“To get the clearest and most efficient understanding of a thing, therefore, it must be experienced personally.”
— D.T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism
Born on this day, Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki (1870-1966) is credited with introducing the West to Zen Buddhism. Suzuki pursued his religious and philosophical studies at Tokyo University. He spent ten years living in the United States, where he worked as an oriental studies editor for Open Court Press. It was during that time that he was introduced to Emanuel Swedenborg’s writings, and upon his return to Japan, he undertook the translation of Heaven and Hell, The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine, Divine Love and Wisdom, and Divine Providence into Japanese. He also wrote two original essays intended to introduce the Japanese people to this Western thinker: Suedenborugu (Swedenborg) and Suedenborugu: Sono Tenkai to Tarikikan (Swedenborg: His Views on Heaven and “Other-Power”).
In the preface to Suedenborugu, written in October 1913, Suzuki explains why he felt it was important for the Japanese to learn more about Swedenborg’s thought:
Revolutionary in theology, traveler of heaven and hell, champion of the spiritual world, king of the mystical realm, clairvoyant unique in history, scholar of incomparable vigor, scientist of penetrating intellect, gentleman free of worldly taint: all of these combined into one make Swedenborg. Now, in Japan, the field of religious thought is finally reaching a state of crisis. Those who wish to cultivate their spirit, those who bemoan the times, must absolutely know of this person. This is the reason for this book.
Throughout his long life, this Buddhist scholar taught at colleges in Japan, the United States, and Europe, including Columbia, Yale, Harvard, Cambridge, and Oxford. His works are collected in the 32-volume Suzuki Daisetsu Zenshu, and translations of many of those works are still available in English, includingAn Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Essays in Zen Buddhism, Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist, and Zen and Japanese Culture.
Suzuki’s last words were, “Don’t worry. Thank you! Thank you!”
You can read more about Suzuki’s thoughts on Emanuel Swedenborg and the connection between Buddhism and Swedenborg’s writings in Swedenborg: Buddha of the North, which is available in print or as an e-book.