Monday, March 19, 2012

Not "Practice" but "Great Living" of D.T.Suzuki

I want to get back to studying Buddhism, but I find it difficult to concentrate on much (besides television shows) so soon after my sister’s passing and now worried about my mother’s health. Spending my days at the nursing home where my mother is at, I was afraid I didn’t have any serious material to read during the times when she’s napping but then I remembered that I had the latest newsletter from the Shinran Bukkyo Center with me.

The Shinran Bukkyo (Japanese for “Buddha-Teaching”) Center is a research institute in Tokyo sponsored by Higashi Honganji. One important project they have been working on is the republication of D.T. Suzuki’s translation of Shinran’s Kyogyoshinsho. It’s not a complete translation because Suzuki died after translating only four of the six chapters and there are many parts where Suzuki veers towards a general Mahayana interpretation of the passages instead of presenting the passages from Shinran’s unique viewpoint. To me it’s a valuable work because it’s a much needed alternative to the currently accepted “standard” The Collected Works of Shinran (known as the CWS) published by Nishi Honganji. Right now the anticipated publication date is July of this year.

As part of their work on the project, the Shinran Bukkyo Center invited scholars to give lectures on Suzuki’s translation and the reports on the lecture series appear in their newsletters and full transcripts are published in their journal. What a pleasant surprise it was to open this month’s newsletter to see the recent speaker was our Chicago guy, Michael Conway. I call Mike my “oshiego” (“child that I taught” – what a grade school teacher would call her former pupil) since he came regularly to our temple’s study classes before he went to Japan. But it’s very embarrassing to hear him introduce me to people as his “sensei,” because he’s become such an advanced scholar of Buddhism, accomplishing much in Japanese and English with so many decades ahead of him. He currently teaches at Otani University and has appeared at scholarly conferences throughout the world.

In the report, one of the points Mike made in his lecture was why he thought D.T. Suzuki chose “Great Living” as a translation for “dai-gyo” when the standard English translation for “gyo” has long been the word “practice.” Mike said the word “practice” in English refers to actions done with the purpose of gaining some reward. (As in “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” – “Practice!”) But D.T. Suzuki was well aware that “Namu Amida Butsu” was not something done over and over in order to get better at it and win the all-expenses-paid trip to the Pure Land. Suzuki resonated to Shinran’s focus on “suchness” and so he could taste the nembutsu as that which guides us to being in accordance with “Reality as-it-is.” This accordance is meant to be experienced, not “practiced,” so to Suzuki it made more sense to see Shinran’s use of the word “gyo” to refer to “living” – and “dai-gyo” is the Great Living of unbounded life, i.e. Amida.

For me Reality as-it-is means jagged unstable ground beneath my clumsy feet. But where there is a lack of readiness, willingness and ability for “practice,” there is the wide open path of Great Living.

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