From Zen to Phenomenology

Algis Mickunas
Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, US

Series: Contemporary Cultural Studies
BISAC: REL017000

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The encounter between Japan and the West posed a question as to whether there can be any mutual understanding between such seemingly different civilizations. Japanese intellectuals came to Europe to study Western thinking and found that the prevalent positivism and pragmatism were inadequate, and turned to phenomenology as a way of dealing with awareness, unavailable in other Western philosophical trends. Japanese opened a “dialogue” with such thinkers as Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger; this text is an explication of this “dialogue”..

From Zen to Phenomenology opens the essential dimensions of transcendental phenomenology and the way of Zen in order to disclose the conjunction between these two “schools” of awareness. The research offered in the text traces the origins of Zen to the Buddhist Nagarjuna, presenting his arguments that all explanatory claims of awareness are “empty”. In Zen, the phenomenon of emptiness is a “place holder” depicted as basho where anything can appear without obstructions. The task, in the text, is to show how such a “place” can be reached by excluding claims by some Japanese and Western scholars as to the “aims” of Zen. The introduction of “aims” is equally an obstruction and must be avoided, just as an attachment to a specific Zen “school” is to be discarded.

Phenomenological analyses of time awareness show the presence of a domain which is composed of flux and permanence such that both aspects are given as empty “place holders” for any possible reality of any culture. The awareness of these aspects is neither one nor the other, and hence can appear through both as “primal” symbols fluctuating one through the other. If we say that everything changes, we encounter the permanence of this claim, and if we say that everything is permanent, we encounter an effort to maintain such permanence – both disclosing a “movement” between them, comprising a “place” for any understanding of a world explicated in any culture. This is the domain where Zen and transcendental phenomenology find their “groundless ground”.

Chapter 1. Japan and Zen

Chapter 2. Zen and the West

Chapter 3. India and Zen

Chapter 4. Zazen

Chapter 5. Awareness and Self

Chapter 6. Upsurging Awarenesss

From Zen to Phenomenology, by Algis Mickunas, is an excellent ride. Mickunas ensures that the reader enjoys a serious study cutting across centuries of modern thought and practice. But this is not just a thoughtful ride to be appreciated. It is, at its best, a lived experience that explores and describes the deep practice of awareness. This is a work pushing the limits, erasing the assumptions and preconceptions of modern worldviews. If one awares the work of Mickunas as a co-reader, doing the practice of lived awareness as one reads, the work will suggest what can only be lived directly.
Mickunas explores awareness. His extraordinary “study” ranges from the primal living presence of Zen to a deep and extensive familiarity with the transcendental phenomena of Phenomenology, and generally, the scope of philosophy-East and West (and more). He describes how awareness appears across diverse cultures, and the modes of interpretation engaged in disclosing such expressions. Mickunas’ practice and research have taken him on the trail of dialogue between Asian Buddhist literature, (including India, China and Japan) and Western Phenomenology. His “methods” describe the practices of Zen and Phenomenology, and in the “end,” Mickunas ventures out on a limb to explore how lived awareness may be concretized.
Overall this is an excellent study of a living Zen lived directly. But more momentous is the required challenge and repair of the West and its POMO moment. Not as some salvation, but as a transcendental awareness of what is happening. Some Japanese purport Zen to be a cultural artifact only understood from its own perspective. Western Postmodernists present a variety of perspectives, none of which is cosmic or transcendental awareness. Each (East, West, Zen and Phenomenology) must recognize the anonymous awareness that engages all cultures (and individuals) which is neither subjective nor objective, but prior to both. This is an awareness that founds the subjective and the objective and is not susceptible to hermeneutics of language or culture, but recognizes a basic, cosmic universal philosophical awareness already experienced by any and all. Mickunas notes that the dialogue between Zen and Phenomenology leads to a “place” that founds all civilizations. Hence, there is dialogue leading to a search a search which is the result of a “philosophy” that finds common ground for the multiculturism of the late modern world, and an opening for a common ground for communication and understanding among all.
- Michael W. Purdy, Emeritus Professor, College of Arts & Science, Governors State U. of IL.

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The audiences include philosophy, comparative civilizations, methodological transformation, universal “logic” of awareness.

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