Dissolving the consciousness in Satori: Merleau-Ponty and the phenomenology of Suzuki's embodied Buddhism

Adrian Moore

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Ontological dualism describes a range of philosophical frameworks that broadly
conceive the mind as separate from the world in a discontinuous and absolute
way, and its influence in philosophy is commonly attributed to René Descartes’
effort to establish the “objectivity” from the viewpoint of the rational thinker, the
cogito. Descartes proposes that the mind does not occupy space or have physical dimensions, and is therefore independent of physical forces. By contrast, the world of objects and bodies is composed of physically extended matter and subject to physical forces.2 Descartes’ ontological dualism has been challenged by many traditions, including Spinozist parallelism, Bergsonian vitalism, and the group of philosophers associated with phenomenology, including Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Focusing on the work of Merleau-Ponty and his concept of écart (as well as flesh), this article argues that the philosophical challenge to ontological dualism within European philosophy dovetails with the philosophical traditions identified with Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki’s Zen Buddhism. Suzuki, who practiced Zen under the tutelage of Soyen Shaku during his university studies,3 translated many texts from Japanese into English, and introduced much of this literature to Europe and the United States. Suzuki has faced criticism for his essentialist approach,4 but his physiological perspective nevertheless 104 · Adrian moore provides a framework of embodied Buddhism that correlates strongly with Merleau-Ponty’s ontology. In particular, Suzuki’s account of the experience of satori can be related to the Merleau-Ponty’s own conception of consciousness, which
allows for post-dualistic conceptions of thought and the body.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-119
Number of pages17
JournalParrhesia: a journal of critical philosophy
Issue number30
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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