View Full Version : TEXT: Spiritual Enlightenment (Buddhist)

John Lindsey
24th May 2000, 07:07
The following was taken from the book: Sermons of a Buddhist Abbot by Soyen Shaku. Written in 1906, it documents the lectures given by Rev. Shaku around the Western United States. I thought this might be of interest to our members. Comments are welcome, and I will post more later....

THERE are many characteristic points of divergence between religion and philosophy, though they have so much in common that some scholars, broadly speaking, take religion for practical philosophy and philosophy for
speculative religion. The difference between the two, however, is not merely that of practicability and theorization. It is, in my judgment, more
deeply rooted and fundamental. What is it, then? I believe that that which makes religion what it is in contradistinction to philosophy or ethics consists in the truth that it is essentially founded on facts of one's own spiritual experience, which is beyond intellectual demonstrability and which opens a finite mind to the light of universal effulgence. In short, spiritual enlightenment is indispensable in religion, while philosophy is mere intellection. By spiritual enlightenment I mean a man's becoming conscious through personal experience of the ultimate nature of his inner being. This insight breaks as it were the wall of intellectual limitation and brings us to a region which has been hitherto concealed from our view. The horizon is now so widened as to enable our spiritual vision to survey the totality of existence.

As long as we groped in the darkness of ignorance, we could not go beyond the threshold of individuation; we could not recognize the presence of a light whose most penetrating rays reveal all the mysteries of nature and mind.
The spirit has found that the light is shining within itself even in its fullest glory, that it even partakes something of this universal light, that it blundered miserably in seeking its own ground outside of itself, that "Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, which is, and which was, and which is to come," is no more nor less than itself. And it is through this kind of enlightenment only that we fully satisfy our inmost spiritual yearnings and groanings. Without this, religion loses its significance, becoming merely
an applied philosophy or system of metaphysics. The enlightenment which thus constitutes the basis of the religious life is altogether spiritual and
not intellectual. The intellect in its very nature is relative and cannot transcend its own limitations. It is dualistic no matter how high it may
take a flight. It always needs an object with which to deal, and it never identifies itself with it, for it cannot do so without destroying itself.
There must be the "I" and the "not I" whenever intellection takes place. Self-alienation or keeping itself aloof from the object on which it
exercises itself is the raison d'etre of intellect, being its strongest as well as its weakest point. Its strongest point is seen in science and philosophy, while its weakest point is revealed in religion. For religion needs a synthetic faculty by which it can comprehend the realm of particulars, the realm of constant strivings and eternal contradictions. Religion wants to under-
stand and preserve life as it is found, and not to "dissect and murder" it as is done by the intellect. Religion wants to see and not to demonstrate; to grasp directly with her own hands and not to rely upon a medium; to see intuitively and not discursively. What is therefore asked for by a religious spirit is fact and not representation, enlightenment and not reflection;
and this will be supplied by no amount of speculation and imagination. We must advance one step further beyond the limits and boldly plunge into the abysmal depths of the Unknowable.
Can a mortal being with his limited consciousness have an insight into a field without its ken? No; as long as he relies solely upon his intellectual faculty, he is forever barred from so doing. For the intellect is really superficial and cannot penetrate through spatial and temporal relations,
nor can she free herself from the bondage of logical sequence; and therefore the inner life of our being is altogether unknown to the intellect.
We cannot be said to know an object thoroughly by merely becoming familiar with all its attributes, qualities, potentialities, and what not.

Tom Davidson
24th May 2000, 16:28
Thanks, John, a great post. I'd like to make four points, in descending order of importance:

What a marvellous indictment of the materialist West, and what a simple exposition of what is necessary to cure our ills. A hundred years later, and the situation hasn't got any better. All the more inspiring when, if we take the simple message of Rev. Shaku's sermon, it corresponds in essence to what is preached from any pulpit on our side of the globe.

For the martial artist, the dualistic nature of the intellect to which Rev. Shaku alludes is the very barrier which the budoka must overcome to reach that 'higher ground' - 'mushin' as we would understand it.

Thirdly - Let this once and for all, in this forum at least, give proof to the fact that religion, whatever yours might be, is in a different realm and thereby entirely proof against any perceived threat that some, in their ignorance, think the martial arts might represent.

And lastly, let's take this opportunity to conform Bodo no Kokoro to Eastern Traditions (both martial and spiritual) rather than expositions of Western Theology (in which I admit my part) which seemed to predominate before, to use a biblical term, "The Fall".

Thanks again John, and regards to all,


Bob Steinkraus
24th May 2000, 19:16
Mr. Davidson -

You wrote -

What a marvellous indictment of the materialist West, and what a simple exposition of what is necessary to cure our ills. A hundred years later, and the situation hasn't got any better. All the more inspiring when, if we take the simple message of Rev. Shaku's sermon, it corresponds in essence to what is preached from any pulpit on our side of the globe.
- end quote -

I find it difficult to believe that the East is more spiritually advanced than the West. This is especially true since this sermon was delivered in 1906. Since then, we have had the rape of Nanking, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the whole nasty rise of Japanese nationalist fascism. If Buddhism couldn't fix that, I have little faith in its abilities to fix our current problems.

Sort of like Eugene Herrigal (sp?), who wrote 'Zen and the Art of Archery'. Thru the practice of kyudo, Mr. Herrigal apparently achieved zen enlightenment and wrote a book about it. (This was during the 1930s). Then he went off to Germany and joined the Nazi party.

Additionally, the Rev. Shaku's thoughts do not match at all closely with what I hear preached from the pulpit on my side of the globe. My understanding of orthodox Christianity is that it does not teach that enlightenment/salvation comes from within, but exactly the opposite. Salvation/true wisdom comes from God, not man (according to most Christian theology), and is not to be found thru an examination of the self, which is held to be subject to sin.

The quotation that Rev. Shaku cites is a combination of two quotes from Revelation. (Rev.21:6 and Rev.4:9). Read them. They have nothing whatever to do with self examination, or looking for wisdom within.

Christianity may be more nearly correct, or Buddhism, or they may both be wrong. But we do ourselves no favors by pretending that they are saying the same thing if they are not. And the worst that can be said about Christianity or Buddhism is that those who do not truly follow their teachings often give them a bad name.

Bob Steinkraus

24th May 2000, 20:09
<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Bob Steinkraus:

Sort of like Eugene Herrigal (sp?), who wrote 'Zen and the Art of Archery'. Thru the practice of kyudo, Mr. Herrigal apparently achieved zen enlightenment and wrote a book about it. (This was during the 1930s). Then he went off to Germany and joined the Nazi party.


Bob Steinkraus [/B]<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Umm, while I am not a student of Kyudo, some members of this board are, and, well, according to them, Herrigal (and his teacher) were not good representative examples of Kyudo. The whole connection to Zen... interesting, but not the way most practitioners approach their discipline. As for enlightenment, its easy to claim for oneself, difficult to disprove. It seems better generally to go by people's actions than their (often skewed) view of themselves.

Be well,

Jigme Chobang

25th May 2000, 00:46
<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Popie:
[snip] Also, we must look at the text it's self. Who translated it (if at all), and when concerning the purport and interpretation. That is how much influence and license was taken. [snip]<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

I guess the same can be said for the Bible, too... not to start a flame war or anything...

Houston Haynes (http://home.nc.rr.com/houstonandjulie)
"You have the right to remain silent.
Anything you say will be misquoted, then used against you."

George Kohler
25th May 2000, 00:49
<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Tetsutaka:
I guess the same can be said for the Bible, too... not to start a flame war or anything...

I hate when this happens

George Kohler
Kusakage Dojo-cho

John Lindsey
25th May 2000, 03:23
As the the translator, I just checked and surprisingly discovered it was DT Suzuki!

There are some rather interesting sermons on the Russo Japan war..interesting considering the time frame of 1906 and the rise of military in Japan.

Gil Gillespie
25th May 2000, 06:36
I am going to defer my response because I must re-read that piece SEVERAL TIMES. There is weight there. It must be digested, contemplated, allowed to simmer in the juices of retrospection. All these responses are half-cocked, especially that which "only skimmed" then went off for several paragraphs.Anything Daisetz Suzuki lent his energy to is worthy of much thought before response.

Great input, Lindsey Sensei. Thank you for expanding the parameters of this dialog. After I think about this I may yet clunk, but I hafta think & reread for awhile.

Caution: Anyone who reads this & feels qualified to respond without careful contemplation treads thin ice.

Bad karma accrues from action without thought.

Gil Gillespie

Bob Steinkraus
25th May 2000, 06:37
No offense taken, thus no apology needed.

Bob Steinkraus

Tom Davidson
25th May 2000, 15:38
Mr Steinkraus -

I acknowledge that my comments might appear flip. I certainly didn't mean to imply that the East is any better than the West in this regard, nor that Buddhism was or is any more successful in solving its society's ills.

The message I read in the spirit, rather than the letter, and whilst I am myself a practicing Catholic, I choose to recognise and acknowledge the efficacious validity of those traditions that concern themselves with humanity and its salvation, even if their outward forms appear contradictory.

If I have offered further offence then please accept my apologies. For the sake of the forum and the original post, if anyone feels there is further to be said, then I would rather continue offline.



John Lindsey
25th May 2000, 19:33
I just pulled out my copy of "Zen at War" by Brian Victoria. Sure enough, Shaku Soen is listed there (note the name change from Soyen..romanji change I guess). He was the teacher of Suzuki BTW.

I read more of Soen's book last night, especially the articles on war and he does come across as being very militaristic in that he says Buddhists should take all measures to make sure Evil is wiped out.

Gil Gillespie
25th May 2000, 23:51
"Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits."

When Rev Shaku refers to religion he is referring to his Buddhist tradition. Religion and philosophy have always been more easily fused and confused there. Witness the same question regarding Taoism and Confucianism. So within that context spiritual enlightenment is the goal of meditation (Chinese "chuan," Japanese "zen").
The intellect has always been a shackle to shed in this pursuit. The illogical impasse of the koan is intended to render the intellect useless so the depths may be entered for the arduous years long ascent. Satori (enlightenment) awaits.

This concept is alien to the Western Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. Bob Steinkraus is correct that this tradition is externally imposed. Only tiny cloistered communities of Jewish mystics, Christian monks, and Sufi Muslims opened themselves to the direct union with God that is the goal of all Buddhists. The Christian monk Thomas Merton wrote beautifully of his passion for the Eastern cultivation of the spirit. He found that to be congruent with his Christian faith.

This external nature characterizes the Western traditions. God is external. The scriptures are external. The power of the clegy defines morals, ethics, what is "correct." The punishments of this wrathful jealous God stand in marked distinction to the gentle immutable laws of karma and dharma from which Buddhism evolved.

Rev Shaku may have been addressing Westerners, but he was talking about Buddhism. He never mentioned Christianity, Popie. How can you see his text as "going aginst Christianity?" You admit you "just skimmed" it, then how did you get around to telling what you think his point was?

Bob Steinkraus wrote: "I find it difficult to believe that the East is more spiritually advanced than the West." Well,get used to it,Bob. Always has been. You're one of the few voices I've ever heard raise that refutation. But this is another whole dialog. . .

The aberrations of the Japanese militarists has nothing to do with Eastern spiritual traditions. Expecting Buddhism to check that is akin to asking a monk to repair an automatic transmission.

Referring to Rev Shaku's sermon as a synthesis of two pieces from Revelations is demeaning and misleading, no matter what similarities may be found there. Revelations is the most superstitious abstruse book in the Bible. Rev Shaku spoke from his own tradition. If you must seek parallels, a far more compassionate one is the charming little book, "Jesus And Buddha," containing almost matched passages by these two great avatars, separated by centuries and cultures.

Tom Davidson sums it up best in his request that we leave Budo no Kokoro to Eastern traditions rather than "expositions of Western theology."

Lindsey Sensei offered this piece on a martial arts forum. Let me then ask how does Rev Shaku's theme of spiritual enlightenment and a distrust of the intellect's dualism reflect or address the whole of your martial arts training? None of us has addressed that, you know. . .

Gil Gillespie

P.S. If you don't have Daisetz Suzuki's "Zen and Japanese Culture" close by on your bookshelf, you're cheating yourself. Treat yourself!!

26th May 2000, 10:44
I would say there may be some people who are more spiritually advanced in the east, but not to put it all in one nutshell. Since Judaism was only pecked at a little, you will be hard-pressed to find Jews who think God had anything to do with the 1929-1945 Germany/Eastern Europe. People are in full control of what is and is not. People's essence is really what happens, and they have the ability to harness the bad and release what is good. That maybe somewhat sophomoric, but that is what it is, in my nutshell, anyway. The East is no different and buddhism has no efffect on that. Those are just the facts. When people begin to depend on themselves for enlightenment, then we may see something truly spiritual. Until then, no one has bottled anything. No one will, unless everyone is the same, and who really wants that?

Mark F. Feigenbaum