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When Advaita Non-Duality Turns Evil

In 1931 Japan invaded China.  The invasion and military action were strongly endorsed by all prominent Japanese Zen masters and abbots who were regarded as being thoroughly vetted, certified by their teachers and fully enlightened.

D. T. Suzuki was finishing his monumental book Zen and Japanese Culture.  In this he wrote that Zen Buddhism “treats life and death indifferently.”  He further proclaimed that Zen “has no special doctrine or philosophy.  It is therefore extremely flexible in adapting itself to almost any philosophy and moral doctrine as long as its intuitive teaching is not interfered with.” 

He proposed that Zen can be “wedded to anarchism or fascism, communism or democracy… or any political or economic dogmatism.”  In Suzuki’s view of Zen, killing is seen with indifference.  We must assume Suzuki was also indifferent to the suffering arising from killing.  This indifference is the source of the evil.  Suzuki and the other patriarchs confused non-attachment with indifference. 

As Suzuki wrote these words, the Chinese city of Nanking was attacked by the Japanese army who took full control of the city.  What followed is infamously remembered as The Rape of Nanking.  It is the forgotten holocaust of World War II.  Most Japanese deny that it ever occurred.

Within 7 weeks, the Japanese army engaged in an orgy of cruelty seldom if ever matched in world history.  They brutally raped, tortured and murdered 350,000 Chinese citizens – not soldiers but civilians.  In this unfathomable bloodletting, more people died than were killed by the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.  For months, Nanking was filled with mounds of rotting corpses.

Close to 80,000 women were mutilated and raped.  Many of them were gang-raped.  Women were disemboweled, sons were forced to rape their mothers and fathers their daughters.  Endless varieties of torture were practiced on the multitudes including children and the elderly.  Thousands of young men were burned alive, beheaded or used for bayonet practice.

Japanese leaders, pillars of the Zen community such as “enlightened master” Soen Suzuki, spent decades deriding the Chinese as unruly heathens.  One commander addressed his unit, “You must not consider the Chinese as human beings, but only as something of rather less value than a dog or a cat.” The Chinese were also characterized as pigs, raw materials and even lumber.

The unbridled barbarism was so profoundly intense that the Nazis in the city were horror struck with one among them declaring the slaughter to be the product of a “bestial machinery.”

All of this evil was blessed, encouraged and philosophically promoted by the Zen priests and abbots of Japan.

"If ordered to march: tramp, tramp or shoot: bang, bang. This is the manifestation of the highest wisdom of enlightenment. The unity of Zen and war ... extends to the farthest reaches of the holy war now under way." -- Zen Master Harada Daiun Sogaku – 1939

"Since the Meiji period, our (Soto Zen) sect has cooperated in waging war."   - Soto Zen Statement of Repentance – 1992

Shaku Soen (1859-1919) was one of the first Zen Masters to wholeheartedly promote war as Zen training.  He is well known as D. T. Suzuki’s teacher.  Soen wrote:

"I wished to inspire our valiant soldiers with the ennobling thoughts of the Buddha, so as to enable them to die on the battlefield with confidence that the task in which they are engaged is great and noble. I wish to convince them.... that this war is not a mere slaughter of their fellow-beings, but that they are combating an evil."

Soen embraced the idea that everything was one essence and therefore war and peace were identical. Everything was a manifestation of the glory of Buddha, including war. To Soen, war was "an inevitable step toward the final realization of enlightenment." Soen used the phrases "just war" and "holy war."  Japan was engaged in a "war of compassion" fought by bodhisattva soldiers against the enemies of Buddha.  As Rinzai Zen Master Nantembo (1839-1925) preached, there was "no bodhisattva practice superior to the compassionate taking of life." Soen considered any opposition to war as "a product of egotism."

It is essential to know that Soen was not some fringe crackpot. He is still venerated in Japan as one of the great "fully enlightened" Zen Masters of our time.
How did the teachings of the Buddha go so horribly wrong?

The train went off the track because a fundamental element was missing and that is the element of love.  Love is the substratum of existence – it is our true nature. 
From love comes compassion and empathy for others.  Had there been empathy, the rape of Nanking would not have occurred because the Japanese would feel the suffering of others.  They would have been possessed of the will to relieve the suffering of others which is the Bodhisattva’s vow.

In place of love was a cold, intellectual philosophy of non-duality which interpreted war and peace as being the same.  There are no individuals and so no one suffers, no one kills and no one is killed.  Compassion and empathy are put in a box, locked and set on a shelf because they are an incumbrance to such a shallow, cruel and rigid belief. 

This is the danger that lies in all non-dual philosophy including, not only Buddhism, but the Hindu Vedas which contain the Upanishads.  One can read this philosophy, conclude the world is no more than a dream and then commit any malicious act such as murder.

The mind reasons none of it matters including war and peace because none of it is real.  On a massive scale, this way of thinking resulted in horrible brutality and a complete robotic machine-like indifference to the suffering of others.

There is a popular quote by Ramana Maharshi, a well-known enlightened East Indian master that says, “There are no others.”  When the quote is given on social media, this is usually all that is seen.  This is a very dangerous thing to say and it is out of context with Ramana’s full statement.  The danger is this:  If there are no others, because there is only one Self, then we need not be concerned with the wellbeing of anyone else.  Love and compassion are seen as delusional weaknesses.

This is what happened to Zen in Japan and we see the horrific result. Here is the original quote in its entirety:

Visitor: Does my realisation help others?
Maharshi: Yes, certainly. It is the best help possible. But there are no others to be helped. For a realized being sees the Self, just like a goldsmith estimating the gold in various jewels.”  - Ramana Maharshi, Talks with Ramana Maharshi

The important point to see, is that Maharshi is giving the perspective of a Self-realized Master.  For such a one there are no others.  However, the actions of these Masters are always loving and compassionate spending their hours each day helping people.  Love and compassion arise spontaneously in a person who has truly merged in the Self.  We did not see a spontaneous arising of compassion in the Zen patriarchs that promoted the war.

For those of us who have not merged in the Self, there are definitely ‘others’ and it behooves us to cultivate love and compassion.  This is what was missing in the Japanese army. It is true that most of the Generals and high officers in the Imperial Army spent time training in Zen monasteries and studying with Zen Masters.  Because of this, and the practice of Buddhism in general, the Japanese felt they were morally superior to the Americans and this would ultimately defeat the United States.

In these times we see many perversions of non-dual teachings presented by those we refer to as neo-advaitans or people of the ‘new Advaita’ (Advaita means not two).  There is a common thread in all of these perversions.

They make the same “war and peace are equal in the Buddha’s glory” and “no one dies” and “there are no others” errors.  This is how the reasoning goes:  Since there is only one Self and we are already that Self, there is no need to pursue a path or do any spiritual practices.  They point out that the very act of meditating (for example) is a denial of the fact that we are already the Self and so there is nothing to be gained.  In the example of the Japanese army, they reasoned it is alright to kill because it is all Buddha.

Neo-advaitans also tell us there is no need to seek any teachers or gurus because we are already the Self and the Self is the only guru.  This is ultimately true but the “self” in which most of us currently live is not the Self of enlightenment.  It is a chaotic hodge-podge of cravings, fears, jealousies, anger and hatred, arrogance, fear and anxiety.  If a normal person listens to their “self” this is what they hear.

A guru is required in the beginning to get the student past the negative mind and introduce him or her to their real Self.  They will not find it on their own. Here is an example of writings by a well-known neo-advaitan teacher who is now deceased.

“The beginning of wisdom is when you realize that all the teachings in the world, all the spiritual practices in the world, all the yoga practices, all the disciplines that you've been doing, are not going to awaken you one iota. You've been wasting your time."

This is really harmful advice.  Unfortunately, simply saying we are not an individual ego will not make the delusional ego go away.  The delusion persists in the mind and it is quite stubborn.  Doing spiritual practices is absolutely necessary up to the point of merging in the Self.  Suzuki Roshi says in Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind that one must make an effort to reach the effortless state.

As previously discussed, the Japanese Zen hierarchy of “masters” failed to grasp the reality of love and compassion.  Amma comments on the nature of the Supreme Being:

“The Supreme Being has two bhavas [moods or aspects of being].  One of them is the attitude of Atma-nishta established in the Self, still and unaffected.  The other is the attitude of love, compassion and affection.  When the later attitude of love and compassion comes forward, and the Atma-nishta bhava retreats to the back, we call that aspect Shakti, Jagadamba or Devi.”  - Amma

She is telling us there are two sides to the Absolute.  There is the Self which is pure awareness.  It is empty, silent and changeless and there is only one Self appearing as the core of every person and every being.  This is the aspect which the Zen masters revere.  Adhering to this aspect alone, often leads to darkness and utter depravity as seen in the rape of Nanking.

The second aspect is love, compassion and affection.  This is the Divine Mother or Devi.  This aspect must be present in one’s spiritual path to avoid serious error.

It is because of the danger of misinterpreting and misdirecting the truth of non-duality that Amma forbade new monks from studying non-dual texts such as the Upanishads until they had practiced love and devotion for several years.  She also says that the path of non-duality should not be practiced unless one is under the tutelage of a satguru.  A true teacher will be able to point out the student’s errors.

“Mere philosophy will make your heart dry. Bhakti is needed. Mother never allowed these boys in the Ashram to study the Upanishads in the beginning. Mother wanted them to cultivate and develop bhakti first. After some years of devotional practices, Mother permitted them to study the Upanishads.”  - Amma, Awaken Children, vol. 3

The Zen masters in Japan were not enlightened.  They were deluded. Horribly deluded. To this day, Japan has not apologized for these atrocities and most Zen sects also have not apologized for their support of war-making.  The one exception is the Soto Zen sect and this apology came in 1992 which was 47 years after the Japanese surrendered.  The philosophical non-dual delusions that fueled the Japanese military in their campaign of terror and brutality in World War II are still alive today. There is a dragon slumbering in a cave waiting for a reactionary fascist to bring it back to life.

The information regarding Zen and the Japanese army is from a web page by Josh Baran who wrote a book review titled Zen Holy War? The review is of the book Zen at War written by Brian Daizen Victoria.  Brian is a Zen roshi living and teaching Zen in Australia.  The book review was originally printed in Tricycle magazine but was edited down to shorten it.  Josh has given us the unedited version here:

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