Book Bits

DT Suzuki on Eckhart, God’s Love and Prajña

DT Suzuki was a Japanese philosopher whose work helped to introduce Zen and Buddhism to the West in the time before it became a popular practice outside of Asia. One of Suzuki’s enduring interests as far as Western spiritual philosophy was concerned were the writings of Christian mystic Meister Eckhart. He frequently referred to Eckhart in his essays comparing Christianity and Buddhism, and it was mainly through Eckhart that he was able to find the deepest commonality between the two religions. In this passage from his book, Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist, Suzuki talks about prajña, the experience of direct insight into the truth, which was also described by Christian mystics. Zen’s image of two mirrors reflecting one another, Suzuki argues, can be equated with Eckhart’s account of loving God “with the love wherewith he loves himself”.


As long as we are in this world of particular existences we cannot avoid cherishing the idea of an individual ego. But this by no means warrants the substantiality of the ego. Modern psychology has in fact done away with an ego-entity. It is simply a workable hypothesis by which we carry on our practical business. The problem of the ego must be carried on to the field of metaphysics. To really understand what Buddha meant by saying that there is no atman, we must leave psychology behind. Because it is not enough just to state that there is no atman if we wish really to reach the end of sorrow and to be thus at peace with ourselves and with the world at large. We must have something positive in order to see ourselves safely in the harbor and securely anchored. Mere psychology cannot give us this. We must go out to a broader field of Reality where prajña-intuition comes into play. 

As long as we wander in the domain of the senses and intellect, the idea of an individual ego besets us, and makes us eternally pursue the shadow of the ego. But the ego is something always eluding our grasp; when we think we have caught it, it is found to be no more than a slough left by the snake while the real ego is somewhere else. The human ego-snake is covered with an infinity of sloughs, the catcher will before long find himself all exhausted. The ego must be caught not from outside but from within. This is the work of prajña. The wonder prajña performs is to catch the actor in the midst of his action, he is not made to stop acting in order to be seen as actor. The actor is the acting, and the acting is the actor, and out of this unification or identification prajña is awakened. The ego does not go out of himself in order to see himself. He stays within himself and sees himself as reflected in himself, But as soon as a split takes place between the ego as actor and the ego as seer or spectator, prajña is dichotomized, and all is lost. 

Eckhart expresses the same experience in terms of Christian theology. He talks about Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and love. They sound unfamiliar to Buddhist ears but when they are read with a certain insight we will find that “the love with which he [God] loves himself” is the same as the prajña-intuition that sees into the ego itself. Eckhart tells us: “In giving us his love God has given us his Holy Ghost so that we can love him with the love wherewith he loves himself. We love God with his own love; awareness of it deifies us.” The Father loving the Son and the Son loving the Father—this mutual love, that is, love loving itself is, in Zen terminology, one mirror reflecting another with no shadow between them. 

Eckhart calls this “the play going on in the Father-nature. Play and audience are the same.” He continues: 

“This play was played eternally before all natures, As it is written in the Book of Wisdom, “Prior to creatures, in the eternal now, I have played before the Father in an eternal stillness.” The Son has eternally been playing before the Father as the Father has before his Son. The playing of the twain is the Holy Ghost in whom they both disport themselves and he disports himself in both. Sport and players are the same. Their nature proceeding in itself. “God is a fountain flowing into itself,” as St. Dionysius says.”

Prajña-intuition comes out of itself and returns to itself. The self or ego that has been constantly eluding our rationalized is at last caught when it comes under prajña-intuition which is no other than the self. 


DT Suzuki (1870-1966)
From – Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist


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