SUZUKI Daisetsu was a well-known figure in the introduction of Buddhism, including
Zen, to the non-Asian world. I introduce to you the English selection from “Japanese
Spirituality” which he wrote to Japanese people. He gives us commentaries on the
reason why the first person who awakened to Japanese Spirituality is Shinran,
a Buddhist, not someone of Shinto――more to come both in English and in Japanese.
One might assume that because Shinran was a Buddhist his experience and statements
were Buddhistic. Such a view of him is incomplete, however, for he was a Japanese as
well, and therein lies his essence, that he was a Buddhist is somewhat secondary.
We can be parents and children at the same time, and both aspects must be taken into
account. There is a certain individuality in Shinran’s becoming a Pure Land Buddhist,
which lies in the fact that he was born in the Kamakura period and became Honen’s
[1133-1212] disciple. Yet his Japanese character can be seen in his substantiating the
thought inherited from his master by means of Japanese spirituality.
Although spirituality is fundamentally supraindividual, it does not express itself unless it
passes through the individual. That is, it had to be “for the sake of this one individual
person, Shinran.” Absolute Love is basically supraindividual, but only when it is known
intuitively in the individual does it become a genuinely Absolute Love. This contradiction
is Shinran’s religious experience, and finally it has to be our religious experience as well.
This experience was encountered by a Japanese in Kamakura times, and not by any
other religious person in any other place in the world, not even by Chinese Buddhists
with a nearly two-thousand-year Pure Land tradition. Consequently, I call it the insight of
Japanese spirituality. There seems to be something within Japanese spirituality that is
essential for producing the possibility of insight or intuition of this kind.
Why was this not experienced by someone of Shinto, that most typical of all Japanese
things? Some even assert one is not truly Japanese unless one subscribes to Shinto.
Regardless, why did a man of Shinto not possess something like this spiritual insight?
It is because, as has been indicated above, Shinto experience is sensory and emotional,
not spiritual. Spiritual insight――the insight of the Person――is not possible except in
the spirit of the individual. Shinto, though amply blessed with elements of the group and
with a political character, has nothing like this Person. The emotions and senses like the
collective or group situation. It is when reflected on the group that one’s existence is
most clearly recognized.
Spiritual insight has a solitary element that is not found in Shinto. For that reason there is
in Shinto no one who could be called a founder. Since a founder is inevitably the Person
that has expressed the supraindividual in the individual, he is not able to have or to
maintain a group or collective character. The group is what comes to gather around the
Person of the founder. Something spread throughout the group has no center. There is
nothing but the multitude, among whom uncertain actions are common, actions at the
mercy of the prevailing movement of the emotional or sensory nature.
に映した一人であるから、集団性を持ち能 (あた) わぬ。集団は一人の「開山」を
繞 (めぐ) りて集まり来るものである。集団の上に一面に拡がって居るものには中心が
They must be guided by spiritual insight, for a metaphysical system can be added only to
spiritual awakening. Moreover, if this system is not present, the various sensory and
emotionally based insights alone will have no constancy.
It is here that Shrine Shinto and Sectarian Shinto are differentiated. (Although I feel
these terms “Shrine Shinto” and “ Sectarian Shinto” lack preciseness as well as
appropriateness.) The former, without the Person of spiritual insight to act as its axis,
tends to launch into political action. The confusing of the world of emotion with the world
of spirituality is not only logically inconsistent; it breeds considerable risk in everyday life
and for the actions of the group.
Download the whole English text in PDF