Transformations of `emptiness': On the idea of sunyata and the thought of Abe and the Kyoto...
The Buddhist Idea of "emptiness" or "nothingness" (sunyata) has become increasingly well known within interreligious dialogue, in particular that between Christianity and Buddhism This is partly due to the growing interest in the West in the works of Kyoto-school philosophers such as Nishida, Nishitani, and Abe.
Less well known is the history of sunyata as a concept within Buddhism and the transformations it underwent in Its long development This essay is an attempt to examine this history and how sunyata has been interpreted and within the religious philosophy of these these Kyoto-school philosophers.
Such an analysis reveals that these interpretations often have been Iotas "pan-Buddhist" than a particular type of "modern Japanese philosophical Zen." In other words, the sunyata of Nagarjuna and the Madyamikas seems different In a number of important ways from the sunyata of Nishida, Nishitani and Abe.
In this way, although to be praised for their bold attempts to blend a particular Buddhist religious concept (sunyata) into a Western-style philosophical system, Kyoto-school philosophers ultimately run up against certain problems in their use of sunyata, as well as their own tendency to interpret it in culturally Specific ways.
Intrareligious dialogue between Kyoto-school philosophers and their own Buddhist tradition bee profound implications for interreligious Buddhist-Christian dialogue, since sunyata has often been a mayor area of discussion within Buddhist-Christian dialogue and and because a culturally specific (Japanese Zen) Interpretation of sunyata has been brought to these discussions.
The implication is that those involved in Buddhist-Christian dialogue need to become more aware of the nature of the "sunyata" that has underlain much recent dialogue and to broaden it by taking into account other possible meanings of sunyata.
The ideas of "nothingness" or "absolute nothingness," the fundamental basis for the religious philosophy of many members of the so-called Kyoto school of philosophy, derive their origin from the Buddhist notion of sunyata.
This essay is an attempt to understand better the meaning of these ideas of nothingness, absolute nothingness, and sunyata as used by key Kyoto-school philosophers (specifically Nishida Kitaro, Nishitani Keiji, and Abe Masao) by focusing upon the work of Abe, a leading contemporary member of the school, and by tracing the history of the idea of sunyata from its earliest uses in Buddhism through the present-day Kyoto-school philosophers.
In one sense, this essay is a history of the use, meaning, and development of this key Buddhist term, "sunyata," in its many historical manifestations within Buddhism in Asia.
By tracing how the term was used and how its meaning changed over time, we will show how one of the basic teachings of Buddhism itself underwent a subtle development over time and in different cultures.
In a second sense, this essay is an explanation of the religious philosophy of the Kyoto school and especially that of Abe, since his use of the terms "sunyata," "nothingness," and "absolute nothingness" (similar to Nishida's and Nishitani's) forms the basis of much of his scholarly work and overall philosophical viewpoint.
In a third sense, this study investigates the use of religious ideas by philosophers and how and why such appropriation can lead to various problems, especially in the case of a religious idea such as sunyata.
In a fourth and perhaps most important sense, this essay is about how the particular meanings given to sunyata by Kyoto-school philosophers have clear implications for interreligious dialogue between Buddhism and Christianity, since sunyata, nothingness, and absolute nothingness have become key terms used by Abe and others in such dialogue.
II. History and Development of the Idea of Sunyata and Related Terms within
The root of the difficulty in understanding properly the meaning of sunyata derives from at least three factors:
(1) sunyata takes on a variety of meanings throughout Buddhist history;
(2) these meanings have always existed within particular religious contexts and as a part of a larger religious path and, therefore, lose their contents when extracted from these religious contexts; and
(3) translating these overall meanings in their religious contexts into logical English terms and concepts is difficult at best and often adds to the confusion in understanding properly.
Given these difficulties, the major translations of the term "sunyata" have varied and have included such English expressions as "emptiness," "nothingness," "nonsubstantiality," "relativity," and "voidness."(n1) Sunyata has also been described as referring to
(1) a religious attitude or state of awareness;
(2) a focus of meditation; (3) a manner of ethical action; or (4) a statement about reality, such as corresponding to the Buddhist notion of the interrelated nature of all existing things (pratitya samutpada)(n2)
Historically, sunyata as a term in Buddhist thought appears as early as the Nikayas, that is, in the literature appearing from around the second century after the death of the Buddha.
There it is used to refer to the impermanent quality of phenomena and the lack of a self (anatman). Later, with the development of the Prajnaparamita Sutras (The Perfection of Wisdom Discourses) from around 100 B.C.E., this idea of the nonsubstantive or "empty" character of self and phenomena came to be extended to include everything, including the dharmas, the causal factors of existence that the earlier Abhidharma school had viewed as substantive.(n3)
The greatest systematizer of these teachings on "emptiness" was the monk and scholar Nagarjuna, who lived sometime between 150 and 250 C.E.
Nagarjuna organized many of the teachings on emptiness contained within the earlier Prajnaparamitas and wrote what he called the Mulamadhyamakakarikas ("Fundamentals of the Middle Way"), a key text in the wider body of literature called Madhyamikas, texts written by Nagajuna and his followers in the Madhyamika school.
In the Mulamadhyamakakarikas Nagarjuna used a critical dialectic or argument of reductio ad absurdum (prasanga) to show how all viewpoints or concepts presumed to describe reality are really "empty" of any self-sustaining substance and thus do not exist. Nagarjuna's ideas seem to be the result of his reaction to two previous streams of thought:
a rejection of the Buddhist Abhidharma texts and their substantialist views of the dharmas, and acceptance of the concern of the Prajnapamitas with the practice of spiritual realization through "realizing emptiness."(n4)
The main achievement of Nagarjuna was not simply his insistence upon the importance of "emptiness" but also his identification of emptiness with dependent co-origination (pratitya samutpada), which he considered the basic teaching of the Buddha.(n5)
Moreover, the term "Madbyamika," referring as it does to "the middle way," indicates that the intent of Nagarjuna and his immediate followers was to avoid both the extremes of substantialism/eternalism (sasvatavada) and annihilationism (ucchedavada) through adoption of a "middle way" similar to the Buddha's, a way that avoided all "clinging" views, even to Buddhist teachings themselves.(n6)
Nagarjuna is important for our discussion here since he is referred to by Abe a number of times in his discussion of "nothingness" and "absolute nothingness" and seems clearly to have influenced Nishitani as well.(n7) However, as we shall see in more detail later, Nagarjuna,s notion of sunyata is clearly different from Abe's and Nishitani's "nothingness."
To understand Nagirjuna's sunyata fully, the insights Of two noted Buddhist scholars are helpful. Edward Conze, in his book, Buddhist Thought in India, explained as follows:
Madhyamikas were interested in one problem only--the conditions which govern the transcendental intuition of the Absolute.... [[[Nagarjuna's]]] aim is to reveal the Infinite by removing what obscures it. The finite, one-sided partial nature of affirmative propasitions [of any type] is rejected not in order then to be replaced with just another proposition... but with an eye to transcending and eliminating all affirmations.... The void is brought in not for its own sake, but as a method which leads to the penetration into true reality....
Emptiness is not a theory, but a ladder which reaches out into the Infinite, and which should be climbed, not discussed. It is not taught to make a theory, but to get rid of theories altogether.(n8)
Thus, Nagarjuna's intent was primarily soteriological, while his method was primarily negative, that is, the negation of all viewpoints regarding absolute reality so as to open up his readers to perceiving the truth of the Infinite. As Frederick Streng pointed out in Emptiness:
A Study in Religious Meaning "Nagarjuna's denial is not a denial of a `Way of release,' as suggested by his opponents; it is a denial that propositions
about `reality' ultimately aid the religious student in knowing what the conditions of existence actually are."(n9) Further, "The religious significance of `emptiness' is comparable to that of `anatma' [[[no-self]]!, for both are expressions of dependent co-origination.
They delineate the existential situation in which man attains release."(n10) Sunyata for Nagarjuna, thus, was not a new Absolute Reality itself but a means or method "used to shift the mode of apprehending `existence' and `ultimate reality"' so as to allow the Absolute Reality to be Apprehended.(n11) As Madhyamika thought developed, though, this Absolute Reality came to be ascribed to such notions as tathata (suchness), tathagata garbha (womb of Buddhahood), and dhamakaya (absolute truth body of the Buddha) and was viewed as what "remained" after the radical "emptying" of all things' substantive nature.(n12)
After Nagarjuna, the Madhyamika school surrounding him broke up into two different schools:
(1) the so-called Prasangika represented by Candrakirti, which stressed the distorting character of all concepts and logic; and
(2) the Svatantrikas, represented by Bhavaviveka, which maintained that, while language and logic cannot express the highest truth, some assertions in language express the truth of emptiness more accurately than others and can be verified.
Here one can already see the growing divergence between two different interpretations of Nagarjuna's thought: one continuing to reject radically all concepts and language, the other allowing some language as acceptable.
The difference in interpretation stems partly from Nagarjuna himself, since he had outlined a "two-truth" theory of reality in which one level of truth was that of the everyday world wherein things do exist, and the other was the level of ultimate reality wherein they do not.
The Yogacara ("Practice of Yoga") school of Mahayana Buddhism began as early as the second century in India but reached its height in the fourth century under the teachers Vasubandhu, Asanga, and Maitreya. The school shared with the Madhyamika a view of sunyata as the denial of the reality of all external objects and viewpoints and the notion that such phenomena are empty, that is, conditioned or without self-subsisting reality.
At the same time, the Yogacara school differed in ascribing a positive ultimate reality to "consciousness" or "mind" and emphasizing the elimination of dualistic perception as constituting true emptiness.
Their argument was that, since it is the mind or consciousness that is responsible for the dualistic (mistaken) perception of the world in the first place, and it is the overcoming in the mind of this subject-object spilt that constitutes enlightenment, the mind or consciousness after this nondual perception is attained (vijnana) must be real.
Moreover, they maintained that the way to attain this nondual perception or consciousness is through the practice of yoga or meditation.(n13)
Thus, while the Madhyamika placed more emphasis on analysis and wisdom (prajna) in the realization of sunyata, the Yogacara focused more on mind (vijnana) and a ruthless withdrawal from everything through yogic meditation.(n14)
Based upon this interpretation, the Yogacara school often attacked what they called "wrong ideas about sunyata" (durgrhita sunyata).
In one Yogacara text, for example, Maitreya's of the Middle and Extremes (Madhyanta-Vibhaga), Maitreya agrees with Nagarjuna's arguments about sunyata's equaling dependent co-origination but goes further by defining sunyata as "the non-being of subject and object and the being of that non-being."(n15)
This "being of non-being "later was criticized sharply by Madhyamika followers, as was the idea of "consciousness only," but for the Yogacara tradition these ideas became paramount and corresponded with their coming to equate sunyata with the notion of suchness (tathata)) and dharma-realm (dharma-dhata).
As Gadjin Nagao has pointed out, such terms as tathata and dharma-dhata were "affirmative expressions" rather than negative ones.
As a result, Yogacara came to distinguish . . . between what is empty sunya and emptiness (sunyata) itself, understanding the former as negative emptiness and the latter affirmatively as an absolute.
This distinction does not seem to be clearly stated in the Prajna-paramita literature or in Nagarjuna.(n16)
This distinction between Yogacara and Madhyamika thought regarding sun will become increasingly important as we look later at the thought of the Kyoto-school philosophers, which is much more the heir to the Yogacara tradition (and its later development in China) than to Madhyamika.
Another aspect of Yogacara thought was the idea of tathagata-garbha, first systematized by Vasubandhu and other Yogacara masters.
Tathagata garbha can be translated as "womb of Buddhahood," "Buddha nature," or "Buddha essence" and refers to the original Buddha nature said to exist in every sentient being and thus the certainty of Buddhahood for all sentient beings.
As time passed, this idea came into very close association with the idea of sunyata, especially in Chinese Hua-Yen Buddhism, and sunyata and tathagata often were used in Hua-Yen as "alternative expressions of the same reality," with sunyata emphasizing the epistemological or ontological aspects of the Absolute while tathagata garbha emphasized the "soteriological" and "practical."(n17)
As a result, the notion of sunyata was transformed, and less emphasis was put on its negative implications and more on its positive ones, in particular the idea of an eternal pure reality of Buddha nature and "what remains after negation."
Similar notions of tathagata garbha would also become key concepts for most schools of Japanese Buddhism, including Zen.
After the introduction of Buddhism to China, Madhyamika thought developed into the San-Lun school and Yogacara thought into the Fa-hsiang school.
Both schools initially tried to understand sunyata in relation to the Neo-Taoist notion of nothingness (k'ung), which tended to imply that nothingness was the primary source from which all phenomenal forms arise.
As time passed, this Chinese grappling with various Buddhist ideas led to the formation of two entirely new Chinese Buddhist schools: T'ien T'ai (systematized by Chih-i), and Hua-Yen (systematized by Fa-tsung).
For Chih-i and the T'ien T'ai school (Japan: Tendai), reality was viewed as possessing three levels of truth: (1) emptiness (k'ung),
(2) conventional worldly existence, and
(3) the middle, a "simultaneous affirmation of both emptiness and conventional existence as aspects of a single integrated reality."(n18)
This idea, of course, was similar to Nagarjuna's two-truth theory of reality but with an added third level where the two other levels were incorporated into a single integrated reality.
In contrast, for Fa-tsang and the Hua-Yen school (Japan: Kegon), emptiness (sunyata) was viewed as identical with form (se) and form with emptiness.
Moreover, Fa-tsang maintained that emptiness corresponded to dependent co-origination.
Fa-tsang's thought thus appears close to the views of earlier orthodox Indian teachers of sunyata.
However, in his de-emphasis on the difference between things and emphasis on "the perfect fusion of the phenomenal shih and absolute li, of form (se) and emptiness (k'ung)" within the concrete world, Fa-tsang was more affirmative of the phenomenal world than the Indian Madhyamikas.(n19)
In this he was similar to Chih-i and the T'ien T'ai school, which also, in a Chinese way, sought to combine the phenomenal and absolute, form and emptiness into one harmonious whole.
Fa-tsang and Hua-Yen thought, however, went further than T'ien T'ai by stressing more strongly the complete harmonious interconnectedness of all particular phenomena and by viewing the entire phenomenal world as one vast expression of emptiness, an emptiness that at the same time was also seen as an unchanging fullness and "wondrous being."(n20)
As a result, While acknowledging the emptiness of the phenomenal, it [Hue-Yen] nevertheless does not consider the phenomenal to be negligible or mean when rightly seen as empty, which is to say, interdependent. In exploiting the teaching that emptiness is exactly identical with form, and thus seeing these two as exactly co-terminous, Hua Yen has come to bestow an absolute value not only on the concrete world in its totality but on each individual that participates in this whole.
The cosmos is not an emanation or outward appearance of some shadowy substance named Vairocara lurking behind it; it is Vairocara itself. What can be despicable if everything is the body of the Buddha?(n21)
Here, then, in both Hua-Yen and T'ien T' ai was a clear, positive appreciation of the concrete world seen in light of emptiness, an appreciation later to be reflected in the landscape paintings of Chinese
Sung period landscape paintings and much of Japanese landscape art influenced by Zen. At the same time, sunyata in Chinese and Japanese Buddhism came also to be connected with the idea of the absolute truth body (dharmakaya) of the Buddha (itself considered both transcendent and immanent) and with the idea of tathata (suchness) as representing the totality of reality in both its transcendent (li) and phenomenal (shih) aspects.
In Ch'an (Japan: Zen) Buddhism, the notion of sunyata developed in further directions. These included a greater emphasis on sunyata as a focus of meditation and an attempt to reject logic and the scriptural tradition completely:
A special tradition outside the scriptures;
No dependence upon words and letters;
Direct pointing at the human heart;
Seeing into one's own nature
And the attainment of Buddhahood.
While such an apparent rejection of language and concepts seems to reflect an influence from the Madhyamika school, in practice Ch'an/Zen developed a very large scriptural tradition of its own, as well as its own institutionally based "logic" and strictly enforced rituals.(n22) In its strong emphasis upon meditation and on the concept of the "suchness" (tathata) of things, on the other hand, Ch'an/Zen reflected a clear influence from Yogacara and Hua-Yen thought.(n23) Ch'an/Zen views of sunyata also seem to have been influenced by the Neo-Taoist idea that regarded the Tao as a "nothingness" or pure potentiality from which all things come forth.(n24)
What all the above shows, then, is that the notion of sunyata underwent numerous shifts in meaning as it was taken up and adopted by various new schools ofIndia, China, and Japan. These changes reflected not only the inherent development of the idea itself but also the impact of various cultural traditions and ways of thinking upon the idea of sunyata. As such, the history of the notion of sunyata seems to be an excellent example of the broader phenomenon of the transformations in Buddhist ideas that occurred as they passed through different cultures in Asia.(n25) III. The Use of Sunyata and Related Terms by the Kyoto School Compared with
Their Use in Buddhist History Either directly or indirectly, the concepts of "nothingness" and "absolute nothingness" used extensively by Kyoto-school philosophers Nishida, Nishitani and Abe in their writings all reflect an influence from the Buddhist idea of sunyata. Nishitani and Abe are quite explicit in their use of sunyata. Abe in particular refers by name to Nagarjuna in his own use of "nothingness," while Nishitani is said to be indebted to him.(n26) All three also have been practitioners of Zen,(n27) and in their thought the influence of Zen on such ideas as emptiness (ku) and nothingness (mu) can be seen plainly. However, as will be seen below, in their use of such terms as sunyata, ku, and mu, these Kyoto-school philosophers ultimately differ significantly from Nagarjuna and reflect instead more Yogacara and Ch'an/Zen ideas, as well as a certain traditional Japanese way of thinking about reality.
This contrast with Nagarjuna's thought begins with the historical background to the development of Kyoto-school philosophy. Nishida, the founder of the Kyoto school, initially employed the ideas of "nothingness" and "absolute nothingness" in his search for a logical basis for the development of an "Eastern philosophy." Nishitani and Abe, however, used these ideas as the solution to what they consider the major philosophical problem of the twentieth century--nihilism--and view these ideas as offering a solution that allows one to move from the "relative nothingness" of Nietzsche to the "absolute nothingness" of sunyata.(n28) By negating both the "non-Being" and the "Being" of traditional Platonic philosophy, "absolute nothingness" thus results in an emptiness that is at the same time an "absolute present" (Nishida), "creative nothingness" (Nishitani), or "positive fullness" (Abe).(n29)
In contrast to this, Nagarjuna was neither primarily fighting nihilism nor trying to establish an "Eastern philosophy" but was instead attempting to overturn the substantialist views of the Abhidharmists, who tried to give a substantive positive reality to the dharmas and other concepts that Nagarjuna argued were not there. A second contrast between Nagarjuna and these three Kyoto-school thinkers is the tendency of the latter to ascribe a "fullness," "potentiality," and "wondrous being" to their ideas of nothingness in a way that reflects more Hua Yen/Kegon and Ch'an/Zen thought than that of Nagarjuna and the Indian Madhyamikas. For example, in Zen and Western Philosophy Abe gave the following description of "nothingness":
This real Nothingness, i.e. positive nothingness, is neither nothingness nor somethingness, but includes both. It is not mere emptiness, but fullness as the root and source of both being and non-being. Being and non-being appear out of that Nothingness. Thus, the unobjectifiable is positive, because it is the ground of your present being... There is nothing outside Nothingness. You and I and everything else are included without losing our particularity in the dynamic structure of this positive Nothingness.(n30)
Abe also attributed this interpretation of the positive nature of nothingness to Nagarjuna:
[F]or Nagarjuna, Emptiness was not non-being but `wondrous Being' Precisely because it is Emptiness which `empties' even emptiness, true Emptiness (absolute Nothingness) is absolute Reality which makes all phenomena, all existents, truly be. The opposition and tension between ji [[[phenomenal]]] and ri[[[universal]]] which runs through human existence and ever makes human life problematic was for Nagarjuna to be resolved by `Nothingness' (Mu) which transcends the opposition between being and non-being, that is, by `Emptiness'.(n31)
As we have seen, however, this is more a Yogacara, Hua-Yen, Neo-Taoist, and Chan/Zen interpretation of both sunyata and Nagarjuna thought, which is not supported by those works clearly written by Nagarjuna himself, such as the Mulamadhyamakakarikas, where any notion of "being" is clearly denied(n32) and that were more negative in their emphasis. By viewing sunyata as both a positive affirmation of the phenomenal and the harmonious totality of the phenomenal and the absolute, Abe, as well as Nishida and Nishitani,(n33) thus reflects more a positive Chinese and Japanese "world affirming" Buddhism than the "otherworldly" flavor of Indian Buddhism. Gino Piovesana has pointed out that, "while the Indian concept of nothingness is essentially emptied and other-worldly, the Japanese one is alive and fulfilled. This is, beyond a doubt, true of Nishida's meaning of nothingness."(n34)
A third difference among these three Kyoto-school philosophers' use of nothingness and Nagarjuna's sunyata derives from the former's use for philosophical purposes of what was originally primarily a religious idea. The contrast with Nagarjuna here becomes clearer when one remembers that for Nagarjuna the goal was the "reductio ad absurdum (Skt. prasanga) of all opposing theories" in a critical method that consists of "convincing an opponent of the falsehood of his own thesis without at the same time offering a counter-thesis." Nagarjuna was thus less concerned with "radical negation in the realms of logic and ontology as he was with a radical, self-composed letting go as the way to full enlightenment."(n35)
As Edward Conze has pointed out:
`Emptiness' has its true connotations in the process of salvation, and it would be a mistake to regard it as a purely intellectual concept, or to make it into a thing, and to give it an ontological meaning. The relative nothing (`this Is absent in that') cannot be hypostatized into an absolute nothing, into the non-existence of everything, or the denial of all reality and of all being. Nor does emptiness, mean the completely indeterminate, the purely potential, which can become everything without being anything.... When in China Buddhism fused with Neo-Taoism,`emptiness' became the latent potentiality from which all things come forth.... None of all this is intended here.(n36)
The problem, then, is in the Kyoto-school philosophers' use of an originally religious idea in a philosophical realm, minus the soteriological context. By giving nothingness an "ontological meaning" (for example, Abe's "ground of being and non-being") and ascribing a "potentiality" to it (Abe's "fullness," etc.), Kyoto-school philosophers go far beyond the original use and meaning of sunyata held by Nagarjuna and the Prajnaparamitas. They also seem to ignore the significant changes that the notion of sunyata underwent after entering China and later Japan and appear to assume that the term has had an unbroken line of continuity of meaning.
This is similar to the same assumption traditional Zen masters make when they assert the unbroken identity of the basic teachings of the Buddha through the Prajnaparamita, Madhyamikas, and then Zen--a problematic assertion given the available historical evidence.(n37) A fourth difference between the sunyata of Abe in particular and of Nagarjuna lies in Abe's tendency to equate "emptiness" and "suchness" (tathata). This is especially clear in his article, "Emptiness Is Suchness," wherein Abe argues that, since everything is empty and has no self nature, it is "just as it is," yet retains its uniqueness and particularity.(n38) As shown earlier, the idea of "suchness" (tathata) was developed into a major idea by the Yogacara school in India, even though it was used earlier in some of the Madhyamikas after Nagarjuna. In the Madhyamikas, "suchness" was used in relation to the negation of the substantive reality of all things--in effect, a devaluation of phenomena, not their affirmation.
In Yogacara and later Hua-Yen and Ch'an in China, however, "suchness" took on the meaning of the positive character of phenomena themselves, and under Fa-tsang and the Hua-Yen school, it came to be identified with the "wondrous being" of things, or the totality of reality in both its transcendental and phenomenological aspects.(n39) Ch'an inherited this Hua-yen interpretation and used sunyata positively as the affirmation of the original purity or essence within all things and related to the idea of Buddha nature.(n40) Abe's tendency to view nothingness as "a fully positive emptiness that affirms all things in their suchness,"(n41) therefore, seems more a reflection of Yogacara, Hua-Yen, and Ch'an/Zen understandings than Nagarjuna's sunyata, which was a thoroughgoing negation of all views and phenomena in order to reach enlightenment. As Streng has pointed out in his book about Nagarjuna and emptiness: "Emptiness" is always the emptiness of something.... "emptiness," as a means of knowing, denies that one can intuit the absolute nature of things (for there is no such thing from the highest perspective) . . . At the other extreme it is just as important to recognize that there is no substantive entity which might be considered eternal or the "first cause." Even "emptiness" is not such an absolute.(n42)
Further, "the expression of `emptiness' is not the manifestation of Absolute Reality, the revelation of the Divine, but the means for dissipating the desire for such an Absolute."(n43) For Nagarjuna "emptiness" was thus ultimately a soteriological aid toward enlightenment, not a philosophy itself. By denying all points of view it was the assertion that only meditation and nonattachment to any views was the answer. Any attempt to construct a philosophy, especially a Western-style one, based upon emptiness should be impossible if one remains true to what seems to be Nagarjuna's original intent. This is the fundamental contradiction within the thought of these three Kyoto-school philosophers. By giving the term "absolute nothingness" an absolute and universal nature and making it a metaphysical equivalent of "Being" in Western philosophy (see the following section), their work runs counter to the soteriological intent of Nagarjuna's use of the term sunyata, to which they (Abe specifically) claim a continuity with their own ideas.
IV. Historical and Intellectual Background and Development of the Kyoto
School as Reflected in Its Terminology The particular use of and meaning given to "nothingness" by Nishida, Nishitani, and Abe derives, as mentioned above, from the different goals and background of the Kyoto-school philosophers as compared to Nagarjuna and even other Buddhist schools such as Hua Yen (Kegon) and T'ien T'ai (Tendai). This background begins with the Meiji period in Japan (1868-1912) and Japan's forced opening to the West. Seeing Japan's fate as either eventual colonialization, as was taking place in China and other parts of Asia, or building up Japan's technology and military power to withstand such colonialization, Japan's leaders felt they must choose the latter. This choice, however, necessitated quickly adopting many aspects of Western culture, including various Western ideas and institutions involving government, scientific methods, industrialization, and education.
Along with these adoptions, many Western philosophical and religious ideas also flowed into Japan, and a debate ensued as to how much such ideas should be imported. From the 1880's onward, this debate raged with some arguing Japan needed to adopt some or all of Western Christianity and philosophy since they were the basis for Western science and technology and, thus, the power of the West. Eventually, however, those who argued that Western science could be separated from Western philosophy and religious ideas won the debate, and the concept of wakon yosai (Eastern spirit/Western techniques) became the watchword of the era. Yet, for many intellectuals, this was not a sufficient answer since it left unanswered what the foundation of this "Eastern spirit" was to be.
Such a question was the starting point for the development of Nishida's philosophy and, with it, also the so-called Kyoto school of philosophers that formed around him.(n44) Nishida's first major work was A Study of Good, published in 1911 at the end of the Meiji period. In this book he tried to establish a single ground for all types of experience and to unite the objective and the subjective worlds. He found this ground in William James's concept of "pure experience." Nishida later became dissatisfied with this approach and sought a new universal that could not only translate Japanese traditional thinking and spirituality into a Western philosophical system but also include all of reality, both Western scientific thinking and the traditional spirituality of Japan, into one theory that was less a psychologism than "pure experience."(n45)
He found this new universal in "absolute nothingness" and his "logic of place." According to James Heisig, who has translated a number of works of Kyoto-school philosophers and is thoroughly familiar with Nishida's thought, absolute nothingness for Nishida was a logical universal that embraced all of reality, much as "Being" has done in classical Western metaphysics. Yet, Nishida seemed to consider absolute a better replacement for Western philosophy's "Being," since it could encompass both "Being" and "non-Being."(n46) Nishitani, one of Nishida's students, further developed this idea of absolute nothingness, especially in his book Religion and Nothingness, wherein he presented it as the end result of a dialectical process in which the human being moves from egoity to nihility (relative nothingness) to finally emptiness or absolute nothingness. Abe, as a student of Nishitani, continues with a similar line of thought, and as a whole these three thinkers emphasize absolute nothingness as the end result of a dialectical process starting with being, followed by negation (nihility), followed by a negation of this negation, yielding a positive potentiality.
Nishida's major aims in his philosophy, as he stated himself on a number of occasions, were to seek a rational foundation for traditional Japanese and Oriental spirituality, especially Zen, and to place his philosophy in world culture and make it universal, not just Oriental.(n47) In From the Acting to the Seeing (1927), he stated this hope explicitly, to give Oriental culture its logical foundation, to see "`a form in the formless, hear a voice in the voiceless."`(n48)
Yet, in his use of the idea of "absolute nothingness" as the center of his philosophy, Nishida encountered a certain problem. This was that, by using a term that ultimately can be traced back to a certain interpretation of the Buddhist idea of emptiness or sunyata, he was using a religious idea that defied analytical examination and could not be neatly translated into noncontradictory philosophical concepts. As a result, as one scholar of modern Japanese philosophy points out about Nishida's concept of nothingness:
Logical difficulties obviously are not solved with the above explanations. They could be if such concepts could be kept in a religious sphere, from which they really originated; and as a way of salvation, nothingness can be explained. The effort to make it a philosophical outgrowth of a systematic process of thinking, is bound, as yet, to many inconsistencies.(n49) In other words, while Nagarjuna was primarily soteriological in his intent, Nishida, Nishitani, and Abe have all been driven by their goal to create an Eastern philosophy based upon Buddhist principles that could serve as a bridge to Western philosophy and at the same time overcome both Western nihilism, as represented by Nietzsche and others, and the traditional focus upon "Being."
They thus aimed at creating a rigorously conceived and formulated philosophy that could be conceptualized in Western terms and yet still reflect "Eastern" principles. Yet, in their use of the term sunyata in the guise of "nothingness" and "absolute nothingness," they expanded far beyond the original soteriological use of it by Nagarjuna and the Prajnaparamitas and carried it into a metaphysical realm where "absolute nothingness" tends to become a first principle of sorts for this "Eastern philosophy."
These efforts may ultimately say less about Buddhism (or "Eastern thought") than about the needs of these Kyoto-school philosophers to define such a philosophy on an equal if not superior standing to Western philosophy. The history of much of the Kyoto school, beginning with Nishida and later Nishitani and Abe, exhibits a certain latent nationalism that has come increasingly into focus for both Japanese and Western scholars.(n50) Nishida, as a Japanese intellectual growing up in Meiji Japan, and later Nishitani and Abe, as intellectuals maturing in the pre-and post-World War II eras, each faced the same questions all intellectuals during these times faced: how to define their own self-identities and Japan's in the face of the onslaught of Western thought and ideas pouring into Japan. The answers they found to these parallel issues of self-identity and national identity tended to flow together into one philosophical framework that presented the solution to both problems in a particular interpretation of Buddhist sunyata.
It was this particular interpretation that has come to be seen as reflecting a subtle "cultural nationalism" (see Section VI, below). That these Kyoto-school thinkers adopted sunyata, gave it their own meanings, and used it for their own purposes is in itself not unusual, not "wrong" in any sense. In the history of ideas it is common for old ideas to be appropriated in different ways and for new purposes. However, problems and inconsistencies in these Kyoto-school philosophers' use of sunyata do remain to the extent that they use sunyata dressed in a different guise (absolute nothingness) as the basis for a rigorous Western-style "philosophy." They also need to be more forthcoming about the multiple interpretations of sunyata itself and how its meaning has shifted significantly, as the concept evolved within India and then moved across cultures to China and Japan.
V. Problems in the Kyoto School's Use of Sunyata In addition to such issues, there are two more concerning these three Kyoto-school philosophers' use of sunyata that need to be discussed. One is that they generally do not address the problem that the positive reaffirmation of the phenomenal, as it occurs in Zen (and in Japanese Buddhism in general) and is reflected in such ideas as "dharmakaya," "tathata," and "tathagata garbha," has too easily led, at least historically, to a simple reaffirmation of the world order as it is and a lack of any true negation of things. In other words, although the second stage of the dialectic process that Nishitani and Abe describe is a negation of the given world, followed by a third stage of the realization of emptiness and a positive awareness of the "suchness" of things, too often in Japan stage two was never really carried out, and the world as it was was simply reaffirmed without ever being negated.
The problem with this was that it led to a tendency for Zen (and Japanese Buddhism as a whole) to reaffirm worldly values and worldly authority and become the servant rather than the critic of worldly authorities. This problem was perhaps especially acute for Zen, as has been pointed out by such Japanese scholars as Ichikawa Hakugen,(n51) Hakamaya Noriaki, and Matsumoto Shiro,(n52) and more recently such American scholars as Robert Sharf and Christopher Ives.(n53) In much earlier works over twenty years ago, Ienaga Saburo and Robert Bellah both made a similar point by arguing that, while in Buddhism there was a traditional dialectic of a negation of the world order and worldly values, followed by an absolute affirmation of the Buddhist dharma as the truth, in Zen with its emphasis upon suchness this dialectic was often misunderstood to be a simple reaffirmation of things as they were.
Truth (and beauty) thus came to reside in "seeing things as they are" and being aware of their impermanence (mono no aware) without emphasizing anything truly transcendent to such worldly phenomena or attempting to negate the world in order to attain salvation.(n54) This was reflected not only in Zen literature but also in Zen practice where, in contrast to the Amida and Nichiren forms of Japanese Buddhism, which sometimes opposed the political and social order, Zen almost always became part of this order, aligning itself with the ruling authorities and serving them in various capacities.(n55)
In a later article concerning the relationship between intellect and society in Japan, Bellah reaffirmed this point by contrasting Chinese and European traditions, where an intellectual conception of "order in the soul" led to a conception of order in society, to Japan where, according to Bellah: "no such profound intellectual conception stands at the beginning of the Japanese tradition. Rather, the givenness of society . . . has survived as the central focus of reflection."(n56) As examples, Bellah points to the leaders of the Meiji period who had "no quarrel with the givenness of Japanese society" and were not committed to any new conception of humankind or the idea of society. He also points to Kawabata Yasunari and his quote from a poem by the Japanese Zen monk Dogen at the time of Kawabata's acceptance of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1968: In the spring, cherry blossoms,
In the summer, the cuckoo,
In autumn, the moon.
And in winter,
Cold, clean snow.(n57)
One wonders how Abe, as well as Nishida and Nishitani, would reply to the assertion that their ideas of absolute nothingness border on--if they do not fall into--a traditional Japanese tendency to reaffirm the world as given. Perhaps they would argue that literary tradition is not the same as spiritual tradition. Yet, if the previous quote from Dogen is not illustrative enough, perhaps it will help to point to the overall distinctiveness of Japanese Buddhism as a whole in this regard, in its strong emphasis upon the idea of hosshin seppo:
Tamaki Koshiro, an eminent scholar on the development of Buddhism, has repeatedly noted that the doctrine of hosshin seppo, "the Dharmakaya preaches the dharma," is an idea given unique prominence in the Japanese tradition. In other words, the Japanese Buddhists tended to emphasize the idea that this world, as it is, is the expression of truth. Yet, in the very presence of this world, there is a depth that cannot be spoken but that is the basis of all expression.
This is not really a Buddhist idea so much as a Japanese idea and we find it in aesthetic discussions about such terms as yugen, "shadowy profundity," and in moral discussions about such ideas as makoto no kokoro, "the genuine heart." In this context, for example, Zeami's discussion of the cultivation of the No actor, or Fujiwara no Teika's discussion of how to write waka, or even Motoori Norinaga's discussion of how to understand the Heian ideal of mono no aware are as much a part of the Japanese spiritual tradition from which the Kyoto School draws its inspiration as is Indian Yogacara or Chinese Ch'an.(n58)
If Kyoto-school philosophy is to make itself truly relevant to the world today, it must show more clearly how the ideas of Nishida, Nishitani, and Abe truly differ from this strong Japanese tradition of affirmation (without negation) of the phenomenal world as absolute.(n59) A second remaining problem is that Abe in particular sometimes equates Zen ideas with Buddhism in general or with Mahayana Buddhism as a whole, sweeping away the major differences between Zen, Amida and Nichiren forms of Buddhism, as well as the differences between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. For example, in a long article entitled "Kenotic God and Dynamic Sunyata," which led to a large amount of interreligious dialogue several years ago concerning the idea of "emptiness" in Buddhism and Christianity, Abe argued as follows:
Furthermore, unlike Christianity, which talks about God as the ruler and the savior, Buddhism does not accept the notions of a transcendent ruler of the universe or of a savior outside one's self. A Buddha is not a supernaturally existing being, but is none other than a person who awakens to the dharma the truth, the suchness or as-it-is-ness of everything in the realization of Sunyata. This means that it is by a person--by an awakened one--that the suchness of everything is realized.(n60) This definition of Buddhism, however, ignores Pure Land Buddhism and its emphasis upon takiti (other power) and seems to imply that all Buddhism is similar to Zen's espousal of jiriki (self power).
It also ignores the role of Amida as a type of "savior" figure for many Pure Land believers. A similar tendency, which equates Mahayana Buddhism with Buddhism as a whole, occurs later in the same article when Abe stated that "the ultimate reality for Buddhism is neither Being nor God, but Sunyata."(n61) While this may be true for Mahayana Buddhism, most Theravada Buddhists would not accept "sunyata" as their ultimate reality. This again reveals how Abe makes the unconscious error of tending to equate Zen or Mahayana Buddhism with Buddhism as a whole. It also leads us into our next discussion concerning how Kyoto-school interpretations of sunyata (and other Buddhist concepts) have impacted recent Buddhist-Christian dialogue.
VI. Implications for Buddhist-Christian Dialogue It should be clear by now that my intention here is not to "discredit" Abe or his two intellectual mentors (Nishida and Nishitani) but only to point out that their particular interpretation of sunyata is only one interpretation of sunyata in its long history within Buddhism, an interpretation that is at least partly the product of their own historical and existential needs. By pointing out this fact and showing the difference between their interpretation and others that have existed in the Buddhist tradition (including Nagarjuna's), it also becomes apparent that the interreligious dialogue between Buddhism and Christianity that has been led by Abe on the Buddhist side over the past thirty years or so has very much depended upon what is most appropriately termed a "Japanese Zen" interpretation of Buddhist sunyata or, to be even more accurate, a "philosophical Japanese Zen" interpretation, rather than a Zen interpretation practiced institutionally throughout much of Zen or Ch'an history in Japan and China.(n62)
In other words, as Robert Sharf and others have clearly pointed out, the "Zen" we are dealing with here in Abe, Nishitani, and Nishida is in one sense a twentieth-century creation of Zen.(n63) Again, this is neither "wrong" nor unusual in the history of religious ideas nor in the history of interreligious dialogue, since most interreligious dialogue itself is dialogue between individual or culturally/historically specific interpretations of religious ideas that in turn have their own long histories of interpretations and subtle shifts in meaning.
Viewed in this sense, much of this essay has been about the intrareligious "dialogue" that took place between Kyoto-school philosophers and their own Buddhist tradition and the result of this dialogue in their particular interpretation of sunyata. Moreover, it was only after this Buddhist intrareligious dialogue had taken place that the interreligious dialogue led by Abe was able to begin with various Christian theologians. The significance of this essay and its analysis thus lies partly in pointing to the crucial importance of such intrareligious dialogue prior to the beginning of interreligious dialogue.
Such intrareligious dialogue and the particular meanings it has resulted in are particularly crucial in the case of sunyata, since the specific meaning of sunyata used by Abe leads to quite different kinds of conversations between Buddhists and Christians than would other meanings. For example, it can be argued that if a "Nagarjunian" interpretation of sunyata had been used instead, there would have been no effort by Abe to establish his own "position" in his dialogues with Christianity. Rather, the emphasis would have been on more simply refuting traditional Christian theological notions of God on the basis of their being attempts to find a "substantive" Absolute, without then offering a counterposition. Abe's actual approach, of course, was quite different in that, along with pointing out what he sees as the inadequacies of the traditional Christian approach to God, he gives his own detailed philosophical position. Moreover, this philosophical position itself differs from Nagarjuna and the Prajnaparamita Sutras by referring to sunyata as a "positive emptiness," "fullness," and "potentiality" in a way more reflective of Yogacara, Hua-yen, Neo-Taoist, and Ch'an/Zen influences.
Yet, it might be argued that Abe's interpretation of sunyata is a more useful one for interreligious dialogue since it offers more potential for finding common ground between Buddhism and Christianity than what I have presented as the negative Nagarjunian dismissal of Christian theological ideas without offering a counterposition. Such a "negative" interpretation of sunyata however, actually could be quite useful by shifting the level of dialogue away from what could be considered an overly heavy "theologizing" (and "philosophizing") in much of recent Buddhist-Christian dialogue (especially as seen in most of the dialogues between Abe and his Christian counterparts) and moving it more toward the similar apothatic meditative tradition that exists in both Buddhism and part of the Christian tradition of spirituality.
There is also the issue of a certain subtle "cultural nationalism" in Abe's as well as Nishitani's and Nishida's interpretation of sunyata and absolute nothingness that makes its use in interreligious dialogue somewhat problematic. In the case of Abe, this "cultural nationalism" has been pointed out by John C. Maraldo, an acknowledged scholar of the Kyoto school:
Abe means his statement about the true Self to represent a transcultural Buddhist position in distinction to the rationalist position of the West.... Abe's basic formula, "Self is not self, therefore it is self," is of course an example of the so called logic of soku-hi-is and at the same time is not--that Suzuki popularized as the core of Mahayana thought. This logic finds its locus classicus in the Chinese version of the Daimond Sutra. It has Sanskrit analogues and appears elsewhere in the Chinese Zen (Ch'an) tradition, but it seems to be singled out as a core expression of the Buddhist way of thinking only in Japan, and then especially when Japanese Zen Buddhists needed to distinguish their way of thin,sing from that of foreigners....
Probably no one, however, has employed the soku-hi formula more widely than Abe, who uses it even to suggest to Christian theologians the true meaning of God's incarnation in Christ. Abe's appeal to the traditional formula to explain a central doctrine of another religion accentuates commitment to the superiority of his Buddhist logic. In effect, Abe is presenting one historically Japanese convention as a prototype that purports to represent not Buddhism per se, nor the historical form of any particular religion, but the standpoint from which all truths are to be viewed. Nothing could appear less nationalistic or freed from the conditions of a particular culture or people. Yet ironically, as if to exemplify the sense of soku, a "state in which two things that seem to be different outside are one,nside," Abe's absolutism turns out to be a particular Japanese convention.(n64) He noted further:
I find that these critiques [by Abe and other Kyoto school philosophers] done in the name of something universal are nevertheless nationalist in the sense that their authors identify them as a standpoint (of Zen awakening or nondiscrimination) that has been best realized historically among one people. Cultural nationalism designates a Volksidee in the guise of a global ideal.(n65)
Although Maraldo referred here mainly to Abe's use of soku-hi, the discussion between Abe and Christian theologians on the meaning of God's incarnation in Christ that he referred to actually revolves around discussion of Abe's article, "Kenotic God and Dynamic Sunyata." In other words, Abe's soku-hi logic is very much a part of his overall interpretation sunyata. Thus, Maraldo's comments about Abe's use of the soku-hi formula apply equally well to Abe's use and interpretation of sunyata.
A similar type of latent "cultural nationalism" can also be seen in Nishitani's and Nishida's thought. According to the English translator of Nishitani's Religion and Nothingness, Jan Van Bragt, for example, "It is Nishitani's conviction that Japanese traditional culture, and especially its Mahayana Buddhist component, carries the necessary elements for a solution of the modern problems not only of Japanese society, but also of Western culture."(n66) Regardless of whether Nishitani's conviction is right, this does seem to be an example of a type of Japanese Volksidee being used as a global ideal.
Van Bragt also pointed to the concept of absolute nothingness in particular as the "clearest example" of a similar tendency toward implicit nationalism in Nishitani and Nishida, as well as Tanabe Hajime, another leading Kyoto-school philosopher:
The idea [[[absolute]] nothingness] is fraught with ambiguity from the start. On the one hand, it is presented as transcending (Western) being and (Eastern) nothingness. On the other, it is located in the Eastern tradition, most clearly in the form of Buddhist emptiness, which sometimes merits it the name of "Oriental nothingness." It is in this point that David Dilworth [English translator of several of Nishida's works] has accused Nishida of "regionalism" in his reasoning, of "an ambiguous mixture of metaphysical pronouncements and cultural-regional underpinning, and "an appeal to a privileged and unique experience, based on a special historical and geographical standpoint."(n67)
Both Dilworth's comments and Van Bragt's earlier quote above about Nishitani date from the 1970's, unlike more recent critiques of the Kyoto school. This shows that the "cultural nationalism" argument is actually not a new one but was simply ignored by many of the enthusiasts over Kyoto-school philosophy in the 1980's.
Van Bragt's and Dilworth's comments above also apply almost equally well to Abe, who tends to share a similar view of sunyata as something both universal yet also Buddhist and "Eastern." The effect of this argument upon some of his Christian theologian dialogue partners can be seen in the following statement by Thomas Altizer at the end of an article in reply to Abe's "Kenotic God and Dynamic Sunyata":
Yet if the love of God is a self-emptying and self-negating compassion, then it is surely present in a Buddhist Emptiness or Sunyata, and present there more purely than it has ever been in the Christian tradition, and more purely because it is empty of every definite and actual image and form, and therefore by necessity is empty of "God."(n68) While such subtle cultural nationalism on the part of Abe as well as Nishida and Nishitani may not be entirely "intentional," in the sense that it very well may be invisible to its own users,(n69) to the extent the interpretation of sunyata used turns out to be a type of "Volksidee" best realized in Japanese Zen--and yet is presented simultaneously as a worthy universal absolute by which to measure all other religious concepts of God--its use in interreligious dialogue with Christianity remains somewhat problematic.
In conclusion, this essay has attempted to show how the appropriation of the religious idea of sunyata by Kyoto-school philosophers to form the basis of a Western-style philosophy, although to be praised for its bold attempt to blend a particular Eastern religious concept with Western-style logical philosophical discourse, ultimately runs up against certain inconsistencies as well as the criticism that the interpretation of sunyata used is less "Buddhist" than a particular type of twentieth-century "Japanese philosophical Zen." In attempting to understand the background to this appropriation, we have also been able to investigate one case of the wider issue of how Buddhist ideas were transformed over the course of their movement within and between different cultures and among various thinkers. This serves as a necessary antidote to the idea common among many Buddhist faithful (and faithful of other religions as well) that their own basic religious ideas somehow have not fundamentally changed over the course of time and that an unbroken line of continuity exists between the ideas of the founder and their own particular school.
In the case of Buddhism, even when changes are acknowledged, Buddhists tend to attribute them to upaya, skillful means and adaptation to local cultures, with the "higher" understanding of the ideas unchanged. Yet, such an interpretation seems difficult in the case of sunyata, given the significant transformations it experienced as it moved from the Nikayas to the Prajnaparamitas, to Nagarjuna and to Yogacara, and then to the Tien Tai, Hua Yen, and Ch'an schools in China and their corresponding schools in Japan. David Kalupahana has alluded to such transformations of Buddhist ideas in his book Buddhist Philosophy: A Historical Analysis, wherein he argued that there was a major shift from early Buddhism's emphasis upon empiricism to a later transcendental and absolutist trend in the Prajnaparamitas and the Madhyamika.(n70) Kalupahana also argued that such changes were due at least as much to the needs of Buddhist believers as to any increase in understanding of the original ideas as time passed.(n71)
In other words, changes were often due to entirely new developments in the ideas as they encountered different cultures rather than simply to a greater understanding of the original ideas as time passed, as often claimed by Buddhists themselves.
This point seems particularly relevant to the idea of sunyata and its use and interpretation by Kyoto-school philosophers such as Abe, Nishitani, and Nishida. Although Abe in particular attempts to trace a line of direct continuity from his own philosophy of absolute nothingness back through Zen and Madhyamika to Nagarjuna's notion of sunyata, the reader following this line of thought realizes upon closer examination that the "sunyata" of Nagarjuna, the second-century Buddhist monk and destroyer of every established viewpoint among his contemporaries, was a very different entity than the sunyata or "absolute nothingness" of Abe, a twentieth-century postexistentialist philosopher struggling with nihilism and the search for meaning in a postmodern world.
In this way an intellectual history of sunyata reveals the intra-Buddhist dialogue (and disagreement) concerning its meaning that occurred within Buddhism over the past 2,000 years, in particular the "dialogue" between Kyoto-school philosophers and their own Buddhist tradition that in turn has shaped much of the interreligious dialogue between Mahayana Buddhism and Christianity in recent years. In the future, however, for such Buddhist-Christian interreligious dialogue to progress further, participants on both sides might do well to become more aware of the historically and culturally specific meaning of the "sunyata" that has underlain much of the dialogue to date and, as a result, to work more toward broadening the dialogue by taking into account other possible meanings of sunyata.
(n1) Frederick J. Streng, Emptiness Study in Religious Meaning (Nashville, TN, and New York: Abingdon Press, 1967), pp. 11, 156, 244-245; and idem, "Sunyata," in Mircea Eliade, ea., The Encyclopedia of Religion (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co.; London: Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1987), p. 153.
(n2) Streng, Emptiness, pp. 63-66,157-169; idem, "Sunyata," p. 153; David Kalupahana, Buddhist Philosophy: A Historical Analysis "Honolulu, HI: University Press of Hawaii, 1976), p. 143, and Edward Conze, Buddhist Thought in India (Ann Arbor, Ml: University of Michigan Press, 1967), pp. 250-252.
(n3) Edward Conze, The Prajnaparamita Literature (The Hague: Mouton and Co., 1960), pp. 9-15; and Streng, Emptiness, pp. 30-37. (n4) Streng, Emptiness, p. 30.
(n5) T. R V. Murti, The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. A Study on the Madhyamika System (London: George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., 1955), pp. 7-8. (n6) David Ruegg, The Literature of the Madbyamika School of Philosophy in India (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1981), p. 1; and Murti, Central Philosophy, pp. 7-8.
(n7) Hans Waldenfels, Absolute Nothingness: Foundations a Buddhist-Christian Dialogue, tr. J. W. Heisig (New York and Ramsey, NJ: Paulist Press, 1980 [orig.: Absolutes Nichts: Zur Grundlegung des Dialogs zwischen Buddhismus und Christentum (Freiburg/B.: Herder, 1976)]), p. (n8) Conze, Buddhist Thought, p. 243.
(n9) Streng, Emptiness, p. 163.
(n10) Ibid., p. 158.
(n11) Ibid., p. 21.
(n12) This argument follows that of Matsumoto Shiro. See Paul L. Swanson, "`Zen Is Not Buddhism': Recent Japanese Critiques of Buddha Nature," Numen (May, 1993): 115-149, for a good summary of Matsumoto's arguments on tathagata garbha (esp. p. 125). It is also important to note that Nagarjuna, in his principal work, the Mulamadhyamakakarikas, never used the terms "tathata," "tathagata garbha," or "dharmakaya." A few works ascribed to Nagarjuna but whose authorship remains unclear do use these terms, but these works appear only in Chinese translations with no original Sanskrit copies remaining, lending support to the thesis that they were not written by Nagarjuna himself. See Ruegg, Literature, pp. 31-32. (n13) Kalupahama, Buddhist Philosophy, pp. 142-143, and G[adjin] M. Nagao, Madhyamika and Yogacara: Study of Mahayana Philosophies ed. and tr. L. S. Kawamura, SUNY Series in Buddhist Studies (Albany State University of New York Press, 1991), pp. 214-215.
(n14) Kalupahana, Buddhist Philosophy, p. 143; and Conze, Prajnaparamita Literature, pp. 250-252.
(n15) Quoted in Nagao, Madhyamika and Yogacara, p. 215. (n16) Ibid., p. 216.
(n17) Francis Cook, Hua-Yen Buddhism (University Park, PA. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977), pp. 36, 44-47.
(n18) Steve Odin, "The Middle way of Emptiness in Modern Japanese Philosophy and the Zen Oxherding Pictures", Eastern Buddhist 23 (Spring, 1990): 29.
(n19) Francis Cook, "Fa-tsang's Brief Commentary on the Prajnaparamita-hrdaya-sutra," in Minoru Kiyota, ea., Mahayana Buddhist Meditation (Honolulu, HI: university Press of Hawaii, 1978), pp. 168-172. (n20) Nagao, Madhyamika and Yogacara, pp. 216-217. (n21) Cook, "Fa-tsang's Brief Commentary," pp. 174-175. (n22) See Robert Sharf, "Whose Zen? Zen Nationalism Revisited," in James Heisig and John Maraldo, eds., Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1995), pp. 40-44. Also see Bernard Faure, The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique of Ch'an/Zen Buddhism (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991), pp. 284-303.
(n23) Kalupahana, Buddhist Philosophy, p. 172.
(n24) See quote from Conze, Buddhist Thought, p. 61 (quoted below at note 36).
(n25) See Kalupahana, Buddhist Philosophy, p. 165, for a general exposition of this argument about the changes in Buddhist ideas. For more details on various changes in Buddhist ideas in China, also see Kenneth Ch'en, The Chinese Transformation of Buddhism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973); and Peter Gregory, Tsung-mi and the Signification of Buddhism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991). (n26) See Masao Abe, Zen and Western Thought, ed. William R. LaFleur (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1985), pp. 86-110; Keiji Nishitani, Religion and Nothingness, tr. Jan Van Bragt Berkeley, CA University of California Press, 1980); Waldenfels ,Absolute Nothingness, p. 15; and Odin, "The Middle Way of Emptiness," pp. 32-33. (n27) Gino K. Piovesana, Contemporary Japanese Philosophical Thought, Asian Philosophical Studies 4 (New York: St. John's University Press, 1969), pp. 85-122; Nishitani, Religion and Nothingness, pp. xxxv-xxxvi; and Abe, Zen and Western Thought, p. xiv.
(n28) Odin, "The Middle Way of Emptiness," p. 26. (n29) Abe, Zen and Western Thought, p. 197; and Piovesana, Contemporary Japanese Philosophical Thought, pp. 109-110, 204. (n30) Abe, Zen and Western Thought, pp. 197, 199, emphasis in original. (n31) Ibid., p. 94.
(n32) Streng, Emptiness, pp. 36-38.
(n33) A similar emphasis on the positive and affirmative aspects of nothingness can be seen in Nishida and Nishitani. See Piovesana, Contemporary Japanese Philosophical Thought pp. 103-106; and Waldenfels, Absolute p. 94.
(n34) Piovesana, Contemporary Japanese Philosophical Thought, pp. 120-121. (n35) Waldenfels, Absolute Nothingness, pp. 16-17. (n36) Conze, Buddhist Thought, p. 61.
(n37) Kalupahana, Buddhist Philosophy, p. 165.
(n38) Masao Abe, "Emptiness Is Suchness," in Frederick Franck, ed., The Buddha Eye (New York: Crossroad, 1982), pp. 203-207. (n39) Buddhist Philosophy, p. 138; and Nagao, Madhyamika and Yogacara, pp. 211-218.
(n40) John R. McRae, The Northern School and the Formation of Early Chan Buddhism (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1986), pp. 105, 122, 220.
(n41) Odin "The Middle Way of Emptiness," p. 43.
(n42) Streng, Emptiness, p. 159.
(n43) Ibid., p. 162.
(n44) Thomas P. Kasulis, "The Kyoto School and the West: Review and Evaluation," Eastern Buddhist (15) (Autumn, 1987):126-128. (n45) James Heisig, "The Religious Philosophy of the Kyoto School," Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 17 (March, 1990): 61; and Kasulis, "The Kyoto School," p. 128.
(n46) Heisig "Religious Philosophy of the Kyoto School," p. 66. (n47) Piovesana, Contemporary Japanese Philosophical Thought, p. 91; and Heisig, "Religious Philosophy of the Kyoto School," p. 57. (n48) Piovesana, Contemporary Japanese Philosophical Thought, p. 103. (n49) Ibid., p. 121.
(n50) See James W. Heisig and John C. Maraldo, eds., Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism, Nanzan Studies in Religion and Culture (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1994). (n51) See Christopher Ives, Zen Awakening and Society (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1992), pp. 90-94, for a summary of Ichikawa's arguments.
(n52) See Swanson, "Zen Is Not Buddhism."
(n53) See Robert Sharf, "The Zen of Japanese Nationalism," History of Religions 33 (winter, 1993): 1-43; and Ives, Zen Awakening and Society, pp. 51-99.
(n54) Robert N. Bellah, Beyond Belief (New York Harper and Row, 1970), pp. 118-120.
(n56) Robert N. Bellah, "Intellectual and society in Japan," Daedalus 101
(Spring, 1972): 89.
(n57) Ibid., p. 112. For a similar argument, that for Dogen the dharmakaya is the dharma, see Kasulis, "The Kyoto School," p. 140. (n58) Kasulis, "The Kyoto School," p. 138.
(n59) Hakayama Noriaki, one of the two Buddhist scholars (along with Matsumoto Shiro; see note 12, above)who have led the recent critique of tathagata garbha thought in Japan, has criticized Zen and the Kyoto school for not being true Buddhism, based upon their use of the ideas of tathagata garbha or hongaku shiso (the idea that all beings are inherently enlightened). Although not in agreement on all points, I do agree with the underlying implication of his writings: that Buddhist ideas underwent fundamental changes as they moved from India to China and then Japan and that, as a result, the "Buddhism" of Zen and the Kyoto School is not the Buddhism of Nagarjuna or Sakyamuni. see Swanson, "Zen Is Not Buddhism," for a good summary of Hakamaya's ideas.
(n60) Masao Abe, "Kenotic God and Dynamic Sunyata," in John B. Cobb, Jr., and Christopher Ives, eds., The Emptying God. A Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation, Faith Meets Faith series (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1990), pp. 29-30.
(n61) Ibid., p. 27.
(n62) For an incisive discussion on this point, see Sharf, "Whose Zen?" pp. 40-51.
(n64) John C. Maraldo, "Questioning Nationalism Now and Then: A Critical Approach to Zen and the Kyoto School," in Heisig and Maraldo, Rude Awakenings, pp. 342-343.
(n65) Ibid., p. 346.
(n66) Jan Van Bragt, "Kyoto Philosophy - Intrinsically Nationalistic?" in Heisig and Maraldo, Rude Awakenings, p. 247, quoting his own article, "Nishitani on Japanese Religiosity," in Joseph J. Spae, Japanese Religiosity, Encounter Series 3 (Tokyo: Oriens Institute for Religious Research, 1971), p. 274.
(n67) Ibid., p. 248.
(n68) Thomas J. J. Altizer, "Buddhist Emptiness and the Crucifixion of God," in Cobb and Ives, The Emptying God, pp. 77-78, emphasis mine. (n69) Maraldo "Questioning Nationalism," p. 347.
(n70) Kalupahana, Buddhist Philosophy, pp. 133-136. Murti makes the same argument in Central Philosophy, pp. 76, 83.
(n71) Kalupahana,Buddhist Philosophy, p. 165.
By Gregory K. Ornatowski
Gregory K. Ornatowski (Christian/Buddhist) is a lecturer in the Department of Religion at Boston University and a visiting assistant professor of international studies at Trinity College. During the Fall of 1995, he was a teaching fellow at Boston University. He holds a B.S. from Illinois State University; studied at Nanzan university 1976-78; received an MA from International Christian University; did dissertation research at Tokyo University as a visiting research fellow, 1982 84; received his Ph.D. (1985) from Harvard University in Japanese intellectual history; and received a post-doctoral M.A. in religion and culture at Boston University in 1996. His articles include "Continuity and Change in the Economic Ethics of Buddhism," Journal of Buddhist Ethics (1996); "A `Two-Truths' Approach to the problem of Religious Pluralism," Journal of Religious Pluralism (1996); and "On the Boundary between the `Religious' end the `Secular': The Ideal and Practice of Neo-Confucian Self-Cultivation in Modern Japan," forthcoming in the Journal of Japanese Religious Studies.