Atheism in Buddhism
Hisamatsu Shin-ichi on atheism |
- , ""I" in the words of Jesus,"
in The myth of Christian uniqueness:
toward a pluralistic theology of religions,
John Hick and Paul F. Knitter, editors (Orbis: Maryknoll NY 1987)
We can carry on this same discussion from the perspective of Zen Buddhism.
Hisamatsu Shin-ichi (1889-1980), a great Zen Master who was also professor of
philosophy of religion at Kyoto University, was a well-known "atheist."
This does not mean that he denied the existence of God when affirming the
existence of the world and of humanity. Hisamatsu directed his atheism
against "theism." For him, God was not something "out there"; he denied God as
das ganz Andere. In his study entitled "Atheism" (1949),12 he asserted a
paradoxical identity: "the Formless" (ultimate reality) is not something outside,
or merely das ganz Andere. To those who would insist that the ultimate
must in some be das ganz Andere, Hisamatsu responded that at the same time
the ultimate is the self insofar as it is the human being's ultimate subject.
Das ganz Andere, therefore, is also the ultimate self; this means that
absolute heteronomy and absolute autonomy are, paradoxically, identical.
According to Hisamatsu, "I do" means, at the ground of the human being, "the
Formless does." So he could even say, "I do not die."13
But is this not the apotheosis of the human being? Some critics made just this
accusation against Hisamatsu. To understand what he meant, we have to look beyond
the literal sense of his words. When he and I were once having a philosophical
discussion, he said to me, "Since I am so old, I may die at any moment. If I die,
please carry on a conversation with me who am in you." What he was trying to make
clear to me, I think, is just whom I was talking with at that moment.14
Yet, from what he was saying, it was clear that he was well aware of his own
mortality. So for him, "I" had a double structure: it was composed of the ego and
the ultimate self (or, the Formless). Both selves for him are essentially
concentric. Indeed, from the figure he drew, we see that when the self is
awakened, the infinite (Formless) self contains the finite self (ego) within its