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D. T. Suzuki: A Biography  

James C. Dobbins

D. T. Suzuki (1870–1966) was a renowned scholar, proponent, and popularizer of Buddhism in the 20th century. He grew up in modest circumstances in Kanazawa, Japan, and was a strong student in primary and secondary school. Though he was forced to withdraw before graduation, he managed to enter Tokyo Imperial University in 1892 as a special student and received instruction in Western philosophy and literature. At the same time, Suzuki began intensive Zen training as a lay practitioner at Engakuji monastery in nearby Kamakura. His master, Shaku Sōen, who had international connections, later recommended him to Open Court Publishing in the United States to assist in its projects on Asian religions. Suzuki lived in Illinois for eleven years, working mostly in translation, editing, and proofreading while also absorbing Western scholarship on religion and philosophy. During this time he began publishing his own works on Buddhism and Asian religions. He returned to Japan in 1909 and took a position as an English professor in the preparatory division of Gakushūin in Tokyo. He also resumed Zen practice with Shaku Sōen in Kamakura and collaborated with him on Japanese publications on Zen. By this time Suzuki had produced an array of works on Buddhism in English and Japanese. In 1921 Suzuki was appointed professor of English and Buddhist studies at Ōtani University in Kyoto. There he launched the journal The Eastern Buddhism, co-edited with his American wife Beatrice Lane Suzuki (1875–1939), which became an important international venue for scholarship on Mahayana Buddhism. Over the next twenty years Suzuki published some of his most influential books in English, many of which introduced Europeans and Americans to Zen. He also produced important works on Mahayana and Pure Land Buddhism. After his wife died in 1939, he went into semi-retirement in Kamakura and spent the war years publishing in Japanese on Zen, Pure Land, and Japan’s spirituality. After World War II, Suzuki emerged as a public figure in Japan. This was also the time when Western interest in Buddhism increased dramatically. In 1949 Suzuki went overseas again and spent almost a decade in the United States, primarily on the faculty of Columbia University. During this period he gave countless lectures and talks in the United States and Europe, and met frequently with prominent Western thinkers. Suzuki quickly rose to fame as a celebrity intellectual. After retiring to Japan in 1958, he continued to write and make appearances throughout his remaining years. When he died in 1966 at the age of ninety-five, Suzuki was acclaimed worldwide as the foremost proponent of Zen and as an authority on Buddhism.

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D. T. Suzuki: Ideas and Influences  

James C. Dobbins

D. T. Suzuki (1870–1966) was a scholar who published extensively in Japanese and English and achieved international recognition as an authority and proponent of Buddhism in the 20th century. He was one of a generation of young progressive Buddhists in Japan seeking to rehabilitate the religion and ensure its survival by interpreting it in a modern idiom. Suzuki grew up in humble circumstances but managed to attend Tokyo Imperial University for several years. At the same time, he received Zen training as a lay practitioner at Engakuji monastery in Kamakura. Through an introduction by his Zen master, who had international connections, Suzuki was able to travel to America in 1897 to assist in English translation projects on Asian religions. There he lived for eleven years working for Open Court Publishing in Illinois, all the while absorbing Western scholarship on religion and philosophy. During this time, Suzuki began to publish his own works on Buddhism and Asian religions. He returned to Japan in 1909 and took a position as an English professor in the preparatory school of Gakushūin in Tokyo. In 1921 Suzuki moved to Ōtani University in Kyoto as a professor of English and Buddhist studies. Over the next twenty years, he published some of his most influential works in English, many of which introduced Europeans and Americans to Zen. After living in semi-retirement in Kamakura during the war years, Suzuki again had the opportunity to travel overseas in 1949. He spent almost a decade in America, affiliated first with the University of Hawai‘i, then with Claremont Graduate School in California, and, finally, most prominently, with Columbia University in New York. During this period Buddhism, particularly Zen, became wildly popular in America and Europe, and Suzuki quickly rose to the status of a celebrity intellectual. After retiring to Japan in 1958, he continued to write and make appearances. When he died in 1966 at the age of ninety-five, Suzuki was renowned worldwide for his advancement of Zen and Buddhism generally. Suzuki’s scholarship on Buddhism focused particularly on Zen, Mahayana, and Pure Land. In Zen, he singled out satori, or Zen enlightenment, as the pivotal element in its religious life and practice. In Mahayana, he emphasized the ideas of nonduality and the interpenetration of all things and sought to spread knowledge of Mahayana in Western circles to counterbalance the better-known Theravada tradition. In Pure Land, he shifted the focus from enlightenment after death in Amida Buddha’s paradise to religious fulfillment in the present world and present life. In all these forms of Buddhism, Suzuki applied the concepts of religious experience and mysticism, which were widely recognized in Western scholarship. His success in presenting Buddhism to Western readers resulted in the widespread adoption of his interpretations by mainstream thinkers and counterculture movements alike in America and Europe. His ideas also commanded great respect in mid-20th-century Japan as part of Buddhism’s modern revitalization.

Article

Cuban Revolutionary Literature  

Lanie Millar

Fidel Castro’s arrival in Havana on January 1, 1959, marked the triumph of Cuban revolutionaries over dictator Fulgencio Batista, initiating a new era in Cuban culture. While critics generally agree that Cuban revolutionary literature began after this watershed event, their opinions on when the revolutionary period ends range from the mid-1970s to the end of the 1980s. Among the revolutionary government’s earliest priorities were to bolster Cuban cultural production and the infrastructure to print and circulate it, as well as to develop a literate public who would read new Cuban works. The state invested in new institutions and established new publishing venues that disseminated both Cuban and international literature. Meanwhile, independent publishing outlets briefly played an important role in the early revolutionary years. Accompanying these new opportunities, however, were debates and polemics over what kind of literature was suited to the revolutionary moment and who got to decide on its parameters. While Cuban literature boomed and publishing opportunities increased, by the 1970s, top-down authorities exerted increasing control over the cultural realm. Especially during the 1970s and 1980s, other kinds of diverse Cuban literature flourished, as Afro-Cuban and women writers gained prominence and pushed literature in new directions. Questions of race, gender, and sexuality came to the fore in works depicting both past and contemporary times. Much of the earliest literature of the revolution sought to respond to the social and political changes underway, either by describing the recent past or by writing with new styles considered to be suited to the new revolutionary landscape. Trends such as literatura de violencia (literature of violence) portrayed repression in the prerevolutionary years and the fight against Batista’s dictatorship, while the new genre of the novela testimonio (testimonial novel) sought to highlight marginalized voices and experiences, particularly those of enslavement or oppression. These developments accompanied Cuba’s new view of itself as a leader to the decolonizing world. After 1959, narrative and poetic experimentation abounded. However, by the 1970s, cultural authorities eventually converged on literary movements like socialist realism and conversational poetry as the preferred literary styles for the revolutionary society. Certain themes such as homosexuality, social criticism, and portrayals of racism in Cuba’s postrevolutionary society, as well as literary styles that deviated from the realist social engagement in vogue with Cuba’s institutions, resulted in tensions between state cultural authorities and writers. Sometimes, writers would face censorship and persecution. As the worst strictures of centralized cultural control lessened in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, Afro-Cuban and women writers pioneered trends in social commentary, humor, and irony. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 initiated profound political and economic crises in Cuba, remaking society and changing the direction of Cuban literature again. The revolutionary period had come to a close.

Article

Aging: Public Policy  

Jeanette C. Takamura

Public policy advances in the field of aging in the United States have lagged compared to the growth of the older adult population. Policy adjustments have been driven by ideological perspectives and have been largely incremental. In recent years, conservative policy makers have sought through various legislative vehicles to eliminate or curb entitlement programs, proposing private sector solutions and touting the importance of an “ownership society” in which individual citizens assume personal responsibility for their economic and health security. The election of a Democratic majority in the U.S. House and the slim margin of votes held by Democrats in the U.S. Senate may mean a shift in aging policy directions that strengthens Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, if the newly elected members are able to maintain their seats over time. The results of the 2008 presidential election will also determine how the social, economic, and other policy concerns will be addressed as the baby boomers join the ranks of older Americans.