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...... ... .  . .  .  .
Response to Richard Pilgrim's review of The Logic of
Unity, by Hosaku Matsuo and translated by Kenneth K. Inada
Kenneth K. Inada

The reviewer of The Logic of Unity by Hosaku Matsuo has reacted rather negatively to the book in general and to its message in particular. Such reactions were of course anticipated by both the author and translator. Admittedly, Matsuo is not a systematic writer, as he belongs to the pre-war group of thinkers and their style of writing. This is immediately discerned upon reading the opening chapter. But the alleged "obfuscation" by the reviewer is neither intended nor promoted. It may be the result of a certain non-objective reading of the text.

The book is actually a collection of essays written over a period of time since the war's end and was organized roughly in the form presented to retain the general flow of ideas. Any systematization would have meant wholesale reorganization and revision of the text, but that was not to be. The author was actually approached on the matter of major revisions but due to prolonged ill health he could not institute them. Several letters of correspondence only resulted in amplification of the existing ideas. The Postscript, for example, has been excerpted from one of these letters. In it, the author readily admits to the lack of strict academic research and his rambling and repetitive style of writing, but he hopes that the work will "inspire him or her to develop the zeal and taste for philosophical methodology and understanding." At any rate, under those circumstances I as translator had no alternative but to do my best in presenting the seminal ideas contained in the work. The work itself is, in a sense, a measure of the extent to which a layman understands the profound Buddhist principles at play in ordinary thinking and practical living.

The last chapter, "Twenty Five Questions and Answers," together with an appendix, "What is Democracy?" were excised altogether since they were repetitive in nature and di0d not carry sufficiently new material to merit inclusion. They were essentially in the nature of an afterthought to the body of the work. The writing, moreover, seemed very patronizing, as it was addressed to the people in the context of a defeated nation. All this would not have served any real purpose to the outsider, although the ideas (democratic ideas framed within Buddhist principles) were provocative to the Japanese of the time. Furthermore, as it is all too obvious, Japan has recovered so astonishingly well since the war's end that the social and psychological climate then shows very little resemblance to what it is today.

I grant that typos and punctuation mistakes exist in the text. But on the matter of "unrelenting sexist language" I beg to differ. The work uses the terms "man" and "mankind" in the abstract and these need no explanation. Rather than being bogged down by these minor points, and given the opportunity to respond, I would like to present the author's case in the spirit of a continuing dialogue on more substantive matters.

It is true that the author presumes some background knowledge of Buddhism. But the work is far from being an "apologetic for Buddhism," as alleged by the reviewer. The very subtitle, "The Discovery of Zero and Emptiness in Praj~naapaaramitaa Thought," reveals clearly the technical nature of the work. On this point, I was greatly surprised to learn that the reviewer felt relieved when he got to the chapter analyzing the Heart Suutra. Now, the Heart Suutra, being the heart or essence of Praji~naapaaramitaa thought, is undoubtedly one of the most difficult texts to understand. It is so abbreviated that the reader must go back to the bulky suutras that preceded it in order to comprehend the ideas expressed in paradoxical language. It simply assumes much on the part of the reader, and no amount of chanting it, as Zennists do, or of casual reading will reveal the true import in it. It directly points at the true nature of reality from the standpoint of emptiness or "praaji~naa-mptiness." In light of this, if the reviewer is able to be at home with this compact but profound suutra, then it would seem natural enough for him to follow the author's analysis more easily and with more flexibility and in wider context in viewing the dimensions of the mind and its base, as well as to understand the call for a novel perspective in epistemology itself. Apparently, the reviewer's knowledge of the Heart Suu-tra's philosophy is limited, or it seems peripheral and does not strike at the heart of the matter, that is, the empty (`suunya) ground of existence. This is the unfortunate situation, repeated over and over again, by followers of Buddhism who are inclined toward more literal rather than philosophical understanding. They lack the insight or fail to catch the rare glimpses of reality that Buddhism is dangling before their very eyes. As in good poetry or poetic work, it is not only the excellent prose with which this work is written, but also the rare flashes of reality seen or experienced through it that distinguish it from other works.

On the matter of Western categories, the reviewer feels that the author presumes too much of Buddhist thought and thereby "discourages one from seeing the Western categories as helpful." This is a serious matter. First of all, there is no attempt to translate Buddhist notions into Western categories on a one-to-one basis. No translation, however faithful, can be made on this basis, much less when it concerns Buddhist vis-a-vis Western thought. The reason for this is that Buddhist thought or principles are by and large too novel to fit exactly into the Western mode of thinking, or else they are inherently nonconventional from the very beginning. Those familiar with Buddhist thought realize immediately that, starting with the historical Buddha, many of the doctrines take on neologistic features. Such prevailing terms as karma, duhkha, nirvaana, sa.msaara, madhyamaa pratipad, anitya, anaatman, `suunyataa, and so forth are all neologisms or old terms infused with nuances that amount to new terms `Suunyataa, as emptiness or zero, is a case in point. Ma-tsuo's contribution here is to indicate the two aspects of emptiness, the literally empty and the fullness, and to exhibit the unique dialectic or synthetic unity realizable in emptiness. Here he introduces mathematics to help illustrate the way the mind and its mind-base function. By no means does he project mathematics as a way to understand Buddhist principles, as the reviewer suggests. That would simply be going off the track.

Thus, even in the contemporary period where we grope for better expressions, the desire need not be satisfied by merely seeking Western categories or English equivalents. In this respect, then, the author's use of certain terms which are translated into English does not mean that a strict tie-up has been accomplished. Instead, it is merely an attempt to express Buddhist-based notions rendered into acceptable English. This attempt has issued forth in such unique terms or phrases as "intuitive unconsciousness" (chokkan-teki-muishiki), "structure of mind-base" (shingen-no-koozoo), "integrative dialectic'' (soogoo-benshoohoo), and ''prajnnaa-emptiness" (hannya-no-kuu). These are not Western categories in the strictest sense, similar as they may appear to be, but rightly Asiatic notions expressed in understandable English. Should they be taken as strict Western categories, the result will be infelicitous, since the terms are fundamentally used to underlie a new epistemological framework rather than to fit into an already existing one. Matsuo aims at this new epistemological framework, and thus the failure to grasp this point has been the primary reason for the reviewer's puzzlement.

Expanding on the above point, the reviewer's following criticism is out of order. He says: "Matsuo compounds the problem by unfortunately stressing the enlightenment position as a transcendent third or 'synthesis' of is/is not or being/nonbeing rather than the less philosophically comfortable middle way between is/is not, eing/nonbeing" (reviewer's italics).

Clearly, Matsuo is not after a "comfortable middle way between is/is not, being/nonbeing." First of all, that is not the Buddhist middle way. In Buddhism, no one realizes the middle way by adjusting to a position between is/is not or between being/nonbeing. This was precisely what the Buddha and Naagaarjuna had admonished against, that is, attaching to the extremes of being and nonbeing or maintaining a dualistic epistemic positioning of things. The perception must be in the nature of a "nondualistic middle," if you will, which is an odd way to point at reality as such; indeed, the middle way must be grasped nonconventionally (nondualistically). This is what Matsuo refers to as a "synthesis," which, in reality, is a form of transcendence of the dichotomous natures of is/is not or being/nonbeing. The transcendent quality is holistic and inclusive, and brings together everything within a unified experiential reality due to the simultaneous and mutual penetration of the one and the many. This is the logic of unity in its fullness which avoids the extremes and issues forth constantly fresh new grounds of epistemic beginnings. It is possible only because of emptiness as the ground of identity as well as differ-entiation. Thus, emptiness (the mind-base as zero or the mathematical zero that depicts the total ground of existence) is the focal base-point of epistemic process. I have added translator's notes at convenient places to guide the reader and to keep the flow of ideas within the seemingly unsystematic presentation. See especially the note on pages 38-39. But let's face the simple fact (perhaps not so simple) that our habits of perception are so ingrained in dualistic analysis that it will take something quite dramatic to change our conventional epistemic foundations. Matsuo, with his Buddhist background, has suggested such a dramatic turn in epistemology. He may not have succeeded in presenting his case in clear, systematic terms, as shown by the befuddlement of the reviewer, but despite any criticism, it should be well worth hearing him out to continue the dialogue for a more precise comparative system of knowledge.

Philosophy East and West, Vol.39 No.4, October 1989, pp.453-456


Updated: 1-8-2000

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