff from having put too much strength into them. At that time, both hands are used to wield the waking stick.

In China, too, there is a kind of waking stick. Although I don’t know what was used in the past, the waking stick that is used today is approximately 76 cm long and is used for striking with only one hand. However, in Japan we use both hands. Given this, it may be that only at the time the waking stick first arrived in Japan was it held with one hand. Then, after coming to Japan, it became used with two hands.

The meaning of the fact that the waking stick is employed with two hands is that one is able to pour one’s entire strength into its use. That doesn’t mean that it is impossible to pour one’s entire strength into wielding the waking stick with only one hand, but I think that using both hands, rather than one, is better and enables one to more fully put one’s entire strength into the effort. In Europe there is something known as fencing which employs a thin blade using only one hand. In this instance the left hand is simply held high above the shoulder while one thrusts forward with all one’s might. However, the place at which one’s power emerges is the very tip of the blade being held with one hand. In a situation where one holds a sword with both hands, there is no doubt that, in comparison with holding it with one hand, one is better able to exert one’s full strength. While I don’t know what a practitioner of swordsmanship would say about this, seen from the point of view of an outsider like myself, this is how it appears.

Although it is said that [the famous swordsman] Miyamoto Musashi used two swords, I have heard that in an actual swordsmanship match he never used two swords though I don’t know how true that is. Furthermore, I think that in a situation where Musashi used two swords, one of them was simply used for defense.

It was not a question of both swords being used independently by each hand, but a situation in which the movement of one mind expressed itself, depending on the situation, with each of two swords. For that reason it was not a question of thrusting with each one of two swords but of either thrusting with both hands or slicing with both hands at the same time. The truth is that while he appeared to use two swords, I think the reality was that he employed the swords in both hands as if he were grasping a single long sword.

Be that as it may, the character of the Japanese people is to come straight to the point and pour their entire body and mind into the attack. This is the character of the Japanese people and, at the same time, the essence of Zen.

The Meaning of Being Prepared to Die

The Hagakure states that bushidō means to be prepared to die. That is to say, in undertaking any kind of work it is said that one must “die first.” It may be that in such a situation there is something known as a dog’s [i.e., pointless] death. It may be that when it is the right time to die one should simply die in that situation. In any event, what the Hagakure states is that even a dog’s death is all right. That is to say, in undertaking any work one should be prepared to die.

This is the way it is written [in the Hagakure], and seen from a psychological point of view this is, I think, truly the way it ought to be. In human beings there is, in general, something known as the self. The concept of an individual self is not something easily gotten rid of. In Buddhism this is something known as illusion. Illusion is made up of fine threads that are strung together in such a way as to make it impossible to move freely. Although the threads are extremely fine, one is incessantly caught in their grasp. The decision to be prepared to die means the cutting of these threads. To truly be able to do this is not possible simply by deciding to die in the course of working. There is something far deeper than this that must be done.

In this connection there is the following story. In medieval Europe there was a lady who decided to enter a nunnery to engage in religious practice, but her family wasn’t willing to let her go. Although a number of years passed, she had no opportunity to make good her escape. Then, one night a good opportunity came, and she managed to leave home. She intended to go to a monastery and spend the rest of her life in religious practice. Upon leaving home she took some money with her because she felt that without money she wouldn’t be able to buy something to eat along the way.

What can be said in this regard is that her attraction to money was a symbol of just how hard it was for her to overcome attachment to a world she claimed to have cast aside. At that point the lady thought to herself how lamentable it was that in the midst of having discarded the world, her parents and siblings, in order to dedicate herself to God, she was still attached to money. She became worried about the money she had taken, thinking that she would be unable to accomplish anything. Thinking to herself that she had to cast aside the money, she decided to get rid of it. As a result, the story goes, her mood underwent a drastic change, and she acquired a frame of mind in which she was readily able to do what had to be done.

In the past, there was a Buddhist priest by the name of St. Kūya. St. Kūya constantly recited the phrase, Namu Amida-butsu [Hail to Amitābha Buddha], as he walked about. There is a story that at one point someone asked him, “What is the purpose of Buddhist practice?” He replied, “Discard everything!” as he quickly walked past. This “discard” is the main point of Buddhism and also the spirit of Zen.

Discarding a sum of money is the same as discarding one’s life. Now in the case of the Christian woman, money represented the same bond of life and death as it does to an ordinary warrior who fails to become free due to his routine mental state. In the past, a warrior was someone who discarded his life on behalf of his master. It meant that he could discard his life in the midst of battle.

It may well be that discarding one’s life in the midst of battle is relatively easy, for I think it isn’t too difficult for ordinary people to discard their lives when the entire environment calls for it. However, what is difficult is to give up one’s life in peacetime. That is to say, when the world is at peace. It is then that it is difficult to have a frame of mind in which one is prepared to give up everything one has. Yet, someone who is able to do so is completely free, though this mental state is quite difficult to acquire.

In the past they discussed this problem in China, too. A nation would fall, they said, in a situation where warriors, becoming cautious, were reluctant to lose their lives while, at the same time, government officials sought to enrich themselves. Should there be military men who were reluctant to lose their lives they would be of no use whatsoever. Should there be any like that, they ought to stop being military men. When this is applied to government officials, this is not simply a question of their loving money or fame. Rather, I believe it is possible to say that they, too, must try to discard their lives. In the past there was no special class known as government officials, for warriors were both military men and government officials. In peacetime warriors engaged in politics in government offices while in wartime they took up the sword and charged ahead. Military men became political figures, and political figures were originally military men.

In any event, it isn’t easy to acquire the mental state in which one is prepared to die. I think the best shortcut to acquire this frame of mind is none other than Zen, for Zen is the fundamental ideal of religion. It isn’t simply a question of being prepared to die, as Zen is prepared to transcend death. This is called the “unity of life and death” in which living and dying are viewed as one. The fact that these two are one represents Zen’s view of human life and the world.

In the past there was [a Zen priest by the name of] National Teacher Sekizan. A story describes a disciple who asked him, “I and others are imprisoned by life and death and cannot become free. What can we do to realize the unity of life and death?” Sekizan taught him, saying, “You don’t have such trivial things as life and death!”

Rushing Forward Without Hesitation

At present I am in Kamakura where I live within Engakuji temple’s precincts. I would like to discuss Hōjō Tokimune and National Teacher Bukkō who constructed Engakuji temple. Tokimune became regent when he was only eighteen years old and died at the age of thirty-four. His rule of seventeen years began and ended with a foreign policy directed against the Mongols. Were something like this to take place today when transportation is readily available, I think it would be easy to get information about the enemy. However, in the Kamakura period it was almost impossible to get information about either the enemy or their disposition. Still, communication was possible through people who either went to China from Japan or came to Japan from China, so I think there was quite a lot of information available.

That said, in one sense one nevertheless encountered a large unknown. The large unknown was exactly when and under what conditions the enemy would arrive. I think that as far as Tokimune, their opponent, was concerned, it was not sufficient to be just politically or militarily prepared. One is able to fight well only when one knows both the enemy and those at one’s side. Because it was an unknown enemy, it was very difficult to determine the size of the force that would be sufficient to oppose them. Nevertheless, it was a situation in which, moment by moment, the crisis drew nearer. I think the extent of the crisis experienced then cannot be compared with the ordeal we are undergoing today. I would like to imagine the frame of mind that made it possible to surmount the hardships of those times.

At long last, a massive Mongol army invaded on two occasions. In opposing them, Tokimune never once set foot out of Kamakura. The war took place within the confines of [the southern island of] Kyushu. Today we wouldn’t describe such a place as being far away, but rather, close at hand. However, in the Kamakura period, in an age when travel was difficult, it must be said that Kyushu was indeed a distant place. Further, although Tokimune didn’t relocate the Shogunate [military] government, he was still able to gather soldiers together from throughout the country of their own free will.

Tokimune didn’t accomplish this by himself. Instead, it was the nature of Kamakura in those days that made it possible for him, due to his virtue, to unite all the people together in a harmonious whole, not simply through the exercise of his power. I think this was not something he was able to do on his own. True enough, there were Shinto shrines flourishing throughout the country, not to mention [the protection of] various gods and Buddhas. Yet, while it is fine to pray to them, the power of prayer by itself would not serve to defeat the enemy. I think one must have material goods such as tanks to counter tanks in order to accomplish this. When the Mongolian soldiers attacked, merely praying for their death would be insufficient. That is to say, it was necessary to prepare a sufficient military force. It is said there was a divine wind [kamikaze], but the blowing of such a divine wind was recognized only after the fact, not before it occurred. That is to say, it was impossible to depend on a divine wind before it had blown. If, in anticipation of a divine wind, Tokimune had failed to make preparations, it may well be that the Mongol soldiers would have advanced as far as Kyoto at some point.

Although people like myself are not familiar with strategic military terminology, I am sure Tokimune must have had a plan prepared consisting of a first, second and third stage. I’m sure he wouldn’t have done something so reckless as to construct a fortress and then tell everyone to take it easy. If this is true, then he simply didn’t remain in Kamakura unperturbed. Being the type of person he was, there can be no doubt that he must have first thought of the preparations and methods that would allow him to remain calm. It is unthinkable that it could simply be a question of his attitude or daring alone.

Without observing the other side, nothing can be accomplished. Even if there were such a thing as bravery unconcerned about the other side, there must be appropriate methods for the effective utilization of such bravery. If it were possible to pray for the death of the enemy without using appropriate methods, i.e., by means of spirit alone, it may well be that there are enemies who can be killed in this way. But it may also be there are enemies who cannot be killed through the power of prayer. This way [of defeating the enemy] simply can’t be counted on. There must be other effective methods that can be utilized. I believe it is only common sense to think that Tokimune must have possessed such methods. While my knowledge of history is limited, not to mention that I have no knowledge of military strategy, nevertheless, as someone with common sense, what I have said is quite possible when one considers the state of affairs at that time.

The following story has been handed down to us though I don’t know how much of this legend is actually true. Nevertheless, it is clear that even if a legend didn’t actually occur at the time and place claimed, there was a background to asserting that the events in the legend actually happened. If may well be that not all historical facts that have been transmitted down to us are true. But the reason we accept something that didn’t actually happen is because we must have already prepared something within our minds that allows us to accept it as fact. This becomes reflected in the environment and is transmitted to us as fact. And for this reason persons who hear facts like these can immediately believe them.

The significance of the preceding discussion concerns the moment when, having received news that the Mongolian soldiers were on their way, Tokimune approached National Master Bukkō to inform him that a fearful situation confronted him. In response National Master Bukkō immediately said, “Rush forward without hesitation!”

In addition, there is also this exchange between the two. Tokimune asked National Master Bukkō, “When various incidents occur, and I am perplexed by things that happen here, and by things that happen there, what frame of mind should I have in seeking to deal with them?” It is said that National Master Bukkō immediately responded, “Cease discriminating thought!”

Either expression, i.e., “rush forward without hesitation” or “cease discriminating thought,” is fine. Further, whether National Master Bukkō actually said these words or, instead, Tokimune expressed his own belief, is likewise fine. In any event, it is sufficient to imagine that at some point National Master Bukkō and Tokimune had a conversation like this.

These exchanges point to the fact that by the time the Mongol soldiers arrived, Tokimune was already mentally prepared. I think this means there was no need for Tokimune to make a specific visit to National Master Bukkō to show his determination. I imagine that these exchanges, like something out of a drama or novel, were created in order to effectively reveal his frame of mind. This is because Tokimune had already undergone sufficient mental training during the course of his life. This wasn’t a situation in which the matter would be resolved simply by asking something like what I should do now that the Mongols have arrived. The greater the power someone has developed is, the greater its application is to be commended. As we have all already experienced, momentary pretense is of no use.

Leaving aside the question of whether the preceding exchanges actually occurred at a particular point in time, there can be no doubt that Tokimune was wont to use “rush forward without hesitation” and “cease discriminating thought” as the core of his methods for mental training. In one sense it can be said that “rush forward without hesitation” and “cease discriminating thought” are characteristics of the Japanese people. Their implication is that, disregarding birth and death, one should abandon life and rush ahead. It is here, I think, that Zen and the Japanese people’s, especially the warriors,’ basic outlook are in agreement.

The Essence of Things

In China, Zen served, on the one hand, as a kind of philosophy and, on the other hand, as religious belief. Although in China there were quite a few scholars, religious persons and artists who practiced Zen, it appears that it did not become the basis of Chinese life. In particular, one hears almost nothing about military men and warriors who practiced Zen. If we consider Wang Yangming to have been a military man, his main profession was nevertheless that of a scholar or, more specifically, a scholar of Confucianism. However, it is true that he did fight and was very successful. As far as military men who practiced Zen in China, he was, I think, probably the only one to have done so.

However, when Zen came to Japan things were completely different. In Japan warriors have, for the most part, practiced Zen. Especially from the Kamakura period [1185-1333] through the Ashikaga [1337-1573] and Warring States period [1467-1567], it is correct to say that all of them practiced Zen. This is clear when one looks at such famous examples as [warlords] Uesugi Kenshin, Takeda Shingen, and others. And then, with the advent of the Tokugawa period [1603-1868], we find Zen was very popular among famous painters.

I believe one should pay special attention to the fact that Zen became united with the sword. When we look at the inner essence of swordsmanship, or its secret teachings, or its oral transmission, it can be said that all of them added an element of Zen. There is no need to give various examples of this inasmuch as those who have researched this question even slightly would readily agree.
That said, one of the clearest examples can be seen in the relationship between [Zen Master] Takuan and [sword master] Yagyū Tajima no kami. And while not as well known as Yagyū Tajima-no-kami, there is also the relationship between Katō Dewa-no-kami Taikō, Lord of the Iyō Ōzu [region], and Zen Master Bankei. Lord Katō of Ōzu was an expert with a spear. While I don’t know how skilled Zen Master Bankei was with a spear, given that he was a Buddhist priest I think he may not have been all that skilled. Nevertheless Katō Taikō received a secret transmission concerning the spear from Zen Master Bankei.

Whether we are talking about the inner essence of swordsmanship or that of politics, or battle, the most important question for all persons is that of the self. One must begin to discard the individual self. When you have something called a self you are slave to the self. This is because the self is something that, by nature, is born and dies. If one attempts to distance oneself from life and death, one must not have a self.

One must transcend the self. However, this is not a question of discarding or eliminating the self. In order to eliminate the self one must find something that is larger than the self. Human beings are unable to accomplish anything by being passive. On the other hand, when they actively affirm something they are able to act. By nature human beings die through negation and live through affirmation. One mustn’t simply discard life and death but, instead, live on the basis of something larger that life and death. That is to say, one must live on the basis of great affirmation. If it were simply a question of discarding that would be negation, not affirmation.

To be more precise, it is faith that is great affirmation. One must encounter this great affirmation. Depending on the person, this great affirmation can take many forms. Further, I think that it takes on various forms for the peoples of every country. Still further, I think that it takes on various forms depending on the social class of the person in question. Nevertheless, if it is a question of true affirmation, it must consist of digging deeply to the bottom of one’s mind, then more deeply and still more deeply to the point where there is nothing left to dig. It is only then that one can, for the first time, encounter great affirmation.

When this is expressed in a Confucian context it is called sincerity. In the Shinto tradition it can be called being without artifice. Whether it is called sincerity or being without artifice, these are not things that can be acquired in a whimsical manner. Nor are they things that, as ordinary people never tire of saying, can be united together. This great affirmation is something that people must experience for themselves, not bragging about it boisterously and indiscriminately in front of others. This must be thoroughly understood. Rather than rambling on about this great affirmation in front of others, it should be stored in one’s mind and taken out and used as necessary.

A 17th century] scholar by the name of Yamaga Sokō [1622-85] wrote a work entitled Seikyō-yōron [A Summary of Confucian Teachings]. In this work he defines sincerity as meaning “something unavoidable.” Sincerity, then, is something that cannot be avoided. The meaning of “something unavoidable” is that one digs deep, deeper and still deeper into the innermost recesses of the mind. Having reached the culmination of digging deep into the mind, one encounters a moving object. The moving object encountered is “something unavoidable.” That which people never tire of talking about is not “something unavoidable,” but rather something that is nothing more than an aspect of the self. Therefore, it is not a moving object that comes from the innermost depth of the mind. Further, Yamaga Sokō states “something unavoidable” is “something natural.” This “something natural” ought to be seen as the equivalent of “being without artifice.”

Finally, there is this poem. In the Tokugawa era there was a person by the name of Zen Master Shidō Bunan. Among his poems is the following:

Become a dead man while still alive and do so thoroughly.
Then you will be able to live as your heart leads you.35

There is no need for further explanation. I leave this up to my readers to interpret as they wish.

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 Daizen Victoria, "Zen as a Cult of Death in the Wartime Writings of D.T. Suzuki," The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 30, No. 5. August 5, 2013.

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1 Quoted in Victoria, Zen at War, 2nd ed., p. ix.

2 Ibid., p. x.

3 Quoted in Hockenos, A Church Divided: German Protestants Confront the Nazi Past, p. 76.

4 For examples of Buddhist clerical resistance to Japanese militarism, see Zen at War, especially pp. 66-78. For a more detailed discussion of the nature of so-called “holy war” as found in all of the world’s major religions, see Victoria, “Holy War: Toward a Holistic Understanding,” in the Journal of Religion, Conflict and Peace, Vol. 1, Issue 1, Fall 2007. Available on the Web: here (accessed 24 July 2013).

5 For a sampling of this controversy, including criticisms of my understanding of D.T. Suzuki, see the two articles written by Satō Gemmyō Taira included in the Bibliography section of this paper. They are readily accessible on the Web.

6 The evidence is most readily available in the following two articles: 1) Kemmyō Taira Satō, “D. T. Suzuki and the Question of War.” Translated in collaboration with Thomas Kirchner. The Eastern Buddhist 39/1: 61–120. Available on the web at: http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/Cri ... of-War.pdf ; and 2) Kemmyō Taira Satō, “Brian Victoria and the Question of Scholarship.” The Eastern Buddhist 41/2: 139–166. Available on the web at: this location.

7 Benesch, “Bushido: The Creation of a Martial Ethic in Late Meiji Japan,” p. 245. Available on the Web at: this location.

8 Ibid., p. 3.

9 Ibid., pp. 305-6.

10 Suzuki, “The Zen Sect of Buddhism,” Journal of the Pali Text Society, p. 34.

11 Suzuki, “A Buddhist View of War.” Light of Dharma 4, 1904, pp. 181–82.

12 Suzuki, A Treatise on the New Meaning of Religion (Shin Shūkyō-ron). Quoted in Suzuki Daisetsu Zenshū, vol. 23, p. 140.

13 Shaku, Sermons of a Buddhist Abbot, p. 203. The entire book is available on the Web athttp://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/zfa/index.htm. The last three chapters are particularly relevant.

14 Suzuki, Shin-Bukkyō-to (New Buddhists) magazine, vol. 13, no. 10, p. 1005. I am grateful to Takahashi Hara of Tokyo University for having brought the Japanese original of this quotation to my attention.

15 For a brief introduction to Suzuki’s contribution to Bushidō no Shinzui, i.e., his article entitled “Zen and Bushidō,” see Victoria, Zen at War, pp. 110-11.

16 Although the Kaikō-sha was disbanded with Japan’s defeat in August 1945, it was reconstituted following the end of the US Occupation of Japan in 1952. The organization’s website, including a Japanese language history of the Kaikō-sha, can be accessed here:http://www.kaikosha.or.jp/kaikosya-gaiyo/rekisi.html

17 “Seishin Bunka no Kiban toshite no Tetsugaku” (The Philosophical Foundation of Spiritual Culture) Kaikō-sha Kiji, June 1941, p. 16.

18 For an introduction to the role that Zen played in the Imperial Army, see Chapter Eight, “The Emergence of Imperial-State Zen and Soldier-Zen,” in Zen at War, pp. 95-129.

19 Suzuki, “Makujiki Kōzen,” published in Kaikō-sha kiji, June 1941, pp. 17-26. This article was anthologized in Suzuki’s book, Isshinjitsu no Sekai, also published in 1941.

20 Suzuki, Zen Buddhism And Its Influence on Japanese Culture, pp. 34-35.

21 Quoted in Victoria, Zen War Stories, p. 72.

22 Suzuki, Zen Buddhism And Its Influence on Japanese Culture, p. 46.

23 Suzuki, Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture, p. 40.

24 Satō, “D. T. Suzuki and the Question of War,” p. 102.

25 Quoted in Victoria, Zen War Stories, p. 124.

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

27 Quoted in Zen at War, pp. 151-52. Suzuki’s remarks have long been invoked as proof of his “anti-war” stance, but he was merely warning against fighting a war with a much stronger country, i.e., the U.S. and its allies, that a relatively small country like Japan was bound to lose. The date of these remarks, i.e., September 1941, is also important in that it appears to be the only time Suzuki publicly expressed, if only indirectly, his opposition to an attack on the U.S. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 Suzuki only voiced his opposition in a muted manner in private correspondence. Suzuki’s voice was, of course, not the only one warning against war with the U.S. For example, even Imperial Navy Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku opposed war with the U.S. for the same reasons as Suzuki. Nevertheless, being the professional military man that he was, Yamamoto went on to plan and execute the attack on Pearl Harbor.

28 Quoted in Victoria, Zen War Stories, p. 124.

29 Rosenkranz, 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: this location.

30 For further exploration of the nationalist elements in Suzuki’s understanding of Zen, see the two following articles by Robert Sharf: 1) “The Zen of Japanese Nationalism.” History of Religions, Vol. 33, No. 1. (Aug., 1993), pp. 1-43. Available on the web at: this site and 2) “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. Available on the web at: this site.

31 Yasutani was also connected to both a major Nazi figure resident in Japan and Nazi ideology, particularly anti-Semitism. For details, see Chapter Five, “Zen Master Dōgen Goes To War,” in Victoria, Zen War Stories, especially pp. 88-90. That said, while Yasutani’s Nazi connection is now known, the author is currently preparing an article on Suzuki’s personal and ideological connection to the Nazis.

32 Bachelor, Buddhism without Beliefs, p. 16.

33 Marty, “An Exuberant Adventure: The Academic Study and Teaching of Religion,” p. 14.

34 The phrase, ““Makujiki Kōzen” (驀直向前), i.e. rush forward without hesitation, is, as noted in the text of the article, believed to have been part of a conversation between Hōjō Tokimune and his Chinese Zen Master, National Teacher Bukkō, that took place at the time of the second Mongol invasion of Japan in 1281. These words were an admonition to Tokimune to resolutely face the eminent invasion by rushing forward to engage the enemy without the slightest hesitation. This phrase came to epitomize the proper mental attitude warriors should possess upon going into battle. There are two additional variations of this phrase though both of them express similar meanings. The variations are: 1) 驀直去(maku-jikini-sare) and 2) 驀直前進 (baku-choku-zenshin).

35 Needless to say, this poem lends itself to various interpretations, something Suzuki himself recognized when he stated that he left it up to his readers “to interpret as they wish.” It can be argued, for example, that Bunan was referring to the freedom of action that comes from the state of enlightenment, i.e., when one is no longer shackled by the three ‘poisons’ of Mahāyāna Buddhism, i.e., greed, anger and illusion. That said, the critical question is how Suzuki’s officer readers would have interpreted this poem? It is highly likely they would have understood these words to mean that once they were fully resigned to their own deaths on the battlefield they would be able to fight more effectively in China. I would also like to think the late Kyoko Selden for her assistance in ensuring this poem was translated accurately.


Bachelor, Stephan. Buddhism without Beliefs, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 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 at:

https://circle.ubc.ca/bitstream/handle/ ... sequence=1

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

Hockenos, Matthew. A Church Divided: German Protestants Confront the Nazi Past. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2004.

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

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: here

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

-----. “D. T. Suzuki and the Question of War.” Translated in collaboration with Thomas Kirchner. The Eastern Buddhist 39/1: 61–120. Available on the web at: http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/Cri ... of-War.pdf

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 athttp://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/zfa/index.htm.

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

-----. “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. Available on the web: here

Snyder, Gary and Nelson Foster, “The Fog of World War II” in tricycle (Summer 2010). Available on the web at: http://www.tricycle.com/feature/fog-world-war-ii

Sueki Fumihiko, “Daisetsu hihan saikō,” Matsugaoka bunko kenkyū nenpō 27, 2010.

Suzuki, Daisetsu (also Daisetz, D.T., Teitaro). 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.

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

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

-----. Zen War Stories, RoutledgeCurzon, London and New York, 2003.
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Re: D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

Postby admin » Fri Aug 09, 2019 1:12 am

Part 1 of 2

The Formation and Principles of Count Dürckheim’s Nazi Worldview and his interpretation of Japanese Spirit and Zen
by Karl Baier
The Asia-Pacific Journal
Volume 11 | Issue 48 | Number 3
December 1, 2013

Preface by Brian Victoria

In Part I of this series on D.T. Suzuki’s relationship with the Nazis, (Brian Daizen Victoria, D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis readers were promised a second part focusing primarily on Suzuki’s relationship with one of wartime Japan’s most influential Nazis, Count Karlfried Dürckheim (1896 –1988).

However, in the course of writing Part II, I quickly realized that the reader would benefit greatly were it possible to present more than simply Dürckheim’s story in wartime Japan. That is to say, I recognized the importance, actually the necessity, of introducing Dürckheim’s earlier history in Germany and the events that led to his arrival in Japan, not once but twice.

At this point that I had the truly good fortune to come in contact with Professor Karl Baier of the University of Vienna, a specialist in the history of modern Asian-influenced spirituality in Europe and the United States. Prof. Baier graciously agreed to collaborate with me in presenting a picture of Dürckheim within a wartime German political, cultural, and, most importantly, religious context. Although now deceased, Dürckheim continues to command a loyal following among both his disciples and many others whose lives were touched by his voluminous postwar writings. In this respect, his legacy parallels that of D.T. Suzuki.

The final result is that what was originally planned as a two-part article has now become a three-part series. Part II of this series, written by Prof. Baier, focuses on Dürckheim in Germany, including his writings about Japan and Zen. An added bonus is that the reader will also be introduced to an important dimension of Nazi “spirituality.” Part Three will continue the story at the point Dürckheim arrives in Japan for the first time in mid-1938. It features Dürckheim’s relationship with D.T. Suzuki but examines his relationship with other Zen-related figures like Yasutani Haku’un and Eugen Herrigel as well.

Note that the purpose of this series is not to dismiss or denigrate either the postwar activities or writings of any of the Zen-related figures. Nevertheless, at a time when hagiographies of all of these men abound, the authors believe readers deserve to have an accurate picture of their wartime activities and thought based on what is now known. I am deeply grateful to Prof. Baier for having joined me in this effort. BDV


Japan, the “yellow fist”, as he called the nation in “Mein Kampf”, caused Adolf Hitler a considerable headache. In his racist foreign policy he distrusted the Asians in general and would have preferred to increase European world supremacy by collaborating with the English Nordic race. On the other hand, he had been impressed as a youth by Japan's military power when he observed Japan beat the Slavic empire in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. He also admired Japan for never having been infiltrated by the Jews. In “Mein Kampf” his ambiguous attitude let him place Japan as a culture-supporting nation somewhere halfway between the culture-creating Aryans and the culture-destroying Jews.1 He hoped that in the near future Japan and the whole of East Asia would be aryanised by Western culture and science and sooner or later the political domination of the Aryans in Asia would follow.

Fig. 1 Dürckheim country estate Steingaden as seen today

As the brotherhood in arms with England turned out to be a pipe-dream, Hitler had to make a pact with the Far Eastern country. This allowed a group of japanophile Nazis to raise their voices and disseminate a more detailed and positive view of Japan. They were interested in Japanese religion and especially sympathized with Zen Buddhism.

The following article can be seen as a case study. Taking the intellectual and religious biography of Count Dürckheim as an example, the author investigates the question of how dedicated Nazis could connect their worldview to a kind of mystical spirituality and develop a positive attitude towards Zen.

Karl Friedrich Alfred Heinrich Ferdinand Maria Graf Eckbrecht von Dürckheim-Montmartin (1896-1988), today widely known as Karlfried Graf (Count) Dürckheim, was born in Munich, Bavaria as the eldest son of an old aristocratic family. Baptized Catholic, he was religiously educated by his Protestant mother, grew up at the family’s country estate in the Bavarian village of Steingaden, at the Basenheim Castle near Koblenz and in Weimar, where his family owned a villa built by the famous architect Henry van de Velde.

Fig. 2 Villa Dürckheim in Weimar

In 1914, immediately after receiving his high school diploma, the 18-year-old Karlfried volunteered in the Royal Bavarian Infantry Lifeguard Regiment to serve on the frontlines for around 47 months as officer, company commander and adjutant.2 He never forgot the enthusiastic community spirit that filled his heart and the hearts of his fellow Germans at the beginning of the war. “I heard the Emperor saying, ‘I do not know parties any more, I only know Germans’. It remains in all our memories, these words of the Emperor, in those days at the beginning of the war.”3 Later he would say that during this period the meaning of his life had been the “unquestionable, ready-to-die-commitment to the fatherland.”4

Regularly exposed to deadly threats, the young frontline officer was intensively confronted with his fear but also experienced moments of transcendence.

There exists a ‘pleasure’ of deliberately thrusting oneself into deadly danger. This I experienced when embarking upon a nightly assault on a wooded hill, when running through a barrage at the storming of Mount Kemmel in Flanders, when jumping through a defile under machine gun fire. It is as if at the moment of the possible and in advance accepted destruction one would feel the indestructible. In all of these experiences another dimension emerges while one transcends the limits of ordinary life – not as a doctrine, but as liberating experience.5

This kind of “warrior mysticism” – a combination of military drill and blind obedience, fight to the very end, a devotion to and melding with the greater whole of the fatherland that culminate in the experience of “another dimension” far beyond the transitoriness of ordinary life – informed his attitude towards life and was conducive to his later appreciation of militaristic Bushidō-Zen and his admiration of the kamikaze pilots which he expressed even after World War II.6

Fig. 3 Bavarian infantry (postcard 1915)

The Square

Immediately after World War I Dürckheim supported one of the far-right nationalistic Free Corps fighting against the Munich Republic. He also published nationalistic brochures and pamphlets as well as articles that warned against the Bolshevist world revolution.7

In 1919 he left the army and began to study philosophy and psychology in search of a new meaning of life. He and Enja von Hattingberg, his partner and later spouse, befriended the Austrian psychologist and philosopher Ferdinand Weinhandl (1896-1973), who at the time was working at the Psychological Institute at the University of Munich, and his wife, the teacher and writer Margarete Weinhandl (1880-1975). The four, who called themselves “The Square,” were not just two couples on friendly terms. Their joint activities were aimed at a religious transformation of their own lives and the lives of others.

Dürckheim shared not only philosophical, psychological and religious interests with the Weinhandls but also the experience of World War I as well as the ensuing nationalistic attitude nourished by it. Ferdinand, like Dürckheim, had voluntarily joined the army and became a frontline lieutenant, but a serious injury soon made him unfit for battle. Margarete had supported soldiers from the province of Styria in southeast Austria with simple verses and poems written in Styrian dialect, that were published in Heimatgrüße. Kriegsflugblätter des Vereins für Heimatschutz in Steiermark (“Greetings from Home. War pamphlets of the Association for Homeland Security in Styria”), a journal that was distributed free among Styrian soldiers.8

Fig. 4: Thrusting oneself into deadly danger in World War I

The Weinhandls dominated the Square both intellectually and religiously. They were prolific writers well versed in the history and theology of Christian mysticism. Moreover, Ferdinand was interested in comparative religion. He referred to Friedrich Heiler’s comparative studies on prayer and on Pali-based, Buddhist meditation, and praised his subtle understanding of the inner relations between various religions.9 Interpreting the similarities between religious practices within different religious traditions outlined by Heiler, Ferdinand stated that the different stages of Hindu-Yoga, Buddhist meditation and Christian prayer are all based on the same psychological structure.10

In 1921, The Square moved to Kiel where they lived as a sort of commune, sharing a flat until 1924. During that time, Margarete published and interpreted the mystical writings of German medieval nuns.11 Ferdinand completed his habilitation thesis in 1922 at the University of Kiel and later got a professorship for philosophy there.12 He translated and edited the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola and published a small book on Meister Eckhart.13 In fact, it was he who introduced Eckhart to Dürckheim.14 “Every evening we would read Meister Eckhart,” Margarete noted in her diary.15 Dürckheim remembered: “I recognized in Master Eckhart my master, the master.”16 Meister Eckhart had great appeal for the German Youth Movement and the cultic milieu of the interwar-period in general. As a “German mystic” he also blended very well into the völkisch understanding of religion that was en vogue in Dürckheim’s circles.17 Like so many others Ferdinand Weinhandl saw in Eckhart an early manifestation of the deepest essence of the German spirit, its dynamism and “Faustian” activism.18

Fig. 5 Ferdinand Weinhandl

During the Nazi era the völkisch interpretation of Eckhart continued. In his Myth of the 20th Century the NSDAP ideologist Alfred Rosenberg extensively cited Eckhart as the pioneer of Germanic faith. In 1936 Eugen Herrigel drew parallels between Eckhart and Zen in his article on The Knightly Art of Archery that became a major source for Dürckheim.19 Herrigel looks at Eckhart and Zen from the typical perspective of the protagonists of völkisch mysticism:

It is often said that mysticism and especially Buddhism lead to a passive, escapist attitude, one that is hostile to the world. […] Terrified one turns away from this path to salvation through laziness and in return praises one´s own Faustian character. One does not even remember that there was a great mystic in German intellectual history, who apart from detachment preached the indispensable value of daily life: Meister Eckhart. And whoever has the impression this ‚doctrine’ might be self-contradictory, should reflect on the Japanese Volk, whose spiritual culture and way of life are significantly influenced by Zen Buddhism and yet cannot be blamed for passivity and an irresponsible sluggish escapism. The Japanese are so astonishingly active not because they are bad, lukewarm Buddhists but because the vital Buddhism of their country encourages their activity.20

During the war Dürckheim was to call Eckhart “the man whom the Germans notice as their most original proclaimer of God”21 and he, like Herrigel, outlined the proximity between Eckhart and Zen on the basis of völkisch thought.

Fig. 6 Alfred Rosenberg and his “Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts”

Before his first encounter with Eckhart, Dürckheim had already been deeply impressed by Laozi. The new popularity of Asian religions in Germany (after the Romantics at the beginning of the 19th century) began around 1900 under the influence of the Theosophists and the emergence of a neo-romantic “new mysticism.” It grew rapidly after the war with several translations of the Daodejing becoming available, the most widespread of which was by Alexander Ular.22 This book, together with translations of Laozi and Zhuangzi published by Martin Buber and Richard Wilhelm, unleashed a kind of Dao craze among intellectuals and artists of the Weimar Republic. Dürckheim describes his first contact with Laozi as a kind of ecstatic experience of enlightenment, prompted when his wife read the eleventh verse from Ular’s version out loud.23

Ferdinand not only undertook a theoretical study of religious exercises, but also introduced their practice to The Square.24 They experimented with different forms of meditation (sitting silently without an object or meditating on specific topics, probably influenced by Ignatius of Loyola, Coué´s autosuggestion and New Thought forms of meditation); spent certain days in silence and practised the daily examination of conscience.25 Outwardly they offered counselling sessions to people who contacted them, after having heard about the group because they were interested in their spirituality. One could say that The Square was a kind of model for Dürckheim’s work after World War II, and further foundations were laid here for his later interest in Japanese practices and the synthesis of spirituality and psychotherapy. During this period, Dürckheim also read a book on Buddhism by Georg Grimm that he held in great esteem.26

The Worldview of the Rightist Cultic Milieu

As strange as it may seem nowadays, the combination of new religiosity, interest in Asian religions, nationalist thought and an often antidemocratic attitude that had been formative for the young Dürckheim and also for the Weinhandls, was not exceptional at that time. They more or less shared popular views of the Weimarian rightist cultic milieu,27 which consisted of a large number of small organizations, reading circles, paramilitary groups and the so-called Bünde (leagues) with links to the German Youth Movement and the movement of life reform (Lebensreform). “The Bünde were uniquely German. What made them so during the years between 1919 and 1933 was the fact that neither the onlooker nor the participant could decide what they were. Were they religious, philosophical, or political? The answer is: all three.”28 Although The Square strongly sympathized with the Bünde, they deliberately decided not to organize themselves in that manner, but to continue to live as a small community focusing on personal transformation.29

The rightist cultic milieu was informed by several widespread ideas that also deeply influenced Dürckheim and his Square. Here only the most important ones can be mentioned.

Fig. 7 Ludwig Fahrenkrog: Die heilige Stunde (1918)

The New Man

Many expected the breakdown of traditional European culture through World War I, and especially the post-war crisis of German society, to lead to a transformation of mankind, the arrival of a “new man.”30 Dürckheim described his post-war social environment: “[They were] all people in which, because of the breakdown of 1918, something new arose that also within me soon brought to consciousness something that in the years after the war everyone was concerned with: the question of the new man.”31

In a letter published in the commemorative volume on the occasion of Dürckheim’s 70th birthday, Ferdinand Weinhandl remembers the talks they had at the beginning of their friendship as “revolving around a magical centre.” It was “the question of transformation, that we examined again and again in our thoughts and talks, in our efforts and aspirations.”32 What Weinhandl does not tell the readers of the commemorative volume is the fact that in the 1920s the search for in-depth transformation of mankind and the millenarianism of the new man had a socio-political dimension. Leftist socialists merged them with their vision of a future society, and the right-wing counterculture we are talking about usually combined the dawn of the new man with the epiphany of the Volk and the longing for new leaders.

Socio-political Völkisch Thought

The adjective “völkisch“ (cognate with the English “folk”) means “related to the Volk, belonging to the Volk.“ In keeping with its meaning in present-day German, “Volk” is frequently translated into English as “people” or “nation.” Since the 1890s, “völkisch” had been used as self-designation of an influential German nationalistic and racist (anti-Semitic but also anti-Slavic and anti-romantic) protest movement, consisting of different organizations, groups and individuals in Germany and Austria. Building upon ideas that emerged within German Romanticism, for these individuals and groups “völkisch” and “Volk” took on a special meaning significantly different from “people” and “nation” – a meaning that made the word untranslatable into English and other languages. Therefore the original German terms are used.

Fig. 8 Cover of a journal of the völkisch Bewegung

The völkisch movement imagined the Volk as a mythical social unity based on blood and soil as well as on divine will, underlying the nation state and being capable of bridging the class divisions within society. Furthermore, the Volk had a certain spirit or soul (“Volksgeist,” “Volkseele”) which comprised special virtues and certain ways of thinking and feeling. The traditional aristocratic way of legitimizing social and political rule through birth and descent was transferred from the noble dynasties to all members of the German Volk or Aryan race.33 The central aim of the völkisch movement was the purification of the Germanic race from alien influences and the restoration of the native Volk and its noble spirit.

Politically, the members of the rightist cultic milieu saw the Weimar democracy as a dysfunctional political system imposed by Germany’s enemies after the shameful defeat in World War I. They could see no sense in the discussions and quarrels between the political parties that for them only manifested the egocentrism of modern man. Additionally, they were afraid of Bolshevism and of social disintegration caused by class struggles. A politically crucial dimension of the hope for the coming of the “new man” was the chiliastic political vision of a Third Reich that would be able to overcome the inner turmoil of modern society.34 The only alternative to the degeneration of contemporary society and politics would be a völkisch reform of life, a spiritual, social and political renewal of Germany which would transform the country into a class-free holistic community of the Volk (Volksgemeinschaft) rooted in the homeland (Heimat) as well as in ancestral kinship (Ahnen) and ruled by charismatic leaders (Führer).

At the beginning of the 1920s, Ferdinand Weinhandl was still aiming at individual self-development and a mystical transformation free of political and social intentions. According to Tilitzki, Dürckheim and Wilhelm Ahlmann brought him into closer contact with Hans Freyer. This probably gave his concept of life-reform a völkisch twist.35 He also started to reflect on the necessity of new leaders (Führer) to imbue the spirit of the Volk with higher values. In a text from the middle of the 1920s he conceived the leader as an exceptional person who alone is capable of uniting the whole and thereby establishes true community: “So, our path leads us from the person to the people [Volk] and beyond that back to the person, to the exemplary individual, to the hero, to the idea of leadership [Führertum].”36 His völkisch leanings initially did not assume a radical right-wing form, and he continued teaching at social-democratic institutions and cultivated good relationships with colleagues who supported the republic.

For many members of the völkisch movement it was only a small step to become Nazis because National Socialism absorbed many elements of their worldview and presented itself as the political successful fulfilment of völkisch thought. In his Mein Kampf Hitler claimed that his party, the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, National Socialist German Workers Party) had been established to enable the völkisch ideas to prevail. The NS movement would therefore have the right and the duty to see itself “as the pioneer and representative of these ideas.”37 No wonder then that detailed biographical studies “show […] that the völkisch phenomenon and the Bünde phase were the place of transition to National Socialism.”38 After 1933 “völkisch” and “nationalsozialistisch” soon became synonymous whereas before then the Nazis were only one völkisch group among many.39

Like Dürckheim, Weinhandl and his wife joined the NSDAP in 1933. Dürckheim also became a member of the SA (Sturmabteilung, in English often called Stormtroopers or Brownshirts, a paramilitary group of the NSDAP) and Ferdinand joined the NSLB (Nationalsozialistischer Lehrerbund, National Socialist Teachers Association), the KfdK (Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur, Battle League for German Culture) and the NS Kulturgemeinde (NS Cultural Community).40 Margarete headed a department for worldview education (“weltanschauliche Schulung”) within the NS Frauenschaft, the women´s organisation of the NSDAP, and became a member of the NSDAP office for racial politics.41

Völkisch Religiosity

The religious concepts of the völkisch milieu have been researched intensively over the last decades.42 The multitude of mostly small communities and movements, which rarely existed for more than a few years, can be divided into two basic types: neo-pagan and völkisch Christian.43 Both were highly syncretistic in their anti-Semitic attempts to develop a racially specific, Aryan religion. The neo-pagan groups, a small minority, rejected Christian faith and either tried to revitalise ancient Nordic religions or searched for new forms of a Germanic faith. The völkisch Christians tried to extract the Aryan elements in the teachings of Jesus and constructed a history of German Christian faith from the German medieval mystics up to the present day.

Fig. 9 Pamphlet to promote the Deutsche Glaubensgemeinschaft (German Faith Community) (1921)

Within Dürckheim´s Square we find the völkisch Christian attitude most clearly articulated by Margarete Weinhandl. Ferdinand´s interpretation of Eckhart points in the same direction. The available sources contain no information about Dürckheim’s early understanding of Christianity. His commitment to the Christian faith seems to have been weaker than that of the Weinhandls.

Margarete thought of the Jews as a race totally alien to the German Volk. They had their heroic heyday documented in the writings of the Old Testament, but afterwards they degenerated and this is the reason why they rejected the messiah. Through Luther’s translation, the Bible had become part of the German spirit and German religiosity. The treasures of the Old Testament and the message of Jesus had thus been preserved through the power of the German Volk, its poets and spiritual masters like Meister Eckhart, Jakob Böhme etc.44

Additionally Dürckheim and his friends adopted a perennialist approach to religion assuming that the main religious traditions share a single universal truth. Later Dürckheim remembered: “As early as in those days the question arose within me: Wasn’t this great experience that completely permeated Eckhart, Laozi, and Buddha essentially the same in each of them?”45

Similar to the Traditionalist School, they conceptualized the coming of the New Man as a return to the primitive man of pre-modern culture connected with the rediscovery of an ancient wisdom tradition that underlies all religions.46 Maria Hippius, Dürckheim’s second wife, stressed the affinity between The Square and the Traditionalists: “In these years other concurrent efforts existed that aimed at a ‘restoration of the human archetype’ by locating and reconnecting to a primordial tradition (Urtradition). René Guénon and Julius Evola may correspond best to what the circle of friends intended […].”47 Whereas Dürckheim knew Guénon only through his writings, he actually met Julius Evola, the Italian extreme right-wing philosopher and esotericist who harboured sympathies for the SS and the Romanian Iron Guard, whom he highly esteemed, in the 1960s.48

Fig. 10 Julius Evola

The rediscovery of the ancient wisdom was supposed to bring about a renaissance of true religiosity in the form of mysticism. “Wherever religion is lived, it has the name mysticism, wherever wisdom is lived, it is called mysticism.”49 The Square understood mysticism as a way of life that is based on a radical transformation of the whole human being, brought about by the abandoning of one’s own will.

The völkisch approach to religion and the perennialistic concept of mysticism don’t necessarily contradict one another. In all likelihood the Square thought that German mysticism presented the core of all true religion in an extraordinarily pure form, a form that matched the superior national character of the Germans.


The Weimarian cultic milieu´s leanings towards totalitarianism were based on popular forms of holistic and organicistic thought. Wholeness (Ganzheit) was a widely used metaphor for what – according to völkisch worldview – had been lost in modern society and science and was to be regained by the “new man.” The radical conservative counterculture of the Weimar Republic was a holistic milieu that tried to rediscover the original wholeness of individuals by reintegrating them on different levels into larger “organic” wholes. According to common holistic ideology, individuals as well as social entities do not follow the laws of mechanics but an order whose prototype is the living organism. This kind of “organic thinking” was given a nationalistic connotation by the notion that the realization of “organic wholes” is something specifically German, whereas other Western countries (France, England, USA) are the homelands of “mechanical thinking.”50

Already in the Nazi era, Dürckheim would praise organic thought as being a protest “against the world of unleashed instrumental rationality, the proliferation of economics, technique and transport, against the tendency to reduce every process to its simplest mechanic formula, against the dissolution of the human being into a bundle of impersonal functions, the opposition of longstanding organic communities of blood and faith against special-purpose associations etc.”51 The appreciation of meditative practices and the invocations of mystical oneness with “the whole” that were so common in the Weimarian cultic milieu, should be understood in the context of this critical attitude towards the burdens of modern culture and the longing for personal, social and religious identity in a world experienced as fragmented and rapidly changing.

“Wholeness” and “organic thinking” were not just buzzwords within the rightist counterculture. “The desire for holistic thought was widespread in both the scientific and political reasoning of the Weimar Republic.”52 Many of the holistic academics participated in the völkisch scene and gave the milieu´s preference for organic wholeness a scientific outlook. It seems that in the late phase of the Weimar Republic, the majority of psychologists followed this line of thought. One of them was Dürckheim’s teacher and employer Felix Krueger, the successor of the famous Wilhelm Wundt at the University of Leipzig and founder of the so- called “Second Leipzig School,” also known as Holistic Psychology (Ganzheitspsychologie) – probably the best example for the holistic orientation of German psychology before 1933.

Felix Krueger’s Holistic Psychology

In 1925, Dürckheim, who had completed his Ph.D. in psychology in 1923, became an assistant at the Institute of Psychology at the University of Leipzig. He worked there until his habilitation in 1929/30. It is quite obvious that Dürckheim obtained this position not only because of his qualifications but also because of his participation in an academic right-wing network. Hans Freyer, the radical conservative philosopher and sociologist, who had been one of his teachers in Kiel and had in the meantime switched to the University of Leipzig, played a crucial role in this appointment.53 It was he who recommended Dürckheim to the director of the Institute of Psychology, Felix Krueger.

Since the end of World War I, Krueger’s Psychological Institute was considered to be a “völkisch cell” with a strong nationalistic bias, whose political activities stirred hostilities within the city council and even the German government.54 Krueger was a leading figure within the völkisch oriented Fichte-Gesellschaft (Fichte Society). As a busy lecturer, he played an important role within a large nationalistic educational network and thus had contacts with many patriotic associations and völkisch groups. From 1930 onwards he also lectured in the NS-student-association (Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund) and in the NSLB. Although his thought was close to National Socialism, and he had signed the recommendation to vote for Hitler published by German academics in November 1933, he nevertheless did not become a member of the NSDAP.

Fig. 11 Felix Krueger

Krueger’s psychological theory had a “pronounced ideological accent” as it was meant to contribute to a renewal of the community of the Volk (Volksgemeinschaft).55 Especially from the late 1920s onwards he extended the range of his psychology to social life. His concept of community falls in line with the then very popular distinction of Gemeinschaft (community) as a traditional organic social unit and Gesellschaft (society) as a contractual association of individuals, predominating in modern times.

The ideological position of Krueger is clear to see, if one looks at how he constructs the relationship between the community as a whole and its members. He simply transferred his earlier theory of the dominance of the whole to social structures.56 “Krueger´s theory does not recognize the interaction between part and whole, rather only the law of the dominance of the whole; in the area of society it appears as the superimposition of the community over the individual and the subordination of the individual to the community.”57 It is this totalitarian bias that accounts for the affinity between Krueger’s thought and Nazism.

Dürckheim’s NS Thought and Völkisch Religion

Like many other members of the völkisch milieu, Dürckheim believed that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement would bring about the arrival of the new man. “Through Adolf Hitler the Gods have given to the German People […] the power to awaken fellow Germans in an infectious movement and transform them towards this new man.”58 It was Krueger’s social holism in particular that helped him to shape his Nazi philosophy in the years after 1933. As Geuter has pointed out, Krueger himself only made programmatic statements on community. It was Dürckheim who elaborated a systematic holistic psychology of community life based on the theories of the Leipzig School in his articles Gemeinschaft (Community, 1934); Dürckheim´s contribution to the Festschrift in celebration of Kruegers 60th birthday; and the openly national-socialist Zweck und Wert im Sinngefüge des Handelns (Purpose and Value as Constituents of Meaningful Action, 1934/35).

Fig. 12 Being one with the greater Whole: May Day Celebrations Berlin 1937

Like Krueger, Dürckheim conceives of community (Gemeinschaft) as the basic social unit. Communities are “closed wholes”59 characterized by certain value-systems that have absolute validity for all members. From Krueger he also borrowed the principle that the true relationship between the whole and its parts is the total subordination of the parts. “The being of the whole is the imperative of its parts; whatever is useful for the whole is a law for the individuals.”60 One of the dangers that threaten their health and that members of communities have to fight back against is “the infiltration of foreign bodies (racial question!).”61 The natural values of the individuals reflect their racial origin and the blood- and fate-based membership in the organic wholes of homeland, family and Volk.

The value-oriented life of the soul depends on its inborn and racially conditioned nature. The order of its perennial values is based in certain fundamental life units with which the soul is connected by fate, an order that is defined by the claims made by these units to sustenance, realization and perfection.62

According to Dürckheim, the Volk had lost its domination over its parts in the Weimar Republic. The leaders of the country had been alienated from the higher whole, and, even worse, non-Germans, especially Jews, had exercised significant influence.63 “It must be stressed again and again that the NS revolution was the revolution of the whole against its disloyal parts.”64 It was only Hitler’s wake-up call that reunited the German Volk and renewed the basic values of its life.65

For Dürckheim, the reawakening of the Volk among the Germans had practical consequences. Hitler also “steeled their will to dominate reality.”66 He explicitly defends the brutality of the Regime against individuals unwilling to subordinate themselves to the realization of what the Nazis defined as the interests of the larger whole. The NS man possesses “the power to be radical that does not recognize sentimental care about painful concomitant effects that everywhere affect individuals wherever the realization of a larger whole is at stake. The accusation of harshness, which is time and again levelled against National Socialism, is a typical statement of a sort of mankind that cares about individuals and has lost sight of the superior whole.”67

The “image of the fighter driven by fanatic faith” is in Dürckheim‘s view the role model for the type of human being that National Socialism aims to produce.68 “German soldiership could well be the starting point of a comprehensive realisation of the German mind.”69

Fig. 13 Training of the Waffen-SS

For him it was through National Socialism that the “German worldview” (deutsche Weltanschauung) became a political force for the first time. This worldview clearly shows the characteristics of a religion as well, and therefore Dürckheim also calls it “German faith.” The source of German faith was the “unshakable belief in the German Volk” that Adolf Hitler implanted in his fellow Germans, and this belief implied the commitment of Germans to Germany as something that they accepted to be holy.70 Dürckheim describes this faith as based on the individual experience of a higher reality, contrasting this with the mere “subjugation to a dogma.” He thus connects the topos “mysticism versus dogmatic religion” and the anti-church sentiment that had been quite widespread within the “new mysticism” of the Weimarian cultic milieu with his NS-worldview:

As the centre of this faith we find the breakthrough of the great subject Germany [das große Subjekt Deutschland] within the individual. Therefore faith in the NS-sense does not mean subjugation to a dogma, but the inspiring force coming from the joyful experience of a higher whole, that resides within you and wants to become reality through you – and this with such a power that one cannot help but to serve this higher will and sacrifice everything that is only personal.71

Fig. 14 NS Christmas Cult: Goebbels and family

The motive of (heroically) abandoning one’s own will and surrendering to the greater whole functions as a link between Dürckheim’s militarism and political totalitarianism on the one hand and his preference for mysticism on the other. He constructs the Volk as a trans-temporal divine essence (“eternal Germany,” and later, “eternal divine Japan”) that every individual should incarnate by giving up selfishness and surrender to the egoless functioning within the whole. Service to the community of the Volk and obedience towards its leaders who represent the will of the whole serve as a paramount connection to the ultimate divine reality. As the Volk is the primary revelation of the divine, the main religious task of its members is to contribute to its development and most powerful manifestation.72

One would think that such a theology of the Volk is hardly compatible with racism. But this is not the case. For Dürckheim certain racial conditions are part of the eternal essence of the Volk. Every Volk has the task of manifesting the Divine according to its own racial characteristics. It is thus a holy duty “to maintain the racial substance and protect it against any danger.”73

Introduction to Dürckheim’s Wartime Writings

In 1939 and 1940 – obviously as an outcome of his first stay in Japan (1938-1939) – Dürckheim published four articles related to Japan in Germany with the 1940 Das Geheimnis der japanischen Kraft (The Secret of Japanese Power) as a summary of his previous study of Japanese culture and a basis for the explorations of his second stay.74 The journals that published these articles were all deeply connected to the regime. These included: 1) Das XX. Jahrhundert (The Twentieth Century), financed by the German Foreign Office; 2) Berlin – Rom – Tokyo, a “monthly journal for the deepening of the cultural relationships between peoples of the global political triangle,” also financed by the press department of the Foreign Office and meant to provide publicity for the Tripartite Pact and establish a sense of communality between the Germans, Italians and Japanese; and 3) Zeitschrift für deutsche Kulturphilosophie (Journal of German Philosophy of Culture). The third publication was the NSDAP-conformist successor of Logos. Internationale Zeitschrift für Kulturphilosophie (Logos. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture) that was forced to cease publication in 1933. It propagated a völkisch philosophy of culture in line with the cultural politics of the Nazis.

His booklet Vom rechten Mann. Ein Trutzwort für die schwere Zeit (On the Righteous Man. A Word of Defiance for Difficult Times), published in 1940, was a kind of devotional book written for German men (in wartimes and other difficult situations). Besides the political situation, Dürckheim may have had some personal reasons for writing it given the fact that at the end of 1939 both his first wife Enja and his father died.75 According to the dedication, he finished it in January 1940, the month of his second departure to Japan. The question as to whether this book was influenced by Japanese thought will be discussed below.

During his second stay in Japan (1940-1947) Dürckheim did not publish anything in Germany. There are two reasons for this: 1) For propaganda reasons he tried to launch as many NS-related articles as possible in Japan, and 2) communication between Germany and Japan had become more and more difficult as the war proceeded. His most voluminous German work published during the Nazi era was only available in Japan: Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist (New Germany. German Spirit, 1942).76 Dürckheim tells us in his preface to the first edition of this book that its chapters were originally articles written for different Japanese journals that had been translated into Japanese by Hashimoto Fumio. Subsequently, the German original texts were published in two collections: Volkstum und Weltanschauung (Völkisch Tradition and Worldview, 1st ed. 1940; 3rd ed. 1941) and Leben und Kultur (Life and Culture, 1st ed. 1941). According to Dürckheim, Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist contains the largely unaltered original German versions of the articles of both smaller collections. I will quote from the second “improved“ edition of this book, published, like the first one, in 1942.77 In that same year a Japanese version of Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist was released.

Fig. 15 Dürckheim’s article on Shujo-Dan

In 1942 Dürckheim also published an article entitled ‘Europe’? in The XXth Century, the English counterpart of Das XX. Jahrhundert, a propaganda journal for East Asia financed by the German Foreign Ministry.78

Several other texts written between 1940 and 1944 were only published in Japanese. At least some of the original German manuscripts of these publications are archived at the family archives of the Counts of Dürckheim-Montmartin at the Landesarchiv Speyer/Germany whose Karlfried-Graf-Dürkheim section is now unfortunately inaccessible for non-members of the family. Gerhard Wehr – probably the last person who was allowed to work in the archives – mentions the existence of the German manuscript of Maisuteru Ekkuharuto with the title “Meister Eckhart” (85 pages) and a manuscript “Der Geist der europäischen Kultur – Ein Beitrag zur Geophilosophie” (The Spirit of European Culture – A Contribution to Geo-Philosophy) from 1943, which, at least according to its title, seems to be the German version of Yoroppa Bunka no Shinzui (The Essence of European Culture).79 Wehr also confirms the existence of several other German manuscripts from that period in the archive without going into detail.

Religion in Japan from a Völkisch Perspective

As one might expect from what has been stated above, Dürckheim´s thought does not so much address religion in Japan per se, but more the Japanese as a Volk and the sources of its astonishing military power, the success of its dictatorial regime and its impressive völkisch unity. For him the Volk had absolute priority over all other issues and so he did not show any interest in interreligious matters but wanted to contribute to an inter-völkisch understanding, zwischenvölkisches Verstehen, as he literally put it. In this regard he considered world religions to be an obstacle:

Fig. 16 Graf Dürckheim (1940)

Christians, Buddhists and humanists of all nations [aller Völker] may coincide with regard to certain human basic requirements, and they may feel the obligation to understand, to help and to love each other on a personal level. But all this has nothing to do with a mutual understanding of völkisch mentalities and their necessities. On the contrary, till today the world religions by virtue of their transnational mission [aus ihrer übervölkischen Mission] avoided the unconditional acceptance of völkisch values and necessities of life. Actually, most of the time they fought against the passionate commitment to one’s Volk and – hereby inhibiting all understanding – fought against it as pride of race and chauvinism that contradict their basic requirements.80

Shinto and Japanese Buddhism are considered to the extent they fit the divine völkisch nature of Japan and help to strengthen the historical manifestation of the eternal Japanese spirit. Even when he compares Meister Eckhart and Zen this is not meant as a comparison between a form of Buddhism and a certain kind of Christian theology and spirituality but as a reflection of the relationship between Japanese völkisch religion (inspired by Buddhism) and German völkisch religion (inspired by Christianity). Buddhism was a creative challenge to the Japanese that ultimately helped them to discover their true völkisch nature and its innate religiosity. By the same token, the influence of Christianity in the long run helped to clarify the German worldview:

Just as Buddhism made its way to Japan, Christianity came to Germany from the outside. […] Christianity is not the German worldview, nor is Buddhism the Japanese. The confrontation with these world religions that claim validity for the whole of mankind and relate to the redemption of the individual brought to Japan and Germany compulsory clarity in respect to the (self-)awareness of the essence and the living wholeness of the ‘Volk’ and thus to the völkisch worldview.81

This of course is meant as “gaining strength through strong adversaries” but, as we will see below, it also comprises the positive reception of certain elements from world religions. For völkisch religions they play a similar role to what Dürckheim calls the “international world civilisation” (basically consisting of modern science and technology) for völkisch cultures. Both are dangerous for the völkisch spirit but to a certain extent also useful and inspiring.

The Japanese People as an Exemplary Volk

Dürckheim describes Japan as a country confronted with the same problems as the Nazi movement was at that time. In his view, modern developments, such as industrialization, rationalization, the influence of the Western – especially the American – attitude of individualism and profiteering, threatened the realisation of the eternal essence of both peoples.82 “It is the spirit that connects us with Japan, this spirit, which, born out of the völkisch substance and the nation’s will to survive, in Japan as well as here in Germany fights against the alien and brings to bear its particular nature.”83 Similar to Germany, the dangers of modernity as well as the threat of war stimulated Japan’s völkisch power and the implementation of political structures in keeping with the Japanese spirit:

Japan today is just beginning to unfold its völkisch power. And this is because Japan’s traditional faith, far away from being ‘replaced’ by a modern one, progresses from the stage of a religious basis of völkisch life and a binding force for specific classes to the political self-confidence of the whole Volk.84

This passage reveals the core of his view of Japan’s “hidden force” and the specific function of religion that interested him. For Dürckheim the successful politics of the future world was to be inseparably linked to the awakening of völkisch identities based on a religious attitude that unconditionally supports the world’s leading totalitarian states. Accordingly, the primal source of Japan’s power was the politicizing of its original faith. He recognized the rise of a völkisch religion consisting of a politicized mixture of Shinto and Buddhism that unites the whole nation and functions as a basis of legitimation for the Japanese state and its policies. In August 1941 he noted in his diary: “My research work continues and recently in particular has turned towards the religious foundations of Japanese power, that is to Shinto and Buddhism.”85

Dürckheim sees the divine völkisch spirit and its will to live as connecting Germany and Japan. “In spite of all differences regarding the contents of faith and the forms this faith creates, through its iron will to self-realisation this spirit is related to ours.”86 Moreover, the German Volk is even able to understand Japan better than any other Volk. In this regard Dürckheim refers to Hermann Bohner’s “masterful introduction and commentary” to his translation of the Jinnō shōtōki (Chronicles of the Authentic Lineages of the Divine Emperors).87 Indeed, Bohner wanted to demonstrate the inner affinity between Germany’s Third Reich and the Japanese tradition in order to bring the Jinnō shōtōki closer to his German audience.

In doing so, he likened Kitabatake´s work to Moeller van den Bruck´s Das dritte Reich, maintaining both were connected with the same ultimate question of ‘who we are.’ Bohner furthermore claimed that both texts were ‘conversations with God,’ ‘self-dialogues,’ and ‘conversations with the eminent Us.’ He portrays their apparently similar contents as well as both author’s experiences in highly emotive terms: ‘As though by a gigantic, transcendent epiphany, a Daemonion, a personality, that like every Ego is real and yet non-tangible, each author is faced by the personality of his own nation.’88

Bohner’s paraphrases of Moeller van den Bruck and Kitabatake come very close to Dürckheim’s deification of the Volk.89 He must have read Bohner’s summary of the beginning of the Jinnō Shōtōki with great sympathy: “Before China was (for Japan), before India was, before Kong [Confucius] and Buddha had come across the sea, there was Japan. It was what it is and what it will be: from the Deity it was, the divine seed was in it.”90 It is interesting to note that in Dürckheim’s Nazi articles written prior to his first stay in Japan, he had already mentioned religious feelings towards the Volk, albeit in a somewhat cursory manner. Japanese influences may have strengthened this dimension of his thought.

Fig. 17 Albrecht von Urach: Das Geheimnis japanischer Kraft (1942)

In any case, for him the confluence between the traditional völkisch spirit and modernity was more advanced in Japan than in Germany, and he implicitly suggests that Japan sets a good example for the Third Reich in several ways. For him, Japan’s superiority lay in the fact that on the East Asian island the process of industrialisation is carried out by people who had not been infected by materialism and who had not given up their traditional way of life. The cult of the Emperor-God (J. Tennō) – unfortunately lacking in Germany – helped keep the old Japanese identity and worldview alive and visible throughout the ages.91 So despite their modernization, the Japanese still have strong ties to family and dynasty.92 Individuals consider themselves “with exemplary naturalness to be only a serving part of the higher life-units.”93

In the Germany of his time, by contrast, individualism as well as the materialistic spirit of both capitalists and proletarians were much stronger. Dürkheim complains that discussions on the individualistic understanding of freedom had not yet come to an end. The Germans, he says, are just about to reacquire the knowledge that liberty primarily means being free from oneself and therefore being free to perform community service. Dürckheim admits that contemporary Japan also has to face the “problem of freedom in a Western sense”:

But after all “individualists” still occur quite rarely. They are limited to certain social circles and individualism is a beacon to a world that didn’t know this phenomenon before, never idealized or philosophically legitimised it, and now fights against it to the bitter end.94

Dürckheim underlines the affinities between both cultures to such an extent that one sometimes gets the impression he thinks the Japanese would be the better Nazis. He was but one among many (academics as well as journalists) in the German-Japan discourse who praised Japan as one if not the exemplary Volk. This tendency was seen in the August 1942 Situation Report of the SS’s Security Service as a problem. The report states that the many comparisons between the successful non-Christian religious worldview attitude towards life, politics and warfare in Japan and the religious worldview situation in Germany have caused certain developments that make it necessary to gradually correct the image of Japan:

The former view, that the German soldier is the best in the world has been confused by descriptions of the Japanese swimmers who removed mines laid before Hongkong, or the Japanese pilots who, with contempt for death, pounce with their bombs on enemy ships. This has partially caused something like an inferiority complex. The Japanese look like a kind of ‘Super-Teuton’ [Germane im Quadrat].95

Dürckheim, however, is deeply convinced that a mutual enrichment between Germany and Japan could and should take place. With two different theoretical models he explains how this inter-völkisch encounter could work. The first model rejects direct borrowings between different völkisch cultures. “Just as it is impossible to shift Mt. Fuji to Europe and the Rhine to Japan, it is impossible to mutually transfer the essentially Japanese and the essentially German.”96 Nevertheless, the study of a non-transferable alien culture is able to stimulate deep cultural growth because it sharpens insight into the principles of one’s own culture, and it is able to inspire the rediscovery of some of its elements that were long lost.97

The second model of inter-völkisch relationship concedes the possibility of direct imports from an alien Volk and takes the reception of Zen Buddhism in Japan as an example of this.
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Re: D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

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Part 2 of 2

The Integration of Foreign Elements into a völkisch Weltanschauung: Zen’s Contribution to Yamato-damashii

Whereas Dürckheim, as noted above, usually emphasized that the Volk is a “closed whole,” his reflections on Japan outline that it is not a completely closed entity like a concrete block, but possesses a limited openness that in some way resembles the relation between an amoeba and its surroundings. He distinguishes three kinds of “healthy” reactions to the foreign within Japanese history:98

1. Alien elements that fit have been merged with the original völkisch substance (e.g., Buddhism and Chinese culture).

2. Alien elements that did not fit have been withdrawn or at least suppressed (e.g., Christianity).

3. Alien elements that did not fit, but proved to be necessary for the self-preservation of Japan were integrated without damaging the inner essence of the Volk in the long run (European Spirit, technical achievements).

For Dürckheim, Japan’s relationship with the outside world is a paradigm of how a healthy Volk with a strong “racial instinct” behaves. Japanese contacts with other nations and cultures deepened its self-knowledge and strengthened its power. His differentiation between several ways a Volk can relate to foreign Völker is important because it allows for intercultural contacts and influences to be affirmed on the basis of völkisch thought. As we will see, his goal seems to have been to integrate Japanese elements into the Teutonic way of life. But let us first consider what he thought to be the contribution of Zen to the Japanese völkisch culture.

For him the Japanese racial instinct, faith or worldview is a mighty “current of life” that carries the Japanese nation along and guides it beneath all conscious activities. The Japanese word for it, he tells his readers, is Yamato-damashii (usually translated as the “Heart of Yamato,” or “Japanese Spirit”).99 According to his most elaborate analysis in Das Geheimnis der japanischen Kraft (The Secret of Japanese Power) Yamato-damashii had four foundations:100

1. Tennō: the center of the Empire, personification of the Volk, its unity and its divine origin.

2. Bushidō: the way of the knight, the samurai.

3. Loyalty and piety towards one’s ancestors, parents and superiors.

4. Freedom as detachment from life and death.

Since Zen Buddhism comes into play in 2) and 4), the author will focus on these points in the following.

The only source concerning Zen that Dürckheim refers to in Das Geheimnis der japanischen Kraft is Suzuki’s Zen Buddhism and its influence on Japanese Culture (1938).101 The author is not aware of any other Zen-related literature that Dürckheim referred to in his published wartime writings. It is certain that he also knew of Herrigel’s article on The Knightly Art of Archery. Furthermore, as detailed in Part III, he was later introduced to Zen-related literature and texts written by Yasutani Haku’un and translated for him by Hashimoto Fumio.

From Suzuki and Herrigel, Dürckheim learned that Zen is a Buddhist sect that – like every form of Buddhism – searches for enlightenment through meditation, but differs from other Buddhist schools for three reasons which make Zen especially interesting for Dürckheim:102 1) its denial of every dogma,103 2) its aspiration for a direct relationship to the absolute,104 and 3) its emphasis on the practice of this relationship in daily life, work and service.105

For Dürckheim, Zen is the best example showing that Japan does not fit the characterization of Asian mentality as dominated by passive contemplation. Instead, Zen helped to create the typical Japanese synthesis of a “passive experience of God” with “willpower and determined action.” He emphasised that Zen monks had been among the great teachers of the samurai spirit, which had evolved during the first military rule of Japan in the 13th century.106 Then he continued:

It is good to know that today perhaps 50% of the Japanese officer corps have a more or less close relationship to Zen Buddhism, and this means knowledge of the power of the motionless mind, the still heart. It also means a personal relationship to the demands of Zen-Buddhist culture, a culture which recognizes the fulfilment of life in the validation of perfect harmony – symbolically expressed in the tea ceremony, but ultimately in everything, especially in human relations.107

Note that harmony in accordance with Dürckheim’s holistic thought means the whole having perfect control over its parts. Accordingly, Zen in Dürckheim’s view is a practice that unites the different classes of the Japanese Volk. Not only military officers, but also Japanese businessmen, industrial workers and peasants are open to the Zen-influenced meditative experience and therefore know “the secret of ‘the inner space’.”108 He illustrates this with an observation from Japanese daily life:

Every Westerner notices how silently the Japanese often sit or kneel. It is as if they have a secret space to live in, into which they can withdraw at any time, and in which they experience something that noisy reality is never able to give. They somehow know about the silent and unmoved heart that reveals the true independence of human beings from things external.109

The experience of an inner space enables the Japanese to be content with whatever social conditions they live in, to be happy even if they suffer from poverty and hard work as workers and peasants, and to stay calm even when risking their lives for their country as soldiers. The metaphor of the “secret inner space” is notable because it does not seem to belong to Zen vocabulary. The author found only one passage in Suzuki’s Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture that resembles this metaphor and might have influenced Dürckheim. Suzuki reflects upon the significance of the tea cult for the Japanese warriors “in those days of strife and unrest when they were most strenuously engaged in warlike business” and needed a respite from fighting and time to relax:

The tea cult must have given them exactly what they needed. They retreated for a while into a quiet corner of their Unconscious symbolised by the tearoom no wider than ten feet square. And when they came out of it, they felt not only refreshed in mind and body, but most likely had their memory renewed of things which were of more permanent value than mere fighting.110

The “inner space” whose cultivation is fostered by Zen practice is connected with the fourth characteristic of Yamato-damashii: freedom from passions like fear and sorrow as well as from mental unrest ­– a state that is attained by letting go of all forms of clinging to the world:

Regarding this, the Japanese possess a religious source of power in the form of their Buddhist faith […] Expressed in our categories one cannot but call this source a special relationship to the absolute and an independence from life and death that results from closeness to the absolute.111

This independence is, according to Dürckheim, a Buddhist virtue and at the same time the most basic source of the transpersonal loyalty that the Japanese time and again prove in their service to both family and Volk. Herrigel already had expressed exactly the same view in his 1936 article on the knightly art of archery:

For the Japanese it not only goes without saying that they integrate themselves smoothly into the organic orders of their völkisch existence ­– they even sacrifice their lives for them in a detached and modest way. And here only the fruit of Buddhist influence and therefore the subconscious educational value of the Zen-based arts become evident: from this innermost light death and even suicide for the sake of the fatherland get their sublime consecration and in a most fundamental way lose all horror.112

The results of Dürckheim’s article on the mystery of Japanese power are in accordance with Suzuki’s theory of the fundamental significance of Zen for all of Japanese culture and Herrigel’s high evaluation of the educational value of Zen- based arts. Dürckheim tried to show that the practice of Yamato-damashii is deeply rooted in Zen insights and attitudes, and therefore Zen ultimately appears to be the most significant expression of the Japanese völkisch spirit and an essential resource of Japanese power. Similar to Suzuki, and perhaps even stronger than him, he underlined the connection of the samurai to Zen. The positive contribution Zen made to the military and economic strength of Japan and to the inner unity of the nation were of crucial importance for Dürckheim’s positive evaluation of this form of Buddhism.

Possible Japanese Influence on Dürckheim´s Vom rechten Mann

As mentioned above, in 1940, just as he was about to travel to Japan again, Dürckheim published a small booklet meant to be a kind of handbook for German men in difficult times (especially in wartime). There the ideal righteous man is described as a man of honor (Ehrenmann), a man of God (Gottesmann) and a man of the Volk (Volksmann). Describing the virtues of the righteous man in relation to himself, to God and to his Volk, Dürckheim reveals the ethical and spiritual principles of his völkisch world view. The booklet consists of many small chapters whose style is reminiscent of the German translations of the Daodejing.

Fig. 18 Karl Eckprecht (pseud.): Vom rechten Mann

There are other “orientalizations” that distinguish this text. For example, there is the striking importance of the metaphor of the sword. Dürckheim wrote:

The righteous man does not revolt out of selfishness. But if his honor is concerned, if his nation is in danger or God’s concern is violated within himself or within the World, then this calls him to fight and transforms him into a sword. […] then a kind of willpower arises that does not take care of itself but knocks down everything that stands in his way.113

This sequence probably resonates with Suzuki’s philosophy of swordsmanship and his use of “the sword” as a symbol for the life of the samurai, for his loyalty and self-sacrifice. For Suzuki the sword fulfils a double function. First, it destroys anything that is opposed to its owner’s will in the spirit of patriotism and militarism. Second, it is the annihilation of everything that stands in the way of peace, progress and humanity. The sword symbolizes “the spiritual welfare of the world at large.”114

Being a gift of God the sword (as a weapon as well as by virtue of its symbolic meaning of unconditional determination and vigour) represents something holy for Dürckheim. “The strongest will, the purest fire and the sharpest sword – out of God do they come to the righteous man.”115 And of course Dürckheim’s sword, like Suzuki’s, destroys for the benefit of mankind. “His sword is shiny, hard and merciless. It’s all for a good cause and this requires that one not slacken in the fight.”116 In Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist Dürckheim, very similar to Suzuki, was to call the sword “Hüter des Heiligen” (guardian of the holy).117

The metaphor of the sword was certainly not new to Dürckheim when he came across it in his encounters with Japanese culture. It is well known in German culture too, especially in Nazism. In Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist Dürckheim says that “the connection of lyre and sword” is something typically German.118 Moreover, in Das Geheimnis der japanischen Kraft he sets forth the proposition that the unity of lyre and sword, poetry and military spirit, could well be the deepest common ground of the völkisch spirit of both Germany and Japan.119 “Leier und Schwert” (Lyre and Sword) is the name of a volume of poems written by the 19th century poet Theodor Körner, who was held in high esteem by the Nazis. In Hitler’s Mein Kampf, a book that Dürckheim thought very highly of, the word “sword” is used 27 times as a synonym for “weapon” or “military force.” Hitler contrasts the virtuous “nobility of the sword” (Schwertadel) with the corrupt Jewish “nobility of finance” (Finanzadel).120 But it seems that Suzuki’s Zen-empowered samurai and other Japanese sources inspired Dürckheim to elaborate on its symbolism.

Most of the religious parts of the book use words and phrases taken from the language of Christian piety albeit without reference to Christ, Mother Mary, the Trinity and other theological features i.e., in the sense of a völkisch religiosity influenced by Christianity. The term “die Große Kraft” (the Great Force) that he uses four times, three of which with quotation marks, does not fit into this vocabulary.121 To give but one example: “The righteous man has a cheerful heart and a mind which is always free in the depth of the soul. . . . There he is carried by the Great Force and from there he carries and overcomes everything.”122 Where did this expression come from?

In 1964 Dürckheim published a collection of texts as Wunderbare Katze und andere Zen-Texte (Marvelous Cat and Other Zen texts). The text from which the collection derived its name Marvelous Cat is a training manual used by a fencing school whose author according to Dürckheim was an early seventeenth century Zen master named Ito Tenzaa Chuya. Dürckheim writes that the manual had been given to him by “my Zen teacher” Admiral Teramoto Takeharu. Admiral Teramoto was a professor at the Naval Academy in Tokyo and also a Japanese fencing (kendō) adept. The text is about “das Wirken, das aus der großen Kraft kommt” (the kind of action that comes from the Great Power). “Große Kraft” here functions as translation of the Japanese ki no sho.123 Dürckheim probably got his hands on this text during his first stay in Japan and took the phrase from there when he wrote Vom rechten Mann.

The expression “inner space” with which Dürckheim characterized Zen experience also reappears in Vom rechten Mann. He used it to describe a form of meditation already resembling the centering of the body in the hara that was to become so important in Dürckheim’s post-war writing. It also partly sounds like a paraphrase of Suzuki’s recreation of the warriors’ “in a quiet corner of their Unconscious”:

When things become really bad and unrest threatens even his heart, then he turns inward and locks himself up in the innermost space of his soul. This space is his secret. There he recollects himself in his deepest centre. Totally silent he settles himself, lifts his heart and lets his mind and senses calm down again in God. Even in the middle of the greatest turmoil he always finds the moment to let go of everything, to lower the shoulders and breath deeply. And he does not stop this until he experiences the power of the great centre again.124

The different points that in Dürckheim’s view distinguish Zen from other schools of Buddhism were also essential to his German völkisch religiosity which was supposed to support the Führerstaat and its policies. His concept of inter-völkisch contacts allowed him to affirm the integration of elements from foreign religions and cultures into the German völkisch worldview. He thus proceeded to introduce ideas from what he perceived to be the Japanese völkisch worldview and to transform them in such a way that they would fit and enrich the Nazi-German worldview. On the one hand, transnational religions like Buddhism were only of minor importance to him compared with völkisch religious worldviews. On the other hand, he followed Suzuki and Herrigel’s analysis of Zen’s influence on Japanese culture, arguing that as a völkisch transformed Buddhism it was of essential importance to Yamato-damashii.

That he began to blend his own völkisch religiosity with Zen concepts can also be seen from an undated letter to a Japanese friend quoted by Wehr. Dürckheim wrote:

If I reflect upon the ruling classes of the future, well, I think, they will perhaps revolve around something like a political, i.e., völkisch satori, which is at the same time a super-völkisch satori, that is to say, around a spiritual breakthrough towards ultimate reality – but a breakthrough in which the searching subject is not the individual but a greater self which attains consciousness within the individual.”125

Wehr interprets this passage as evidence of Dürckheim having overcome Nazi ideology during his stay in Japan (actually the only one he could find). According to his interpretation the “greater self” mentioned in this text corresponds to C. G. Jung’s concept of the “self” as a goal of the process of individuation. But the text fits perfectly with all we know about Dürckheim’s Nazi worldview, if one sees the “greater self” as referring to the Volk, as the whole passage suggests. Once again the awakening to ultimate reality and the awakening of the Volk within the individual are identified with each other in a völkisch-super-völkisch enlightenment.


One could say that Dürckheim, like the Japanese protagonists of the Zen-Bushidō ideology, instrumentalized religion in the service of political totalitarianism. He did do so not as a secularized non-believer but as someone for whom the German and Japanese Volk had religious significance because he understood them and their political systems as manifestations of the Divine. Dürckheim maintained that their völkisch worldviews as a reflection of the reality of the Volk should be endowed with a genuine religious dimension.

Dürckheim obviously did not intend a kind of new institutionalized church-like national religion for Nazi Germany, be it neo-pagan or völkisch Christian. When the state represents the Volk and the Volk is the highest revelation of ultimate reality then religious organisations become superfluous. Political rituals and state holidays take the place of religious rituals and feasts. Out of this came Dürckheim’s sympathies for state-supported Shintō, the Japanese state’s ideology and cult. He probably envisioned adding spiritual exercises based on the model of Japanese Zen arts to these quasi-religious forms of expression of the holy Volksgeist – at least for the German elites.

Dürckheim’s Nazi thought is a good example of the enormous aggressive potential of such a politicised religiosity. A religiosity that would stop short of nothing should the display of a nation’s power and its rulers be at stake.

Karl Baier is a professor in the Department for the Study of Religions, University of Vienna. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and an M.A. in Catholic Theology. Major Writings include “Yoga auf dem Weg nach Westen” (1998), a book on the history of Yoga in the West, and his habilitation thesis “Meditation und Moderne” (Meditation and Modernity) that was published in two volumes in 2009. Karl Baier is a member of the European Network of Buddhist Christian Studies.

Recommended citation: Karl Baier, The Formation and Principles of Count Dürckheim’s Nazi Worldview and his interpretation of Japanese Spirit and Zen,The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 48, No. 3, December 2, 2013.

Related articles:

• Brian Daizen Victoria, Zen as a Cult of Death in the Wartime Writings of D.T. Suzuki

• Vladimir Tikhonov, South Korea’s Christian Military Chaplaincy in the Korean War - religion as ideology?

• Brian Victoria, Buddhism and Disasters: From World War II to Fukushima

• Brian Victoria, Karma, War and Inequality in Twentieth Century Japan


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Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro: Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture. Kyoto: Eastern Buddhist Society, 1938.

Tilitzki, Christian. Die deutsche Universitätsphilosophie in der Weimarer Republik und im Dritten Reich, Teil 1 und 2, Berlin: Akademieverlag, 2002.

Ular, Alexander. Die Bahn und der rechte Weg [1903]. Leipzig: Insel Verlag, 1917.

Wachutka, Michael. “‘A Living Past as the Nations´s Personality’: Jinnō shōtōki, Early Showa Nationalism, and Das Dritte Reich.” Japan Review 24 (2012), pp. 127-150.

Wehr, Gerhard. Karlfried Graf Dürckheim. Leben im Zeichen der Wandlung. Aktual. und gek. Neuauflage Freiburg/Br: Herder Verlag, 1996.

Weinhandl:, Ferdinand. “Zur religionsphilosophischen und psychologischen Würdigung des religiösen Erlebens“ in: Ignatius von Loyola. Die geistlichen Übungen. Eingel. und übertr. von Dr. Ferdinand Weinhandl, München: O.C. Recht Verlag, 1921, pp. 3-64.

_____. Wege der Selbstgestaltung. Gotha: Leopold Klotz Verlag, 1924.

_____. Meister Eckehart im Quellpunkt seiner Lehre. Zwei Beiträge zur Mystik Meister Eckharts. 2., vermehrte Aufl. Erfurt: Verlag Kurt Stenger, 1926.

_____. Person, Weltbild und Deutung. Erfurt: Verlag Kurt Stenger, 1926.

_____. “Über Verwandlung. Ein Brief” in: Hippius, Maria (ed.): Transzendenz als Erfahrung. Festschrift zum 70. Geburtstag von Graf Dürckheim. Weilheim/Obb.: Barth-Verlag. 1966, pp. 179-183.

Weinhandl, Margarete. Der innere Tag. Ein Handbuch zum Forschen in der Schrift. Stuttgart: Verlag J. F. Steinkopf, 1928.

Worm, Herbert. “Japanologie im Nationalsozialismus“ in: Krebs, Gerhard / Martin, Bernd (ed.): Formierung und Fall der Achse Berlin-Tōkyo. München: iudicium verlag 1994, pp. 153-186.


1 See, Hitler, Mein Kampf, pp. 318-319.

2 See Wehr, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, p. 15.

3 Dürckheim, Der Weg ist das Ziel, p. 26.

4 Ibd., pp. 26-27.

5 Dürckheim, Erlebnis und Wandlung, p. 29.

6 See Dürckheim, The Japanese Cult of Tranquility, p. 44 and Section II of this article.

7 See Wehr, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, pp. 26-31.

8 E.g. Heimatgrüße 4 (26 March 1915), p. 10: “Fei lusti bleib´n / Die Russen vatreib´n / Die Serben vaprügeln, / Die sakrischen Rigeln.” (“Certainly continue to be merry, / Chasing the Russians, / Beating the Serbs, / those terrible hulks.”) All German texts have been translated by the author.

9 See Weinhandl, “Zur religionsphilosophischen und psychologischen Würdigung des religiösen Erlebens.” p. 63.

10 See ibid., p. 26.

11 See Deutsches Nonnenleben.

12 Habilitation is the highest academic qualification one can obtain at a German university. It is similar to the attainment of a research doctorate, but on a higher level of scholarship. The candidate has to write and defend a thesis that is reviewed by an academic committee.

13 Ignatius von Loyola, Die geistlichen Übungen; Ferdinand Weinhandl, Meister Eckehart im Quellpunkt seiner Lehre.

14 See Dürckheim, Mein Weg zur Mitte, p. 13.

15 Wehr, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, p. 46.

16 Dürckheim, Mein Weg zu Mitte, p. 13.

17 Völkisch thought as a kind of ethnic nationalism interprets religion and culture in general as expressions of the Volk (lit. “people, nation”) as the most basic “organic” unit of human life. The meaning of “völkisch” and “Volk” will be explained in more detail below.

18 Weinhandl, Person, Weltbild und Deutung, p. 44, p. 99. The Teutonic Faustian lifestyle (derived from Goethe´s famous drama ‘Faust’) usually was depicted as involving both a search for the deepest meaning of life and an active shaping of the world in contrast to pessimistic worldviews and passive world-negating mysticism.

19 Herrigel, “Die ritterliche Kunst des Bogenschiessens.”

20 Ibid., p. 209. Cf. Deeg, “Aryan National Religion(s) and the Criticism of Ascetism”.

21 Dürckheim-Montmartin, Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist, p. 39.

22 Ular, Die Bahn und der rechte Weg. The astonishing popularity of Ular´s translation is shown by Grasmück, Geschichte und Aktualität der Daoismusrezeption im deutschsprachigen Raum, p. 65. The way in which Ular uses the terms “Volk” and “Gemeinschaft” (community) in his translation of Laozi may have supported his popularity within the völkisch cultic milieu.

23 Cf. Wehr, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, 37. Laozi, Daodejing, chapter 11: “Thirty spokes unite in one nave and on that which is non-existent on the hole in the nave depends the wheel's utility. Clay is molded into a vessel and on that which is non-existent on its hollowness depends the vessel's utility. By cutting out doors and windows we build a house and on that which is non-existent on the empty space within depends the house's utility.Therefore, existence renders actual but non-existence renders useful." (translated by Daisetz Suzuki and Paul Carus in 1913)

24 Cf. ibid., p. 43.

25 Ferdinand Weinhandl, Wege der Selbstgestaltung (Methods of Self-Development) reflects the diversity of practices the Square knew and might have experimented with.

26 See Dürckheim, Mein Weg zur Mitte, p. 15. Georg Grimm (1868-1945) was a pioneer of Buddhism in Germany and cofounder of the Theravada-oriented “Altbudddhistische Gemeinde” (Old-Buddhist Community). Unfortunately, Dürckheim does not reveal which of Grimm´s books he actually studied.

27 Campbell, “The Cult, the Cultic Milieu and Secularisation”. Campbell defined the cultic milieu as a social setting in which a society´s deviant belief systems and practices are produced and handed down in varying cult movements with a relatively low level of institutionalization.

28 Poewe, New Religions and the Nazis, p. 39.

29 For this see Hippius, “Am Faden von Zeit und Ewigkeit,” p. 13.

30 The millenarianism of the “new man” was not only important for the right-wing counterculture. It was at the same time widespread among socialists.

31 Dürckheim, Erlebnis und Wandlung, p. 35.

32 Weinhandl, “Über Verwandlung. Ein Brief,” p. 179.

33 See Junginger, “Die Deutsche Glaubensbewegung als ideologisches Zentrum der völkisch-religiösen Bewegung,” pp. 68-70; Gerstner, Neuer Adel.

34 The old idea of a “Third Reich“ was popularized in the 1920s by the widely read manifesto of Moeller van den Bruck, Das Dritte Reich that significantly influenced the early NSDAP.

35 Tilitzki, Die deutsche Universitätsphilosophie in der Weimarer Republik und im Dritten Reich, p. 175.

36 Weinhandl, Person, Weltbild und Deutung, p. 55.

37 Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 514.

38 Poewe, New Religions and the Nazis, p. 37.

39 Cf. Junginger, “Deutsche Glaubensbewegung,” p. 200 fn. 5.

40 Cf. Tilitziki, Die deutsche Universitätsphilosophie, p. 178. Within the Third Reich, Weinhandl acted as a dedicated follower of the Regime, who supported it not only through his philosophy but also with his participation in the burning of books at the central square in Kiel in 1933 and by his work in several compliant academic organisations. In 1938 he became the scientific director of the Scientific Academy of the NSD Dozentenbund. Shortly before the end of the Regime, it is quite likely that tensions between him and the NSDAP arose, perhaps because of his religious commitment and interest in spiritual renewal. However, he did not join the party when he came back to Austria in 1944 and therefore was treated as “less involved” after the war. See Rollett, “Ferdinand Weinhandl,” p. 413.

41 Cf. Tilitzki, Die deutsche Universitätsphilosophie, p. 627.

42 Cf. Goodrick-Clarke, The Occult Roots of Nazism; Cancik, Antisemitismus, Paganismus, völkische Religion; Schnurbein, Völkische Religion und Krisen der Moderne; Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung im wilhelminischen Kaiserreich; Gailus / Nolzen (ed.), Zerstrittene ‚Volksgemeinschaft’; Puschner / Vollnhals (ed.), Die völkisch-religiöse Bewegung im Nationalsozialismus.

43 Puschner / Vollnhals (ed.), “Die völkisch-religiöse Bewegung im Nationalsozialismus. Forschungs- und problemgeschichtliche Perspektiven,” p. 15.

44 Cf. Weinhandl, Der innere Tag, pp. 149-151; pp. 174-176.

45 Dürckheim, Mein Weg zur Mitte, p. 15.

46The importance of the motive of transformation towards the “new man” in Dürckheim’s early days is mentioned in Wehr, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, p. 37.

47 Hippius, “Am Faden von Zeit und Ewigkeit,” p. 14, note 1. For the Traditionalist School see Sedgwick, Against the Modern World.

48 Dürckheim had been inspired by an article of Evola published in 1965 to call his kind of psychotherapy “Initiatic Therapy.” This motivated him to visit Evola in Rome. Cf. Wehr, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, pp. 179-181. The relationship between Dürkheim and Evola is analyzed further by Hansen, “Julius Evola und Karlfried Graf Dürckheim.”

49 Weinhandl, “Zur religionsphilosophischen und psychologischen Würdigung,” p. 38. (Italics, Weinhandl).

50 See Scherer, “Organische Weltanschauung und Ganzheitspsychologie,” pp. 15-16.

51 Dürckheim-Montmartin, “Zweck und Wert im Sinngefüge des Handelns,” pp. 230-31.

52 Geuter, “The Whole and the Community: Scientific and Political Reasoning in the Holistic Psychology of Felix Krueger,” p. 202. Cf. Harrington: Reenchanted Science.

53 In 1929 Freyer’s positive assessment was crucial for Dürkheim’s habilitation. Like other radical conservatives and völkisch intellectuals, Freyer set high hopes in the dawn of the Third Reich, but was soon disillusioned. See Muller: The Other God That Failed.

54 Tilitzki, Die deutsche Universitätsphilosophie, p. 527.

55 See Geuter, “The Whole and the Community,” p. 204.

56 Ibid., p. 205.

57 Ibid., p, 206.

58 Dürckheim-Montmartin, Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist, p. 141.

59 Dürckheim-Montmartin, “Gemeinschaft,” p. 206 (Italics, Dürckheim).

60 Dürckheim-Montmartin, “Zweck und Wert im Sinngefüge des Handelns,” p. 234. Nevertheless, Dürckheim sometimes emphasizes the importance of individuality and individual responsibility. But from his holistic perspective the creativity and responsibility of individuals are only legitimate insofar they enhance the fulfilment of the requirements of the greater whole. See e.g. Dürckheim-Montmartin, Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist, pp. 10-11.

61 Dürckheim-Montmartin, “Gemeinschaft,” p. 207. Brackets and the words in brackets are part of the original text. In Nazi German the term Rassenfrage, racial question, referred to all the problems that arise as a result of the cohabitation of the Aryan race with alien races, and especially the Jews. Dürckheim here legitimates the racial policy of the Third Reich with his theory of the organic community as a closed whole.

62 Dürckheim, “Zweck und Wert im Sinngefüge des Handelns,” p. 231.

63 See Dürckheim-Montmartin: Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist, p. 146.

64 Ibd., p. 142.

65 Cf. Dürckheim-Montmartin, “Zweck und Wert im Sinngefüge des Handelns,” pp. 233-34, Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist, p. 146.

66 Dürckheim-Montmartin, “Zweck und Wert im Sinngefüge des Handelns,” p. 233.

67 Dürckheim-Montmartin: Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist, p. 151.

68 Ibid., p. 147.

69 Ibid., p. 49.

70 See ibid., p. 146 and p. 7. In Mein Kampf and in his speeches Hitler often invokes his belief and faith in the German Volk.

71 Ibid., p. 147.

72 Cf. the definition of what it means to be religious that Dürckheim gives in Der Geist der europäischen Kultur (1943), quoted in Wehr, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, p. 118. According to this text to be religious means to direct one’s life to the realization of the Divine within the concrete forms of earthly life. “Whenever we successfully develop this orientation then primarily our own Volk presents itself to us as a manifestation of the divine ground of the world, a manifestation whose unfolding is our responsibility.”

73 Dürckheim-Montmartin, Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist, p. 8.

74 “Shujo-Dan”; “Tradition und Gegenwart in Japan”; “Japan’s Kampf um Japan”; “Das Geheimnis der japanischen Kraft.”

75 Eckprecht (pseudonym): Vom rechten Mann. Christian Tilitzki, Die Deutsche Universitätsphilosophie, Teil 2, p. 130 was the first to point out that Dürckheim is the author of this book.

76 I would like to thank Brian Victoria for providing me with a copy of Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist.

77 I took the content of the preface to the first edition from Kimura: Der ostwestliche Goethe, p. 340.

78 Dürckheim-Montmartin, “‘Europe’?”.

79 Cf. Wehr, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, p. 117. According to Wehr the archive numbers of the manuscripts are C59/1017 and C59/1013. The Japanese publications: Maisuteru Ekkuharuto. Doitsuteki Shinko no Honshitsu (Meister Eckhart. The Essence of Germanic Faith) Tokyo: Risosha, 1943; Yoroppa Bunka no Shinzui. Chikyutetsugakuteki Kosatsu (The Essence of European Culture. Global Philosophical Considerations). Tokyo: Rokumeikan, 1944.

80 Dürckheim, Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist, p. 175.

81 Dürckheim, Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist, p. 3. (Italics, Dürckheim)

82 See Dürckheim-Montmartin, “Tradition und Gegenwart in Japan,” p. 196.

83 Dürckheim-Montmartin, “Shujo-Dan,” p. 23.

84 Dürckheim-Montmartin, “Tradition und Gegenwart in Japan,” p. 197.

85 Cited from Wehr, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, p. 114.

86 Shujo-Dan, p. 23.

87 Jinnō Shōtōki referred to by Dürckheim-Montmartin, “Das Geheimnis der japanischen Kraft”, p. 69 fn. 1.

88Wachutka, “‘A Living Past as the Nation’s Personality’,” p. 140.

89 Bohner, who had lived in Japan since 1921, and Dürckheim almost certainly knew each other personally as Dürckheim was busy contacting German scholars in Japan and especially sympathizers of the Nazis. In 1943 Bohner dedicated his translation of Akaji Sōtei’s Chashitsu-kakemono Zengo-Tsūkai “Zen-Worte im Tee-Raume“ (Zen words within the tea-room) to Dürckheim.

90 Jinnō Shōtōki, pp. 3-4.

91 Cf. Dürckheim-Montmartin, Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist, p. 2.

92 See Dürckheim-Montmartin, “Tradition und Gegenwart in Japan,” pp. 197-98.

93 Dürckheim-Montmartin, “Das Geheimnis japanischer Kraft”, p. 78.

94 Ibid.

95 Quoted from Worm, “Japanologie im Nationalsozialismus”, p. 184.

96 Dürckheim-Montmartin, Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist, p. 32.

97 Ibid., pp. 32-33.

98 Cf. Dürckheim-Montmartin, “Das Geheimnis der japanischen Kraft,” p. 70.

99 Dürckheim-Montmartin, “Das Geheimnis der japanischen Kraft,” p. 69. More about Yamato-damashii in Section II of this article.

100 In his earlier article, “Tradition und Gegenwart in Japan,” p. 201, Dürckheim in a slightly different way discriminates three pillars of the Japanese worldview: 1) Tennō (emperor), 2) faith in divine heroes, and 3) ancestors and family as basic forms of human life.

101 See Dürckheim-Montmartin, “Das Geheimnis der japanischen Kraft,” p. 75, ref. 1.

102 Dürckheim-Montmartin, “Das Geheimnis der japanischen Kraft,” p. 75.

103 Cf. Suzuki, Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture, p. 36: “Zen has no special doctrine or philosophy with a set of intellectual formulas, except that it tries to release from the bondage of birth and death and this by means of certain intuitive modes of understanding peculiar to itself.”

104 Cf. ibid., p. 4: “Zen wants us to see directly into the spirit of Buddha.”

105 Suzuki’s Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture does not focus on this aspect of Zen. It is a central point of Herrigel’s interpretation of Zen supposed in his article on archery.

106 Dürckheim here follows Suzuki, Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture, pp. 35-40.

107 Ibid., p. 76.

108 See ibid.

109 Dürckheim-Montmartin, “Tradition und Gegenwart in Japan,” p. 201.

110 Suzuki: Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture, pp. 143-44.

111 Dürckheim-Montmartin, Das Geheimnis der japanischen Kraft, p. 79. (Italics, Dürckheim)

112 Herrigel, „Die ritterliche Kunst des Bogenschiessens“, p. 211.

113 Eckprecht, Vom rechten Mann, p. 49.

114 Suzuki, Zen Buddhism and its Influence on Japanese Culture, p. 67.

115 Eckprecht, Vom rechten Mann, p. 44.

116 Eckprecht, Vom rechten Mann, p. 45.

117 Cf. Dürckheim-Montmartin, Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist, p. 50.

118 Dürckheim-Montmartin, Neues Deutschland. Deutscher Geist, p. 50. (Italics, Dürckheim)

119 Dürckheim-Montmartin, Das Geheimnis der japanischen Kraft, p. 75.

120 Cf. Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 256. On his research trip through South Africa in 1934 where on behalf of the Ministry of Education Dürckheim investigated the cultural and educational situation of Germans in relation to the new regime, he wrote in his diary: “At 7:30 I sit at my desk and first read for at least half an hour in Mein Kampf; this gives me the right frame of mind for the day. . .” (cit. from Wehr: Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, p. 78).

121 Eckprecht, Vom rechten Mann, p. 9 (quotation marks), p. 20, p. 39 (quotation marks), p. 55 (quotation marks).

122 Ibid., p. 20.

123 Dürckheim, Wunderbare Katze, p. 64.

124 Eckbrecht, Vom rechten Mann, p. 47.

125 Wehr, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, p. 120.
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Re: D.T. Suzuki, Zen and the Nazis, by Brian Daizen Victoria

Postby admin » Fri Aug 09, 2019 1:18 am

Buddhism and Disasters: From World War II to Fukushima 
by Brian Victoria
The Asia-Pacific Journal
Volume 10 | Issue 11 | Number 7
March 5, 2012

Abstract: This article explores the longstanding relationship between Buddhism and disasters in Japan, focusing on Buddhism's role in the aftermath of the Asia-Pacific War and the Tohoku disaster of March 2011. Buddhism is well positioned to address these disasters because of its emphasis on the centrality of suffering derived from the impermanent nature of existence. Further, parallels between certain Buddhist doctrines and their current, disaster-related cultural expressions in Japan are examined. It is also suggested that Japanese Buddhism revisit certain socially regressive doctrinal interpretations.

Keywords: Buddhism, disasters, suffering, impermanence, kamikaze, Fukushima, Asia-Pacific War, tsunami, Stoicism, discrimination

Zen monk reciting sutras amidst tsunami destruction

It is safe to say that in considering the events of March 11, 2011 including the ongoing disaster at the Dai-ichi Fukushima nuclear power plant, Buddhism is not the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, as suggested by the preceding iconic poster, Buddhism's connection to calamities in Japan has a long history, beginning with its introduction to the country in the sixth century. In fact, Buddhism owes its very existence in Japan to the early belief that it had the power to protect the country from various calamities, whether natural or human. Buddhism's role in this regard has long been encapsulated in the title "nation-protecting Buddhism" (gokoku bukkyo).

Needless to say, Buddhism's ability to protect the nation was severely tested, if not effectively destroyed, by Japan's defeat in the Asia-Pacific War. That is to say, this defeat occurred despite the fervent rituals and prayers for Japan's victory conducted by Japan's leading Buddhist clerics. Nevertheless, Buddhism has an even deeper connection to disasters, one that could not be eradicated even by defeat in war, that is, its connection to suffering and death.

Buddhist priests and coffins of tsunami victims

Just how closely Buddhism is connected to suffering can readily be seen in Buddhism's basic teachings as encapsulated in the Four Noble Truths:

1. Life means suffering.

2. The origin of suffering is attachment.

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.

4. The path to the cessation of suffering.

While Buddhism is not the pessimistic religion that some have alleged in that it does offer a way to end suffering, it nevertheless stresses that suffering, leading to death sooner or later, is inherent to the human condition. Thus, disasters, when they occur, are not seen as anything new or surprising but rather as further proof of the inevitability of suffering based on the fundamental Buddhist insight of the impermanence of all things.

Inasmuch as Buddhism enjoys a near monopoly on funeral rites in Japan it was inevitable that photographs of priests praying over the coffins of tsunami victims would quickly appear. What is unusual about the above photo, however, is that the victims are being buried without first having been cremated. This is explained by the need to quickly bury the large number of victims in an area where crematoria were no longer operating. These particular victims will later be disinterred and cremated when conditions allow.

As massive as the loss of life was due to the tsunami, it pales in comparison with the loss of life during the Asia-Pacific War. As the following photograph reveals, Buddhist priests also played a significant role in that war, that is, as Buddhist chaplains whose major role was, as now, to oversee the cremation (when feasible) and burial of the dead.

Buddhist military chaplain

Unlike US military chaplains, Buddhist chaplains did not wear military uniforms, but their military boots and pith helmets made it clear that they, too, were part of Japan's military effort. Many commanders found it comforting to have their unit's Buddhist chaplain accompany them on periodic tours of the front lines based on the belief that the priest's allegedly miraculous powers would insure their safety.

Nevertheless, behind all Buddhist chaplains' "practical work" on the battlefield lay a metaphysics that promoted a value that became increasingly important the longer the war lasted - resignation to one's death. Buddhism was seen as providing the quickest route to acquiring the needed resignation, for it was Buddhism that taught living means to suffer since neither human nature nor the world we live in are perfect. During our lifetime, we inevitably endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, old age, weakness, and eventually death; and we have to endure such psychological suffering as sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. Thus, life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete because our world is subject to impermanence. Since we are never able to keep permanently what we strive for, we must accept that we ourselves as well as all we hold dear will inevitably pass away.

Kamikaze pilot covered in cherry blossoms

Once this metaphysical foundation has been grasped we can better understand the suicidal, if tactically meaningless, "banzai" charges that characterized the latter stages of the war. This includes, of course, the suicidal attacks of so-called kamikaze pilots. One Sōtō Zen scholar glorified these pilots as follows: "The source of the spirit of the Special Attack Forces [i.e., kamikaze] 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."1

In Japanese culture, of course, it is the fragile and short-lived cherry blossom that best embodies the idea of impermanence. Thus, as shown in the following picture, the cherry blossom quickly became associated with those youth called upon to sacrifice their lives in a desperate attempt to avert defeat.

And, as the following cherry blossom-decorated photo shows, Japan's rocket-propelled, bomber-launched, suicide plane was also called Ōka (Cherry Blossom).

If these photos seem far removed from recent events, it is worth recalling the photos of workers in the early days of the Fukushima accident headed into the dark and dangerous nuclear reactor buildings. Japanese commentators appropriately referred to such laborers as possessed of the same kamikaze spirit: "At Fukushima, a core of several hundred workers essentially sacrificed themselves in the early stages of the disaster…‘I don't know of any other way to say it, but this is like suicide fighters in a war,' said University of Tokyo radiology professor Keiichi Nakaga."2

Cause of Suffering

Ōka plane

In Buddhism the cause of suffering is seen as stemming from attachment, that is, attachment to transient things and the ignorance thereof. Transient things not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and in a greater sense, all objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardor, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow. Objects of attachment also include the idea of a "self" that is a delusion, because there is no abiding self. What we call "self" is just an imagined entity, and we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe.

Worker in the early days of the Fukushima accident

In the years since the advent of the Heisei period (1989), Japan has experienced numerous crises, ranging from political, financial, and social turmoil to natural disasters, as if inheriting the turbulence of the previous eventful and painful Showa history (1926-89). In the face of calamity, however, the Japanese people have always impressed the world with their extreme resilience and what is often referred to as their "stoicism." It has been generally suggested that the Japanese people are impressively responsive to disasters, given their all too frequent experience of calamity in an island country located on the Pacific "rim of fire."

Stoicism, however, is an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

Buddhism, on the other hand, does not teach indifference to the vicissitudes of life but rather recognition of them as an integral part of the very fabric of an all too impermanent existence. Thus, while suffering remains real, at least to the degree one remains attached to the world, the bitter sting of impermanence is nevertheless alleviated to some degree by the realization of its inevitability. Thus, rather than stoics, the Japanese may best be characterized as simply "realists."

This may also help to explain, at least in part, why the Japanese, by and large, do not seem as susceptible as many others to what psychologists have called the "normalcy bias." The normalcy bias refers to a mental state that people enter when facing a disaster resulting in underestimation of both the possibility of a disaster occurring as well as its possible effects. This often results in situations where people fail to adequately prepare for a disaster, and, on a larger scale, the failure of governments to include the populace in their disaster preparations. The assumption is made that since a disaster never occurred in the past, then it will not occur in the future. It also results in the inability of people to cope with a disaster once it does occur. While there is clearly room to criticize the Japanese government for its past and present lack of disaster preparedness, the Japanese people as a whole do respond with admirable calm and discipline.

If being a "realist" and overcoming the "normalcy bias" may be viewed as positive traits, it is also true that the Japanese have often been identified as having a "stoic attitude" based on their embrace of gaman, or in its verb form gaman suru. Interestingly, this term has deep Buddhist roots in that it is derived from the Sanskrit word māna, (conceit). In its original Buddhist meaning this term had a clearly negative meaning in that it designated one of seven types of human conceit, that is, attachment to self (ga). Yet following the onset of the Edo period in 1600 the fact that "self-attachment" was such an enduring human characteristic led to its negative Buddhist meaning being replaced with a positive meaning in which gaman suru now refers to the ability to endure adversity no matter how severe. In fact, gaman is today often regarded as one of the quintessential Japanese virtues or unique national characteristics. The question must be raised, however, as to what was lost by this medieval change from its original Buddhist meaning, especially when gaman can and has been used to justify the endurance of human-created injustice, including exposure to nuclear radiation?

Yet another popular Japanese term stemming from Buddhism is hōben (Skt. upāya) or "skillful means." The skillful means referred to here is the Buddha's ability to adjust his message, that is, the teaching of the Dharma, to meet the spiritual needs and understanding of his listeners. Any such adjustment, however, must be guided by both wisdom and compassion. Nevertheless, over the centuries another meaning of upāya has emerged, a meaning best translated as "expedient means." Thus, what is "expedient" for the speaker becomes an acceptable expression of the truth. This latter meaning is best captured by the Japanese phrase uso mo hōben (a lie is also expedient means). In a recent article in The Japan Times, the naturalized Japanese Debito Arudou pointed out that the widespread acceptance of this phrase has led to a general attitude in Japan of tolerating, even justifying, not telling the truth, at least the whole truth. Needless to say, nowhere has this tolerance been more evident than in the Japanese government's continued obfuscation of the seriousness of events linked to Fukushima, most especially the ongoing and widespread radiation contamination. Arudou writes:

Post-Fukushima Japan must realize that public acceptance of lying got us into this radioactive mess in the first place. For radiation has no media cycle. It lingers and poisons the land and food chain. Statistics may be obfuscated or suppressed as usual. But radiation's half-life is longer than the typical attention span or sustainable degree of public outrage. As the public — possibly worldwide — sickens over time, the truth will leak out.3

How ironic that it took a naturalized Japanese of Western origin to point out just how twisted the popular Japanese understanding of a key Buddhist doctrine has become.

Similarities and Differences with World War II

On August 28, 1945, shortly after Japan's surrender, Prime Minister Higashikuni declared: "The military, civilian officials, and the people as a whole must thoroughly self-reflect and repent. I believe that the collective repentance of the hundred million (ichioku sōzange) is the first step in the resurrection of our country, the first step in bringing unity to our country."4

By employing the Buddhist term zange (repentance), Higashikuni effectively shielded Japan's political and military leaders, including the emperor, from any criticism or responsibility for Japan's disastrous defeat. However, as revealed in the following "Verse of Repentance" (Zangemon), Buddhist repentance refers to a personal acknowledgement of moral imperfection.

The various evil deeds that I have done in the past, all stem from beginningless greed, hatred and delusion. These deeds were born from body, speech and mind, and I now repent them all.5

Higashikuni cleverly invoked Buddhist repentance to socialize, and thereby excuse, the political recklessness if not criminality of Japan's wartime political and military leaders, thereby making each and every Japanese personally responsible for the disaster visited on the Japanese people as well as Asian victims of Japanese aggression.

Further, Higashikuni's approach was echoed by related sentiments on the part of Japan's leading Buddhists. Sōtō Zen scholar-priest Masanaga Reiho, for example, stated on September 15, 1945:

The cause of Japan's defeat . . . was that 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.6

The question is, did something similar occur during the recent disaster? The answer, as many readers already know, was that it did, as seen in the words of Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintaro. On March 14, 2011 Ishihara held a press conference at which he stated:

The identity of the Japanese people is greed. This tsunami represents a good opportunity to cleanse this greed (gayoku), and one that we must avail ourselves of. Indeed, I think this is divine punishment…though I do feel sorry for the disaster victims.7

In making this claim, it should be noted that Ishihara was following a well-established Buddhist precedent in Japan, one that be traced back at least as far as priest Nichiren in the thirteenth century. In 1260, with Japan facing a series of calamities at home and the threat of Mongol invasion from abroad, Nichiren submitted his famous Risshō-ankoku-ron (Treatise on Pacifying the Country through the Establishment of True [Buddhism]) to Japan's warrior rulers in Kamakura. The first dialogue contained the following passage:

The people of today all turn their backs upon what is right; they give their allegiance to evil. That is the reason why the benevolent deities have abandoned the nation, why sages leave and do not return, and in their stead come devils and demons, disasters and calamities that arise one after another.

This viewpoint was similarly invoked during the Asia-Pacific War as an expression of karmic recompense.

There is not so much as a single bullet flying from the enemy that happens by chance. It is definitely the work of karma, for it is karma that makes it strike home…Your husband died because of his karma…It was the inevitability of karma that caused your husband's death. In other words, your husband was only meant to live for as long as he did. In those bereaved that have recovered their composure, one sees the realization that their husband's death was due to the consistent working of karma. No one was to blame [for his death] nor was anyone in the wrong. No one bears responsibility for what happened, for it was simply his karma to die.8

Despite these clear precedents, however, this time Ishihara's attempt to blame the victims for their victimization created such an uproar that he was forced to apologize. Thus, on the following day, March 15th, the Governor held a second press conference at which he retracted his remarks and offered "a deep apology" for having made them.9

Commenting on Ishihara's remarks, John Nelson, chairman of theology and religious studies at the University of San Francisco, noted that his remarks about divine retribution stemmed from ancient Japanese Buddhist ideas that have now become unpopular.10

While ancient Japanese did embrace an understanding of karma exemplified by Ishihara's remarks, it should be noted that such views were not those of Buddhist doctrine. On the contrary, according to Buddhist doctrine, karma refers to only the first of five rules or processes that cause effects. The five rules are: 1) The positive or negative moral consequences of one's actions; 2) Laws of nature; 3) Seasonal changes and climate; 4) Genetic inheritance; and 5) Processes of consciousness. Thus it is clearly mistaken, though popular, to claim that natural events like earthquakes, tsunami, etc. are the result of human moral failures, that is, their karma. Nevertheless, in Japanese Buddhism this mistaken understanding of karma has long been employed to place blame on the victims of misfortune, including social injustice.

In truth, something similar can be said of at least some representatives of the world's major religions. In Christianity, for example, Rev Gerhard Wagner, 54, was quoted in his local parish newsletter as saying that the death and destruction of Hurricane Katrina was "divine retribution" for New Orleans' tolerance of homosexuals and laid-back sexual attitudes. Subsequent to his remarks, the Vatican made this Roman Catholic Austrian cleric a bishop.11

In Israel, Shas spiritual leader and former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef described Hurricane Katrina as punishment meted out by God as a result of US President George W. Bush's support for the Gaza and northern West Bank disengagement. Nor was that all. "There was a tsunami and there are terrible natural disasters, because there isn't enough Torah study… black people reside there (in New Orleans). Blacks will study the Torah? (God said) let's bring a tsunami and drown them," the Rabbi said.12 Clearly the cause of disasters of whatever kind remains a controversial topic among the world's religions.

War Victims as "Polluted"

Yet another ancient religious belief in Japan is that disaster victims become "polluted" by their experience. While the idea of ritual pollution originally comes from Shinto, it has become firmly entrenched in the Buddhist-Shinto syncretism so typical of today's Japan. Referencing the aftermath of the Asia-Pacific War, John Dower noted:

Despite a mild Buddhist tradition of care for the weak and infirm…whole new categories of "improper" people felt the sting of stigmatization. These included the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with their taint of – really, their pollution by – radiation; war orphans and street children…War widows …And homeless ex-servicemen or any of the other abandoned people who clogged public places such as Tokyo's Ueno Station.13

As the following photo only too graphically reveals, pollution due to radiation exposure has once again become the focus of the public's attention.

Child undergoing a radiation check

The April 3, 2011 edition of Newsweek described the current situation in Japan as follows:

People living near the damaged reactor have already begun to face discrimination. They have been barred from staying in inns outside Fukushima prefecture. Angry motorists in Tokyo and other cities have complained that Fukushima-plate-bearing cars were "contaminated." Some Minamisoma citizens have sought treatment at medical clinics in cities beyond the buffer zone, only to be turned away because they didn't have "radiation-free" certificates…children evacuated from Fukushima prefecture—especially from the exclusion and buffer zones—and sent to centers in Tokyo and other cities were now being singled out for rough treatment in elementary schools. Their classmates were shunning them and taunting them as being "irradiated"…As Japan reckons with its latest nuclear tragedy, the suffering endured by the hibakushas still weighs heavy on the land.

Final Comments

As the foregoing comments make clear, the distance between the Asia-Pacific War and the still unfolding events precipitated by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 is typically much less understood. The same can be said for Buddhism's relationship between the two. It is not difficult to envision that as victims of Japan's ongoing radiation contamination contract such illnesses as cancer, and die, that Buddhist priests will once again conduct their funerals and memorial services, understanding their demise as but another manifestation of impermanence. Yet Buddhism also has a strong commitment to compassion based on the realization of the ultimate identity of all things. One is left to ponder what practical impact, beyond conducting funerals, this commitment will have on the lives of the victims of the world's largest industrial accident. Given Buddhism's long history in Japan of blaming victims for their misfortune, one cannot be too sanguine about the future.

That said, it is noteworthy that there are a handful of Buddhist priests like Zen-affiliated Abe Koyu, abbot of Joenji temple in Fukushima city. In addition to offering prayers for the thousands left dead or missing from the multiple disasters, he has undertaken the additional task of searching out radioactive "hot spots" in the Fukushima city area and cleaning them up, storing the irradiated earth on the grounds of his own temple. Further, in the summer of 2011 Abe grew and distributed sunflowers and other plants, such as field mustard and amaranthus, in an effort to lighten the impact of the radiation and cheer local residents. Abe explained that he and the other monks are storing the soil on a hill behind the temple because neither the government nor the nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) are helping with the clean-up. "No-one else would take the soil. If there's nobody to take care of it, the decontamination can't get going because there's nowhere to get rid of it," Abe said. (“Japan Priest Fights Invisible Demon: Radiation,” available here.)

On the other hand, as Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s recent speech to foreign journalists revealed, the Japanese government has reverted to its timeworn stance of asserting that, as far as the Fukushima nuclear accident is concerned, all of the major players share responsibility. “Rather than blaming any individual person I believe everyone has to share the pain of responsibility and learn this lesson,” Noda claimed. (f.n. “Noda says no individual to blame for Fukushima nuclear crisis,” available here.) This stance means, of course, that no one need fear criminal prosecution for what is now widely recognized as the world’s greatest industrial accident to date. However, perhaps it should be considered ‘progress’ that Noda didn’t go on to assert the entire Japanese people bore responsibility for what happened.

In any event, given continued evasive comments like Noda’s, it would be well for all, Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike, to ponder the following words of Helen Caldicott, the Australian authority on the effects of nuclear radiation:

The early nuclear physicists in the Manhattan Project recognize[d] the toxicity of radioactive elements. I knew many of them quite well. They had hoped that peaceful nuclear energy would absolve their guilt over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but it has only extended it.14

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 professor of Japanese Studies and director of the AEA "Japan and Its Buddhist Traditions Program" at Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Recommended citation: Brian Victoria, 'Buddhism and Disasters: From World War II to Fukushima,' The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 10, Issue 11, No 7, March 12, 2012.

Responding to Disaster: Japan's 3.11 Catastrophe in Historical Perspective

Is a Special Issue of The Asia-Pacific Journal edited by Yau Shuk-ting, Kinnia

See the following articles:

• Yau Shuk-ting, Kinnia, Introduction

• Matthew Penney, Nuclear Nationalism and Fukushima

• Susan Napier, The Anime Director, the Fantasy Girl and the Very Real Tsunami

• Yau Shuk Ting, Kinnia, Therapy for Depression: Social Meaning of Japanese Melodrama in the Heisei Era

• Timothy S. George, Fukushima in Light of Minamata

• Shi-Lin Loh, Beyond Peace: Pluralizing Japan’s Nuclear History

• Brian Victoria, Buddhism and Disasters: From World War II to Fukushima

See the complete list of APJ resources on the 3.11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power meltdown, and the state and societal responses to it here.



1 Quoted in Brian Victoria, Zen at War, 2nd edition, p. 139. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006).

2 Harvey Wasserman, "Fukushima and the Radioactive Sea,"Counterpunch, May 26, 2011. link.

3 "The costly fallout of tatemae and Japan's culture of deceit," The Japan Times, November 1, 2011. link.

4 Quoted in John Dower, Embracing Defeat, 2000, p. 496. (New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2000).

5 Found in "The Practices & Vows of Samantabadra Bodhisattva," Avatamsaka Sutra, Chapter 40.

6 Quoted in Victoria, op cit, p. 160.

7 "‘Daishinsai wa tenbatsu' ‘Tsunami de gayoku arai otose' Ishihara tochiji,"Asahi Shimbun, March 14, 2011. Available here.

8 Quoted in Brian Victoria, Zen War Stories, Routledge, 2003, p. 159.

9 Justin McCurry, "Tokyo governor apologizes for calling tsunami ‘divine punishment," The Guardian, March 15, 2011. Available here.

10 "Tokyo Governor Apologizes for Calling Disasters Divine Punishment," Global News (@Sizly.com). Available here.

(Accessed on November 11, 2011)

11 Nick Pisa, "Cleric who said Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for how homosexuality is made bishop by Vatican," Mail Online, February 2, 2009. Available here. Due to the controversy surrounding his views, the Pope effectively revoked Wagner's appointment a month later.

12 Zvi Alush, "Rabbi: Hurricane punishment for pullout," ynetnews.com, July 5, 2009. Available here.

13 Dower, op cit, p. 61.

14 "Unsafe at Any Dose," New York Times, April 30, 2011. Available here.
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