Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Zen Life - D.T. Suzuki

Daisetsu Suzuki was a pivotal figure in bringing Zen to the West.

As well as being a charismatic speaker, he was a prolific translator of Chinese, Japanese, and Sanskrit literature. He also wrote many original works, notably the three volume, Essays in Zen Buddhism; Studies in Zen Buddhism and Manual of Zen Buddhism. His, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, includes a commentary by Carl Jung.

But despite his prolific literary output, he always stressed the importance of actually experiencing satori.

The film follows the progress of his life and thought and many fascinating insights into his character are offered by those who knew him well.

The video starts with a very brief introduction to Zen and to DT Suzuki.

A three minute overview of significant world events during Dr. Suzuki’s lifetime of 96 years, concentrating on the many wars which took place in the 20th Century

Life Story:
A flowing, in-depth treatment of the life of Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, with numerous photographs and rare film footage.

Thematic Segments:
Threaded in and out of the LIFE STORY are rare recordings of D.T. Suzuki himself, as well as numerous interviews of people who knew him in person, inspiring in their own right.

Sartori (Enlightenment):
Daisetz Suzuki attracted many Westerners to Zen Buddhism, and mystified many with his historical stories of Satori. He did not feel Zazen meditation was necessary to attain “enlightenment” - though it is a useful device in modern times.

Some claim he overemphasized the Satori experience. As we will see, this indescribable enlightenment is not a sublime “state” of being, but a “way” of being truly free.

East & West :
D.T. Suzuki excelled at explaining Eastern concepts and ways of thinking to Western intellectuals. He felt that Westerners, who view reality based on dichotomy and opposition, should learn from the East, where there is no “duality.”

Christianity & Buddhism:
Suzuki had a universal image of human beings. He was especially fond of the writings of Meister Eckhart. Fr. Thomas Merton and he greatly admired one another.

Suzuki found common ground in Western tradition, and thanks to him, so too has the West been drawn to Eastern thought and practices. Now there are many Christians, including priests and nuns, who do Zazen.

Zen & Shin Buddhism (”Self power” & “Other Power”):
Zen insists there is no almighty - you must understand the ultimate yourself and live life fully. Shin (Pure Land) Buddhism, like Christianity, believes you must look to a higher power to be “saved.” Suzuki realized that these seemingly contradictory ways of thinking are actually one and the same.

Zen: Religion or Philosophy:
There never was need for a word like “religion” in Japanese, until translation of the Western concept was needed. For Suzuki, both the intellect and the spirit are aspects of human expression. He was a lay Buddhist, and some Zen priests think he was too intellectual. Academics may claim he was too spiritual. The fact is he was widely respected by theologians and agnostics, intellectuals and plain folk alike.

Zen & Psychoanalysis:
It is interesting to note that both psychoanalysis and Zen became popular in the West around the same time. Indeed, leading psychoanalysts were strongly attracted by Zen thinking, mainly through Suzuki’s influence, and its way of dealing with the “self” and the unconscious

Zen & the Arts (Freedom within Limitations):
The end product of Zen is freedom of the spirit, which is the very basis of creativity. Dr. Suzuki’s writings and teaching had a ripple effect throughout Western culture, and strongly influenced contemporary Western artists such as John Cage and Gary Snyder.

Life & Death:
One of the most difficult concepts to comprehend in Zen is that life and death are one and the same. Western philosophers from ancient times have grappled with the same problem. If you live the absolute moment, there is neither life nor death. As Suzuki explained it, the question is not “to be or not to be.” It is “to be and not to be.”


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