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Fred Dallmayr: Nothingness and Sunyata: A Comparison of Heidegger and Nishitani

Fred Dallmayr: Nothingness and Sunyata: A Comparison of Heidegger and Nishitani

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Published by Yavuz Odabasi
Fred Dallmayr: "Nothingness and Sunyata: A Comparison of Heidegger and Nishitani"

Philosophy East and West, Vol. 42, No. 1. (Jan., 1992), pp. 37-48.
Fred Dallmayr: "Nothingness and Sunyata: A Comparison of Heidegger and Nishitani"

Philosophy East and West, Vol. 42, No. 1. (Jan., 1992), pp. 37-48.

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Published by: Yavuz Odabasi on Aug 16, 2011
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Nothingness and ##nyat#: A Comparison of Heidegger and Nishitani
Fred Dallmayr
Philosophy East and West 
, Vol. 42, No. 1. (Jan., 1992), pp. 37-48.
Philosophy East and West 
is currently published by University of Hawai'i Press.Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available athttp://www.jstor.org/about/terms.html. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtainedprior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content inthe JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained athttp://www.jstor.org/journals/uhp.html.Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.The JSTOR Archive is a trusted digital repository providing for long-term preservation and access to leading academic journals and scholarly literature from around the world. The Archive is supported by libraries, scholarly societies, publishers,and foundations. It is an initiative of JSTOR, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to help the scholarly community takeadvantage of advances in technology. For more information regarding JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.http://www.jstor.orgMon Jan 14 07:38:08 2008
Fred Dallmayr
From the pine treelearn of the pine tree(Bash61
For Western readers, Heidegger seems both close and exceedingly dis-tant; his thought appears in some ways home-grown and quite familiar,and in other ways alien and strangely unfamiliar. Critics of his worksometimes attack it as narrowly parochial or provincial, because of itspresumed rootedness in a local habitat (the Black Forest region) yetcritics (sometimes he same ones) also object to its aloofness, unintelligi-bility, and penchant for "mysticism1'-charges which (more than per-sonal bias) reflect a sense of cultural rupture. Heidegger himself wouldhardly have been surprised by this conflicting reception.
his "VomWesen des Crundes" he described human
as a creature of "dis-tance" or farness, a distance which alone could nurture a true closenessto things and fellow beings. Likewise, in his comments on Holderlin, heportrayed "homecoming" not as a retreat into a native habitat but as ajourney homeward through the most distant peregrinations. These con-siderations apply to his own philosophical journey, particularly to hismuch-discussed "overcoming" of Western metaphysics-which by nomeans equals its simple erasure. Without encouraging a cultural leap,Heidegger's "overcoming" led him into distant and alien terrain, andultimately in the direction of Eastern culture and thought-a culturewhich Kitaro Nishida, the founder of the so-called Kyoto School, hascircumscribed as "the urge to see the form of the formless, and hear thesound of the soundless."' Attentiveness to this far-off sound,
believe, isat the heart of Heidegger's distance and seeming aloofness. More thanany other Western thinker in the twentieth century, his thought is cultur-ally decentered, lodged at the crossroads of East and West-and thus atthe site of a possible or impending global dialogue.
the present pages
want to explore one facet of this dialogue,namely, the relationship between Heidegger and Zen Buddhism, as thelatter is represented or articulated by Keiji Nishitani. The choice of thisfacet is not fortuitous. A leading representative of the Kyoto School anda former pupil of Nishida, Nishitani has also been a close student ofHeideggeis work and refers in his publications frequently to the latter'steachings. For his own part, Heidegger was not unfamiliar with the KyotoSchool, having become acquainted with its activities through visits byCount ShuzG Kuki, a contemporary of Nishitani and, like him, a pupil orassociate of Nishida. References to the same Count Kuki, one may note,
Dee Professorof GovernmentUniversity ofNotre DamePhilosophy East
WestVolume 42, Number
January 1992
1992by University ofHawaii Press
are interspersed throughout the "Dialogue on Language" (or dialoguewith a Japanese)contained in
Unterwegs zur Sprache.2
Given the exten-sive life work of Keiji Nishitani, my discussion in the following will have tobe selective and circumscribed-in a manner which hopefully does nottruncate the richness of his insights. For English-speaking readers, themajor publication available in translation is
Religion and Nothingness,
astudy which, I believe, ably reflects the core of Nishitani's Buddhist out-look and which I have chosen therefore as my guiding text. Again, myambition is not to present a comprehensive review; instead, I shall focuson one crucial theme which permeates the entire study and which iscentral both to Heidegger's philosophy and to Zen Buddhism: the themeof nothingness, emptiness, or
My discussion shall explore affin-ities and differences between Nishitani's and Heideggefs accounts-inthe hope of fostering and perhaps deepening an understanding of therespective philosophical orientations and thus of contributing (modestly)to the East-West dialogue.As is well known, nothingness or emptiness stands at the center of allforms of Buddhist thought, including Zen Buddhism; it is this aspectwhich, to Western minds, frequently suggests an attitude of completewithdrawal or world-denial. Yet, as one should note, nothingness heredoes not simply mean negativity or denial; far from denoting a vacuum,the term designates the inner core of reality or the other side of be-ing-which carries life-affirming and sustaining implications. It is in thissense that the term figures in the title of Nishitani's
Religion and Nothing-ness.
As he states in the opening chapter, nothingness or nihility comesto the fore whenever the routine course of our life is disrupted bycalamities or inner doubt. "When we become a question to ourselvesand when the problem of why we exist arises," he says, "this means thatnihility has emerged from the ground of existence and that our veryexistence has turned into a question mark." Once this happens, thetaken-for-granted meaning of our life and our world suddenly is shat-tered and we realize that we have been hovering over an abyss all along.From the vantage of ordinary meaning, what surfaces at this point is the"meaninglessness" that "lies in wait" at the bottom of everyday, routineengagements and activities; in Zen Buddhist terms, a nagging sense ofnihility brings the "restless, forward-advancing pace of life" to a halt and,instead, "turns the light to what is directly underfoot." Both religiouslyand philosophically, this experience of rupture or disruption, this step-ping back to see what is underfoot, may be described as a turning orconversion. In Nishitani's words: "This fundamental conversion in life isoccasioned by the opening up of the horizon of nihility at the ground oflife. It is nothing less than a conversion from the self-centered (or man-centered) mode of being, which always asks what
things have for us

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