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We seem to have forgotten how to acquire what Bertrand Russell called, just a year before Suzuki’s essays were published, “a high degree of intellectual culture without emotional atrophy” in his magnificent meditation on why construction is more difficult yet more rewarding than destruction.Similarly, Suzuki’s point is that the intellect is best at pointing out what doesn’t work, and as such can be a force of destruction, but when it comes to what does work, to the art of moral construction, we must rely on a wholly different faculty of the human spirit.But by 1940, all of his books had gone out of print in war-torn England, and all remaining copies in Japan were destroyed in the great fire of 1945, which consumed three quarters of Tokyo.
Because it points out ignorance, it is often considered illuminating, whereas the fact is that it disturbs, not necessarily always bringing light on its path.
How poignant the latter remark is in the context of contemporary intellectual life.
Though it raises questions enough to disturb the serenity of the mind, it is too frequently unable to give satisfactory answers to them.
It upsets the blissful peace of ignorance and yet it does not restore the former state of things by offering something else.
Legendary composer John Cage had a similar encounter with Suzuki, which profoundly shaped his life and music.
In the early 1920s, spurred by the concern that Zen masters are “unable to present their understanding in the light of modern thought,” Suzuki undertook “a tentative experiment to present Zen from our common-sense point of view” — a rather humble formulation of what he actually accomplished, which was nothing less than giving ancient Eastern philosophy a second life in the West and planting the seed for a new culture of secularized spirituality.He points to the lineage of philosophy — a discipline that continues to rely heavily on Descartes’s ultimate slogan for the intellect, The history of thought proves that each new structure raised by a man of extraordinary intellect is sure to be pulled down by the succeeding ones.This constant pulling down and building up is all right as far as philosophy itself is concerned; for the inherent nature of the intellect, as I take it, demands it and we cannot put a stop to the progress of philosophical inquiries any more than to our breathing.By making us drink right from the fountain of life, it liberates us from all the yokes under which we finite beings are usually suffering in this world.[…] This body of ours is something like an electric battery in which a mysterious power latently lies.All the struggles that we see around us come from this ignorance… we see for the first time into the nature of our own being.One of Suzuki’s most overlooked yet essential points — and one particularly prescient in the context of what modern developmental psychology has found in the decades since — has to do with the crucial role of adolescence as a pivotal point in moral development.Alan Watts may be credited with popularizing Eastern philosophy in the West, but he owes the entire trajectory of his life and legacy to a single encounter with the Zen Buddhist sage D. Suzuki (October 18, 1870–July 12, 1966) — one of humanity’s greatest and most influential stewards of Zen philosophy.At the age of twenty-one, Watts attended a lecture by Suzuki in London, which so enthralled the young man that he spent the remainder of his life studying, propagating, and building upon Suzuki’s teachings.The teenage years, he argues, are when we begin “deeply delving into the mysteries of life” and when we are “asked to choose between the ‘Everlasting No’ and the ‘Everlasting Yea’” — a notion young Nietzsche intuited half a century earlier when he resolved, Much of that blindness, he admonishes, comes from our attachment to the ego.Paradoxical as it may sound to any parent or teacher of a teenager, Suzuki suggests that adolescence is the time most fruitful for the dissolution of the ego: We are too ego-centered.