Bookmark and Share
go back to Zen Essays: Miscellaneous


Transcendence East and West
Hakuin's Daruma

David R. Loy
Man and World
Vol. 26, No. 4 December 1993, pp. 403-427

Oh, East is East, and West is West,
and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at
God's great Judgment Seat...
-- Rudyard Kipling, "The Ballad of East and West"
The twain have long since met, with and without apocalypse, but a more insidious stereotype still infects Kipling's blithe verse: the assumption that East is East, i.e., that we can make useful generalizations about the East. However difficult it may be to characterize the West, it is far more difficult to make an observation valid from Sakhalin to Saudi Arabia. A little acquaintance with south Asia and east Asia is sufficient to dispel the notion that they can be meaningfully lumped together into, e.g., "the intuitive East." Somewhat more familiarity [1] has made me reflect on the ways Indian culture and Sino-Japanese culture seem to be almost diametric opposites. That replaces one stereotype with another, of course, yet perhaps this other extreme -- privileging the reverse view -- may be useful for exploring the possibility that more is involved here than merely their dissimilarity.

    This paper, then, is an experiment that pushes this opposite generalization to see how far we can ride it and how illuminating it can be. This amounts to an exercise in cultural typing which, it cannot be emphasized too strongly, is meant to be heuristic: that is, I shall attempt to extract some ideal types from a mass of cultural characteristics which are probably not susceptible to any definitive organization and certainly not to any as simple as the one to be offered here. But let us see if we can nonetheless learn something valuable from it.

    What follows is an argument that the cultural polarity between the Indian-influenced cultures of south Asia and the Chinese-influenced cultures of east Asia is more significant than that between "East" and "West". However considerable the differences may be between, e.g., China and Japan (and we shall look at many of those differences), they lose their importance when we contrast those two with the other side of the Himalaya -- appropriately, a formidable and almost impassable barrier. Since the amount of relevant data here is also formidable and almost indigestible, part one confines itself to outlining what I think are the most significant contrasts. Part two adumbrates the pattern in those differences, which reduces to differing attitudes towards transcendence: the distinction between sacred and secular is one of the most fundamental determinates of Indian ways of thinking, whereas both China and Japan are this-worldly in assigning primary value to -- and thereby sacralizing -- socio-political structures. Part two also considers the various meanings and types of transcendence, and asks why an overt transcendental dimension arose in certain places but not in others.

    Part three reflects on where "the West" fits into this schema. Contrary to Kipling, East and West cannot help but meet because our concept of each gains meaning only by negating the other; the East is "intuitive" only when the West is "rational", etc. Then what happens when the East no longer needs the West as an alter ego? If (in the compensatory stereotype to be developed below) east Asia and south Asia are already cultural opposites, where does the West fit into that polarity? Somewhere in the middle, one could argue, but we shall see that the alternatives are not so one-dimensional. Curiously, India and Japan each seem to have more in common with the West than with each other. That is because Western civilization, like Indian, is rooted in a strong sacred/secular bifurcation; yet the historical eclipse of the sacred has transformed Western societies into more secular nations therefore similar in many ways to China and Japan, which lack India's transcendental reference-point. But this perspective is misleading because in the most important sense a transcendental dimension is unavoidable: when we do not apprehend or project a transcendental realm, we end up sacralizing some aspect of the secular, for we feel a need to ground ourselves in one or another ultimate concern. In east Asia, the transcendental dimension remained embedded in the sacred authority of social and political hierarchies, whereas in the West the transcendental has been gradually internalized into the supposedly autonomous and self-directed individual. These differences underlie many of the political and economic tensions between east Asia and the West today.

    That will give us three different models of how to relate the secular to the sacred, the phenomenal to the transcendental. The conclusion briefly evaluates them, by looking at each from the perspective of the others. Once the problems with each paradigm are seen, we shall be less inclined to opt for one simply to avoid the others. If all three models are unsatisfactory, for different reasons, how can their differences be addressed?


The following contrasts between India and China/Japan are striking -- so much so that the structure of these oppositions can hardly be coincidental. Below are the differences that seem to me the most important. Much of the data is from Hajime Nakamura's encyclopedic Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples; numbers in parentheses refer to its page numbers. [2]

1. Traditional Indian culture displays a strong preference for universals over particulars. In Indian thought there is a preponderance of (and the Sanskrit language has a preference for) abstract notions, which are treated as if they were concrete realities. Emphasis is on the unity of things; the changing manifestations of the phenomenal world tend to be devalued as illusory. Accordingly, there is a lack of historical and geographical consciousness: little interest in calculating time or recording the specific details of locality, and few historical or biographical works with accurate dates. Indian aesthetics does not analyze individual works of art and books of classification lack illustrative case-histories. In summary, not the specific but the generalization is important.

    In contrast, traditional Chinese culture prefers particulars over universals. The Chinese language has a concrete flavor and an extraordinary number of similes and metaphors; for example, the philosophical concept of perfection is often metaphorized as "round" and in Ch'an Buddhism one's true nature is "your original face." Chinese literature includes detailed geography, historiography and biography, because specific places, historical events and the people that made them are all important. The paradoxical dialogues of Ch'an do not offer abstract Buddhist teachings but concretize those teachings by responding appropriately to particular situations. The other side of this preference for the concrete is that Chinese culture (like Japanese culture) is poor mythologically, whereas the "fantastical" Indian imagination created the richest of the world's mythologies. Even the few Indian histories "are tinged with fantastic and legendary color." (219, 143)

    In a pattern that will become important as it is repeated, Japanese culture may be viewed as extrapolating these Chinese traits, for it also emphasizes sensible and concrete events rather than abstract universals. Nakamura names this Japanese tendency phenomenalism. In contrast to Indian inclination toward an Absolute transcendent to the phenomenal world, and Chinese understanding of the Tao as a more dynamic ground of changing phenomena, for the Japanese the phenomenal world is the absolute (350 ff).

2. In India highest value was placed on the religious goal of one's individual self merging into the Universal Self, which is without personal differentiation. There was little discussion of the problems with social and political structures; such concerns were subverted by the belief that one's individual self is ultimately nondual with other selves. This world was devalued into a means to prepare for another: "The ancient Indians led their life on this side of heaven with the expectation of a life after death." (161) The Indian preference for negative expressions (e.g., "The atman is that which has been described as not this, not this." [3]) exemplifies a fondness for the undetermined, i.e. that which is other than this determinate world. There is emphasis on introspective behavior and the subjective comprehension of one's personality (in contrast with modern Western emphasis on scientific, i.e. objective, comprehension of the personality). That is because the nature of the Universal Self may be known immediately by becoming aware of the true nature of one's individual self. This bias towards introspection was accompanied by a tendency to abstain from action and an emphasis on passive and forbearing behavior. Nakamura compares this attitude with the Western Romanticists: they "have in common a longing -- or more properly speaking, a vague and undefined attraction -- toward an infinite, distant, and supernatural Being." (144) [4]

    Traditional China was more worldly in placing highest value on the family. One is not concerned to transcend this world but identifies with one's family and works for its welfare. Ancestors were worshiped in order to gain prosperity in this life. The religious goal of Taoism and Ch'an is not to experience another realm but to become aware of the true nature of this one; the miraculous function of Ch'an is "fetching water and chopping wood." In contrast to Indian preoccupation with karma and rebirth, there was little concern about what happens after death (Confucius: "You do not yet know about life; why do you concern yourself about death?") and no deep consciousness of sin or the need for salvation. "Indian Buddhism was generally a metaphysical teaching about the past and future worlds of man, but the Buddhism which spread among the common Chinese was often a Buddhism of spells and prayers." (236)

    The phenomenalism of Japanese culture meant that the sacred is not distinct from this world but suffused in all things: there are millions of gods; even trees and grass have kami. No profound reflections on the soul or death are found in Shinto, the only indigenous religion; death is simply impurity. In contrast with Indian asceticism and less extreme tendencies in Chinese Buddhism and Taoist yoga (in the latter case practiced to gain physical immortality), there was an acceptance of natural dispositions (e.g., sex, alcohol, meat-eating) even for priests. Zen Buddhism emphasized the spiritual significance of everyday life: tea-drinking, flower-arranging, killing others and, should the occasion require, oneself. Not-killing is the first precept in Indian religions (wars were fought mainly by mercenaries), yet Zen became popular because it taught the samurai how to kill and how to die -- that is, how to play their role in what Nakamura calls the social nexus. He says there are very few instances in Japanese history of individuals sacrificing themselves for universal principles such as religion and truth, yet innumerable samurai (and other vassals) sacrificed themselves for their lord: not because he was any better than any other lord, but simply because he was their lord. Indian renunciants abstained from work and begged for their food; Chinese Buddhists were more practical (Pai-chang: "a day without working is a day without eating"); Japanese Buddhism came to repudiate most traditional spiritual disciplines in favor of those that promote productive activities, exemplifying the general trait that Robert Bellah identifies as the most important characteristic of Japanese society: its goal-oriented behavior. [5] Indian preoccupation with metaphysics and abstract principles contrasts with Chinese pragmatism and even more strongly with Japanese lack of interest in theoretical principles in favor of acting. This helps to explain the rapid modernization of Japan after 1868 and its rapid recovery after 1945. However, Nakamura is concerned that such a religious view

may easily degenerate into the sheer utilitarianism of profit- seeking activities, should it lose sight of the significance of the absolute, which underlies the productive life of all vocations. It is especially true with a people like the Japanese, who are not too preoccupied with religious matters. (513)

3. The harsh physical conditions of the Indian subcontinent, whose scorching dry season is followed by an inundating monsoon, correlates with emphasis on suffering (duhkha) and pessimism about the possibilities of this world of samsara. This implied a submissive attitude toward one's fate and conditions of life; karma was understood to mean that they are regulated by an invisible power beyond immediate control. The physical body tended to be belittled. Indian thought is not anthropocentric: the distinction between humans and other living beings is not emphasized, evidently because all phenomena become equivalent insofar as they are other than the Absolute. The emphasis in education was on philosophy, particularly metaphysics, which seeks to comprehend the whole.

    The well-known Chinese esteem for nature reflects a physical environment more conducive to admiring its beauties. Instead of understanding this world as a samsara to be fled, "everyday mind" is enlightenment in Ch'an. Mahayana Buddhism, which claimed that samsara is not other than nirvana, did not survive in India yet became the one Indian school of thought to thrive north of the Himalaya. With the notable exception of Hsun tzu, Chinese thinkers understood human nature to be basically good, as part of the larger natural law. Since nature is not opposed to man, it does not need to be conquered but harmonized with; natural disasters were a sign that the ruler had lost his mandate to govern. For both the social system and the physical environment, harmony is the key concept. Bellah's Tokugawa Religion views Chinese and Japanese societies as similar in many ways, but distinguishes the Chinese emphasis on integrative values from the Japanese stress on political or goal-attainment values. [6]

    In the religious sphere, this implied syncretism among the three major Chinese religions, widely believed to be essentially the same. While Indian thinkers disputed over philosophical principles, ignoring the practical and social implications of their debates, Chinese scholars resolved philosophical issues in a framework restrained by societal conventions -- which implies that such conventions were taken to be more important than the abstract search for truth. In preferring the more practical problems of social relations, Chinese thought is more humanistic and anthropocentric. The most notable exception to Chinese lack of interest in metaphysics is the Buddhist Hua-yen doctrine of all phenomena as mutually interpenetrating. Hua-yen philosophy elaborated concrete metaphors such as Indra's net, water and waves, the golden lion, etc., in order to conclude that, contrary to Indian reference to a spiritual Absolute, reality is the totality of such interpenetrating relations. So even Chinese Buddhist metaphysics negates transcendence in the Indian sense! Chinese philosophy has little logic, dialectic, dialogue or argument; being figurative and intuitive, it is weak in formulating abstract laws. Indian Buddhists accepted perception and reasoning as valid pramanas (modes of knowledge); Chinese Buddhism deferred to the authority of the Buddhist canon, and accepted strange new doctrines (e.g., cittamatra) solely on the authority of Sakyamuni Buddha rather than as a result of reasoning. The syncretic tendency may also be seen in the way that different doctrines were formally organized into a hierarchical system (e.g., T'ien-t'ai), rather than such systems being a result of developing their logical connections. This attitude towards Buddhist teachings was part of a general conservative emphasis on the authority of antiquity and its precedents overruling abstract principles such as logical consistency. It was believed that all important truth could be found in the Five Classics; Confucius said that he merely imitated and revived past customs. Hence "China has never had a revolution in her world of thought" (208). (Today we can see how Maoism was not an exception to this but exemplifies it.) Later no independent school of thought was allowed to exist in opposition to Confucianism; intellectual life became confined to the acceptance of traditional classics and commentary on them.

    Since Shinto gods were diffused into almost everything, the Japanese have never viewed the natural world as cursed or samsara. Japanese love of nature developed into a subtle appreciation of minute, delicate, transitory things (e.g., cherry blossoms). This phenomenalism included an acceptance of human dispositions, desires and sentiments as natural too and therefore not to be struggled against. Buddhism in Japan became less ascetic; spiritual disciplines were repudiated as unnecessary (e.g., Shinran), and later alcohol, meat-eating and marriage were allowed for priests -- not to weaken the influence of Buddhism, as has been argued, but to ratify abuses which had become common.

    Even more than in China, emphasis on the harmony of the social nexus meant a lack of interest in divisive argument and critique. Nakamura points to a deficiency in the spirit of criticism: in many cases, rapprochements occur "for the sake of convenience and in the mood of opportunism... lacking in the radical spirit of confrontation and criticism." Buddhist priests "very reluctantly" reflect on the great differences between doctrines they espouse and the actions they and others perform, preferring to follow the accepted social nexus. (402) The militant nationalism of almost all Japanese Zen masters during the second world war remains an embarrassment for many Western Zen students. [7] Nakamura notes a lack of will to drive home a concept or an idea, which could also threaten social harmony; the sociologist Chie Nakane agrees that there is little social sanction in Japan for entertaining ideas and opinions that are different from the head of one's family or community. [8] One result of this is a tendency to avoid complex ideas in favor of simplistic symbolic expressions: sects of exclusive faith in the Lotus Sutra prospered only in Japan; Japanese Christians devoted themselves to simple symbols such as the cross; haiku poetry prospered but not longer verse forms. Virtue is also simple and unproblematic. The highest value is placed on honesty, understood as straightforward truthfulness and loyalty to one's superior, rather than any commitment to some abstract moral code.

    Nakamura emphasizes the non-rationalistic tendencies of Japanese ways of thinking. Shinto has no doctrine. In discourse logical rules are neglected; the primary importance placed on one's limited social nexus means there is little inclination to make each person's understanding rational or universal. Hence logic developed slowly. Indian Buddhist logic was studied but in a dogmatic way, which revered the founder as highest authority and studied his teachings in a spirit that defends the faith. Such works tended to become an esoteric tradition: writings (e.g., Dogen's Shobogenzo) were kept secret and privately transmitted in a catechistic way not intended for public dissemination as a teaching beneficial to all. While the Chinese classified Buddhist sects hierarchically, the Japanese simply distinguished their own from all other inferior ones. (562) Nakamura notes that Japanese people are said to be adept at imitation and adaptation but sterile in invention; foreign cultures are assimilated not through study of their general principles and structures, but by precipitately importing only those parts suitable for immediate practical use. Japanese are weak in studying the objective basis of their action because, he writes, they are too eager to accomplish the action. (575) Phenomenalism in education means that learning is a matter of collecting facts. Even today, the notorious university entrance examinations require an extraordinary memory for facts, without much need to understand their relationship or significance. In his study of Japanese high schools, Thomas Rohlen notices that "schooling in logic is as old as Western civilization itself", something even more true for traditional Indian education, which emphasized philosophical debate. "By contrast, the Japanese tradition ... has long emphasized memorization and imitation. One approach helps the internalization of a moral and intellectual frame of reference, the second aids adjustment to the environment." [9]

    Early Shinto was hardly distinguishable from animism and shamanism; and, according to Nakamura, at every critical moment in Japanese history when ruling classes lost control over the peasantry, magical or shamanistic trends became important again. Imported doctrines were not immune from this tendency:

As a new religion, Buddhism was compelled to meet the popular requirement that it should be effective in exorcism. The Japanese type of Buddhism was largely one of prayer and exorcism. It mainly aimed at praying for benefits and wealth in this world and the next, in the interest of the state as well as of individuals. Even the reading of sutras was considered to have an exorcistic significance... (p. 578)

Shingon esotericism predominated in early Japanese Buddhism, whereas it was rare in India and China, where it had developed. Japanese Confucianism (which in China denounced magic and exorcism) also had to become more tolerant of such tendencies.

4. In traditional India, political leaders rarely intervened in religious matters or interfered with religious institutions. Instead, kings tended to defer to sages and spiritual organizations, for the highest authority was the universal law or dharma, understood as the foundation of the universe on which all things are grounded. Faith (sraddha) was invested not in particular persons but in this abstract Truth transcending the transitory affairs of humans. Different world views were understood to be parts of that one Truth, thus encouraging a spiritual tolerance with no conception of heresy in the Western sense, as something dangerous that must be extirpated. Why did the Indian understanding of dharma not lead to the inquisitions that occurred in medieval Europe, which ruthlessly protected the Truth from heresy? Perhaps the dharma did not need to be defended in this way because, due to greater emphasis on its transcendence, it is not something that can be offended or possessed. The desire for a direct relationship with the Absolute led to emphasis on one's own efforts. The Buddha appointed no successor, whereas one's spiritual lineage became extremely important in China and Japan.

    Indians had little racial or national consciousness, and even today they are more inclined to form religious than political organizations. Asoka's Edicts indicate that he wanted to be remembered not as King of India but as preserver and actualizer of the dharma. India's many legends and myths contain very few national heroes. It was a virtue to offer one's property and life for the happiness of others, but self-sacrifice on behalf of a particular race or nation was never taught. (118, 121) I stress this because it will be important to my argument later: since Indian culture defined itself in relation to a transcendental realm, it did not become nationalistic or sacralize political authority.

    In China and Japan there was much greater esteem for the hierarchy that structured the social nexus, and corresponding emphasis on the formalism in behavior which usually accompanies such esteem. In China the Buddhist precepts were valued more highly than in their birthplace, to the extent that a vinaya (precept) sect was founded, whose spiritual practice emphasized reciting the innumerable rules which regulate the lives of monks. In both countries the great value placed on rank and social position subordinated religious values: that is, religious institutions were dominated and controlled by secular authorities, who thereby not only neutralized the threat that such sacred authority (dharma) offered to their power, but appropriated that authority for their own political ends. Sakyamuni had had to choose between becoming a world-monarch (cakravartin) or a world-savior (a Buddha); the two were never conflated in India, nor was there ever much doubt about which was the nobler accomplishment. Starting with the T'ang dynasty, the Chinese emperor gradually became deified, coming to be viewed as a Bodhisattva or the Tathagata himself. Under his rule property rights existed but not freedom by law. The conception of human rights that developed in the West -- that one can have the protection of law against one's own government -- had an Indian equivalent in respect for the dharma; devotees who renounced the world were usually beyond state jurisdiction. Both notions were (and for the most part still are) alien to Chinese and Japanese political institutions.

    Japan perfected this tendency to identify religious and secular authority. Only in Japan did the mythology that accounts for creation of the world also found the imperial family. In China dynasties were overthrown, yet in Japan the same family has reigned since the beginning of history. Even today, it is the one family that has no surname: it needs none, for it is the family that constitutes the Japanese people. Chinese Confucianism allowed for revolution, should the emperor lose the mandate of heaven. Japan has no place for such a possibility: imperial authority is not derived from any abstract principle such as divine right but abides in his person. The fundamental importance of this for Japanese society may be appreciated from the stress Nakamura places on "the tendency to emphasize, and unconditioned belief in, a limited social nexus", which takes form in the "absolute devotion to a specific individual symbolic of the social nexus": that is, emperor worship. (pp. 407 ff) In contrast to the religious-like nationalism of Nazi Germany, which emphasized a future-oriented ideal (a "purified" Aryan world without any Jews, etc.), the religious-like nationalism of Japan emphasized the present real: the emperor as God. [10]

    Japanese this-worldliness meant that Buddhism too was changed into a religion centered on this world. In the early Nara and Heian periods, almost all sects emphasized magic and incantations. Shinto and Buddhism were perceived as compatible for the pragmatic reason that differences of religion were not important unless they damaged the social nexus -- precisely the opposite reason for Indian tolerance, which was based on the preeminence of Dharma. In other words, religion in Japan was not considered important in itself; as Nakamura says, its value was its utility in serving as the foundation of the state. (p. 579) Nakamura also points out the problem with this: "the inclination to regard as absolute a limited specific human nexus naturally brings about a tendency to disregard any allegedly universal law of humanity that every man ought to observe at any place at any time." (393) When this way of thinking is pushed to an extreme, it ends up emphasizing "ethno-centrism or supernationalism, and with its emphasis upon the specificity of the time, in opportunism." (p. 399)

    When the social nexus is primary, hierarchical relationships and rules of propriety take precedence over the individual. Emphasis is on complete dedication to one's social collective. Then good and evil are solely a matter of social morality: what profits the group or harms its welfare. This implies an acute moral self-reflection that, as Nakamura notices, is very different from that of Christian Europe. The importance of social cooperation prompts a deep concern about social esteem, what others think of me, rather than an internalized anxiety about my sinfulness before the all-seeing transcendent eye of God. [11] Although the family was the predominant social unit, as in China, the whole Japanese nation was regarded as the extended family of the father-emperor. The cult of bushido taught complete devotion to one's lord, who was also one's true parent. It is not difficult to see that same unconditioned loyalty in contemporary Japan, psychologically transferred to one's company. Association with religious temples and sects was not a matter of individual commitment but the social relationship of one's family clan. Today funerals and memorial services (in which priests are necessary as intermediaries) are almost the only social role of Buddhism in Japan, yet neither was a function of original Indian Buddhism. In order to win a place in Japanese society, Buddhism too had to promote such civic virtues as loyalty to the emperor and devotion to one's parents, concepts alien to Indian Buddhism. The Mahayana goal of "the happiness of all sentient beings" became "the prosperity of the imperial family."

    The result of this absolute devotion to a particular individual who symbolized the human nexus, as opposed to the Indian way of symbolizing the cosmos in an impersonal way, was loss of personal freedom. Unlike the contracted and delimited responsibilities in European feudalism, the Japanese vassal devoted his whole existence to his lord. It is a simple way to solve the problems of ultimate value and social relationships -- by conflating them -- but at a considerable price. At the end of Tokugawa Religion Robert Bellah concludes:

Religion reinforced commitment to the central value system by making that value system meaningful in an ultimate sense. The family and the nation were not merely secular collectivities but were also religious entities. Parents and political superiors had something of the sacred about them, were merely the lower echelons of the divine. Fulfillment of one's obligations to these superordinates had an ultimate meaning. [12]

Bellah sees a connection between this and militarism:

The great difference from China is that whereas the military aspect tended to atrophy and particularistic loyalty to one's lord, though important, was not primary, in Japan the militaristic aspect remained important even if it had to be only symbolic and the idea of loyalty to one's lord continued to override all other ethical concepts. [13]

Herman Ooms, in his more recent study Tokugawa Ideology, concludes with the same observation: "Military regimentation came to inform the model of the social order." And today? "That obsession with order has continued undiminished." [14]

    The basic problem is that such an order allows for no "categorical imperative" which transcends the limitations of one's particular human nexus. Since all things were judged according to that nexus, ecclesiastical authorities in Japan were always subject to secular authorities, and up to this day they have tended to be subservient to the state. As Max Weber put it, the state was not a patron of religion, as in India, but a religious police. (p. 527) Religious institutions in Japan have never had much authority, nor have men of religion been as highly respected as in India or the West. "The Japanese accepted Buddhism without changing their own standpoint an iota. That was why Buddhism spread with such speed." (p. 529) Even though it became accepted as the national religion, Buddhism was always regarded as imported; and if Buddhism did not change Japan, neither did Japan change Buddhism, which was "when viewed from the larger standpoint of Buddhist history, a mere branch of Buddhism growing out of the Buddhism of China." (p. 346) Yet Japanese Buddhists believed that "only in Japan was the pure message of Sakyamuni revealed." (p. 349)

    Nakamura emphasizes the weakness of the Japanese religious consciousness and concludes that "[R]eligion, in the true sense of the word, never deeply took root on Japanese soil." (p. 530) But there is no escaping religion, in the most important sense of the word: for when we deny the authority of the sacred, we end up sacralizing secular authority. So there is another way to understand Nakamura's point: the religion of Japan is... Japan.

5. Whether or not one accepts some version of language/thought isomorphism, there is an integral relationship between the cultural differences discussed above and the languages that express them. One of the most impressive aspects of Nakamura's Way of Thinking is the detailed way it correlates cultural tendencies with specific linguistic characteristics. For example, Sanskrit has a preference for abstract nouns, for substantives rather than verbs, and for propositions stated impersonally in the passive mode. Chinese gains its concrete flavor from a preference for proper nouns and from its poverty of universals, compared with an abundance of words for bodies and shapes. Original Japanese is rich in aesthetic and emotive vocabulary, but poor in imaginative words based on abstract universal ideas; in contrast to Sanskrit, the passive voice is uncommon.

    Sanskrit grammar developed early, before grammar did in Europe, but there was little Chinese grammar, and no standard system of Japanese grammar before 1868. Sanskrit, along with its Indo-European cousins Greek and German, has long been cherished as a vehicle for precise philosophical expression, whereas Chinese and Japanese are much more ambiguous. Chinese has few prepositions, conjunctions, relative pronouns; lacks cases, copula, and the distinction between singular and plural; there is no clear difference between subject and attribute, for the same word can function as noun, adjective or verb. Nakamura deems it an awkward medium for the expression of abstract thought. (p. 188) Most of these points are also true for Japanese, and he draws the same conclusion:

The forms of expression of the Japanese language are more oriented to sensitive and emotive nuances than directed toward logical exactness. The Japanese language does not tend to express precisely and accurately the various modes of being, but is satisfied merely with vague, typological expressions. (p. 531)

We are tempted to conclude, as Nakamura does, that Chinese and Japanese are intellectually inferior to Indo-European languages. Yet one could argue, on the other side, that the Chinese "lack" of prepositions and relative pronouns allows for types of expression that Sanskrit does not. If we do not assume that abstract conceptual discourse is the "highest" form of thought, it becomes difficult to prove that sensitivity to emotional nuance characterizes an inferior one. Perhaps we should not conclude that certain languages are better for thinking; rather, different languages emphasize different ways of thinking, just as the title of Nakamura's book puts it. We can benefit from the insights of Chuang-tzu and Dogen without wishing they were Nagarjuna -- although it is nonetheless striking how similar many of their insights are. [15]

    This brings us to the larger issue of cultural comparisons generally. It is easy to criticize another culture from the perspective of one's own, yet such critiques tend to be just as vulnerable to the other point of view. A Chinese might point to the Indian lack of historical and geographical consciousness, with its tendency to elaborate and mythologize even the few historical records that have survived; but the Indian may find the Chinese concern for historical accuracy less notable than its impoverished and dull mythology. At this point comparative critiques tend to founder, yet something important remains to be seen about the relations between south Asian and east Asian cultures, about their relationship with the West, and more generally about the role of transcendence in society.


One could go on and on with the above comparisons, but enough has been said to draw some conclusions from them. Perhaps exceptions can be found for every generalization; in particular, my heuristic attempt to extract ideal cultural types means that later historical developments -- especially those due to outside influence, such as Western impact in the 19th and 20th centuries -- have not been taken into account. Nonetheless, the various cultural characteristics and contrasts mentioned above do not occur randomly; they form part of a pattern that has become obvious by now. How can that pattern be conceptualized?

    Nakamura summarizes his study as follows: in India ultimate value is placed on religion, in China on the family, and in Japan on the state. However, this may be further simplified. The main contrast is between India and the other two, for the difference between China and Japan tends to be a matter of emphasis. In China the extended family functioned as a small state; in Japan the state was one big family. Both are this-worldly in assigning primary value to those societal structures. To state that Indian culture emphasizes religion means that India is not this-worldly because this world is understood (and devalued) by juxtaposing it with another possibility: there is constant reference to a transcendental realm. From the east Asian perspective, the distinction between this phenomenal world of samsara and a "higher" sacred reality is a fundamental determinate of Indian ways of thinking. We can find some elements of such a distinction in Chinese and Japanese culture -- most of them imported with Buddhism -- yet those cultures were not affected to the same extent. Quite the opposite: from an Indian perspective it is the absence of a transcendental/secular distinction that has determined many of the characteristics of Chinese and Japanese culture.

    So much is fairly evident by now, but some of its implications are not so obvious. The above claim is not that the Japanese and Chinese traditions lack a transcendental or sacred dimension. Elsewhere [16] I have argued that such a sacred dimension is unavoidable: our need to ground ourselves someplace means we feel compelled to make an ultimate commitment, so that even when we consciously deny any spiritual reality, our worldly pursuits take on a religious-like urgency. In east Asia we can readily detect that religious dimension in the sacred authority appropriated by secular rulers. The Chinese emperor became deified; the authority of the Japanese emperor was even greater because irrevocable, not granted to him but dwelling in his person. Without an authoritative transcendental realm understood as separate from the secular, the sacred dimension manifests in east Asia as the social structure: the consequence is that human beings are more tightly embedded within society, for the social nexus is taken to be more important than the individuals that enter into it -- or, if we adopt the east Asian perspective, more real than the units that can be abstracted from it.

    When the members of a society are not unified by their common commitment to a transcendental reality, or by their acceptance of a transcendental authority, what binds them together? In part one it was noticed that Chinese and Japanese society share greater esteem not only for hierarchy but also for the formalism which concretizes such esteem. Confucian concern with li is consistent with its this-worldly orientation. Common submission to a transcendental and universal moral code tends to be a democratizing force, for, e.g., we all become "children of God." When one is subjected solely and wholly to secular authority, formalism takes on many of the functions of morality, as part of the process which sacralizes those power relations.

    In east Asia hierarchical (and, by democratic standards, oppressive) social relations came to be accepted much like the weather because they too were perceived as natural: that is, not needing to be explained, much less open to significant reform. Describing the situation in Japan before the Meiji Restoration, van Wolferen notes that "the political arrangements of the Tokugawa period were presented as perfect in that they conformed to 'the order found in the manifold natural phenomena of heaven and earth.'" [17]

    This attitude seems peculiar and unnecessary to us because we can view it from "outside", in this instance less from an Indian perspective than from a Western one, which did not accept hierarchical political and economic structures as natural and whose history has been punctuated by radical attempts at social improvement. The disastrous consequences of so many of those efforts (e.g., the Russian Revolution) should make us hesitate before denigrating the east Asian model of social relations. Again, such comparisons are a sword that cuts both ways. It is easy to ridicule Japanese groupism and overlook how valuable that security can be psychologically; it has become more difficult to offer the individualism of the contemporary U.S. as a better model. Viewed from a land where everyone seems to be looking out for number one, the unconditioned loyalty of a samurai to his lord seems an admirable example of selflessness -- until one looks for the principles which motivate that lord. Loyalty to people becomes attractive when we remember all the killing that has been done on behalf of abstractions such as God or the future socialist state; yet when that devotion plugs into a hierarchical social structure itself unaccountable to any "higher" dimension, we should not be surprised when the role of sacred ideology is filled by militant nationalism.

    These reflections suggest (and part one supports the conclusion) that transcendence should be understood as referring not only to some sacred other-worldly dimension, but also to the authority of ethical universalism (which was usually derived from such a "higher world", like the Decalogue handed down by Yahweh). Today the formal role of the sacred has been largely eclipsed in Western society -- American church-going notwithstanding -- yet the function of such universal values has expanded to fill much of the breech, ranging from legal inscriptions such as the U.S. Bill of Rights to our informal sense of fair play. In that sense the transcendental is still very much with us, and indeed it has been necessary to protect the newly-evolved individual from his state and to regulate his competition with other individuals. And it can hardly be a coincidence that this form of transcendence has also been lacking in east Asia. In his perceptive study The Enigma of Japanese Power, Karel van Wolferen concludes that "the crucial factor in the exercise of Japanese power" has been "the absence of a tradition of appealing to transcendental truth or universal values." [18]

    Yet expanding our understanding of transcendence to include universalist values is still not broad enough. The full implications of the term are suggested by its etymology: Lat. trans + scendere, to climb over or rise above. Most generally, transcendence is that which abstracts (Lat. ab[s]+trahere, to separate, draw out from) us from the given world by providing a theoretical (Gr. theorein, to look at) perspective (Lat. per+specere, to look through) on it. The above etymologies suggest how much our English vocabulary for "higher" thought processes involves "rising above" the given, which allows the possibility of leverage over it, of changing that given. This too is consistent with the contrast drawn in part one between Indian preference for abstractions and a theoretical (metaphysical) perspective on life, versus Chinese concreteness and Japanese phenomenalism. Archimedes said that if he had a fulcrum sufficiently far away he could move the entire earth. Historically, that fulcrum has been provided by the transcendental, regardless of whether we understand it as the realization of another dimension of reality or as a product of the human imagination. As Renan said about the supernatural, the transcendental is the way in which the ideal makes its appearance in human affairs.

With this trivalent understanding of transcendence -- as higher realm, as ethical universal, and as critical perspective on the given -- we are ready to address what is perhaps the most interesting question: why did an explicitly transcendental dimension arise in certain places, such as India, and not in others, such as China and Japan?

"Transcendence," whether it takes the form of divine revelation or of theoretical cosmology, implies a search for authority outside the institutionalized offices and structures of the seeker's society. Even its most concrete form, the law code, implies a transfer of authority from the holders of office to the written rule. Transcendental impulses therefore constitute, by definition, an implicit challenge to traditional authority and indicate some dissatisfaction with it... [N]ew transcendental visions are... likely to be presented by persons in a precariously independent, interstitial -- or at least exposed and somewhat solitary -- position in society; they are therefore particularly likely to occur in societies sufficiently differentiated to have specialized social roles with distinct bases of authority, but not complex enough to have integrated these roles into functionally differentiated structures.(S. C. Humphreys). [19]

Humphreys argues for this by referring to axial-age (first millennium B.C.) Greece. She finds the necessary precondition for a transcendental perspective on society in the privileged and relatively independent position of its intellectuals, such as the sophists, whose special linguistic skills provided "the ability to recreate social relationships and manipulate them in thought." [20] But her conclusion may be applied more widely. She could also have cited the role of the "interstitial" Hebrew prophets -- especially Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah -- who developed the ethical monotheism of Judaism that had been established by the Mosaic covenant. Inspired by Yahweh, they understood themselves as intermediaries to the children of Israel, charged to fulminate against the impious people and particularly their rulers. Max Weber drew attention to how their precarious and somewhat solitary position was supported by their ability to alternate between prophesizing in towns and withdrawing into the hills.

    The case of India supports Humphreys' conclusion even better. According to Louis Dumont, a two-stage process created fertile conditions for the development of a transcendental perspective. The first occurred in the Vedas, whose "extreme development of specialized macro- religious action and representation" exalted the role of priests into a pre-eminence never thereafter lost. By the time of the Brahmanas (probably 800 - 500 B.C.), "the priest was supreme, though the king was his master." Soon thereafter, and about same time the caste-system began, there appeared "a full-fledged and peculiar social role outside society proper: the renouncer, as an individual-outside-the-world, inventor or adept of a 'discipline of salvation' and of its social concomitant, best called the Indian sect." [21]

    Dumont wonders why political rulers assented to the loss of their pre-eminence. Everything falls into place, he says, once we start with the king as "priest-cum-ruler": then the Indian development becomes understandable as "a differentiation within this institution, whereby the king lost his (official) religious function in favor of the priest. In other words, kingship had been 'secularized', as we say, at an early date." [22] The fragile distinction between secular authority and sacred authority acquired a firm institutional foundation. Our problem in perceiving this is that we usually take that distinction for granted, whereas it now begins to look more like the exception than the rule.

    The meaning of this distinction becomes more apparent and more important when we consider what occurred in some other civilizations such as Mesopotamia and Egypt -- or rather what did not occur, since there was no such differentiation. In Mesopotamia, the scribes who composed the educated elite never challenged the authority of the priest-cum-king. The most important religious practices were not public and in fact there seems to have been little religious role for the common people. Instead, the main religious rituals were performed by religious specialists, including the king:

It is from the heart [i.e., the king] of the community, but almost unbeknownst to it, that the divine benediction radiated. None of them could break with the practices: the king because he was the only guarantor of an order that depended on them; the people because they believed they benefited from them, without participating directly; the priests because their entire education pushed them into preserving what they had acquired... [23]

In twelfth-century Egypt the Pharaoh Akhenaten attempted to establish the sole worship of Aten, but soon after his death there was a return to the traditional polytheistic cultus. "One major reason for this was the divine status of the Pharaoh himself. It was through the Pharaoh that the divine order benefited society. A break in the continuity of kingly ritual could have had disastrous social consequences." [24]

    The parallels are remarkable: in Mesopotamia and Egypt, as in China and Japan, the sacral dimension was not suffused throughout society, for it functioned through rulers who were as much religious as political authorities. Unlike India, Greece and Judea, there was no clear distinction between secular and sacred authority, and therefore no transcendental perspective to challenge the inherent conservatism of such societies.

    In China the situation was more complex than this model suggests, although it nonetheless fits into this pattern. The Shi ching (Book of poetry) and Shu ching (Book of documents), the first extensive literary texts, envision an all-encompassing social, political and cultural order in which people relate to each other according to a highly-structured system of familial and political roles.

All of these roles and role relationships are governed by elaborate normative rules of behavior (li). The human order is not closed off from the cosmic order. Within the cosmos, the various gods of mountains, rivers, winds, stars, and localities, and the ancestral spirits also play their roles. Within the larger political order of the cosmos, the rulers of men must, in fact, relate themselves by proper ritual behavior (li) to the governing spirits of the universe as well as to each other. At the apex of the human order is the universal kingship, which is the central focus of communication, as it were, between the king, who is ultimately responsible for the maintenance of the normative human order, and the supreme God or Heaven (shang ti, t'ien), who maintains harmony and order in the world of the spirits presiding over the forces of nature as well as over the world of ancestral spirits. [25]

Again, there is functional equivalence between the lack of sacred/secular dualism and the role of religio-political authority as nodal point of communication between the human and the cosmic order. As with Mesopotamia and Egypt, there is nonetheless a sacral dimension in society, but it manifests through the apex of the social pyramid and therefore serves to sacralize that hierarchy. This is in striking contrast to transcendence in Humphreys' sense: a challenge to traditional authority which allows for the possibility of everyone having his or her own personal relationship with that transcendental order.

    Obvious counter-examples spring to mind for China, most notably Confucius himself and Taoist sages such as Chuang-tzu. Yet both support my thesis. Confucius, although a precariously independent and "interstitial" intellectual, did not challenge the transcendental function of the political order: he emphasized respect for it, he wanted to be employed by it, and his legacy became used as an apologetic for it. He allowed for the possibility of revolution, but only if the king failed in his divine duty to preserve the human order by maintaining communication with the divine order. Taoist sages such as Chuang-tzu had their own personal experience of the Tao, yet the critique of society which followed from that was employed not to reform social relations but to withdraw from them. For the Taoists of his time, the alternative was not political reform but being co-opted and corrupted by the powers-that-be. Thus neither Confucians nor Taoists offered any serious challenge to the secular-cum-sacred authority of the political rulers. By the time Buddhism arrived, it was too late to challenge the pattern that had been established. This was even more true in Japan, where Buddhism was first imported as an aristocratic religion to support the prosperity of the imperial family. Kamakura-period reformers such as Dogen, Shinran and Nichiren were also unable to establish any other effective religious voice as an alternative to the political authority of the emperors and shoguns.

    Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and Japan versus India, Judea and Greece: all of these cases validate Humphreys' criterion of transcendence as involving a search for authority outside institutionalized offices and structures. Such an authority never became established in the first four civilizations; it did in India, Judea and Greece, thanks to "interstitial" world-renouncers, prophets and intellectuals, respectively. In the first four cases, an effective transcendental/secular bifurcation did not occur, but we have seen that that does not mean they lacked a sacral dimension: rather, it means that political power and religious authority never became distinguished, which accounts for the conservatism of their hierarchical social structures.


Where does the modern West fit into this schema? If Asia already contains its own polarity in the contrast between south and east Asian traditions, the West can no longer define itself as the "other" of the East. The historical development of the West would seem to be from an Indian-like transcendentalist perspective towards a more Sino-Japanese emphasis on this world. But what that history reveals, in fact, is that the matter is not so simple, because the alternatives are not one-dimensional.

    It might be argued that there is an historical connection between Indian and Western transcendence. The Aryans who settled in India were of the same ethnic and cultural family as those who peopled Europe. Greek, Latin and the major modern European languages evolved from the same Indo-European root as the Sanskrit family of languages. Yet western civilization originates primarily from a cross-fertilization between Hebrew and Greek ways of thinking, and, although Platonism and mystical sects such as Orphism might have been influenced by Indian religion -- a controversy that may never be settled -- there does not seem to be any relationship between Hebrew monotheism and the Vedas. Rather than undertake a dubious argument for such a relationship, we have already noticed how apparently-indigenous transcendental perspectives developed with the Hebrew prophets and Greek intellectuals. Their interaction led to a powerful transcendental/secular distinction which throughout the history of the West has appeared in many different forms -- religious, philosophical, and scientific. [26]

    Today, of course, the nation-states of the West are secular societies very much preoccupied with the opportunities provided by this world. But this does not bring us back to the situation in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and Japan, in which there is no transcendental/secular dualism. Rather, and as Nietzsche predicted, the gradual attenuation of the "higher world" has left the West with the painful task of revaluing the devalued objectified world, ushering in an age of nihilism which, one fears, is far from over. As we suspect, there is something unique about our situation today which fails to fit into the pattern analyzed above. Parts one and two concluded that the alternative to a transcendental/secular distinction is tighter embeddedness in a sacralized social nexus. Yet this was hardly true in England in 1649, France in 1789, nor Russia in 1917. As God abdicated from Western society, the desire to reform economic and political structures (whose authority was no longer supported by His authority) did not diminish but became more urgent, with mixed results: understanding society as a human construction which should be reconstructed led to democracy and individual rights, as well as horrible experiments in social engineering that caused incalculable suffering.

    When we look more closely at the religious roots of the Western tradition, we can see some other factors that influenced the Western tendency to "improve" the objectified world. In contrast to the Indian perspective, which did not emphasize the difference between humans and other living beings, the Pentateuch established a three-tiered universe by elevating man (who gave names to all the animals) over the rest of creation. This tended to give us free rein over the natural world, and later, when God disappeared, there was nothing to stop us from befouling our own nest.

    Another factor was the more serious dualism between good and evil in the Semitic religions, which emphasized the importance of this world not in terms of what it is but in terms of what it could become. The Indian distinction between transcendental and secular valorized the former: this world is a manifestation or condensation of the Absolute, the physical body a sheath of the atman. That is why the goal is to transcend this world; when there is that possibility, why bother to improve it? On the other hand, we have noticed how Chinese culture and Japanese culture were inclined to accept the given world including our natural desires and dispositions. The Zoroastrian struggle between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu provides a perspective radically different from both the above. Humans became seen as suspended between light and darkness, the battleground of a cosmic war which will end in an apocalyptic victory over the forces of evil; but until then, tempting demons and guardian angels whisper alternately in our ears. Throughout the history of Western Christendom, Satan has been a more palpable and fearsome power than the impersonal avidya of Buddhism and Hinduism, the interminable fires of hell more terrifying that the wheel of rebirth. India did not bother to improve the realm of duhkha, and east Asia saw no need to reform it, but once Satan became identified with this world, a no-holds-barred war to transform it became inevitable. Satan died even before God, but the consequences of this dualism are still with us, as (among other things) our belief in progress and, even when that is lacking, our general future-orientation.

    These factors help us to understand some of the differences between Indian and Western transcendence. Yet they explain only half the story. They tell how the West came to objectify the world, but not how it came to subjectify the self, and the one is not possible without the other. One way to focus this issue is to ask again: what has happened to the transcendental dimension in the modern West? I have argued that such a dimension is inescapable; in east Asia, for example, we detected it in the sacred authority wielded by secular authorities, but that is obviously not the case in the West. If "God" cannot die, then where did He go?

    When we remember that the transcendental is, most fundamentally, that which provides a perspective on the world and leverage for changing it, the answer becomes evident: the transcendental dimension was internalized to become the supposedly autonomous, self- directed individual who began to develop at the end of the Middle Ages. Earlier proto-Western examples of individualism -- e.g., the Hebrew prophets, the Greek intellectuals -- may have been exemplary, but the "rebirth" of Europe occurred when traditional Christian answers to questions of ultimate value and meaning no longer satisfied the cultural elites who went on to find or make their own solutions to the problem of life. Later Luther encouraged this by sanctifying a more private relationship with God. Instead of believing in a corporate church and relying on a collective salvation, now everyone must work it out for himself. The importance of this can hardly be overemphasized. Personally having a direct line to Transcendence provides the leverage to challenge all worldly authority, religious institutions as well as secular ones. Convinced he was following God's will, Luther refused to shut up: "Here I stand; I can do no other." This sanctioned the principle that one's personal understanding and moral principles can provide an appropriate perspective to confront social structures. Thus Luther was more than a prophet: after him everyone had to become his or her own prophet. Eventually God could abdicate because by then his role had been largely assumed by the self-sufficient self-consciousness that Descartes described.

    Contrary to our usual understanding, then, transcendence has not disappeared from the West; it just went inside and became the Cartesian self. The result was an increasingly-anxious individual who relied on his own judgement, who measured the world according to his own standards, and who did not hesitate to use his own resources to challenge the present situation, the social environment as much as the physical one. As an increasingly ultimate commitment, the possibilities and dangers of the self were unprecedented. As they say, the rest is history.


We end up with three different cultural paradigms for the relationship between sacred and secular, transcendental and worldly. Summing up the problems with each of these paradigms also reveals something discomforting about our needs: they seem to be contradictory. In response to the quest for an ideal transcendental realm, we must live in this world and strive to improve it without ever expecting to perfect it. In response to the alienation that results from individualism and objectification of the world, we need to become one with the world, with less sense of separation from it. Yet in reaction to the problem with embeddedness in a "natural" social order, which sacralizes and thereby fixates political and economic structures, there is also need for the transcendence that grants us perspective on and creative leverage over those structures.

    A new cultural paradigm does not seem to be the sort of thing that can be consciously constructed, but we may conclude by noticing that the Hua-yen metaphor of Indra's Net suggests a way how all three of these needs may be met. The Hua-yen doctrine perceives transcendence in the mutual interpenetration of all phenomena, and therefore derives universalist values from our identification with that whole. Indra's Net locates the sacred dimension in this world, not by privileging particular social structures or even homo sapiens, but by sacralizing the totality. The crisis of the biosphere testifies to our need for this type of universalist perspective: not for a "higher world" that is other than and therefore opposed to this world, but for the kind of overview that is able to evaluate and respond to the needs of the whole because it is not limited by the demands of a specific nexus (such as one's own social class or nation). Since trees and whales and the ozone layer cannot vote or protest, we must realize that their needs are our needs. Perhaps that is what is unique about homo sapiens: we are the species which can transcend itself and make that leap to identify with everything. Perhaps the challenge for us today is whether we will actually be able to do so. If, rather than being one particular bit of it, each of us is nondual with the entire universe, as Mahayana Buddhism claims, our needs for nonduality and for transcendence may be satisfied at the same time. [27]


1. As of this writing, fourteen years in Asia, half in Singapore and half in Japan. For a critique of European attitudes toward "the Orient" (primarily the Middle East), see Edward Said's Orientalism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978).

2. Hajime Nakamura, Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples, rev. trans. ed. Philip P. Wiener (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1964); Nakamura's own italics in all quotations from him. It contrasts Indian, Chinese, Tibetan and Japanese ways of thinking, mainly by comparing the structure of their different languages and the different ways each culture assimilated Buddhism. This study is essential for anyone interested in the topic. It also exemplifies one of the Japanese traits Nakamura describes: learning as amassing a vast knowledge of particular facts. (p. 537)

3. Brhadaranyaka Upanisad IV.4.22.

4. Early Buddhism did not accept a higher Self, but distinguished this world of samsara from nirvana, the negatively-characterized transcendental goal. Pratitya - samutpada (dependent origination) suggests a more dynamic understanding of reality, but Madhyamika drew negative and static conclusions from that doctrine:everything is sunya, nothing arises or passes away. Even this was not enough to keep Buddhism alive in India, once the more orthodox Indian traditions had absorbed what they could learn from it.

5. Robert N. Bellah, Tokugawa Religion: The Cultural Roots of Modern Japan (New York: The Free Press, 1957), p. 188. Alan Roland, in his In Search of Self in India and Japan: Toward a Cross-Cultural Psychology (Princeton University Press, 1988), notices that even highly-successful Indian professionals are less goal-directed than Americans, in contrast to Japanes society where there are strong maternal expectations for a high level of performance from an early age (pp. 203, 278).

6. Tokugawa Religion, p. 188.

7. Including me: my great-grandfather in the Dharma, Harada Sogaku (1870-1961), abbot of Hosshin-ji, wrote: "Forgetting [the difference between] self and others in every situation, you should always become completely one with your work. [When ordered to] march -- tramp, tramp; [when ordered to] fire -- bang, bang; this is the clearest expression of the highest Bodhi-wisdom, the unity of Zen and war." (quoted in Daizen Victoria, "Japanese Corporate Zen," Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 12.1 (1980:65) Even D. T. Suzuki strongly supported Japanese aggression in mainland China.

8. Chie Nakane, Japanese Society (Pelican, 1973).

9. Thomas P. Rohlen, Japan's High Schools (University of California Press, 1983), p. 268.

10. Prior to 1868 the shogun often played this role, which the emperor regained after 1868. His role did not end in 1945. "When a perfectly reasonable man like [the contemporary intellectual] Kase Hideaki writes about emperor worship, he sounds like a religious fundamentalist: 'The emperor is someone close to the gods. No, better still, he is a god.'" (Ian Buruma in The New York Review of Books, 25 April 1991, p. 39).

11. This is Ruth Benedict's controversial distinction between guilt cultures and shame cultures: "True shame cultures rely on external sanctions for good behavior, not, as true guilt cultures do, on an internalized conviction of sin. Shame is a reaction to other people's criticism." (The Chrysanthemum and the Sword [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1946], p. 223)

12. Tokugawa Religion, p. 194.

13. Tokugawa Religion, p. 196. In his introduction to the paperback edition of 1985, Bellah agrees with the criticism of the Japanese sociologist Maruyama Masao, who questions whether the particularism of Japan -- which "remains unchallenged" (p. 181) -- could really be an adequate substitute for ethical universalism, as Bellah originally thought (p. xiii). 28 years after the first edition of his book, Bellah is more aware of the problems with that particularism.

14. Herman Ooms, Tokugawa Ideology: Early Constructs, 1570-1680 (Princeton University Press, 1986), p. 297.

15.Where does Tibet fit into all this? As we might expect from its geographical position, it is a mixed or transitional case; but generally more Indian. Nakamura emphasizes the Tibetan awareness of death (never far away in such a harsh environment), the introspective discovery of the Absolute within man, and the surprisingly strong logical tendencies of Tibetans. Many Indian Buddhist works were translated, and logical skill in debate was and is valued. After the bSam-yas debate in the eighth century, when Indian tantric Buddhism supposedly defeated nonlogical Ch'an, the influence of Chinese Buddhism rapidly declined. Later, however, under Chinese (more precisely, Mongolian) influence, Tibet developed into a theocracy in which both sacred and secular power were wielded by the Dalai Lama. Such a conflation seems more characteristic of China and Japan than India, but there was a difference of emphasis: given the other-worldly lamaism of Tibetan society, perhaps it is more correct to say that secular authority was subverted and controlled by religious authority, rather than vice-versa.

16. "The Nonduality of Life and Death: A Buddhist View of Repression," Philosophy East and West 40.2 (April 1990), and "Trying to Become Real: A Buddhist Critique of Some Secular Heresies", International Philosophical Quarterly, 32.4 (December 1992).

17. Karel van Wolferen, The Enigma of Japanese Power: People and Politics in a Stateless Nation (London: Macmillan, 1989), p. 337. "The proponents of formally tolerated Tokugawa thought all propagated the view that the order that had been imposed was immutable, being in tune with nature and in accordance with the will of a multitude of divinitudes" (ibid.). Bellah and Ooms make similar points.

18. The Enigma of Japanese Power, p. 317.

19. S. C. Humphreys,"'Transcendence' and Intellectual Roles: The Ancient Greek Case," in Daedalus (Spring 1975): "Wisdom, Revelation, and Doubt: Perspectives on the First Millennium B.C.", pp. 92, 112.

20. "'Transcendence' and Intellectual Roles", p. 111. Humphreys distinguishes four stages in the development of their conceptions of society and consmos: "Hesiod's vision of Boeotian society as part of a theological order, the preSocratic vision of a natureal order in the universe, the search for a new moral order carried on simultaneously in the fifth century by tragic poets and philosophers, and Plato's demand for a radical transcendental standard. Criticism, detachment, internalization, alienation." (p. 110)

21. Louis Dumont. "On the Comparative Understanding of Non-Modern Civilizations," Daedalus (Spring 1975): 162, 163.

22. "On the Comparative Understanding of Non-Modern Civilizations", p. 165.

23. Paul Garelli, "The Changing Facets of Conservative Mesopotamian Thought" Daedalus (Spring 1975):53.

24. Ninian Smart, The Religious Experience of Mankind (London: Collins, 1969), p. 289.

25. Benjamin I. Schwartz, "Transcendence in Ancient China," Daedalus (Spring 1975): 58-59.

26. One of the less bovious but more important is science. When we remember the third meaning of transcendence - that which abstracts us from the given by providing a theoretical perspective on it - we can see how the scientific process also involves transcendence because it constructs general laws to account for given concrete particulars. As Pythagoras would have understood, physics is a kind of mathematical metaphysics.

27. For more on this possibility, see "India's Postmodern Net", forthcoming in Philosophy East and West, and Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988).