Dogen Sangha Blog

  by Gudo NISHIJIMA

Japanese / German

Friday, December 2, 2005

Denial of Idealism and Materialism

(note) In this blog I do not use the Sanscrit words in Palasan Roman, because I am afraid that such kinds of words will change into strange characters in another soft.

When we think that Buddhism is a religion, which believe in the real existence of this world, we have to think that it is necessary for us to deny both Idealism and Materialism. Because Realism is also an independent philosophy from Idealism and Materialism, we can never expect the coexistence of Realism and Idealism, or the coexistence of Realism and Materialism. Therefore in Buddhism, for example, Master Bokuzan Nishi-ari (1821-1910), a former Abbot of Soji-ji Temple, said in his book, entitled "Shobogenzo Keiteki, or Opening the truth of Shobogenzo," that "Materialism (Danken-Gedo) and Idealism (Joken-Gedo) are enemies against Buddhism." And Master Nishi-ari studied Buddhism before the Meiji Restoration (1867), and so we can think that before the Meiji Restoration Japanese Buddhism had very clear recognition that Buddhism can never be identified with Idealism, or Materialism. By the way some Materialists identify Realism with Materialism, but this interpretation is completely wrong in Buddhist interpretation. Because Materialism does not include spiritual value or meaning, but Realism accept the existence of spiritual value, or value of meaning, and so it is very important for us to distinguish Realism from Materialism. In Chinese and Japanese Buddhism we use two words Danken-Gedo and Joken-Gedo , and Danken-Gedo means Materialism, and Joken-Gedo means Idealism.

14 Comments:

Blogger Grim said...

After a small amount of meditation on this I am now 100% uncertain as to whether (under these definitions) my current philosophy is made of Danken-Gedo or whether it is made of Joken-Gedo.

However, I have become aware of the fact that I don't know exactly what spirituality means. It may be that I am in fact a materialist and all these years I have called myself an idealist.

I think over time I swung from Joken-Gedo to Danken-Gedo back to Joken-Gedo and finally back to Danken-Gedo. All of that is speculation on my part.

I have little or no understanding of spirituality. There were times I believed in an otherworldly God, but I understand that falls under Joken-Gedo.

So my question is now, what is spirituality or value of meaning?

11:39 AM, December 02, 2005  
Blogger jlhart7 said...

Interesting post. What would the implications be, I wonder, of a Buddhist stance against both Idealism and Materialism for the efforts of labor-unions to achieve better conditions for workers, as well as for efforts to achieve greater social justice generally? I am thinking specifically of political and economic anarchism--especially anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-socialism.

11:52 AM, December 02, 2005  
Blogger Michael said...

If we kept ego out of our posts, nobody would have anything to say because nobody would need to say a thing.
This isn't aimed at anyone in particular. We all make inviting targets in our own way. I know I do.

12:42 PM, December 02, 2005  
Blogger Lone Wolf said...

As for the Right View:
What is the spritual value or meaningfulness of Buddhist realism?

As for the Wrong View:
What are some of the characteristics of Materilism and Idealism?

4:18 PM, December 02, 2005  
Blogger dungMason said...

I've always seen zen as sort of a pragmatism. Examples such as "If I don't do it, who will", "If not now, when", "do good, don't do bad. It's easy for a child to say, difficult for even an old man to practice.", and especially "when hungry eat, when tired sleep".

Are these realism, pragmatism, both?

7:46 PM, December 02, 2005  
Blogger Michael said...

With respect, I ask what difference does it make? Do all our thoughts and impulses need to be classified? Does this classification make them more legitimate, or less? I don't want to be argumentative or contrary just for the sake of being provocative. But from the standpoint of Zen, does this "thought/impulse taxonomy" truly matter? And if it does matter, how does it help?

12:11 AM, December 03, 2005  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

To meet a Buddhist teacher who understands Buddhist philosophy so outstandingly clearly as Nishijima Roshi might be a blessing, and it might be a curse, depending on the karma, and the associated response to the teaching, of the one who meets it.
Because to understand intellectually Nishijima Roshi's denial of idealism and materialism, and to drop off body and mind in Zazen, belong to totally different dimensions--they are as far apart as heaven and earth.
The former was not a problem for me. The latter is a continuing struggle.
I bring to the struggle my intention just to sit,dropping off body and mind. I preach just this intention and I endeavor to practise what I preach. But a moment of clear intention is a rare thing.
Thank you, Nishijima Roshi. I do not regret having struggled.

When in sitting I believe
There's no intention to achieve
And no desire to beat the clock
Just clear intention to unlock
With every tick and every tock
Like a trickle drilling rock.

12:15 AM, December 03, 2005  
Blogger soundchaser said...

Maybe the following quote (from one of Gudo Nishijima's articles) will help you understand:

The sympathetic nervous system is related to the human mind, the parasympathetic nervous system is related with the physical body. When the sympathetic nervous system is stronger than the parasympathetic nervous system, people are prone to be spiritual. Religious people insist that the spiritual state is important, so they hate the physical body and revere a symbol of spirit like God, and their aim is to be spiritual.
When the parasympathetic nervous system is stronger than the sympathetic nervous system, people pursue only physical pleasure, physical enjoyment, and they dislike the spiritual situation, they dislike religions and they laugh at meditation and so forth. In western societies, these two tendencies have been contradictory for many years.
When Gautama Buddha lived there were also two tendencies, one was very spiritual and the other was very materialistic. Therefore Gautama Buddha made his efforts to solve the contradictory situation of these two tendencies, and he found a new religion or a new philosophy, which is called Buddhism.
Practicing Zazen is a kind of action. He established a new philosophy which is based on action itself. Relying upon this philosophy, he insisted that action exists only at the present moment. So to have right action at the present moment is the most valuable matter in our life. Therefore, Buddhism insists the importance of morals or ethics. So Buddhism is different from the usual philosophies, idealism or materialism.

1:11 AM, December 03, 2005  
Blogger Michael said...

Hi Soundchaser.
I think I understand your post. But I still have to ask, Does it matter? Things can be parsed to the nth degree, thoughts and impulses can be classified ad infinitum, but what difference does it make, at least in the context of spirituality? To me, it seems like a justification for a spiritual journey, when such a journey -- and one's feelings -- really may not need such justification or rationalization.
Please be gentle with me. I'm a slow learner. :)

1:25 AM, December 03, 2005  
Blogger soundchaser said...

I think I understand your point, michael. I have trouble with most "philosophy" because it just seems to get deeper and deeper, more and more complex, without actually saying much that is useful. It is easy to get lost in thoughts.
Ultimately, zazen is the only important thing. And I think that if we do zazen properly, then we will gain insight into these things, naturally.
When I first started reading about Soto Zen, I wondered why there is so much writing, when Dogen said that zazen is the only important thing.
I think that the writings about zazen are done in order to help people avoid the pitfalls that are so easy to fall into.
And I think that Nishijima's comments about Idealism and Materialism are indeed relevent, because most of us have grown up in one or the other. Idealism and Materialism are beliefs. And beliefs get in the way of true experience. They colour the way we see the world.

2:34 AM, December 03, 2005  
Blogger Jules said...

jlhart7 said: Interesting post. What would the implications be, I wonder, of a Buddhist stance against both Idealism and Materialism for the efforts of labor-unions to achieve better conditions for workers, as well as for efforts to achieve greater social justice generally? I am thinking specifically of political and economic anarchism--especially anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-socialism.

Capitalism is a materialistic approach to societal organization, while anarcho-socialism and anarcho-syndicalism are idealistic approaches. I think many governments in civilized nations around the world are currently developing a realist approach to societal organization. The more socialist nations (like China) seem to be moving closer to capitalism as they find that their approach doesn't generate wealth very well, which is needed to fund social programs. The US moved a lot closer to socialism with Roosevelt's New Deal, and it's worked fairly well so far. But the US could afford to do more in the socialist direction, and achieve greater social justice, if it reprioritized some of it's current expensive and misguided policies.

As the wealth the world generates increases, governments will be able to afford more social programs and achieve greater social justice. There will be a lot of abuse and corruption along the way, but they will mostly be the same kind of abuses we have dealt with in the past, and hopefully the people faced with these abuses can learn from the way similar problems were successfully handled in the past. My $0.02, anyway.

4:38 AM, December 03, 2005  
Blogger Michael said...

Hey Soundchaser,

Yes, I agree with you that zazen is the most important thing.
Frankly, I enjoy discussing spirituality and even arguing over it. It's great to learn about other perspectives, and this learning sometimes helps me to better understand my own feelings on such things. It also teaches me patience and tolerance, both of which I could use much more of.
But I think comparing notes, so to speak, reaches a point where it becomes like trying to tune in a distant radio station. You can hear all these other broadcasts simultaneously in the background until you tweak the dial and adjust the antenna just so, and then the target station comes in clear as a bell.
To me, this is zazen, though perhaps a poor analogy.

4:39 PM, December 03, 2005  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Jules $0.02 seems to me to be right on target. If I add a further two-cent's worth, there is an interesting link between dungmason's reverence of pragmatism, Jules's reverence of the direction of Roosevelt's New Deal, and my reverence of a modern-day Buddha called FM Alexander. That link is Professor John Dewey, champion of pragmatism, champion of the New Deal, and champion of FM Alexander -- Dewey had lessons from Alexander for many years and wrote the introduction to three of Alexander's four books.

8:30 PM, December 03, 2005  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

For grim San

It is very natural for a person not to be able to notice which the sympathetic nervous system or the parasympathetic nervous system is stronger.

I think that spirituality is the state, when the sympathetic nervous system is stronger.

When we speculate, it is common that the state of the autonomic nervous system is stronger than the state of parasympathetic nervous system.

I think that spirituality is the stronger state of the sympathetic nervous system, and materialism occurs when the parasympathetic occurs.

The belief in an otherworldly God is much related with Joken-Gedo.

Spirituality is the stae of the stronger sympathetic nervous system, and so I do not know the value of spirituality.


For jlhart7 San

The efforts of labor-unions to achieve better conditions for workers, as well as for efforts to achieve greater social justice generally, are acts, and so they are usually done, when the autonomic nervous system is balanced.

When the political and economic anarchism works, I think that the societies will become confused, and people will be suffered by serioud difficulty.


For Michael San

What is the method to keep ego out of our posts?


For Lone Wolf San

I think that spirituality encourages us, and Buddhist reality is the Truth.

Materialism believe in Matter, and Idealism believe in Idea.


For dungMason San

I do not know pragmatism well, but I guess that pragmatism has some similarity to
Buddhism.


For Michael San

The classification is not important, but it is very important to distinguish what is false from the Truth. I do not Zen. Because Master Dogen denied the concept of Zen.

3:10 AM, February 20, 2006  

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