Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Zen at War and Dr D.T. Suzuki

Brian Daizen Victoria’s 1997 book Zen at War sent shock waves through Zen circles. Even those previously aware that the Japanese Buddhist establishment had supported Japanese militarist and imperialist policies before and during World War II were surprised  by  the degree of involvement Victoria reported on the part of  several Zen masters otherwise highly regarded and by the layman who did more than anyone else to bring Zen to public awareness outside Asia: Dr. D. T. Suzuki.

Zen at War was the opportunity to reappraise the sangha’s wartime complicity and prompted several great Zen monasteries to issue statements of responsibility and contrition.

These consequences, along with Victoria’s credentials inspired a high degree of confidence in his conclusions. 

So it comes as a surprise to find his account of Suzuki’s views convincingly refuted in “D. T. Suzuki and the Question of War,” a detailed study by Kemmyo Taira Sato. 
Although Professor Sato, who knew Suzuki in his late years, acknowledges the “great contribution” Victoria has made to discussion of Buddhist participation in World War II, yet he makes it clear that he was mistaken in his case against Suzuki.

Unfortunately, because Professor Sato’s study appeared in a little-known scholarly journal, The Eastern Buddhist, it did little to right the poor images of Suzuki’s character and political views painted in Victoria’s books.

Sato's article provides a fair and respectful understanding of the man who played such an important role in laying the foundations of Zen practice in the United States.

1 comment:

Bernie Quigley said...

Thanks -Quigley in Exile