Why Asia?

We are Glenn and Carol Webb. We are retired academics, now living in Palm Desert, CA, in the place shown just above our picture. We have spent most of our lives studying Asia, with Kyoto, Japan as our port of call. This blog consists primarily of essays, written by me, Glenn Taylor Webb, with the input of my wife, Carol St. John Webb. I began writing most of these essays just before we retired. Some have been published, some not. Most were first presented as lectures.

Our lives were changed by what what we experienced living in two cultures. The different ways of thinking about almost everything in Japan (and Asia in general) made us examine some of our fundamental views of life. As a history professor I had to keep a certain distance between historical events and their effects. But at this stage in my life (I'm 75) I feel like sharing with friends the impact that Japan today has had on my family as well as myself. I'm still writing things down. So take a look and let me know what you think.


Sunday, February 28, 2010


Our Ways of Thinking


All of us have watched, in our lifetimes, as the world has gotten smaller and smaller.  We are closer together than human beings ever have been.  Distances can be crossed quicker, and our voices and images can be sent across the globe in real time, with little or no delay. 

In the same way, our customs and traditions have been shared, and often have undergone significant change.  In some cases they have disappeared altogether.  The ways we think have become so colored by the demands of modern life that we sometimes assume that we think alike.  But after living most of my life in both Japan and America, I would say that in some important ways we do not.

 “Americans think with the their heads, but we Japanese think with our hearts” is a phrase I have heard often in Japan.  The first time I heard it I was a bit offended.  But then I came to see the truth in it after looking closer at our two histories, and especially our major religions.  I related to what Saint Exupery, the author of the LITTLE PRINCE, felt when he admonished his (mostly Western) readers to see things with their hearts rather than their minds.

I think the French author of that wonderful book (which has been translated into virtually all the languages of the world) was trying to gently persuade his Western readers to let go of their analytical minds and look at the world with the so-called “Oriental” mind he himself favored.

Americans, like all Westerners, have inherited a thick Christian lens through which they filter their attitudes about life.  And despite the fact that love was a very important part of that filter, the early Christians were repulsed by the sexual excesses of Greek and Roman cultures.  Probably for that reason the early church played down love in favor of repentance and obedience. 
It is with this in mind that I will examine Western and Eastern ways of thinking.  In doing so I will make use of the Japanese term “kokoro” () to bring some focus to my thoughts in both directions. 


It seems appropriate that in most Japanese translations of the Little Prince story the French and English words for heart are translated as kokoro.  The concept of kokoro is a challenging concept to capture in English.  I made an attempt at capturing it in papers and lectures I presented to Japanese and American audiences some time ago.  My subject was “The One Heart-Mind” (心はひとつ).  In it I basically made a case for all of us being more similar to each other than we think, and that we all have the same kokoro, or heart-mind. 

Although I didn’t put it this way at the time, I clearly was suggesting that kokoro is our conscience -- that “still, small voice” inside all of us that tells us what we should do. But I discovered that many people in my Japanese audiences were surprised by what I said about the beliefs of people outside of Japan.  I also have come to realize that American audiences also have a hard time taking in just how different the typical Japanese view of life is from theirs.

We do have many things in common, of course.  But some of our most basic assumptions about life are different, and they have a way of coloring our understanding of very important issues.  We need to be clear about where the “still, small voices” in our heads and hearts are coming from.  I believe two separate messages are being delivered and they are based on very different sets of values.

God’s Laws, Reason, and Modern Law.

American thinking is based solidly on the theological and philosophical principles of the whole range of Western philosophy from the ancient Greeks to what is known as the Age of Enlightenment.  Reason rules supreme in those principles.  And the separation of reason from emotion is clear.  The mind is pure only when it is based on reason. When it accepts the emotional pull of superstition or mysticism it becomes evil. 

Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions have at their core the laws of the Creator of the universe, laws that believers must follow.  Westerners have believed in those laws, and have made them the basis for what is “reasonable,” even when the laws contradict reason by today’s standards.
For most of the past 2000 years God’s laws and reason have been linked in the Western mind.  The separation of church and state is only 200 years old, a creation of modern democratic societies.  Religious fundamentalists are not happy with this modern law.  They would prefer to make God’s laws binding on all citizens.
In the modern world, however, freedom and fairness are at the heart of law, and the “unreasonable” teachings of religion have been essentially eliminated. Discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation is against the law, and rulings on such issues are concerned with what is compassionate and fair.

Western thinking on what is reasonable has thus changed in recent times. It is getting a little easier for Americans to use the “heart” that the Little Prince recommended.  But to do so they are going to have to reframe “reason” in ways that will take fundamentalist religion out of the picture. 

Western Thinking on Kokoro.

Things were made easier when the Japanese concept of kokoro was introduced to Westerners after World War II.  Japanese Zen Buddhist priests (and, importantly, the writings of Dr. D. T. Suzuki) brought the matter up, so that by the 1950’s every Zen group in America was talking about kokoro as though it were the central teaching of Buddhism.  In a way I guess it was, and is.  But what could the term possibly mean to Americans and other English-speaking people? 
A Japanese dictionary translation offers the English words “spirit, heart, and mind” as possible meanings for kokoro.  But those words don’t mean the same thing in English, so explanations are in order even at that level.  At some point we have to look at the Chinese and Sanskrit models for the word kokoro.  But for now I want to explore the various English words that have been proposed by well-meaning translators.

I started studying Chinese and Japanese in 1957, and for fifty years I have been translating Japanese into English and working alongside many colleagues who do the same thing.  We are generally agreed, I think, that direct English translations of modern Chinese can be effective, but that translating Japanese word-for-word into English is almost always bound to fail, even in the case of colloquial, spoken Japanese. 

An English translation for kokoro using any of the words found in dictionaries is a mistake, partly because the meanings of those words are elusive; but also because the concept of kokoro (like countless other Japanese words) is unique to Japan.  It is the way of thinking that is different, based on a special way of understanding reality. 
Part of the difference has to do with Buddhism and its  profound influence on all of Asia. I will take up that aspect of the matter shortly.  But first, let’s look at the English words in question and their meanings. 

“Spirit” can refer specifically to the Christian Holy Spirit sent by God, the creator of the universe.  As such, it can be heard, seen, or felt, according to the reference in the New Testament one consults.  For Christians, that Spirit was God’s voice at the time Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan.  Later, it was an explosive fire-like force that caused followers on the day of Pentecost to “speak in tongues” with transcendent understanding. Born-again Christians today will likely say the Holy Spirit comforts and instructs them on a daily basis. 

“Spirit” written in small-case can refer to a ghost (or spirit) of a dead person. Or it can be used to describe a person who is very much alive, filled with vitality.  In the old days, a woman with spirit was a bit daring or even naughty.  In a similar vein, a spirited horse could be counted on to win races.  A spiritual person today may be a New Age seeker of truth or just someone who is more tolerant of and in touch with the unusual.

“Heart” can be the organ of the body that pumps blood, or it can be the thing I thank people with (as in “from the bottom of my heart”) or that gives me courage to do or say something (with heart.)  The “heart of the matter” is the unvarnished truth, the kernel of wisdom hidden in a complicated and sometimes unnecessary cloud of words. Something said or done that is “heart-felt” is honest and true, rather than the reverse.  Similarly, a “hearty” laugh is quite spontaneous and undisguised.  A broken heart refers to the pain that comes when a love relationship ends in death or separation. 
“Mind” is the word that offers the most direct evidence that all of us in the world don’t all share one kokoro.  For Americans (and perhaps all non-Asian) people, the idea behind “mind” is probably more potent here than the concepts of “spirit” and “heart” because of the attention Western thinkers have given it. There is no question about the mind’s exalted position in the Western world. 

For well over a thousand years before the 18th century ushered in the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, going back at least to Plato, Westerners have elevated the human mind for its ability to make sense of the world.  If Paine’s “Age of Reason” (1771) helped make reason our natural religion, superior to divine revelation, the public discourse that Enlightenment thinkers championed is now the undisputed foundation of the democratic republics of the modern world (including Japan!) 

Reason Over Emotion.

Very often in Western history the split between reason and emotion has been quite real, and the form that split sometimes took has had some disastrous consequences.  Emotion frequently has been considered manifestly inferior to reason.  Feelings and instincts were grouped with emotion as the enemy of reason, with the mind held aloft as superior, even akin to the mind of God. 

Emotion was dangerous for religion, because emotion might cause people to go against God’s rules.  Emotion was that unreasonable, unpredictable source for wild, sinful behavior that produced witches and heretics.  Ultimately it could result in sending people to hell rather than heaven.  Evil and emotion came close to being synonymous.

Like other Westerners, as far as I could see, I was living in a divided world, and while I didn’t talk about it a lot, I assumed that after death I would wake up on one side or the other of a division that would last forever.  My motivation was my welfare, at any cost. Even if there turned out to be no heaven or hell, even if I just turned to dust when I died and that was that, my faith in reason and justice required a divided world.  The strings of religious training are strong:  I often joined my fellow Westerners in seeking the help of a Mind beyond my own in moments of crisis.

Because of the assumption in the West that we all are given one life to live and “then the judgment,” the little voice in my head tells me something that sounds final.  I think the voices in my Japanese friends’ heads say something about another beginning.
Personal Reflection on Western Thinking.

I read an explanation of death characterized by unity and interconnectedness when I was quite small, but it sounded like a fairytale.    My study of Buddhist concepts began with D.T. Suzuki’s “Zen and Japanese Culture” and went on from there.  I was ten.  It was 1945.  The war had just ended.  I had been taught that Japanese were evil monsters and that the war was necessary to destroy Tojo and Hitler.

Dr. Suzuki’s book was a puzzle, because it spoke of sensitivity, empathy for all beings, strength in weakness, and the beauty of the ordinary.  His thoughts flew in the face not only of what I had been taught about Japan, but what I believed about truth.  His ideas left me spell-bound.  My parents, too, were intrigued after reading the book.*
In earlier essays on kokoro I have tried to find parallels between Judeo-Christian teachings about love and the Buddhist notion of compassion.  In this paper, too, I am exploring how Westerners might interpret the kokoro concept through words such as spirit, heart and mind.  In the end, the Western conscience appears deeply connected to religious teachings about obeying God, and shows a bias in favor of a mind of reason over one of emotion.

This bias comes out in interesting ways all the time.  Take for example the squabble over whether or not Supreme Court Nominee Sotomayor will stick to the law (reason, truth, God’s voice) or allow emotion (her Latina, female, poor-family voice) to color her decisions on the court.  People on both sides are anxious to make sure she obeys the letter rather than the spirit of the law.  (Even people like me, with sympathy for the emotional, let’s-make-up-for-past-wrongs side, think she should honor the legacy.)

The Westerner trying to make sense of kokoro clearly has a heart-mind that belongs to God or a Supreme Mind whose rules must be followed.  We think, “Now is the time for me to make the right decision, because eternity is coming.”  So if the Westerner’s heart belongs to God, to whom or what does the heart-mind of my Japanese friend belong? To whom does the still, small voice in Japanese ears belong?  We run into difficulties of a semantic and religious nature almost immediately if we say the answer is “other people.”  But that’s where I think we must begin. 


A Comparison of Religions.

Buddhism is the child of Hinduism just as Christianity (and Islam) sprang from Judaism. They share the same two very different world views:  one says all beings recreate themselves over and over again as separate selves until they wake up to their actual interdependence; the other claims all creatures were created by and will be judged by God at their time of death. 

The difference has to do with our views of death, and of what happens to us after death.  The Judeo-Christian-Islamic view is that we are God’s sheep and are easily led astray. Wayward sheep die lost but good sheep are taken care of forever. The shepherd is the object of worship in the flock. The Hindu-Buddhist view is that we are obsessed with ourselves but need not be. Obsessed creatures choose to be born again and again, but when they no longer see themselves as separate from others, all births (and deaths) stop. Self-as-other is the goal that brings full awakening.

As far as voices are concerned, Westerners hear God’s voice (or the secular laws that are based on His rules.)  They know that paying attention to what they hear benefits them directly, and they do not have to concern themselves too much about other people (except to the extent that the Law requires them to treat others kindly or suffer the consequences.)  They can literally leave others to Heaven, and say “there but for the grace of God ...” 

Buddhist Origins.

Hindus and Buddhists both understand that all creatures are interconnected despite the phantom of individual selves their minds project.  They don’t live in fear of eternal judgment for not following rules, but Hindus believe they are born into castes and must follow the rules (dharmas) of their particular caste if their next life is to be as high as it can be. Buddhists ignore caste rules and hold everyone up to the same high standard of behavior.

Buddhists understand that they are each other, whether they can manage to live that reality out or not.  Not doing so only means their selfish actions in each life will have consequences in the next, and so on until they reach the ideal. They are obliged to listen carefully to every voice they hear, for those voices belong to them.  They are convinced that our collective ignorance (seen in selfish actions) produces successive lives in a cycle of rebirths (reincarnation) until we wake up in the truth of our interconnectedness.

The way we behave when death comes tells a lot about what we believe.  Westerners tend to bury their dead in the ground or a crypt, after the body is embalmed and sealed in a metal casket.  Before the burial there may be a funeral ceremony in a church, temple or mosque, followed by a graveside service. Something may be said about the deceased now being in heaven with God.  Often someone, the officiant or a family member, may share memories of the deceased, and suggest that all of the living will join the dead someday.  In those fairly rare instances when the body is cremated, the ashes may be scattered somewhere (the ocean, the mountains) that the deceased loved.

The funeral practices of Hindus depends entirely on the caste of the deceased.  But for Buddhists the process is the same for everyone, with reincarnation taking center stage.  Customs vary from country to country, but in general the body is washed and prepared for cremation.  Family members participate in a farewell ceremony in which the body is viewed and a posthumous name is given to the deceased by a priest who also intones appropriate Buddhist scriptures concerning life and the passage at death into further life. 

The body is presented in a wooden crate, very simple or elaborately carved, and then slid into the crematorium.  After cremation the remains are viewed by the family members, who assist each other in picking up ashes and bone fragments and placing them in an urn.  In East Asia the ashes are kept in a special room in the temple the families involved have supported for centuries. 

What follows is an elaborate memorial that actually lasts for 49 years.  The number 49 (7x7) is important because scriptures indicate that the karmic pattern created by the deceased will find, within 49 days from death, a suitable rebirth channel where that karma can play itself out in a new form. A memorial will be held daily for the first week, then each month, and finally each year until the fiftieth year. At that point the ashes may be scattered in the temple garden, and the tablet on the family altar (with the posthumous name of the dead written on it) may be retired.

The most important memorials during this period will be held at the temple.  The others will be conducted at home.  What Westerners will surely find amazing in this is the extraordinary length of time Buddhist families remember their loved ones.  And even though the latter are recalled by their posthumous names (which theoretically are their names as enlightened beings who do not reincarnate, i.e. as Buddhas), it is their lives as family members and their passage into other forms that the family celebrates.  No wonder Christian missionaries decided Buddhists must be practicing ancestor worship! 
If reincarnation itself is hard for Westerners to swallow, in Buddhism rebirth is not limited to being reborn a human being.  Borrowing from Hindu cosmology that is at least 3000 years old, there are six realms of being in which the recently dead might find themselves after 49 days:  besides the human realm there is the realm of the gods, the realm of the demi-gods, plus the realms of animals, hungry ghosts and hell beings.  One’s passport to each depends on how selfishly (and thus ignorantly) one behaved in the life just departed.  What went around is coming around again. 
The human realm is the one to aim for, because the character of being human is that we can feel what others feel and may have less trouble reaching the state of full identity with others.  We are less self-absorbed than gods, for example, who feel no pain.  And we are not as filled with resentment as demi-gods (who feel they do all the work while gods get all the benefit.)

Humans are not quite as focused on food as other beings. Hungry ghosts are pitiful because they are hungry all the time but are physically incapable of taking much nourishment. And the poor beings in the eight hells (four hot and four cold) are suffering more than any of us for their horrible deeds in life.  While it is very hard for humans to become compassionate enough to reach full enlightenment, it still is easier for them to achieve Buddhahood (either by their own effort like a Zen devotee or with the assistance of other enlightened beings like Tantric and Pure Land believers) than any creatures in the other five realms. Shockingly, all creatures die and move up, down or out after living out their respective life-spans.

It is doubtful that Buddhists in general take any of this terribly seriously, any more than Christians take angels and demons seriously today.  Case in point, in Japan almost everyone will tell you they are not religious.  This whole business at death is “just Japanese tradition” like any other custom with Buddhist pedigrees.  Nevertheless everyone believes in karma, and the dance continues.

Buddhist Words.

Moving backward in time to track down the first use and original meanings of specific words and terms in Buddhist scripture is almost impossible, just as it is with the holy texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  What I would like to find out is when the concept of kokoro first appeared, what it meant, and how it was used.  That may not be possible. It appears in pre-Buddhist Brahmanic/Hindu texts in the two Sanskrit words hridaya and citta.
Hridaya refers to the heart or center of feeling and sensation, and by extension, the seat of mental operation (the mind) and what sometimes is mistakenly translated as soul. Citta is similar, but more specific:  here we have the gathering of all the various causes for rebirth, resulting in all forms of existence having thought, emotions, volition and what is called “luminosity” in the Upanishads.
However one translates these words, they are part of ancient Indian philosophy that describes the physical world, with terms such as rupa (C. ) color, materiality; and kaya (C. ) form, body.  Nevertheless, Hridaya and citta would seem not to have meaning at all unless we consider them part of the metaphysical construct of Hindu and Buddhist reincarnation. 

Both terms are translated in Chinese Buddhist texts (datable roughly to the 1st century A.D.) with the same character, xin (), which, going back to oracle bone inscriptions of the third millennium B.C., the Chinese used to refer to heart, feeling, mood and emotion.

Since the doctrine of reincarnation was not part of the Daoist and Confucian lexicon, one assumes that the Indian rebirth interpretation was grafted onto the character when Buddhism entered China from India early in the Christian era. The struggle within the Chinese empire over the question of this “foreign religion” – with some emperors adopting it and some not -- was to go on right up to communist times, when all religions were banned and then placed under strict government control.

When the Japanese adopted Chinese culture, including its language and religion, in the 6th century, the Japanese reading of the Chinese character chosen for hridaya and citta was, in Japanese pronunciation, kokoro.  In its pseudo-Chinese pronunciation (on-yomi) it is shin.  (Students of Japanese have to get used to the two pronunciations for every Chinese character, neither of which comes very close to the current Mandarin or in fact any Chinese dialect.)
There are actually two more Chinese characters, chosen to translate two other Sanskrit words that mean about the same thing as hridaya/citta/kokoro, and they are mano (Pali manos) and vijnana (Pali vinnana). The first term mano is written with the Sino-Japanese character for cognition or the ability to think (although not to reason: that requires another term.) The second word, vijnana, is written in Chinese as - meaning sense awareness. It is also defined in Sanskrit as the life force or karmic pattern that moves from one body form to the next in the process of reincarnation.


If I had to put into words what I think the concept of Buddhist kokoro is all about, knowing what I know about the languages and religions involved, I would say that it is a sense of one’s place in the universe as a tiny link in a measureless, unimaginable, selfless Self that knows no boundaries of any kind until Enlightenment is attained. To me that means the independent, self-assured me that has his life under control is an illusion.  And he cannot work through that illusion until he enters the Self as described above.  My American pride may be dimmed a bit by that realization, but I figure I will be made more useful to society as a result.
The Buddhist version of kokoro has colored my thinking to such a degree that I no longer think, when I get really angry at something, that I should control my anger because God is watching.  Instead of launching a carefully reasoned defense of my position with appropriately harsh words for my opponent, I meekly admit that the situation is mine, and my opponent is me.  At least that’s what I try to do.  It is so much easier to let the angel on my shoulder shame me into gentler behavior, and punch out the devil on my other shoulder.  It is so much harder to take full responsibility for everything. 

Many forward-looking Christian priests and ministers are suggesting lately that we should pray for our enemies, such as Osama Bin Laden and all those stone-age Taliban warriors (reminding us that Jesus said to love them.)  But in the backs of those ministers’ minds (and mine) is the idea that if those guys would just listen to reason they would see that they are wrong and we are right!  So our prayer is really that God step in and shape these people up or strike them down.  “Protect us from our enemies!”

Over and over again I watch in amazement as my Japanese friends confront reality with a nod, indicating that they accept the karmic pain and pleasure swirling around them.  It used to bother me when they on rare occasion expressed their feelings with words such as “Well, it can’t be helped!” (“Jaa, shoganai yo!”)  or “Well, this is your good destiny!” (“Shikashi, go-en desu yo!)  I guess I wanted them to at least do something about a situation that caused them personal annoyance or pain.  That’s the American spirit.  As for good destinies, my Western mind sort of dismissed that, too, as too mystical or at best falsely modest:  surely a mutually beneficial outcome is the result of hard work, not destiny. 

But over the years I have come to recognize such expressions as springing directly from my friends’ Buddhist kokoro, their heartfelt acceptance of a delicate connection of good and bad, produced over a very long time by many relationships and situations.  The voices they have heard are very soft, and require breathless attention.  Snap judgments would be completely out of character for my friends, as would pronouncements of guilt or innocence. They show a restraint that I respect and even envy. 
Buddhism speaks of the potential in all beings to wake up to their true nature.  That nature is referred to in various ways in Buddhist scriptures.  Buddhatva (仏性) is one.  Buddhahridaya (仏心) is another. Bodhi-citta (菩心) is yet another.  However we define it, I think understanding the Japanese concept of kokoro as citta (or as spirit, heart, and mind) is a matter of understanding the voice of the Buddha Nature in all beings. That nature is our collective nature.  By implication we all have it, we all share it. 
In other papers I have joined several Caucasian colleagues in discussing a quality that we feel defines Japaneseness almost better than anything else we know.  That quality is called omoiyari (思いやり).  The word literally means to “think and then do.” In Christian terms it is putting others before yourself.  Everyone in Japan seems to understand that this is what all people should do at all times:  to think about the needs and feelings of others before taking any action.  It is a way of showing consideration for others, to be sure.  I cannot help but feel the source for this behavior in Japan is Buddhism. 

Recently scientists who study the brain have opened up a new area of study called Emotional Intelligence (or EI.)  According to Salovey and Meyer (1990) EI is

“the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

When I heard about this (from one of my former Japanese students who now has her own family counseling office in Tokyo), I immediately thought this Emotional Intelligence sounds remarkably close to what in Japan has always been a matter of practicing omoiyari and paying attention to the kokoro.  The thought gives me hope that Westerners might learn something from traditional Japanese behavior.  We could leave out the Buddhist side of things, I suppose, and simply present “pure” scientific findings to support the effort.  I welcome your thoughts and comments on this matter.  Can science “save” us from ourselves?


In my original discussion of the “one heart-mind” I made the bold claim that we all are basically the same.  The only thing that stands in our way from realizing that goal, admittedly, is our understanding of what is real and true.  How can we overcome our cultural and religious biases in order to make the future a place where we all want to live?

Honestly, I think we have to first admit that we do not have a handle on what is true.  We have to start with an open mind.  That doesn’t mean that we have to give up what makes sense to us.  Nor do we have to accept what doesn’t make sense to us.  We simply have to live in a somewhat agnostic place of humble ambiguity.  Bottom line:  we have to agree not to kill or even hurt each other over our beliefs.
I have never met a Buddhist who is thinking along the lines of condemning me for what I believe.  And my reading of history has not revealed a Buddhist terrorist anywhere at any time.  Indeed, I have not run across a Buddhist, living or dead, who has held Buddhism up as superior to other religions.

So I think all of us who want to stop the killing in the world, killing in the name of religion or politics, should examine why Buddhism should equip believers with so much tolerance.  That examination will undoubtedly reveal that anything we can think or believe is just a part of being human. That’s what human beings do. Being right or wrong is not the issue.  Accepting all sides of ourselves is the issue.  Realizing that my way and your way may differ substantially in philosophy is the first step.  The next step is to tolerate and even venerate that difference with all our hearts.  Life after death is not something we can know with certainty. The best we can do is to live our lives now with respect and compassion. 

Even though Buddhists in Japan and other parts of Asia may not know much about their religion (and they do not), they are role models where respect and compassion are concerned.  How did that happen?  How did Jews, Christians and Muslims become so intolerant?  I think their religions have a built-in us-and-them mechanism, that allows believers to attack and if necessary kill on sight any “them” they encounter in life.  Such a mechanism is missing in Buddhism. The Los Angeles riots of a few years ago gave birth to a question that we all should try desperately to answer before it is too late:  “Why can’t we all just get along?” 
Glenn T. Webb
Palm Desert, CA


* Dr. Suzuki attended one of my piano recitals in New York six years later.  And he was one of my advisors when I began doctoral research at Kyoto University in 1964.  Before I got there I had done my homework in Buddhist doctrines under Joseph Kitagawa and Mircea Eliade at the University of Chicago (and had attended the classes of visiting scholar Paul Tillich, which qualified me to assist my landlord in Kyoto, the Zen scholar Masao Abe, when he was writing his critique of Tillich’s “Christianity and Its Encounter with World Religions.”)
My experience would have been entirely academic if Dr. Suzuki, Shin’ichi Hisamatsu, and Dr. Abe had not strongly encouraged me to train with Zen priests, many of whom were abbots of temples where most of my research materials were stored.  (One of them, Nanrei Kobori, even refused to show me the documents until I committed to years of training.  That meant sitting in Zazen meditation many hours a day, and taking priest vows to continue for the rest of my life.)
While my formal training in Japan was in Zen Buddhism, I also had the good fortune to receive firsthand instruction there in esoteric Buddhism under the Shingon priest-scholar Ryuken Sawa.  Although Dr. Suzuki was from a Pure Land (Jodo Shin-shu) family of priests, he is best known (at least outside Japan) as a Zen scholar.  But he did push me to understand his Pure Land background.  He also made me promise never to lose respect for my own Christian heritage. 
At the University of Washington, where I taught Japanese art history and religion for 21 years, I spent half of each year in Kyoto in training and research.  In Seattle I had the rare opportunity to study Buddhism under Tibetan teachers (including on two occasions His Holiness the Dalai Lama.)  Finally, in Los Angeles, for the last ten years or so, I have learned about the Japanese Jodo-shu Pure Land faith under Dr. Joji Atone, who is the Abbot of the North American chapter of the denomination and President of the L.A. campus of Bukkyo University.
I sometimes say I am both a Christian and a Buddhist.  But I wonder if I am either.  I love the parables of Jesus as much as I love the puzzles of Zen.  I feel unworthy but happy taking Holy Communion and will forever practice Zen meditation.  But I have my doubts about the hereafter as related in both religions:  do we meet the Judgment of God or do we move into another birth until we get it right?  I am very interested in how we humans can be useful in the lives we live.  It is with that in mind that the Japanese concept of kokoro may be of value to the world.

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