Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Zen at War and Dr DT Suzuki

For some reason, this comment by Elliston Sensei on the previous post about DT Suzuki could not be directly posted - here it is. 

Thank you, Jiryu-san, for pointing this out. We need to exercise compassion in hindsight, as well as in the present.
It is arrogant, and an example of the victors writing the history, to pretend that if we Western Zen practitioners had been in Japan, we would have acted differently than the Zen practitioners who were there at the time, especially under attack. The Japanese people were thoroughly propagandized against the West, just as we were against them (remember the chimpanzee cartoons?). They were convinced that the invading forces would rape, pillage and plunder the country, completely wiping out their heritage, and that there would be no more Japan (who could blame them, looking at the imperial history of the West?). 

It is no wonder that every one of them resolved to fight to the death for the sake of their country. This does not excuse or forgive the many atrocities committed under the military imperialists, but it does not hold water as a criticism of Zen. It is a criticism of aggression and war, which according to Buddhism, derives from this personal, self-aggrandizing self, the one that sees differences between itself and others, always making itself look better at others' expense. Let's all take a deep breath and a long, clear look in the mirror.

According to Sensei, the Japanese people were amazed (and revolutionized regarding their view of Western culture and politics) at the compassionate treatment they had at the hands of our occupation forces after the surrender, and the generosity of the Marshall plan. Matsuoka-roshi took pains to clarify this in his writings, and Okumura-roshi delivered an eloquent explanation of this tragic situation in a Q&A session at ASZC, regarding Victoria's critique. We should listen to the people who were actually there, rather than engage in Monday quarterbacking.  

It is interesting to note that at the same time the world was crashing down around their feet (see Nagasaki and Hiroshima), the Soto Zen Parliament passed a resolution fully recognizing the absolute equality of nuns in the monastic hierarchy (see Paula Arai). What would we conclude from this? That the good-old-boy network of the senior monks caved, since everything was going to hell anyway? Or that they had the presence of mind to do what needed to be done, in spite of the extreme conditions of nuclear war? I would suggest the latter.
If it were not for our Japanese forefathers, we would not have been exposed to this precious dharma. Let us not be too hasty to condemn them.