ZEN BUDDHISM IN THE 20TH CENTURY
By Heinrich Dumoulin.
Weatherhill: New York and Tokyo, 1992.
167 pp. $14.95 (paperback).zen_20th_century

 

Dumoulin, a German scholar, is best known in America for his incarnation being the two volume Zen Buddhism: A History (Macmillan: 1988). Their comprehensiveness and scholarly accuracy (rather than innovative analysis) have made them staple resources for students of Zen.

Zen Buddhism in the 20th Century may have been more accurately titled “Reflections on a few aspects of the encounter between Zen and the West.” Choosing only a few possible contexts of this interaction, Dumoulin rarely probes the issues and ideas involved.

Underlying these accounts is Dumoulin’s own passionate religious concern. A Jesuit priest as well as a serious Zen student, he feels that contemporary culture is crippled with problems of technology, materialism, and the age-old Western mind-body split. But he also sees this as a time of immense religious possibility, primarily in the interchange between Zen and the West. One chapter, “Zen Philosophy and Western Thought,” introduces several representatives of the Kyoto School, an ongoing group of twentieth-century Japanese philosophers steeped in both Western philosophy and Zen. While most of this section is made up of brief accounts that note the specific religious posture of each thinker, in the last two sections (on Nishitani Keiji and Ueda Shizuteru) Dumoulin finally enters into extended interpretation and analysis. With these thinkers, for the first time, Zen arrives at full philosophical reflection. Animating his discussion is Dumoulin’s belief that this “philosophy of Zen … tackles central human problems in a manner that appeals to modern culture … [and] it roots these concerns in a practice inspired by existential anxiety and care.”

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