Presentation on theme: "Zen, D.T. Suzuki and the Nazis. Part One Suzuki and Nazis in Japan."— Presentation transcript:
Zen, D.T. Suzuki and the Nazis
Part One Suzuki and Nazis in Japan
The Mystery Begins (1) The first American to make direct contact with D.T. Suzuki in postwar, occupied Japan was Albert Stunkard who recalled the circumstances of his meeting with Suzuki: “I was working in Tokyo as an army medical officer at Sugamo Prison, providing medical care for the men who were being tried for war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East….One of the prisoners, later to become recognized as a religious thinker, was Graf Duerckheim, a German. He used to talk to me about Zen. One day he mentioned Dr. Suzuki, with whom he had studied, suggesting that I visit Dr. Suzuki at his home in a small town not far from Tokyo.” (cont.)
The Mystery Begins (2) “ I took up the suggestion and not long afterwards met Dr. Suzuki in his house on the grounds of Engakuji monastery in Kita Kamakura….Dr. Suzuki welcomed me, took the letter of introduction from Graf Duerckheim, and led me inside his house, where he adjusted his spectacles and read the letter. He was slender and a bit frail, with a face dominated by huge eyebrows that curved upwards and outwards. When he had finished the letter, Dr. Suzuki asked me about Duerckheim and the other prisoners at Sugamo.” Kenneth Kraft, ed., Zen Teaching, Zen Practice, Weatherhill 2000, pp
The Questions Begin Among other questions, I asked myself: 1.Who was Graf Duerckheim? 2. Why had Duerckheim been imprisoned as a suspected war criminal? 3. Why had a suspected German war criminal been studying with D.T. Suzuki during WW II? 4. And, far more importantly, why had Suzuki accepted someone as his student who went on to become a suspected war criminal?
The First Surprise (1) Thanks to Wikipedia I quickly learned that “Karlfried Graf Duerckheim had been a a German diplomat, psychotherapist and Zen-Master.” A Zen master? Did that explain his relationship with D. T. Suzuki (his master?) and also his statement about 18 months of imprisonment in Sugamo: "That time of captivity was precious to me because I could exercise zazen meditation and remain in immobility for hours”? (continued)
The First Surprise (2) Nevertheless, I was not prepared for this statement: “[Stunkard’s] visit started a chain reaction of visitors to the Suzuki residence, one of whom was Philip Kapleau, author of The Three Pillars of Zen and founder of the Rochester Zen Center. Duerckheim thus was directly responsible for launching Zen into the American mainstream.” ( Italics mine) A war criminal, a Nazi (?) launched Zen into the postwar American mainstream?!
Who was Graf Duerckheim? (1) In his own words: “"My familiarity with Meister Eckhart facilitated my approach to Zen. What does Zen teach? Every being in his original nature is a buddha. His original face is disfigured by the mundane self. The condition of maturation whose fruit is a person liberated by his buddha nature is therefore the death of the self and the experience of being….Out of personal preference, I came to know many Zen exercises. I even worked outside of meditation (zazen), especially in archery and painting....Done in the spirit of Zen, they are merely different ways aiming toward the same thing: the breakthrough toward the nature of Buddha, toward ‘Being’.” All quotations from Gerhard Wehr, “The Life and Work of Karlfried Graf Durckheim,” available at:
Who was Graf Duerckheim? (2) According to his biographer, Gerhard Wehr: “Toward the end of his stay in Japan, Duerckheim experienced satori, the aim of Zen: a degree of illumination of reality. Through this he achieved the ‘spiritual break- through toward ultimate reality.’ In this way a greater Self is uncovered, beyond the ordinary self….The years in Japan represent a special formation for Duerckheim's later work as teacher of meditation and guide on the inner path.”
Who was Graf Duerckheim? (3) To his credit, Wehr also notes: “In the summer of 1938, the world political situation was tense. Hitler had just annexed Austria into the German empire. The fear of war was everywhere. It was then that Duerckheim was sent on his special mission to Japan which would be of such vital importance to him. In the wave of enthusiastic nationalism, Duerckheim saw himself as a useful representative of the ‘new Germany’ for his people and his employers in Berlin, for the Minister of foreign affairs Von Ribbentrop, and for the Minister of education, Bernhard Rust…. From the outside, in the years 1930 to 1940, professor Karlfried Graf Duerckheim seemed to be a cultural envoy of the Third Reich. At the same time, a subterranean process of transformation of which he was hardly conscious was taking place…. He does not yet realize that he will have to make a decision if he continues his inner path.” (Italics mine) Continued
Who was Graf Duerckheim? (4) With almost no background information, Wehr reports: “In the following stages of his life, Duerckheim experienced an imprisonment of a year and a half in the prison of Sugamo in Tokyo under the control of the American occupation. The letters maintained in his family archives are contradictory in nature: from moments of inner calm to profound depression. Decades later…[Duerkheim] stated: ‘In spite of everything, it was a very fertile period for me. The first weeks I had a dream almost every night, some of which anticipated my future work. In my cell, I was surrounded by a profound silence. I could work on myself and that is when I began to write a novel. My neighbors simply waited for each day to pass. That time of captivity was precious to me because I could exercise zazen meditation and remain in immobility for hours.’ The years in Japan represent a special formation for Duerckheim's later work as teacher of meditation and guide on the inner path.” (Italics mine)
Who was Graf Duerckheim? (5) Alternate viewpoints: 1) A German academic observer, Dr. Dietrich Seckel, who taught in Japan from 1937 to 1947, and later at Heidelberg University from 1965 to 1976, described Duerckheim’s wartime activities in Japan: “Duerckheim also went to Zen temple(s) where he meditated. However, his study and practice of Zen Buddhism has been extremely exaggerated. In particular, I felt this way because, at the same time, he was propagating Nazism. There was something incongruous about this. I recall seeing him at a reception at the German Embassy. At that time he was poking his finger into the breast of one of the most famous Japanese professors of economics who was wearing a brown silk kimono. While explaining the ideology of the German Reich to him, Duerckheim kept pushing the poor professor back until the latter reached the wall and could go no further. I could not help but feel pity for this professor who was the subject of Duerckheim’s indoctrination.” (Continued)
Who was Graf Duerckheim? (6) “Duerckheim thought of himself as a friend and supporter of German teachers [in Japan]. He provided us with everything he could think of. He lectured everywhere ceaselessly with his lectures first being translated into Japanese and then, later on, distributed to all German residents in the original German. His speeches arrived in the mail on an almost daily basis. It was extremely unpleasant. He was what might be called an excellent propagandist who, possessed of a high intellectual level, traveled throughout Japan teaching Nazism and the ideology of the Third Reich.” (Italics mine) Arai Kun, “Shūsenzen tainichi doitsujin no taiken” (Experiences of German Residents in Japan before the End of the War) in Bunka Ronshū, No. 15, September 1999, p. 112
Who was Graf Duerckheim? (7) 2) Hashimoto Fumio, a former higher school teacher of German and a translator for the German Embassy in Tokyo, recalled his relationship to Duerckheim: “When Duerckheim first arrived in Japan, he was surrounded by Shintoists, Buddhist scholars, military men and right-wing thinkers, each of whom sought to impress him with their importance. The Count found it difficult to determine which of them was the real thing, and I stepped in to serve as his advisor. In addition, a great number of written materials were sent to him, and my job was to review them to determine their suitability….In the end what most interested the Count was traditional Japanese archery and Zen. He set up an archery range in his garden and zealously practiced every day. In addition, he went to Shinkōji temple on the outskirts of Ogawa township in Saitama Prefecture where he stayed to practice Zen for a number of days. His instructor in zazen was the temple abbot, Master Yasutani [Haku’un]. I accompanied the Count and gladly practiced with him.” (Italics mine) Zen War Stories, pp
Who was Graf Duerckheim?(8) Hashimoto also noted that Duerckheim held extended discussions with such leading military figures as Imperial Navy Vice-Admiral Teramoto Takeharu (1884–1958) and Imperial Army General Araki Sadao (1877–1966). Araki was well known for both his fierce anti-Communism and the importance he placed on promoting the “Spirit of Japan” among both military men and civilians, particularly school-age youth. In postwar years Araki was also imprisoned at Sugamo where he was tried as an Class A war criminal and sentenced to life imprisonment. Zen War Stories, p. 89
Who was Yasutani Haku’un? (1) Hashimoto relates that Duerckheim first took an interest in Yasutani because of this master‘s strong emphasis on both the practice of zazen and the realization of enlightenment. This emphasis on practice was a new revelation for him, for until then his only knowledge of Buddhism had come from scholars who “had never properly done zazen or realized enlightenment.” In particular, Hashimoto was impressed by Yasutani’s 1943 book on Zen Master Dōgen and the Shūshōgi which revealed “the greatness of this master [i.e., Yasutani] and the profundity of Buddhism.” So impressed was Hashimoto by this book that not only did he provide Duerckheim with a detailed description of its contents but went on to translate the entire book into German. However, in reality this book revealed Yasutani to have been a fanatical supporter of Japanese militarism, an anti-Semite not to mention a sexist. Zen War Stories, p. 89
Who was Yasutani Haku’un? (2) For example, in responding to the question of whether a Mahāyāna Buddhist should kill, Yasutani wrote: “Of course one should kill, killing as many as possible. One should, fighting hard, kill everyone in the enemy army. The reason for this is that in order to carry [Buddhist] compassion and filial obedience through to perfection it is necessary to assist good and punish evil….Failing to kill an evil man who ought to be killed, or destroying an enemy army that ought to be destroyed, would be to betray compassion and filial obedience, to break the precept forbidding the taking of life. This is a special characteristic of the Mahāyāna precepts.” Zen at War, p. 72
Who was Yasutani Haku’un? (3) As for Jews, Yasutani wrote: “We must be aware of the existence of the demonic teachings of the Jews who assert things like [the existence of] equality in the phenomenal world, thereby disturbing public order in our nation’s society and destroying [governmental] control. Not only this, these demonic conspirators hold the deep-rooted delusion and blind belief that, as far as the essential nature of human beings is concerned, there is, by nature, differentiation between superior and inferior. They are caught up in the delusion that they alone have been chosen by God and are [therefore] an exceptionally superior people. The result of all this is a treacherous design to usurp [control of] and dominate the entire world, thus provoking the great upheavals of today. It must be said that this is an extreme example of the evil resulting from superstitious belief and deep-rooted delusion.” Zen at War, p. 73
Who was Yasutani Haku’un? (4) A postwar, 1973 remembrance of Yasutani and Duerckheim comes from Rinzai Zen Master Shimano Eido: “During World War II…the German government sent Professor Duerckheim to Japan to study Japanese culture, especially Zen Buddhism. After arriving in Japan, Professor Duerckheim searched for an appropriate book to study and finally, with the assistance of Professor [Fumio] Hashimoto, he found a book called Dogen Zenji and Shushogi, published in 1943….So impressed was Duerckheim that he visited Yasutani Roshi’s temple with Professor Hashimoto. Yasutani Roshi entertained them by preparing a Japanese bath which they all took together. Zen at War, p. 88
Duerckheim & Suzuki (1) In a postwar interview Duerckheim explained his first encounter with Zen and Suzuki as follows: “I was sent there [i.e., Japan] in 1938 with a particular mission that I had chosen: to study the spiritual background of Japanese education. As soon as I arrived at the embassy, an old man came to greet me. I did not know him. ‘Suzuki,’ he stated. He was the famous Suzuki who was here to meet a certain Mister Duerckheim arriving from Germany to undertake certain studies. (cont.)
Duerckheim & Suzuki (2) Suzuki is one of the greatest contemporary Zen Masters. I questioned him immediately on the different stages of Zen. He named the first two, and I added the next three. Then he exclaimed: "Where did you learn this?" "In the teaching of Meister Eckhart!" "I must read him again...” (though he knew him well already)….It is under these circumstances that I discovered Zen. I would see Suzuki from time to time. (Italics mine) Dialogue on the Path of Initiation - The Life and Thought of Karlfried Graf Durckheim, Alphonse Goettmann, trans. Theodore and Rebecca Nottingham, electronically published by Nottingham Publishing, Available at: bethanie.org/compression/dialogue.pdf
What did Suzuki teach Duerckheim? “There is one source which could probably give more information about Duerckheim’s encounter with (Zen) Buddhism and perhaps with Suzuki personally during his years in Japan: Duerckheim’s diaries. They are unpublished and belong to the Duerckheim family in Germany. They have been used by Duerckheim’s first biographer (Gerhard Wehr, Karlfried Graf Duerckheim, Freiburg 1996). Wehr found out that Duerckheim had been a fervent Nazi. For the Duerckheim family and Duerckheim’s students his book was a shock (despite the fact that Wehr basically was an adherent of Duerckheim). My impression is that since then the family doesn’t allow anyone to use Duerckheim’s diaries. At least they refused my request.” from Prof. Hans Bieber on 9 June 2011
Suzuki & the Rosenkrantzes (1) In Gerhard Rosenkranz, accompanied by his wife Hildegard, undertook a study tour of China, Korea and Japan on behalf of the German East Asia Mission. It was then that he met Suzuki in the library at Buddhist Ōtani University in Kyoto. Their conversation included the following passages:
Suzuki & the Rosenkrantzes (2) “We asked him, ‘How do you see the position of Buddhism in relation to the Japanese national religion?’ We add that we have seen many indications in Buddhist temples that Buddhism has placed itself in the service of the ‘general mobilization of the people's minds.’ Flags, pennants and posters with the national emblems and slogans on them are witness to that. In a temple in Tokyo I met a Buddhist professor who had studied in Heidelberg and who - it was on Buddha’s birthday - had just held the afternoon sermon. Shining with joy he came up to me. ‘I just spoke about National Socialism and Labor Service in the Third Reich!" he said. ‘I just came back from Germany. I had doubts about National Socialism, but now I am convinced of its importance. Here are the writings that I have received in Berlin from Reich Leader SS Himmler! I just now read from them.’"
Suzuki & the Rosenkrantzes (3) “Professor Suzuki remained silent for a while. Then he said: ‘Shinto needs Buddhism if it really wants to be religion; for it has no religious values itself. And Buddhism needs Shinto in order to be accepted by the government. They were both linked like this down through the centuries. However, seventy years ago they were separated. That wasn’t good. We Buddhists bow in front of the emperor’s picture, but for us this isn’t religious act. The emperor is no god because god can be something very low for us. We see the emperor in an area high above all religions. Trying to make him a god today means a reduction in the status of the emperor. This brings confusion to Buddhism, Shinto and Christianity.’” (Italics mine) Gerhard Rosenkranz: Fernost - wohin? Begegnungen mit den Religionen Japans und Chinas im Umbruch der Gegenwart. Heilbronn, Verlag Eugen Salzer 1940, available at:
Suzuki & Shinto in Postwar Japan Suzuki’s comments on Shinto are significant in that in his 1947 book, Nihon no Reiseika (The Spiritualizing of Japan) he now claimed Shinto was a “primitive religion” that “lacked spirituality.” It was this lack that had led to Japan’s “excessive nationalism” and “military control.” The solution? “Do away with Shinto!” Suzuki asserted. Zen at War, p. 150
Part Two Suzuki and Nazis in Germany
Samurai as SS Inspiration In 1937 Himmler directed a book be published to which he wrote the foreword, i.e., Samurai. Ritter des Reiches in Ehre und Treue (Samurai, Knights of the Empire in Honor and Loyalty). He ordered it distributed to every member of the SS. “Using this short history of the samurai,” Himmler wrote, “we wish to call to mind some long forgotten truths: The fact, that even in antiquity, this Far-Eastern nation had the same honorary laws as our forefathers….and moreover, recognizing that these are usually elite minority groups that endow the worldly existence of a nation with eternal life.” (Italics mine)
The SS &Walther Wüst Himmler was an admirer of Asian philosophy who once said: “I marvel at the wisdom of the founders of Indian religions.” Thus, in 1937 Himmler appointed Professor Walther Wüst, chairman of the Sanskrit Department at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, as director of the Ahnenerbe (Bureau for the Study of Ancestral Heritage), an official organization attached to the SS.
The Greatest Aryan Wüst became a colonel in the SS and rector of Munich University in As such he was one of the Third Reich’s most influential scholars. Wüst operated on the assumption that the then secret Nazi religion being created should be rooted in the Vedic and Buddhist writings of India. Wüst repeatedly delivered a speech to SS- personnel from June 1936 onwards asserting the existence of a direct line of racial ancestry from the old Aryans of India to present-day National Socialists. The greatest Aryan of them all was, according to Wüst, Buddha Shakyamuni.
Hitler as Buddha! Wüst claimed that 2500 years later in Austria, the ‘Fu ̈ hrer,’ at that time an unskilled worker who lived in Vienna under the spell of suffering, became acquainted with the hardship of the poor when walking through the pitiful flats of the workers…. His Viennese experience prevented Hitler either from getting lost in abstract theories or to become subject to a shallow realism. Instead, he arrived at an inspired vision of reality similar to the one Buddha once had…. Since Buddha and Adolf Hitler belonged to the same hereditary community, they reacted the same way to the problems of their time. Moreover, their common genetic constitution endowed them with the capacity to guide their people from subjugation to freedom. Horst Junginger, From Buddha to Adolf Hitler, p. 125
Wüst on Japan “ From even a Japanese citizen with the most modern point of view shines forth the oldest samurai. If one wants to plant a new seed in his heart, one simply has to stir up the sediment that has settled in its depths over the course of centuries. The man who said this was a Japanese man soaked through with the unbelievable spirituality and power of tradition, a type of man that we luckily have in Germany, too, but we must attempt to develop far more vehemently, if we want to claim the certain victory of our weapons and to fulfill the deepest meaning of the Greater German Empire. May a merciful fate grant that this young but eternal German Man quietly, surely and constantly develop in the character into which the Japanese are born.” Quoted in Bill Maltarich, Samurai and Supermen, p. 237
Zen Appears Nitobe Inazō was one of the first to introduce Germans to Bushidō and Zen. His book was published in English in A German language version appeared a year later in Tokyo but not until 1905 in Germany. Nitobe wrote: “I may begin with Buddhism. It furnished a sense of calm trust in Fate, a quiet submission to the inevitable, that stoic composure in sight of danger or calamity, that distain of life and friendliness with death. A foremost teacher of swordsmanship, when he saw his pupil master the utmost of his art, told him, ‘Beyond this my instruction must give way to Zen teaching.’” (Italics mine) Quoted in Zen at War, p. 96
Zen in Nazi Germany Sarah Panzer explains that by the time of the Nazis: “Zen itself became politically mobilized, so to speak ‘weaponized,’ in Germany as a way of conceptualizing an idealized image of Japanese heroic masculinity that was meant to make Japanese culture more immediately recognizable and sympathetic to a German audience.” Sarah Panzer, “Mobilizing Zen”
Two ‘Scholars’ Responsible The first German scholar responsible for ‘weaponizing’ Zen was Wilhelm Gundert who left for Japan in 1906 and remained there as a German instructor into the 1930s, aside from a 2- year period when he returned to Germany to complete a doctorate in Japanologie with Karl Florenz in Hamburg. In 1927 Gundert became the German head of the Japanisch-Deutsche Kulturinstitut in Tokyo and joined the Nazi Party in In 1936 he succeeded his mentor as chair in Japanologie at the Universität Hamburg and also served a 2-year term as Rector of the University beginning in 1938.
Zen as Masculine and Heroic In 1935 Gundert published Japanische Religionsgeschichte. Regarding Zen he writes: “Dem Stand der Krieger und Ritter (Samurai oder Bushi)...musste das Zen mit seiner Männlichkeit und Zucht, seiner schlichten Lebenskunst und Todesverachtung, seiner Vornehmheit und Ritterlichkeit wie gerufen erscheinen...“ Gundert appears to have been the first German scholar to make an explicit connection between Zen and masculine heroism.
Zen as Symbol of Shared Past In 1937 Gundert wrote of a shared chivalric past in Die religiösen Kräfte Asiens: “Man kann bei näherer Berührung mit dieser Form des Zen-Buddhismus das Gefühl nicht unterdrücken, als sei hier auf merkwürdigen Umwegen über das arische Indien ein Stück echtesten nordischen Geistes nach dem Fernen Osten gedrungen, der dort wohl merkwürdigen Formen der äußeren Verkleidung angenommen haben mag, den wir aber doch ohne weiteres als uns innerlich verwandt und nahe empfinden. Aus dem Geist des Zen ist das japanische Ritter- und Kriegerideal, Buschidô, geboren, das noch heute im japanischen Heere und darüber hinaus lebendig ist, wie man denn noch immer unter japanischen Offizieren viele treffen kann, die sich in die Schriften der alten Zenmeister vertiefen oder gelegentlich an Meditationsübungen in einem Zen-Kloster teilnehmen.“
Gundert during the War Throughout the war; Gundert promoted the importance of Zen and Bushido including his 1942 article in Deutschlands Erneuerung:“Quellen japanischer Kraft.” He also became a popular lecturer through the Deutsch-Japanische Gesellschaft, giving lectures on the Weltanschauung of the Japanese, of which Zen was presented as an important constituent part, in many major German cities throughout 1942/43.
Eugen Herrigel’s Role In 1924, shortly after assuming teaching duties at the University of Heidelberg, Eugen Herrigel accepted an offer to teach at Tohoku Imperial University in Sendai. While in Japan Herrigel explored various traditional Japanese disciplines, but most especially kyūdō (traditional Japanese archery). He returned to Germany in 1929 in order to take a position at the Universität Erlangen and began to write down his impressions of Zen and its relationship to Japanese culture. He formally joined the Nazi Party in December 1937 and became rector of Erlangen in 1945.
Zen as Martial Ethos Herrigel claimed that Zen was the root of the Japanese martial ethos. He linked the warrior’s ability to embrace death to the transcendence of the individual through the practice of Zen meditation. For Herrigel, the true effect of Zen’s influence on Japanese culture was that it fostered an embrace of death among the Japanese people. Death was regarded not as the end of life but rather its fulfillment. As the following quote reveals, Herrigel’s intellectual debt to Suzuki is clear.
Suzuki Embraces Death “The Japanese hate to see a death irresolutely and lingeringly met with, they desire to be blown away like the cherries before the wind, and no doubt this Japanese attitude towards death must have gone very well with the teaching of Zen. The Japanese may not have any specific philosophy of life but they have decidedly one of death… Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture, p. 64.
Zen and the “Chivalric Spirit” Herrigel further claimed that Zen was the root to the ‘chivalric spirit’ in the Japanese people as a whole, something which allowed them to sacrifice themselves “um des Vaterlandes willen.” Whereas Gundert located Zen primarily within socially circumscribed elite groups (i.e., the samurai and the modern Japanese officer corps), Herrigel, like Suzuki, asserted that the Zen spirit had successfully permeated all of Japanese culture. Like Gundert, Herrigel also became a popular guest speaker for the Deutsch-Japanische Gesellschaft’s lectures on Japan and Japanese culture throughout the German Reich.
Herrigel and Suzuki Herrigel frequently referenced Suzuki, e.g.: "So hat etwa D. T. Suzuki in seinen "Essays on Zen- Buddhismus" den Nachweis dafür zu erbringen versucht, dass japanische Kultur und Zen auf innigste zusammenhängen; dass die japanischen Künste, die geistige Haltung des Samurai, der japanische Lebensstil, die moralische, praktische, ästhetische, ja bis zu einem gewissen Grade soger die intellektuelle Lebensform des Japaners ohne diese ihre zenistische Grundlage gar nicht verstanden werden könnten." "Die ritterliche KuNt des Bogenschießens," in Nippon-Zeitschrift für Japanologie 2, no. 4 (October 1936), pp
Did Herrigel Distort Suzuki? In his 1938 book Zen and Japanese Culture, D. T. Suzuki wrote: “The spirit of the samurai deeply breathing Zen into itself propagated its philosophy even among the masses. The latter, even when they are not particularly trained in the way of the warrior, have imbibed his spirit and are ready to sacrifice their lives for any cause they think worthy. This has repeatedly been proved in the wars Japan has so far had to go through.” (Italics mine)
Tucci and Suzuki Like Herrigel, the Italian Buddhist scholar, Giuseppe Tucci was also influenced by Suzuki, especially by the 1938 publication of Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture. The following year Tucci published “Lo Zen e il carattere del popolo giappones” in which he claimed Zen had made the greatest single contribution to the formation of the Japanese character. Zen was particularly useful in freeing oneself from social constraints, allowing men to become “men among men, soldiers of an army that marches toward a fate that equalizes everyone.” In “Il Giappone moderno e la sua crisi spirituale,” published in 1940, Tucci expressed his admiration for Zen monks as the trainers of samurai and the military transfiguration of Zen immediacy and spontaneity. Tucci was also an unabashed supporter of Mussolini and Italian fascism and wore a fascist uniform. Zen at War, p. 242
Suzuki’s Direct Role? In 1941 Suzuki published a chapter in the book Bushidō no Shinzui (The Essence of Bushido) entitled, “Zen and Bushido.” Handa Shin, the book’s editor, wrote: “Dr. Suzuki’s writings are said to have strongly influenced the military spirit of Nazi Germany” but he offered no proof. Is this statement true? Zen at War, p. 111
Suzuki’s German Writings Suzuki’s writings on Zen first appeared in German in 1935 with an article “Japanese Culture and Zen” in both a German art review and an article in Nippon-Zeitschrift fűr Japanologie in April This was followed by the German edition of An Introduction to Zen Buddhism in 1939, and Zen und die Kultur Japans in A form of self-censorship was in place within German publishing companies insuring that no offensive materials would be published.
Were the Nazis’ Listening?
Were the Nazis Listening (1) It is clear that Zen was one of the “secrets” of Japanese power: “The active and yet stoic Buddhism of the Zen-sect perfected and refined the ethos of the Japanese warrior, and gave him the highly ascetical note that even today is the essential feature of the Japanese soldiery.” (Italics mine) Taken from The Secret of Japanese Power by Prince Albrecht of Urach, paperback booklet with photos, Berlin, 1944, Central Publishing of the NSDAP (Das Geheimnis japanischer Kraft von Albrecht Fürst von Urach, Paperback Broschüre mit Fotos, Berlin 1944, Zentralverlag der NSDAP
Were the Nazis Listening (2) Compare this with what Suzuki wrote in 1938: “Zen discipline is simple, direct, self-reliant, self- denying, and this ascetic tendency goes well with the fighting spirit. The fighter is to be always single-minded with just one object in view which is to fight and not to look either backward or sidewise. To go straightforward in order to crush the enemy is all that is necessary for him….Good fighters are generally ascetics or stoics, which means to have an iron will. When needed Zen supplies them with this….There is an historical connection between Zen and the military classes in Japan.” ZB&IIJC, p. 35
Were the Nazis Listening (3) “Zen has no special doctrine or philosophy with a set of concepts and intellectual formulas, except that it tries to release one from the bondage of birth and death and this by means of certain intuitive modes of understanding peculiar to itself. It is, therefore, extremely flexible to adapt itself almost to any philosophy and moral doctrine as long as its intuitive teaching is not interfered with.” (continued)
Were the Nazis Listening (4) “It may be found wedded to anarchism or fascism, communism or democracy, atheism or idealism, or any political and economical dogmatism.” It is, however, generally animated with a certain revolutionary spirit, and when things come to a deadlock which is the case when we are overloaded with conventionalisms, formalism, and other cognate isms, Zen asserts itself and proves to be a destructive force.” ZB&IIJC, pp
Hitler and Hess Speak In light of Suzuki’s comments, is it the least bit strange that Hitler is recorded as having asked: “Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? Inside The Third Reich by Albert Speer Or is it the least bit strange that Deputy Fūhrer Rudolph Hess, lamented: “We, too, [like the Japanese] are battling to destroy individualism. We are struggling for a new Germany based on the new idea of totalitarianism. In Japan this way of thinking comes naturally to the people!” (Italics mine) Tokyo Record by Otto Tolischus
Postwar Rebukes! In 1960 Arthur Koestler published The Lotus and the Robot in which he criticized the preceding passages, claiming that they “could have come from a philosophical-minded Nazi journalist, or from one of the Zen monks who became suicide pilots” (p. 271). In 1967 a Buddhist scholar, R.J. Zwi Werblowsky. criticized the same passages in an article entitled “Some Observations on Recent Studies of Zen,” noting: “Dr. Suzuki forgot to add to the list of possibilities also Nazism with its gas chambers (as the annoying Mr. Koestler has rudely pointed out).”
Shared ‘Commonality’ What D.T. Suzuki and other Japanese Zen leaders ultimately shared in common with the Nazis was their willingness to instrumentalize, i.e., to weaponize, Zen in the service of the state at war, in the service of their individual and collective self-interest, and thereby in the service of death. And, needless to say, something similar can be said about religious leaders from many other faiths.
A German Christian Example In December 1942, the Catholic Church’s Office of Military Affairs wrote: “God gave the German people a noble mission in this war—reordering Europe. This reconstruction should be done in the name of Christ. Bolshevism means a Europe without God, and without and against Christ. The front of young nations led by Germany wants a Europe with God, with Christ.…So we celebrate the birth of Christ very purposely. Christianity is after all not just a workshop for the highest spiritual culture but also a construction site for national greatness and power.” (Italics mine)
A U.S. Christian Example An Associated Press article during the Iraq War describes the role of military chaplains as follows: “As American troops cope with life—and death—on a faraway battlefield, military chaplains cope with them, offering prayers, comfort and spiritual advice to keep the American military machine running....Chaplains help grease the wheels of any soldier’s troubled conscience by arguing that killing combatants is justified. Capt. Warren Haggray, a 48-year- old Baptist Army chaplain said: ‘I teach them from the scripture, and in the scripture I can see many times where men were told…to go out and defeat the enemy. This is real stuff. You’re out there and you gotta eliminate that guy, because if you don’t, he’s gonna eliminate you.’ ‘I agree,’ said Lt. Cmdr. Paul Shaughnessy, a Navy chaplain and Roman Catholic priest from Worcester, Massachusetts.” (Italics mine)
Their Universal Standpoint The Japanese Senjinkun (Field Service Code) was promulgated on January 8, 1945 by Gen. Tōjō Hideki. Its central theme was expressed in three words: Shin wa chikara nari (Faith is Power!) All nations, past and present, have understood that religion serves, in terms of morale, as the preeminent “force multiplier,” for it creates soldiers (and civilians) who are willing to die (and kill) for their cause/country.
The End? Has the effort to ‘weaponize’ Zen (and all other religions) when necessary really come to an ‘end’ or are we already in the midst of the next round of ‘bloodletting’ based on the realization that “faith is power”? The answer is obvious. But what about the future? EACH OF US WILL HELP WRITE IT!
Postscript: A Postwar Reflection In his well-known postwar book, Hara, Duerckheim wrote: “When a man possesses a fully developed hara he has the strength and precision to perform actions which otherwise he could never achieve, even with the most perfect technique, the closest attention, or the strongest will power. Only what is done with hara succeeds completely, just as life as a whole can be lived in perfection only when a man is truly one with his primordial center. So every manifestation of it whether in battle, in art or in love succeeds for him who has gained hara.” (Italics mine) Audio version available on the Web at: