Natural Light

We noted earlier that the “natural light” is not the light of reason but the light of all things. What is here called “spiritual light” does not mean the light of the “soul” or the “spirit” in the ordinary sense of those words. It is rather a “samādhi of the Storehouse of the Great Light” out of which the light of all things (namely, the being itself of all things) is coming to our self in itself is the original and most elemental “middle,” we are pointing to nothing other than just this.

Nishitani Keiji, Religion and Nothingness

Believing in Nothing

I discovered that is is necessary, absolutely necessary, to believe in nothing. That is, we have to believe in something which has no form and no color— something which exists before all forms and colors appear. This is a very important point. No matter what god or doctrine you believe in, if you become attached to it, your belief will be based more or less on a self-centered idea. You strive for a perfect faith in order to save yourself. But it will take time to attain such a perfect faith. You will be incolved in an idealistic practice. In constantly seeking to actualize your ideal, you will have no time for composure. But if you are always prepared for accepting everything we see as something appearing from nothing, knowing that there is some reason why a phenomenal existence of such and such form and color appears, then at that moment you will have perfect composure.

-Shunryu Suzuki Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

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.