3-18-09 - Richard Baker (Dharma Sangha
Germany) comments, referring to
Ivan Illich, on Mark
Bitner's question about Shunryu Suzuki commenting on Western
Civilization (after DC commented).
Mark Bittner, author of Wild Parrots of Telegraph
I'm writing you because I have a Suzuki Roshi question.
on a new book, and
I'm not sure how this comes into play yet, but
As they say: Any help would be much appreciated. I
remember reading something that Suzuki Roshi told Richard Baker--according
to Baker--something like "Western Civilization went wrong at the time of the
Renaissance" or something like that. I don't know if it was actually the
Renaissance, though. Do you know this statement? I don't remember where I
DC responded: A pleasure hearing from you. What a
quote. I'll email Baker Roshi and see what he says if you want but I bet
he'd say he doesn't remember. It doesn't really sound like Suzuki to me. I
can't remember him saying anything remotely like that or about Western
history and I don't think he knew much about it. Sounds like something DT
Suzuki would have said. DT much more had the idea that the West went wrong
and the East went right and thought no one in the West ever understood
anything he was saying. Shunryu Suzuki to me was more universal, thought
that the West was more open to Buddhism than the East in many ways because
we didn't have so many set ideas. Shunryu did admire much about Japanese and
Chinese culture and did think that there was lots we could learn from it but
he also thought there was lots they could learn from us.
Mark replied: I'm pretty clear on this. I know it wasn't D. T.
So I sent the question on to Richard Baker who responded:
Regarding Mark Bittner's question. Suzuki-roshi did think
Western civilization went wrong at some point, but I don't remember him
saying anything specific. He was very cautious about criticizing the West,
especially because it would look like he was extolling Japan. He had an
acute sociological eye, but his emphasis was always on the differences
(usually only implied) between Western and Asian cultures, but not their
rightness or wrongness. When he described a culture as 'wrong', it was
usually modern Japanese culture. This was my experience of his views and
Ivan Illich was much more vocal and clear about the 'wrongness' of Western
culture, and he thought the Catholic Church went 'wrong' in about the 12th
c., and that is the early Renaissance, about the time of the change from
Romanesque to Gothic architecture - and as Illich says, when Christ became a
limp corpse on a Cross and no longer a bright-eyed, upright, Icon which you
could see through to God.
In general, Ivan felt as the Catholic church goes, so goes most of Western
culture, at least in its underlying assumptions. He wrote that the church
carries, is "the repository of", the myth of Western culture, that the
church also "institutionalizes the myth's contradictions", and the church
ritualizes the "disparities between the myth and what we experience as
Ivan felt that the way the church did this was better before the 12th c.
This job, this activity, was transferred to secular society and in
particular "to the school system, especially the universities."
I agreed with him - to the extent that I understand the elements, and I
often in lectures have quoted him to that effect. I don't remember quoting
Suzuki-roshi to that effect, but Suzuki-roshi's sense of what made an apt
and sensible (sensorial and sensible to live in) world were very similar to
Ivan's. It is part of what made Ivan and I such good friends.
Pertaining to today's 'Global Ponzi Cave-in', Ivan might have this to say:
"Neither ideological criticism nor social action can bring about a new
society. Only disenchantment with and detachment from the central social
ritual and reform of that ritual can bring about radical change." (Deschooling
Society, p. 38)