Yawn, Ben Reviews Yet Another Book About Religion

Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki wrote Mysticism, Christian and Buddhist in 1957 as a way of comparing Buddhist and Christian mysticism, particularly the concepts of infinity, eternity, and the transmigration of souls. Suzuki was a Japanese writer of many essays and books on Buddhism, Zen, and Shin. In this particular book, Suzuki compared Buddhist mysticism with sermons from the controversial Middle Age theologian Meister Eckhart, a German Dominican who sparked investigations of heresy by the second Avignon pope, John XXII. Later on in the book, Suzuki talked about the Pure Land school of Zen Buddhism.

This is not a beginner’s level book on Buddhism, especially if one is new to religious thought in general. This book is just a few steps below the Sutra level of Buddhist reading and thought. This book is also not one for those that are uncomfortable with ecumenism and ideas about commonality behind the world’s religions. However, if one is open-minded and orientated with Buddhist thinking, books like this can immediately open up realms of religious thought previously unattainable.

A particular idea Suzuki wanted to emphasize was how we see. Suzuki said, “It is not enough to “know” as the term is ordinarily understood. Knowledge unless it is accompanied by a personal experience is superficial and no kind of philosophy can be built upon such a shaky foundation” (pg. 34). This is a position of balance that helps people avoid either the haughtiness from being too academic or the emotional blindness achieved by relying too much on personal experience. The coupling of knowledge and seeing is a foundation of Buddha’s teaching as found in the Eightfold Path.

This coupling of knowledge and experience is important in understanding Buddhism because it helps people see the religion as something more than someone simply achieving enlightenment. Buddhism puts people in a place of freedom. Suzuki painted a picture of enlightenment where a person “can look in two directions: God-way and creature-way” (pg. 75). This means that a person can stand off to the side and have a vantage point to see both humanity and the divine. When this happens, we experience absolute freedom of mind and peace from all of those thoughts and beliefs that hold us back from seeking unity in both God and ourselves.

This is just a tiny segment of teachings offered in this book by Suzuki. There was so much information packed into the book that I am sure I could read it ten times and find something new each time. It was a demanding read, much like a novel by one of the dead Russians (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, etc.) I am so fond of reading. Thankfully, the demanding writing of Buddhist writers like Suzuki enables me to advance religiously from the information and teachings I learn from them.

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