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

DAISETZ T. SUZUKI
Philosophy East and West 4, no. 2, JULY 1954.
(c) by The University Press of Hawaii
p.167-174


. p.167 WHEN I READ Dr. Ames's able and stimulating article,"Zen and Pragmatism,"(1) I regretted that I had not made my points clear enough in my Zen articles, but at the same time I was thankful for having incited him to prepare such an illuminating paper. I realize that I make many inconsistent statements in my presentation of Zen, which unfortunately cause my readers some trouble in understanding Zen, In the following I will try to give--in brief-as much light as I can on my views so far made public. The one most-needed point in coming. around to the Zen way of viewing reality is that, negatively stated, Zen is where we cannot go any further in our ordinary way of reasoning, and that, positively, Zen is "pure subjectivity." "Pure subjectivity" requites a great deal of explanation, but I must be brief here. When we have an experience, say,when I see a flower and when I begin to talk about this perception to others or to myself, the talk inevitably falls into two pans: "this side" and "that side." '"That side" or "the other side" refers to the flower, the person to whom the talk is communicated, and what is generally called an external world, "This side". is the talker himself, that is, "I" Zen takes up this "I" as the subject of its study. What is "I"? That is,who is the self that is engaged in talking (or questioning)? How does the talker come to know "me" when I am the talker himself? How can I make myself "him"? If I succeed, I am no more "I" but "he," and "he" cannot be expected to know "me." As long as "I" am the talker, "I" am talking about me not as myself but as somebody who stands beside or opposite me. The self is an ever-receding one, one who is forever going away from the "self." The self can never be the self-in-itself when the self is made the object of the talk. In other words, to talk or to question is an act, and so the talker or questioner is the actor. As soon as the actor begins to talk about himself, he, _____________________________________________________ (1) Philosophy East and West, IV, No. 1 (April, 1954), 19-33. p.168 the actor, is no more himself-he turns into a projection; he becomes a shadow of himself. The talking is always about something, never the thing itself. However much one may talk, the talking can never exhaust the thing. However minutely and precisely one may describe an apple or analyze it in every possible way, chemically, physically, botanically, dietetically, or even metaphysically, the apple itself is never there in these descriptions or analyses One must become the apple itself to know what it is--knowing in its ordinary sense is not knowing. To be more exact, perhaps, the self cannot be understood when it is objectified, when it is set up on the other side of experience and not on this side. This is what I mean by "pure subjectivity." The psychologists may talk about the self in terms of structure, or Gestalt, or pattern of combination, or something else, but all these terms never touch the "self" itself. The self escapes from all these meshes of conceptualization or objectification. But, for this reason, we cannot declare "self" to be a non-entity or a mere emptiness, for the self is always asserting itself and demanding to be recognized as such. This has been so ever since the awakening of consciousness, which made an ancient sage exclaim, "Know thyself!" The self has really an unfathomable meaning, that is, the self can never be objectively defined or verified. Anything subject to objectification thereby limits itself and forever ceases to be itself. "I am that I am"(2)--whatever its original Hebrew meaning may have been--is the fittest name for God. It is the "I am" of "I am before Abraham was."(3) Metaphysically, this corresponds to "Being is Being" or, according to John Donne, "God is so omni-present... that God is an angel in an angel, and a stone in a scene, and a straw in a straw."(4) "I am," or "I am that I am," or "a straw is a straw," or a mountain is a mountain" is in my terminology pure or absolute subjectivity. But we must remember that as soon as this passes on to the plane of intellection all turns into mete verbalism. Pure subjectivity or subjectum is a person, not an abstraction. There fore, it hears, it sees, it grasps, it runs, it even gets angry, though it does not forget smiling, too. It is the hands, feet, ears, and eyes. When it is cold, it shivers; when hot, it perspires. It sleeps and eats. It is Rinzai's "man of no title." He is an altogether lively agent When a monk asked, "What is the man of no title?" Rinzai came down from the seat and, grasping the monk by the throat, commanded, "Speak, speak! " The monk failed to "speak" whereupon the Master, pushing him away, declared, "What a dried-up dungscraper is this man of no title!" _____________________________________________________ (3) Exodus 3:14. (4) John 8:58. (5) Sermon VII. p.169 From the objective or "that-side" point of view, Rinzai's action may seem altogether irrational and unexplainable. But Zen is not there; Zen is on "this side, " and does not want to be rational or explainable. What it wants is to have us "get into it" and be it and the actor himself. When this is accomplishes, a certain state of consciousness arises and what is known as satori takes place. From this satori Zen builds up its philosophy. Whatever objectivity or intellectualization or utilitarian purposefulness there is in Zen, it all starts from this satori experience. Where this is absent, we inevitably get involved in the interpretation of the "that-side" aspect of, for instance, Rinzai's declaration of the "man of no title" and the treatment he accorded to the questioning monk. The "that-side" aspect is mere superficiality and never gives us the inside or the "this-side" view of reality. There is here a storehouse of infinite richness, filled with all possibilities, as the Buddhist would say, "endowed with values (gu.nas) as numerous as the sands of the River Ganga." It is not emptiness as is supposed by some Western critics of Buddhism. If it is an emptiness, it is one filled with abundance-it is fullness of things. As it is full, it wants to express itself. An empty vessel never overflows. Kingyuu (Chin-niu) was one of the chief disciples of Baso (Ma-tsu, d. 788). When the dinner hour came, he carried the rice-holder up to the refectory and, dancing and laughing, made the announcement, "O bodhisattvas, come and eat!" This, it is recorded, was kept up by the venerable elder for twenty gears. What did he mean? One of the commentators remarks: "What is the idea of Kingyuu's acting in such an extraordinary manner? If the dinner hour was to be announced, why did he not, as they ordinarily do, strike the board and beat the drum? What did he mean by carrying the rice-vessel himself and performing strange antics? Did he go insane? If he wanted to demonstrate Zen, why did he not go up to the Dharma-hall and give his sermons formally from the pulpit, probably striking the chair or raising the hossu? What necessity was there for him to resort to such an outlandish performance? "People nowadays fail to understand what the ancient worthies had in their minds when they behaved strangely. Did not the first patriarch make this unmistakable declaration when he first came to this country: 'A special transmission outside the suutra-teaching which is no other than the unique transmission of the seal of mind'? Kingyuu's upaaya (expediency) , too, consists in making you see directly into the meaning of things and in saying to yourselves,'Yes, yes, this is it!' "(5) _____________________________________________________ (5) Yengo (Y�an-wu, 1566-1642) , author of the Hekigan-shu (Pi-yen-chi) ("Blue Rock Collection"). p.170 No doubt, Kingyuu's behavior came out of the exuberance of his satori experience. When a monk later asked a Master about Kingyuu's idea of "O bodhisattvas, come and eat!" the Master answered, "It is much like celebrating an auspicious event by means of a feast." Still later, another Master observes, "What auspicious event is to be celebrated!" All these remarks point to an event taking place on "this side." If they were transferred to "the other side" for an intellectual interpretation, they would fail to yield any fruitful solution. Zen Masters always try to keep their eyes inwardly on "this side," because it is hem that they get into "the moment of living" (sheng-chi, �;� ). This was not all, however; there was something more in Kingyuu's gesture. He was not only self-expressive but communicative. Seccho of the Sung Dynasty comments: "It is all tight, but them is something in Kingyuu not altogether of good will." (6) This is the Zen way of commenting on other Masters generally. "Not of good will" is not to be understood in its literal sense. "Not of good will" means "good will," for Kingyuu intended to help those hungry "bodhisattvas" awake to the meaning of reality, for which they were searching. The "good will" becomes "nor a good will" when them is any unworthy motive behind it, for it vitiates everything it touches. Seccho challenges Kingyuu somewhat playfully, as if to say, "Are you really free from motives unworthy of a Zen student!" Seccho's versified comment on the whole "case"(7) is given here in order to demonstrate how Zen deals with matters of pure subjectivity. Behind a mass of white clouds a hearty laugh he laughs; Carried by both hands it is delivered up to them. If one were like a golden-haired lion, Even three thousand miles away, should the crookedness of things be seen. Is Kingyuu merely making the monks eat the rice? Or is there something out of the ordinary besides chat! If a man could really understand this procedure, he would really be like a golden-haired lion, and would not be waiting for Kingyuu to come to him carrying the rice bowl and dancing about He would know the whole business even before anything is at all enacted. Then the show would not be worth even the snapping of fingers. Therefore, the Masters are never tired of advising us not to be looking for reality in words or letters. From these remarks, quoted at random from the original Zen textbooks, we can see in what kind of mental or spiritual atmosphere those Masters _____________________________________________________ (6) Hs�eh-tou, 980-1052. (7) Hekigan-shu, Case 74. p.171 are living and enjoying themselves. We will also be able to observe, at least tentatively, that there is a rich, field for study on "this side" of our everyday experience. Even when we designate this field as the field of pure experience, we cannot see the Zen Masters t�te-�-t�te. Let us now proceed to see "this side," if possible, from its negative aspect. For this purpose I will quote another "case" from the Hekigan.(8) A monk asked Baso (Ma-tsu): "Apart from every possible predicate one can make of reality, will you kindly tell me directly without any medium what reality is?" This is a rather modern rendering; I have avoided giving a literal translation of the original because it contains some allusions to Zen tradition which complicate the matter, and we are not at present concerned with them. It is enough if we know where the main point is, and this is that the monk is moving on the other side of our everyday consciousness or experience, that his standpoint is one of objectivity or intellectualization, where logic is the sovereign. The monk knows that if a man made any kind of statement about ultimate reality he would most decidedly meet the Master's opposition or get a blow of his stick. Therefore, taking away the weapon from the Master's hand which the latter is most likely to use upon him, he demands that the Master give him a direct, non-mediated, and most concrete presentation of what goes beyond all affirmation and negation. If this question were given to a philosopher he would have to write a book embodying all his highly abstract thoughts. If the work were handed over to the monk, the monk would very likely commit it to the fire and say: '"There is still something left untouched in your work and I want that." He may then extend his hand and keep up his supplication, which is also his condemnation. As long as we are on the other side we can never cease our search for a satisfying answer. How did Baso meet the dilemma proposed by the monk? The monk was even ready to snap at him if he showed any sign of moving this way or that, negatively or positively. Baso was a perfect Zen expert. He knew thoroughly where the monk stood, because as long as the monk was wanting to "catch" Baso, this very attitude was the weakest spot, so to speak, on the monk's part. Baso nonchalantly blurted out: "I don't feel well enough today to answer you. You had better go to Chizo the elder and ask him." Now the question is: Did Baso the Master really feel tired at the moment? Or did he not feel like arguing with the monk? Or was this daily triviality a real answer to the monk's metaphysical question? There is another series of question: Did the monk really want to get an _____________________________________________________ (8) Ibid, Case 73. p.172 answer from the Master in the way of information or did he want to see how the Master would respond to his most puzzling question? Was the monk in an attitude of challenge, or merely in the noviciate's frame of mind? The matter is not so simple as it appears. Yengo, one of the commentators, puts in his bit of observation: "If I were Baso, I would, as soon as the monk finishes his questioning, beat him hard on his back with the stick and chase him right out of the room and see if he came to a realization or not." Yengo does not stop here, however, but goes on: "If I, on the other hand, were the monk, I would, when Base ends his talk, spread my seat-cloth before him and make bows to him and see how the Master would behave." In actuality the monk did not proceed as Yengo suggested. To all appearance he obediently went to Chizo (Chih-tsang) the elder as directed by the Master and asked him the same question as he did the Master. Chizo said, "Why not ask the Master?" The monk said, "It is the Master himself who sent me to you." Thereupon Chizo told the monk, "I have a headache today and am unable to answer you. I advise you to go to Yekai (Hui-hai), our elder brother, and ask him about it." The monk, like an innocent child, went to Yekai as told by Chizo and asked him the same question. Yekai said, "As to that, I am unable to give you any answer." The monk now did not know what to do but to go back to Baso the Master and report the whole procedure to him. The Master did not make any special comment, but simply said this: "The grey-haired Zo, the dark-haired Kai." What does all this mean? From the intellectual point of view it does not make sense in any possible way. It started with a highly metaphysical question in regard to the nature of reality. The monk knew that any proposition one can make about it would never hit the mark, as it refuses to be caught up by the hook of verbalism. But without appealing to reason and language what way is left for human beings to find reality? None of the consultants the monk went to helped him, as far as he could see. He was evidently like most of us whose efforts are to have the problem solved on "the other side" of our daily experience. What did those three Zen experts mean, after all, by appearing to avoid giving some reasonable, or coherent, or at least common-sense answer to the poor monk who was earnestly in search of the truth? To cap all those "apologies" or "excuses" not to give the monk at least something intelligible, we have the Master's final verdict regarding the two elder's hair or head. Is this not astounding? Who would p.173 ever have expected in Zen to see such an anticlimax to the all-seriousness of the monk's quest after the ultimate reality? When Baso the Master's final sentence is read in English we may say it yields some meaning, though not in connection with the monk's question. Now Yengo tells us that "the dark-haired Kai and the grey-haired Zo" is to be comprehended in the same light as the following statement also made by Baso to Ho, the lay devotee.(9) Ho once asked Baso: "What kind of man is he who goes companionless?" This is like asking about God, we might say, or about the Absolute, because either goes without any companion, has no mate to go with, is altogether free and independent. Baso's answer was, "I will tell you when you drink up in one draught the whole river of Sei (Hsi)." In what possible relationship can this advice stand to the hair-color of the two elders? As far as "the other side" or the objectivity of things is concerned, we find absolutely nothing between Baso's two statements: the one about drinking up the whole river and the other about the kind of hair the elders have. How could they be connected? But Yengo insists that one is to be read in the light of the other. Yengo further advises us that if we wish to understand Zen we must cut all the roots of thinking(10) and look all by ourselves into the right vein of-things(11) and then for the first time be at home with ourselves. And again he will remark: "It is like swinging the sword in the air: it does not matter how far or how near it hits. Only let us take hold of [reality] where there is clearness and transparency on all sides." Where, let me ask, is this clearness and transparency where we can come face face with reality? It is no other than where absolute emptiness ('suuyataa) is, which means the limit of objectivity, where "the other side" can go no further: this is where pure subjectivity reigns supreme. And this is where the meaningless phrase, "the dark-haired Kai and the grey-haired Zo," has its full meaning. Now let us listen to what Seccho has in his versified commentary on this "case" on negativity: Zoto byaku Kai-to koku!(12) Even for the clear-eyed monks, difficult to understand! Horse the Master(13) treads over all the people of the world; Compared with him, Rinzai is not quite an expert pickpocket. Away from the four phrases and beyond one hundred negations [where do we go], Heavens above, humans below, it is 'I' alone who knows." _____________________________________________________ (9) 'P'ang Ch�-shih, of the latter half of the thirteenth century. (10) �N �� i-k�n. (11) ���ߨ� chang mai li. (12) In Chinese: Tsang-t'on pal Hai-t'on bei! (13) Ba (so) means " a horse. p.174 An ancient Zen master says: "Don't ask me any question, for the answer is where the question comes from." You may go around with your question, metaphysical or otherwise, among all the Buddhas of the past,present, and future, and you will not get any satisfactory answer, for it is you alone who holds the key to your question. However far you may go on "the other side," the realm of objectivity has its limit, and when you come to it, the only thing you can do is to make a leap over it. And the leap will bring you back to where you started. "The other side" is nowhere else but "this side." "Heavens above, humans below, it is 'I' alone who knows." This questioner, negator, talker, and writer-they all come back to "I," whoever this may be. They have traveled so many miles away from home--all in a dream, for when awakened "I" finds itself at the same old place. When negation after negation was carried in our metaphysical quest for reality all that we discovered was that there was nothing on "the other side" except the negator himself. But the negator could not negate himself, which would mean suicide, and this self-killing is something a man as man cannot execute, because what he thinks he has finished killing is not himself but his conceptualized shadow, which, like a phantom, always follows the real self. As long as conceptualization goes on, there will be no discovery of the real self. The self is to be sought where it is cozily settled at home, perhaps looking at the cucumbers or the beans, after a day's work in his vegetable garden. So, when the monk approached, he was really too tired to stare his "intellectual" activities. Let the monk mumble the "Zoto byaku Kai-to koku" for several times as if it were a mystic phrase (dhaara.nii); his "self' may be discovered laughing behind a mass of white clouds. If Dr. Ames and other scholars who are interested in Zen were able to shift once for all the position on "the other side" of out daily experience and visit "this side," where Zen has its abode, they would, I am sure, understand all that I have so far tried to elucidate, and see where my inconsistencies and contradictions come from. I may have occasion again, I hope, to elaborate more fully the subject which I have rather summarily treated here.