Voice of the Valley Stream

Keiji Nishitani is one of the many teachers who has pointed to the experience of Zen. However, although Nishitani’s philosophy primarily concerns the experience of Zen (or as he calls it, the standpoint of śūnyatā), his position is much more subtle than that. With a deep understanding of both Western philosophy and Zen, Nishitani addresses some of the major philosophical problems of the time in his seminal work Religion and Nothingness. Nishitani is deeply concerned with the creeping nihilism found within the 20th-century person. Nishitani attributes the rise of nihilism to the failed attempts at realism through representation. These failed attempts, Nishitani argues, do not give us access to the “thing-in-itself.” Without the “thing-in-itself,” Nishitani claims that the world becomes impersonal, devoid of life, and meaningless. In an attempt to overcome nihilism, Nishitani argues that from the “standpoint of śūnyatā,” the “thing-in-itself” (jitai) is realized. The “standpoint of śūnyatā” is concerned with the Buddhist notion of emptiness, but this does not mean that the concept is neither affirmative nor is it a realist position. Nishitani presents a form of realism that is no doubt strange but his position is a form of realism nonetheless. Nishitani replaces realism through representation with realism through realization (Nishitani, 1983). While the representational mode of thought “is a type of thinking that assumes a correspondence between appearance and reality and is supported by a metaphysical edifice” (Olson, 2000, p.22), the “standpoint of śūnyatā” is a sort of unconditioned thinking that realizes the real.

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