“While some characters like Durand and Inoue employ the swamp to emphasize cultural incongruities of Christian moral teaching, Ferreira’s swamp bespeaks an intellectual dissonance between Christian and Japanese traditions of metaphysics.”[i]
”Contrary to the view, whether philosophical or religious, which ascribes to some moral rules an intrinsic autonomous value (a typical instance of this is the so-called “absolute morality” of Kant’s categorical imperative) the Buddha ascribed to the several attitudes of right conduct that he pointed out, a purely instrumental value, the value of means justified only in view of a certain aim and therefore only sub conditione. But this end, just as the higher grades of Buddhistic ascesis and contemplation, is beyond morality, nor can it be measured by the religious conception of ‘holiness.’ As Milarepa was to say: ‘In my youth I committed some black deeds, in my maturity some white ones; but now I have rejected all distinctions of black and white.’”[ii]
Your Own Personal Logos
Thus, “The idea of personality is, of course, very vague in the Orient, and especially is the oriental mind slow in thinking of the ultimate reality in terms of personality.”[iii] At once both parties (West and East) are affirming “same, same…” but in radically different ways, likewise in the metaphysics of the Logos.
“The idea of the logos as a unique incarnation in a historical personality is not altogether absent, but it differs rather sharply from the Christian conception in that the clean cut theistic background is wanting, and further in that the historical personality in which the logos is incarnate lacks the marks of reality. Hozo Biku, the incarnate logos of the Orient, has not a shred of historical reality about him. And herein lies the great superiority of Christianity over Buddhism: not simply in its system of a theistic philosophy, but in its flesh-and-blood reality of the incarnate Logos, the Jesus of the New Testament.”[iv]
This “flesh-and-blood” reality of the personal savior however effectively makes the Christian-Logos, qualitatively different from Buddhist interpretations and grants the Christ-Logos a uniquely dispositional approach towards the reconciliation of the transcendent and immanent views of God (and reality –hence broadening the Western mind to a nuanced metaphysical complexity). Christ as the vesica piscis encompasses both principles of human (material) and divine (transcendent) a perfectly balanced (venn diagram). The passion of Christ, the bloody violence of his ascension, the fanaticism of the blood of the martyrs all point towards a radical activism; with a worldly concerned liberationist core, a being-in-the-world-ness that perhaps even functions to undermine Christianity and bring about the rationalizing secularism of modernity, Buddhism at its core rejects such passions as merely self-indulgent illusionary sufferings. The Christian looks out at the world in pain seeking justice; the Buddhist looks within for peace; ultimately seeking transcendence – essentially Buddhism is world-denying and escapist ideology and Christianity though containing that element is ultimately activist and world-immersing. The prolonged existence of these core divergent logos and ontological-ideas has created different character-types. At worst the Christian pushes liberationist theology to the point of undermining Christian institutions and theology itself – leading also to the undermining of European particularity. This process was so gradual and prolonged in Europe, that the Japanese shogunate showed tremendous foresight in banishing the egalitarianizing doctrine in order to preserve their social positioning, as well as their culture. However, the prolonged rejection of the Christian Logos and the metaphysics of personal salvation and liberation by the East and its overextension in the West has indeed created character and system-types that could be labeled “Oriental despotism,” in opposition to the liberationist-individualism-Faustian-Prometheanism of the West – perhaps shortened to “Occidental humanism.” As countervailing opposites however they are unequal, the unique dynamism of the essence of the West, may well preside in the balancing of these two poles within its own structure, almost to the unnecessary existence of the East as merely a backwards recrudescence. That is to say that the West contains a layer of “Oriental despotism,” and inward contemplation, but the Orient does not contain a layer of Occidental humanism or liberationist activism. If the postmodern imposition of human rights is counted it is only a mutated post-modern form of Occidental humanism that is itself morphing into its opposite – being dragged down into the swamp. The West is large spiritually, it contains multitudes, the East is large geographically, and it contains similitudes. That is to say that even the inwardness of Christian monastic, meditative and spiritual life has a radically different and personal dimension than the Eastern variants, “that sense of ‘inwardness’ which has already been defined as an important element in individuality,”[v] such that the Christian “spirit of world-rejection coexisted with a positive affirmation of individual and humane values,”[vi] that was lacking in the East. Furthermore the gold of its perfection is qualitatively reflective of this difference, in so far as the love of Christianity is not the same as the compassion of Buddhism, Christianity’s love is Agape, through which Zizek identifies a revolutionary potentiality, “the all-encompassing compassion of Buddhism (or Hinduism, for that matter) has to be opposed by Christianity’s intolerant, violent love.”[vii]
Furthermore, the Japanese and Eastern rejection of the truth claims of Christianity entails a rejection of the notions of justice, truth, beauty and the form of the good – as transcendental “objective” principles. The dialogues between the interpreter and Ft. Rodrigues and those between the Inquisitor and Ft. Rodrigues illuminate this denial of the objective and the affirmation of the subjective, culturally specific, particularism:
THE INQUISITOR (Inoue Sama)
Father, the doctrine you bring with you may be true in Spain and Portugal. But we have studied it carefully…thought about it over much time…and find it’s of no use and no value in Japan. We have concluded that it is a danger.
But we believe we brought you the truth, and the truth is universal.
It’s common to all countries at all times, that’s why we call it the truth. If a doctrine weren’t as true in Japan as it is in Portugal, we couldn’t call it the truth.
THE INQUISITOR (Inoue Sama)
“I see you do not work with your hands, Father. But everyone knows a tree which flourishes in one kind of earth may decay and die in another. It is the same with the tree of Christianity. The leaves decay here. The buds die.”
It is not the soil that has killed the buds. There were three hundred thousand Christians in Japan before the soil was…
THE INQUISITOR (Inoue Sama)
It is clear from conversations with Fr Ferriera that the poisoning of the Christian doctrine by the authorities was not necessary since the Japanese Burakumin who were converted to the faith understood Christ to be a manifestation of the material sun rather than the mystery of incarnation. Nietzsche’s shrewd insight saw into the heart of Buddhism as “passive nihilism” – “the weary nihilism that no longer attacks… passive nihilism, weakness,”[viii] that which sustains an immoral social order. Nietzsche was beyond prescient when he ascribed to this form of nihilism that was enrapturing the European soul as a “new Buddhism,” presenting “‘the greatest danger.-How are truthfulness, love, and justice related to the actual world?’ Not at all!-”[ix] Nietzsche then saw the ushering in of the postmodern world as one imbued with Buddhist values, in which objective values no longer determine the social order, which like individual personality, is driven by sheer contingencies subservient to power relations. In this gross materialism of sameness, in which individuality is reduced to a hierarchicalization of functionary status, “Oriental despotism” assumes its place as the pragmatic component in an arbitrary social order based primarily on cohesion, violence and the senseless but ritualized routinization of the procedures of worship and administration – Western nihilism. The West had entered a stage analogous to the East philosophically and onto-theologically, but it did so through a Hellenization of Judaism. philosophically, the East never attained towards the “metaxological” balance of Aristotelian (Marxist historical-materialism) and Platonic (Hegelian-teleological) notions of what I will term ‘investigative transcentalism’ that defined Christianity – but remains as in Hegel’s reading of Oriental religions; stuck in the quagmire of the ‘emergent sphere of the spirit.’ The East, especially the far-East, also lacks ‘thumos’ or spiritedness above all, which results in an underdeveloped sense of self.
Indeed, only Christianity ascends to the tripartite functions of interrelation and dialectic, which contains the seeds for an advanced metaphysical structure (investigative transcentalism) that encompasses all others:
Father – Grammar – Mind – Reason – objective – Logos – Nous – Yahweh
Son – Logic –Heart – Emotion – subjective – Pathos – Thumos – Christ
Holy Spirit – Rhetoric – Hands – Action – communal – Ethos – Epithumia – Allah
At this point a distinction between the Logos of the Greeks and the Logos of the Christians should be explored to pontificate upon their divergences and similarities. If as “In Voltaire’s theory of Western culture neither the Jews nor Biblical history nor even Christianity is ‘central.’ Rather the normative culture of the West had been disseminated by classical Greece and Rome, which are Europe’s authentic foundations, and whose Golden Age of paganism the Enlightenment would restore,” one could assume a distinct Logos of Hellenic conception as opposed to the Christian. Ezra Pound for his measure was overtly attracted to Confucianism akin to the Japanese feudalism witnessed in Silence. However, rather than Christ coming to fulfill the messianic covenant of the Torah, a position which Jews reject, Christ from a Hellenic perspective could also be said to have bastardized, rather than fulfill, the Logos of Greek metaphysics. It is a matter requiring exploration, beyond the scope of this review that I suggest that the Greeks were moving towards compatible truths with the Christian revelation, which because of it’s Oriental-Jewish elements caused a sort of disfigurement.
In each movement of Logos (both Hellenic and Christian) unanswerable questions are regulated to “Mystery” or “Myth” – designated by Plato in The Republic as “the noble lie.” If the story of Christ is compatible with such a social utility then the Myth of Er corresponds to the election of salvation and the promise of the afterlife in Christian theology as well. For the Greeks alone one could discuss the Logos of Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, Plato, Philo, Plotinus or the Stoics – the noetic or spermatic Logos, or the Logoi. The Greeks could not agree beyond a kind of metaphysics of reason at times interacting within the world through form and manifestation and at times wholly Other. Less still could one conceive of a pure Logos-Idea between civilizational forms; and one can speak of the Hebrew, the Persian, Greco-Jewish logos of Philo, the Christian, and even the Oriental conceptual theories of the Logos-Idea. Thus, “We realize of course that there is no such thing as a definite logos-doctrine, or rather that it was held under various forms.”[x] Such a nebulous idea could be molded to any platform.[xi] However, “There was perhaps no passage of Scripture which caused the translators of the Bible into Japanese so much trouble as the opening verses of the Gospel according to John. The controversy was not over the meaning of the Logos, but rather over the oriental equivalent and word to be chosen as the best translation… In the Chinese version Logos had been translated by the word T’ao…” The Japanese translate logos by the Japanese term for ‘word,’ kotoba. Within this loose schema, Reischauer wrongfully concludes “Thus the oriental mind is not at all unprepared to understand the logos-doctrine of Christianity, or any form of it,” forgetting that the Orientals lacked Hellenic roots although, Reischauer adds the caveat of the superiority of the Logos-Doctrine of Christianity to its oriental manifestations.
[i] John T. From Cultural Alterity to the Habitations of Grace: The Evolving Moral Topography of Endo’s Mudswamp Trope Netland Christianity & Literature Vol 59, Issue 1, pp. 27 – 48 First Published December 1, 2009.
[iii] Reischauer, A. K. “Japanese Buddhism and the Doctrine of the Logos.” The Biblical World, vol. 41, no. 4, 1913, pp. 245–251.
[v] Morris, Colin. The discovery of the individual, 1050-1200. Toronto: University of Toronto Press in association with the Medieval Academy of America, 1987. Print. 32.
[vi] Morris, Colin. The discovery of the individual, 1050-1200. Toronto: University of Toronto Press in association with the Medieval Academy of America, 1987. Print. 29.
[vii] Žižek, Slavoj. Living in the end times. London New York: Verso, 2011. Print. 99.
[viii] Nietzsche, Friedrich W., Walter Kaufmann, and R. J. Hollingdale. The will to power. New York: Random House, 1967. Print. 18
[ix] Nietzsche, Friedrich W., Walter Kaufmann, and R. J. Hollingdale. The will to power. New York: Random House, 1967. Print.
[x] Reischauer, A. K. “Japanese Buddhism and the Doctrine of the Logos.” The Biblical World, vol. 41, no. 4, 1913, pp. 245–251.
[xi] A summary simplification of the strains of the Logos-Idea – In general… the logos doctrine stands for theory that there is a rational principle in things. 1. Regarded as ultimate and absolute principle, superior to all other principles (Greek – Stoic). 2. Regarded as one of two principles i.e., co-ordinate with another and opposing principle (Persian Dualism though early Greek philosophy has tendency and Philo himself is not free from it). 3. Regarded as subordinate principle, subject to higher and more ultimate reality. (Hebraic thought, in which logos-principle subordinated to ultimate reality, God). Reischauer, A. K. “Japanese Buddhism and the Doctrine of the Logos.” The Biblical World, vol. 41, no. 4, 1913, pp. 245–251.