Friday, June 15, 2007


by D. T. Suzuki

Many able thinkers of the West, each from his specific point of view, have dealt with this timeworn topic, "East and West," but so far as I know there have been comparatively few Far Eastern writers who have expressed their views as Easterners. This fact has led me to choose this subject as a kind of preliminary to what will follow.
Basho (1644-94), a great Japanese poet of the seventeenth
century, once composed a seventeen-syllable poem known as
haiku or hokku. It runs, when translated into English,
something like this:

When I look carefully
I see the nazuna blooming
by the hedge!

Yoku mireba
Nazuna hana saku
Kakine kana.

It is likely that Basho was walking along a country road when he noticed something rather neglected by the hedge. He then approached closer, took a good look at it, and found it was no less than a wild plant, rather insignificant and generally unnoticed by passers-by. This is a plain fact described in the

poem with no specifically poetic feeling expressed anywhere except perhaps in the last two syllables, which read in Japanese kana. This particle, frequently attached to a noun or an adjective or an adverb, signifies a certain feeling of admiration or praise or sorrow or joy, and can sometimes quite appropriately be rendered into English by an exclamation mark. In the present haiku the whole verse ends with this mark.
The feeling running through the seventeen, or rather fifteen, syllables with an exclamation mark at the end may not be communicable to those who are not acquainted with the Japanese language. I will try to explain it as best I can. The poet himself might not agree with my interpretation, but this does not matter very much if only we know that there is somebody at least who understands it in the way I do.

First of all, Basho was a nature poet, as most of the Oriental poets are. They love
nature so much that they feel one with nature, they feel every pulse beating through the veins of nature. Most Westerners are apt to alienate themselves from nature. They think man and nature have nothing in common except in some desirable aspects, and that nature exists only to be utilized by man. But to Eastern people nature is very close. This feeling for nature was stirred when Basho discovered an inconspicuous, almost negligible plant blooming by the old dilapidated hedge along the remote country road, so innocently, so unpretentiously, not at all desiring to be noticed by anybody. Yet when one looks at it, how tender, how full of divine glory or splendor more glorious than Solomon's it is! Its very humbleness, its unostentatious beauty, evokes one's sincere admiration. The poet can read in every petal the deepest mystery of life or being. Basho might not have been conscious of it himself, but I am sure that in his heart at the time there were vibrations of feeling somewhat akin to what Christians may call divine love, which reaches the deepest depths of cosmic life.
The ranges of the Himalayas may stir in us the feeling of sublime awe; the waves of the Pacific may suggest something of infinity. But when one's mind is poetically or mystically or religiously opened, one feels as Basho did that even in every blade of wild grass there is something really transcending all venal, base human feelings, which lifts one to a realm equal in

its splendor to that of the Pure Land. Magnitude in such cases has nothing to do with it. In this respect, the Japanese poet has a specific gift that detects something great in small things, transcending all quantitative measurements.
This is the East. Let me see now what the 'Nest has to offer in a similar situation. I select Tennyson. He may not be a typical Western poet to be singled out for comparison with the Far Eastern poet. But his short poem here quoted has something very closely related to Basho's. The verse is as follows:

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies;-
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower-but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

There are two points I like to notice in these lines:

(1) Tennyson's plucking the flower and holding it in his hand, "root and all," and looking at it, perhaps intently. It is very likely he had a feeling somewhat akin to that of Basho who discovered a nazuna flower by the roadside hedge. But the difference between the two poets is: Basho does not pluck the flower. He just looks at it. He is absorbed in thought. He feels something in his mind, but he does not express it. He lets an exclamation mark say everything he wishes to say. For he has no words to utter; his feeling is too full, too deep, and he has no desire to conceptualize it.
As to Tennyson, he is active and analytical. He first plucks the flower from the place where it grows. He separates it from the ground where it belongs. Quite differently from the Oriental poet, he does not leave the flower alone. He must tear it away from the crannied wall, "root and all," which means that the plant must die. He does not, apparently, care for its destiny; his curiosity must be satisfied. As some medical scientists do, he would vivisect the flower. Basho does not even touch the nazuna he just looks at it, he "carefully" looks at it-that is all he does. He is altogether inactive, a good contrast to Tennyson's dynamism.
I would like to notice this point specifically here, and may

have occasion to refer to it again. The East is silent, while the West is eloquent. But the silence of the East does not mean just to be dumb and remain wordless or speechless. Silence in many cases is as eloquent as being wordy. The West likes verbalism. Not only that, the West transforms the word into the flesh and makes this fleshiness come out sometimes too conspicuously, or rather too grossly and voluptuously, in its arts and religion.
(2) What does Tennyson do next? Looking at the plucked flower, which is in all likelihood beginning to wither, he proposes the question within himself, "Do I understand you?" Basho is not inquisitive at all. He feels all the mystery as revealed in his humble nazuna-the mystery that goes deep into the source of all existence. He is intoxicated with this feeling and exclaims in an unutterable, inaudible cry.
Contrary to this, Tennyson goes on with his intellection:
"If [which I italicize] I could understand you, I should know what God and man is." His appeal to the understanding is characteristically \Western. Basho accepts, Tennyson resists. Tennyson's individuality stands away from the flower, from "God and man." He does not identify himself with either God or nature. He is always apart from them. His understanding is what people nowadays call "scientifically objective." Basho is thoroughly "subjective." (This is not a good word, for subject always is made to stand against object. My "subject" is what I like to call "absolute subjectivity.") Basho stands by this "absolute subjectivity" in which Basho sees the nazuna and the nazuna sees Basho. Here is ,no empathy, or sympathy, or identification for that matter.
Basho says: "look carefully" (in Japanese "yoku mireba").
The word "carefully" implies that Basho is no more an onlooker here but the flower has become conscious of itself and silently, eloquently expressive of itself. And this silent eloquence or eloquent silence on the part of the flower is humanly echoed in Basho's seventeen syllables. Whatever depth of feeling, whatever mystery of utterance, or even philosophy of "absolute subjectivity" there is, is intelligible only to those who have actually experienced all this.
In Tennyson, as far as I can see, there is in the first place no depth of feeling; he is all intellect, typical of Western mentality.

He is an advocate of the Logos doctrine. He must say something, he must abstract or intellectualize on his concrete experience. He must come out of the domain of feeling into that of intellect and must subject living and feeling to a series of analyses to give satisfaction to the Western spirit of inquisitiveness.
I have selected these two poets, Basho and Tennyson, as indicative of two basic characteristic approaches to reality. Basho is of the East and Tennyson of the West. As we compare them we find that each bespeaks his traditional background. According to this, the Western mind is: analytical, discriminative, differential, inductive, individualistic, intellectual, objective, scientific, generalizing, conceptual, schematic, impersonal, legalistic, organizing, power-wielding, self-assertive, disposed to impose its will upon others, etc. Against these Western traits those of the East can be characterized as follows: synthetic, totalizing, integrative, nondiscriminative, deductive, nonsystematic, dogmatic, intuitive, (rather, affective), nondiscursive, subjective, spiritually individualistic and socially groupminded,1 etc.
When these characteristics of West and East are personally symbolized, I have to go to Lao-tse (fourth century B.C.), a great thinker in ancient China. I make him represent the East, and what he calls the multitudes may stand for the West. When I say "the multitudes" there is no intention on my part to assign the West in any derogatory sense to the role of Lao-tsean multitudes as described by the old philosopher.
Lao-tse portrays himself as resembling an idiot. He looks as if he does not know anything, is not affected by anything. He is practically of no use in this utilitarianistic world. He is almost expressionless. Yet there is something in him which makes him not quite like a specimen of an ignorant simpleton. He only outwardly resembles one.
The West, in contrast to this, has a pair of sharp, penetrating eyes, deep-set in the sockets, which survey the outside world

1 Christians regard the church as the medium of salvation because it is the church that symbolizes Christ who is the savior. Christians are related to God not individually but through Christ, and Christ is the church and the church is the place where they gather to worship God and pray to him through Christ for salvation. In this respect Christians are group-minded while socially they espouse individualism.

as do those of an eagle soaring high in the sky. (In fact, the eagle is the national symbol of a certain Western power.) And then his high nose, his thin lips, and his general facial contour -all suggest a highly developed intellectuality and a readiness to act. This readiness is comparable to that of the lion. Indeed, the lion and the eagle are the symbols of the West.
Chuang-tze of the third century B.C. has the story of konton (hun-tun)} Chaos. His friends owed many of their achievements to Chaos and wished to repay him. They consulted together and came to a conclusion. They observed that Chaos had no sense organs by which to discriminate the outside world. One day they gave him the eyes, another day the nose, and in a week they accomplished the work of transforming him into a sensitive personality like themselves. While they were congratulating themselves on their success, Chaos died.
The East is Chaos and the West is the group of those grateful, well-meaning, but undiscriminating friends.
In many ways the East no doubt appears dumb and stupid, as Eastern people are not so discriminative and demonstrative and do not show so many visible, tangible marks of intelligence. They are chaotic and apparently indifferent. But they know that without this chaotic character of intelligence, their native intelligence itself may not be of much use in living together in the human way. The fragmentary individual members cannot work harmoniously and peacefully together unless they are referred to the infinite itself, which in all actuality underlies every one of the finite members. Intelligence belongs to the head and its work is more noticeable and would accomplish much, whereas Chaos remains silent and quiet behind all the superficial turbulence. Its real significance never comes out to become recognizable by the participants.
The scientifically minded West applies its intelligence to inventing all kinds of gadgets to elevate the standard of living and save itself from what it thinks to be unnecessary labor or drudgery. It thus tries hard to "develop" the natural resources it has access to. The East, on the other hand, does not mind engaging itself in menial and manual work of all kinds, it is apparently satisfied with the "undeveloped" state of civilization. It does not like to be machine-minded, to turn itself into a slave to the machine. This love of work is perhaps character-

istic of the East. The story of a farmer as told by Chuang-tze is highly significant and suggestive in many senses, though the incident is supposed to have taken place more than two thousand years ago in China.
Chuang-tze was one of the greatest philosophers in ancient China. He ought to be studied more than he is at present. The Chinese people are not so speculative as the Indian, and are apt to neglect their own thinkers. While Chuang-tze is very well known as the greatest stylist among Chinese literary men, his thoughts are not appreciated as they deserve. He was a fine collector or recorder of stories that were perhaps prevalent in his day. It is, however, likely that he also invented many tales to illustrate his views of life. Here is a story, which splendidly illustrates Chuang-tze's philosophy of work, of a farmer who refused to use the shadoof to raise water from his well.

"A farmer dug a well and was using the water for irrigating his farm. He used an ordinary bucket to draw water from the well, as most primitive people do. A passer-by, seeing this, asked the farmer why he did not use a shadoof for the purpose; it is a labor-saving device and can do more work than the primitive method. The farmer said, "I know it is labor-saving and it is for this very reason that I do not use the device. What I am afraid of is that the use of such a contrivance makes one machine-minded. Machine mindedness leads one to the habit of indolence and laziness."

Western people often wonder why the Chinese people have not developed many more sciences and mechanical contrivances. This is strange, they say, when the Chinese are noted for their discoveries and inventions such as the magnet, gunpowder, the wheel, paper, and other things. The principal reason is that the Chinese and other Asiatic peoples love life as it is lived and do not wish to turn it into a means of accomplishing something else, which would divert the course of living to quite a different channel. They like work for its own sake, though, objectively speaking, work means to accomplish something. But while working they enjoy the work and are not in a hurry to finish it. Mechanical devices are far more efficient and accomplish more. But the machine is impersonal and noncreative and has no meaning.

Mechanization means intellection, and as the intellect is primarily utilitarian there is no spiritual estheticism or ethical spirituality in the machine. The reason that induced Chuangtze's farmer not to be machine-minded lies here. The machine hurries one to finish the work and reach the objective for which it is made. The work or labor in itself has no value except as the means. That is to say, life here loses its creativity and turns into an instrument, man is now a goods-producing mechanism. Philosophers talk about the significance of the person; as we see now in our highly industrialized and mechanized age the machine is everything and man is almost entirely reduced to thralldom. This is, I think, what Chuang-tze was afraid of. Of course, we cannot turn the wheel of industrialism back to the primitive handicraft age. But it is well for us to be mindful of the significance of the hands and also of the evils attendant on the mechanization of modern life, which emphasizes the intellect too much at the expense of life as a whole.
So much for the East. Now a few words about the West.
Denis de Rougemont in his Man's Western Quest mentions "the person and the machine" as characterizing the two prominent features of Western culture. This is significant, because the person and the machine are contradictory concepts and the West struggles hard to achieve their reconciliation. I do not know whether Westerners are doing it consciously or unconsciously. I will just refer to the way in which these two heterogeneous ideas are working on the Western mind at present. It is to be remarked that the machine contrasts with Chuang-tze's philosophy of work or labor, and the Western ideas of individual freedom and personal responsibility run counter to the Eastern ideas of absolute freedom. I will not go into details. I will only try to summarize the contradictions the West is now facing and suffering under:
(1) The person and the machine involve a contradiction, and because of this contradiction the West is going through great psychological tension, which is manifested in various directions in its modern life.
(2) The person implies individuality, personal responsibility, while the machine is the product of intellection, abstraction, generalization, totalization, group living.
(3) Objectively or intellectually or speaking in the machine-

minded way, personal responsibility has no sense. Responsibility is logically related to freedom, and in logic there is no freedom, for everything is controlled by rigid rules of syllogism.
(4) Furthermore, man as a biological product is governed by biological laws. Heredity is fact and no personality can change it. I am born not of my own free will. Parents give birth to me not of their free will. Planned birth has no sense as a matter of fact.
(5) Freedom is another nonsensical idea. I am living socially, in a group, which limits me in all my movements, mental as well as physical. Even when I am alone I am not at all free. I have all kinds of impulses which are not always under my control. Some impulses carry me away in spite of myself. As long as we are living in this limited world, we can never talk about being free or doing as we desire. Even this desire is something which is not our own.
(6) The person may talk about freedom, yet the machine limits him in every way, for the talk does not go any further than itself. The Western man is from the beginning constrained, restrained, inhibited. His spontaneity is not at all his, but that of the machine. The machine has no creativity; it operates only so far or so much as something that is put into it makes possible. It never acts as "the person."
(7) The person is free only when he is not a person. He is free when he denies himself and is absorbed in the whole. To be more exact, he is free when he is himself and yet not himself. Unless one thoroughly understands this apparent contradiction, he is not qualified to talk about freedom or responsibility or spontaneity. For instance, the spontaneity Westerners, especially some analysts, speak about is no more and no less than childish or animal spontaneity, and not the spontaneity of the fully mature person.
(8) The machine, behaviorism, the conditioned reflex, Communism, artificial insemination, automation generally, vivisection, the H-bomb-they are, each and all, most intimately related, and form close-welded solid links of a logical chain.
(9) The West strives to square a circle. The East tries to equate a circle to the square. To Zen the circle is a circle, and the square is a square, and at the same time the square is a circle and the circle a square.

(10)Freedom is a subjective term and cannot be interpreted objectively. When we try, we are surely involved inextricably in contradictions. Therefore, I say that to talk about freedom in this objective world of limitations all around us is nonsense.
(11) In the West, "yes" is "yes" and "no" is "no"; "yes" can never be "no" or vice versa. The East makes "yes" slide over to "no" and "no" to "yes"; there is no hard and fast division between "yes" and "no." It is in the nature of life that it is so. It is only in logic that the division is ineradicable. Logic is human-made to assist in utilitarianistic activities.
(12) When the West comes to realize this fact, it invents such concepts known in physics as complementarity or the principle of uncertainty when it cannot explain away certain physical phenomena. However well it may succeed in creating concept after concept, it cannot circumvent facts of existence.
(13) Religion does not concern us here, but it may not be without interest to state the following: Christianity, which is the religion of the West, talks of Logos, Word, the flesh, and incarnation, and of tempestuous temporality. The religions of the East strive for excarnation, silence, absorption, eternal peace. To Zen incarnation is excarnation; silence roars like thunder; the Word is no-Word, the flesh is no-flesh; here-now equals emptiness (silnyatii) and infinity.


What I mean by "the unconscious" and what psychoanalysts mean by it may be different, and I have to explain my position. First, how do I approach the question of the unconscious? If such a term could be used, I would say that my "unconscious" is "metascientific" or "antescientific." You are all scientists and I am a Zen-man and my approach is "antescientific" -or even "antiscientific" sometimes, I am afraid. "Antescientific" may not be an appropriate term, but it seems to express what I wish it to mean. "Metascientific" may not be bad, either, for the Zen position develops after science or intellectualization has occupied for some time the whole field of human study; and Zen demands that before we give ourselves up unconditionally to the scientific sway over the whole field of human