“A monk once asked Joshu, “What is the meaning of the Patriarch’s coming from the West?” Joshu answered: “The oak tree in the front garden.” (Zenkei Shibayama, The Gateless Barrier Zen – Comments on the Mumonkan, 259-260)


“It is not that “I am empty,” but rather that ‘Emptiness is I’.” (Masao Abe, Zen and Western Thought, 13)


To experience means to know facts just as they are, to know in accordance with facts by completely relinquishing one’s own fabrications … by pure I am referring to the state of experience just as it is without the least addition of deliberative discrimination. (Nishida, An Inquiry into the Good, 3)

Pure experience includes thinking … Thinking and intuition are usually considered to be totally different activities, but when we view them as facts of consciousness we realize that they are the same kind of activity. (Nishida, Inquiry, 41)

Ordinary perception is never purely simple, for it contains ideal elements and is compositional. Though I am presently looking at something … I see it as mediated in an explanatory manner through the force of past experience. (Nishida, Inquiry, 30)

A true intellectual intuition is the unifying activity in pure experience. It is a grasp of life, like having the knack of an art or, more profoundly, the aesthetic spirit …it is an extremely ordinary phenomenon … from the standpoint of pure experience it is actually the state of oneness of subject and object, a fusion of knowing and willing. (Nishida, Inquiry, 32)


[For Aristotle] “To know a thing is to name it, and to name it is to attach one or usually more universal predicates to it. Not only is the fixed within the flow alone knowable, but the universal in the individual as well. There is no place for the flow to be known as flow, nor the individual as individual. These defects Nishida set about to repair.” (Robert E. Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God, 25-26)

In my mind, “intuition” was not something that transcended the operation of consciousness; rather, it was that which establishes the operation of consciousness itself. (Nishida, “My Philosophical Path,” quoted by Michiko Yusa, Zen and Philosophy – An Intellectual Biography of Nishida Kitaro, 301)

Rosa gallica purpuro violacea magna – Pierre Redouté (1759-1840)

If red were the only color, it would not appear to us as such, because for it to do so there must be colors that are not red. Moreover, for one quality to be compared with and distinguished from another, both  qualities must be fundamentally identical; two things totally different with no point in common cannot be compared and distinguished. If all things are established through such opposition, then there must be a certain unifying reality concealed at their base. (Nishida, Inquiry, 56) 

Basho, then, is that which is neither predicated of, nor present in, a subject, nor even the grammatical subject, but that which grounds both, and out of which both arise as specifications or determinations. (Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God, 31)


Most scholars, even the physicist and sociologist, work from mathematical signs and documents, and not directly from experience. Observations are to be written down, turned into data, before they can be accurately handled. And there is hardly a whiff of doubt entertained about whether the translation from observation to paper, or to symbols on a blackboard, adequately captures the richness of the immediate. Quite the contrary, the common assumption is that it is not genuine data until it is verbalized, organized, or rendered precise through translation to yet more precise formulae. (Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God, 20)

The field – basho – is “literally nothing, it is not a being at all,” since as a universal, “the field has absolutely none of the characteristics applying to the parts … It is the place, given as an intuition, as a whole, a gestalt, which knowing, saying, analysing, and defining try to specify. They all distort the original unity, take it apart, dissect it, re-structure it for specific purposes. So long as such partial and ripped-out-of-context specification is seen as having its place in its field, no damage is done, and indeed something is actually to be gained … But such advantage is epistemologically sound if, and only if, one returns to the source intuition again and again to re-structure it anew. (Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God, 32)


Inter-dependent-origination is what we call ‘emptiness’. It is a dependent designation and is itself the Middle Path. (Nagarjuna, Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, 24.18, quoted by Richard King, Indian Philosophy An Introduction to Hindu and Buddhist Thought, 120)

In the first place, we should notice that the Japanese are willing to accept the phenomenal world as Absolute because of their disposition to lay a greater emphasis upon intuitive sensible concrete events, rather than upon universals. This way of thinking with emphasis upon the fluid, arresting character of observed events regards the phenomenal world itself as Absolute and rejects the recognition of anything existing over and above the phenomenal world. What is widely known among post-Meiji philosophers of the last century as the ‘theory that the phenomenal is actually the real’ has a deep root in Japanese tradition. (Nakamura Hajime, Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples: India-China-Tibet-Japan, 350)

Joseph Campbell summed up the respective positions of India and the Far East as follows: [in India] All is illusion: let it go, and [in the Far East] “all is in order, let it come. In India, enlightenment (samadhi) with the eyes closed, in Japan, enlightenment (satori) with the eyes open. The word moksa (release) has been applied to both, but they are not the same. (Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God – Oriental Mythology, 30-31)

Candrakirti – a disciple of Nagarjuna in 7th century – “compared the mistake of reifying emptiness with the example of a person who, upon being told that a merchant had nothing to sell, asks if he can buy some of that nothing.” It is said that emptiness itself has to be emptied. (Candrakirti Prasannapada, quoted by Richard King – Indian Philosophy, 121)


This world of historical reality, wherein we are born, act and die, must be, when logically seen, something like the contradictory self-identity of the many and the one. I have come to this point after many years of pondering. (Nishida Kitaro, Collected Works 1938 – quoted by Michiko Yusa in her PhD Dissertation – ‘Persona Originalis’ ‘Jinkaku” and “Personne,’ According to the Philosophies of Nishida Kitaro and Jacques Maritain, 223)

Zettai mujunteki jikodoitsu has been translated as “self-contradictory identity,” “the “unity of opposites,” “contradictory self-identity,” “self-identity of contradiction,” “identity of contradiction,” and “contradictory identity.” Zettai, means absolutely, mujunteki, contradictory, jiko, self, and doitsu, identity. The phrase has also been translated as “the self-identity of absolute contradictories.” (Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God, 61)

Own photo

Thirty years ago, before I began the study of Zen, I said, ‘Mountains are mountains, waters are waters.’ After I got an insight into the truth of Zen through the instruction of a good master, I said, ‘Mountains are not mountains, waters are not waters.’ But now, having attained the abode of final rest [that is, Awakening], I say, “Mountains are really mountains, waters are really waters.’(Chinese master Qingyuan Weixin  9th century – translated by Masao Abe, Zen and Western Thought, 4)

The mountains that one once saw in a straightforward and ordinary way were then lost in the identity of nothingness in which all differentiation gives way to the indifferentiated sameness, only to be recast (emptied) such that the mountains again seen are now seen differently because they are 1) freed from old habits of understanding, 2) seen in and for themselves, and 3) lined with the depths of nothingness … now one sees if “as-it-is-by-itself,” in its “thusness.” One’s “no-mindedness” has allowed nature to “nature.” (Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God, 75)

The one is self-contradictorily composed of the many, and the many are self-contradictorily one. The world can be viewed in two directions – the double aperture – and its unity is not the unity of oneness, as the mystic would likely express it, but the unity of self-contradiction. It is both one and many; changing and unchanging; past and future in the present. Nishida’s dialectic has as its aim the preservation of the contradictory terms, yet as a unity … This is the logic of soku, or sokuhi – the absolute identification of the is, and the is not. In symbolic representation: A is A; A is not-A; therefore A is A. I see the mountains. I see that there are no mountains. Therefore I see the mountains again, but as transformed. And the transformation is that the mountains both are and are not mountains. That is their reality. (Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God, 58)

Everything is change, or impermanence, says the Buddhist, and yet it is precisely as change that persons and things are what they are. (Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God, 59)

The Daodejing is a “celebration of the fecundity of emptiness.” (Roger T Ames and David L Hall A Philosophical Translation Dao De Jing “Making This Life Significant,” 86)

For Nishida, the real is no less one than it is many, no less different than it is identical. (Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God, 61)

Nishida’s strength is that he did not try to resolve the contradictions of experience, but saw them as inescapable descriptions of the way the world is, as it is known by us. The result is not a synthesis, but a unity-in-contradiction, a unity of opposites … We both live, and at the same time we are dying; or again, everything is what it is, and yet is lined with nothingness; a thing is distinctly what it is, and yet it is (a part of) the One. (Carter, The Kyoto School, 45)


Man with a Kimono – Emperor Montoku

Nothingness is the lining of the kimono, known only by the very way in which the kimono hangs, and holds its shape. One sees the lining by not seeing it, but by reading its nature from the hang of the formed kimono. This is the form of formless. The double aperture consists in the ability to read the nature of the lining from the shape or hang of the kimono; one reads the nature of the formless from the formed. To see both is to have penetrated to the identity of the lining of all that exists, as it is manifested in the uniquely individualized manifold of being. Beings are enveloped by nothingness – the universal of universals. (Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God, 98)

How can we verify the existence of God in facts of our direct experience? An infinite power is hidden even in our small chests that are restricted by time and space; the infinite unifying power of reality is latent in us …. The infinitely free activity of the human heart proves God directly. As Jakob Boehme said, we see God with a “reversed eye” (umgewandtes Auge).” (Nishida, Inquiry, 81)

God is not something that transcends reality, God is the base of reality. God is that which dissolves the distinction between subjectivity and objectivity and unites spirit and nature. (Nishida, Inquiry, 79)

In what forms does God exist? From one perspective … God is all negation, whereas that which can be affirmed or grasped is not God … From this standpoint, God is absolute nothingness. God is not, however, mere nothingness. An immovable unifying activity clearly functions at the base of the establishment of reality, and it is by means of this activity that reality is established … God is … the unifier of the universe, the base of reality; and because God is no-thing, there is no place where God is not, and no place where God does not function. (Nishida, Inquiry, 81)

For Nishida, feeling is what is left when we imaginatively remove all content from consciousness, for when we do so we are left with “personal unity, the content of which is precisely that of feeling.” (Nishida, “Affective feeling” quoted in Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God, 84)

Thus it is that the Buddha is your own mind, and your mind gives way to your self as the place or focus of all things/experiences. Your self, as pure experience, is an undifferentiated place (Nishida’s basho) or arena where all things arise, except that it is not a place or arena, but an aperture or opening … To try to characterize it as anything more than an aperture or dynamic place is to lose it. It is nothing …It is formless. And the only route to an understanding of this formlessness is by the direct experience of its grasping of the myriad of forms. The awareness of forms reveals beneath these forms the formless which makes the awareness of forms possible … This self can never become a subject of consciousness, i.e., an object, but is … nevertheless, glimpsed as an awareness, as a feeling, that is, as a unity of discrete acts of awareness, or as awareness itself. … It is self revealing. (Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God, 84)

To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things. To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between one’s self and others. (Dogen – Genjokoan

Japanese Sand Garden

Nothingness …  is the condition of the possibility of everything. But not only is it the condition of the possibility of everything, it is only knowable in the phenomenal world of experience as every thing. Each and every thing is an expression of (a manifestation of, a self-determination of) nothingness itself. The phenomenally real is not a creation separate from the creator, nor is it simply made in the image of the absolute. Rather, it is the absolute, expressed as the absolute expresses itself, phenomenally. Everything “is” the forms of the undivided, the formless … Nothingness is revealed in experience, but only when one is able to look through the forms at the formless of which the forms are expressions. To view a Zen garden of sand, and to see the mounds and ripples as things-in-themselves, rather than as temporary forms of the underlying oneness of sand, is to miss the point.  (Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God, 86-87)


I want to make clear that religious reality cannot be grasped by conventional objective logic, but it reveals itself to the “logic of contradictory self-identity,” or what you call “the logic of sokuhi.” From the standpoint of prajna (wisdom), I want to discuss what a “person” is and want to connect that “person” to the actual historical world. (Letter no 2144 to Suzuki Daisetz as Nishida started “The Logic of the Place of Nothingness and the Religious Worldview,” quoted by Yusa, Zen and Philosophy, 330)

 A God who merely judges the good and the bad is not truly absolute. But this does not mean that God looks indifferently at good and evil. (Nishida, Last Writings, 75)

People usually think that knowledge and love are entirely different mental activities. To me … they are fundamentally the same. This activity is the union of subject and object. It is the activity in which the self unites with things … And why is love the union of subject and object? To love something is to cast away the self and unite with that other. (Nishida, Inquiry, 173-74) 

From this fact that we are embraced by God’s absolute love … our moral life wells forth from the depths of our own minds. People do not seem truly to understand love. Instinct is not love; it is selfish desire. True love must be an interexpressive relation between persons, between I and Thou. I say, therefore, that there must be God’s absolute love in the depths of the absolute moral ought. If not, the moral ought degenerates into something merely legalistic. (Nishida, Last Writings, 100-101)

[God’s love, and the moral life arising from our depths, may be better understood through the Japanese notion of kokoro, which is the Japanese translation for the Chinese xin or heart-mind.] The thrust is towards a natural, spontaneous, genuine, intrinsic (rather than reward oriented) expression of fellow-feeling from the heart. Kokoro, a term which can refer to both mind and heart, is a term of praise of character. One has kokoro if one interacts with another lovingly, or in a thoroughly friendly way, for no ulterior or extrinsic reasons. One just spontaneously, and from one’s depths expresses such warmth, caring, and concern … One envelops the other in good will. Kokoro is the natural and spontaneous springing up from the depths of feeling of a human being, from his or her “true heart” an aspiration to be friendly, and to live happily with everyone. (Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God, 138)

Morality is now the spontaneous expression of who one really is and, therefore, the self-determination of absolute nothingness itself. (Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God, 145)

If I am my neighbor, and he/she is me at my depths, then I have no more reason to do harm to him/her than to myself. If I am, at my bottomlessness, the whole cosmos, and all forms are forms of the absolute, then I would not wish to do harm to any part of the whole, any more than to the small part of it temporarily known as myself. Like the creator, our attitude must be that of compassion, for compassion is ground in the capacity to leave behind the narrow limits of the empirical self-as-separate, and to compenetrate or empathetically identify with the other as a Thou. As “no-mind” one is able to become the other. (Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God, 159)

Compassion always signifies that opposites are one in the dynamic reciprocity of their own contradictory identity. The religious will arise as the self-determination of this dimension of sympathetic coalescence. (Nishida, Last Writings, 107)

Zen has nothing to do with mysticism, as many think. Kensho, seeing one’s nature, means to penetrate to the roots of one’s own self. The self exists as the absolute’s own self-negation. We exist as the many through the self-negation of the One … Kensho means to penetrate to the bottomlessly contradictory existence of one’s own self. (Nishida, Last Writings, 108)


In the position I am articulating, the self is to be understood as existing in that dynamic dimension wherein each existential act of consciousness, as a  self-expressive determination of the world, simultaneously reflects the world’s self-expression within itself and forms itself through its own self-expression. (Nishida, Last Writings, 64)

Own photo

The world is “the many as the self-negation of the One and the One as the self-negation of the many. (Nishida, “The logical structure of the actual world,” lecture delivered at Otani University in 1934 quoted by Yusa, Zen and Philosophy, 256)

[The personal self is not] “an objective substance … It exists as a dynamic subjectivity, self-consciously determining itself within itself … It is “a vector of the creative historical world.”(Nishida, Last Writings,  71-72)

From the created to the creating (from creatus to creans), from the formed to the forming is how [Nishida] describes our situation: we are created by our inheritance and our environment, and yet, we also are capable of re-shaping our environment and of altering our inheritance both for ourselves, and for our offspring. We … are determined by our facticity, and yet are radically free to influence and re-create our world. Our existential situation allows us a spiral-like path of change: on the one hand, we are brought back to earth again and again by our factual circumstances, and on the other, we are able to take flight into the thin air of the possible, the creative, the better, and the ideal through the freedom to imagine another set of circumstances, and to so act as to bring these into existence. We are creators of our own destiny, as well as products of our age, biology, and culture. Nishida describes this dialectical spiral path as the path of history itself. (Carter, Encounter with Enlightenment: A Study of Japanese Ethics, 169)


“There must be an overturning, a radical conversion of mind, in any religion. Without it there is no religion. I say, therefore, that religion can be philosophically grasped only by a logic of absolute affirmation through absolute negation. As the religious self returns to its own bottomless depths, it returns to the absolute and simultaneously discovers itself in its ordinary and everyday, and again in its rational, character. As a self-determination of the absolute present, it discovers its  own eschatological character, as a historical individual.” (Nishida, Last Writings, 91)

The religious consciousness does not arise out of our own selves; it is simultaneously the call of God or Buddha. It is the working, the operation, of God or Buddha welling up from the bottomless depths of the soul … Essentially, then, there can be no religion of self-power. This is indeed a contradictory concept. Buddhists themselves have been mistaken about it. Although they advocate the concepts of self-power and other-power respectively, the Zen sect and the True Pure Land sect, as forms of Mahayana Buddhism, basically hold the same position … In any religion, it is the effort of self-negation that is necessary.(Nishida, Last Writings, 80)

The Buddha-dharma has no special place to apply effort. It is only the ordinary and everyday; relieving one-self, donning clothes, eating rice, lying down when tired. The fool laughs at us, but the wise understand. (Linchi, quoted by Nishida, Last Writings, 108)

Own photo

But when I speak of religion, I do not refer to a special kind of consciousness. There is no mysterious power in the true Dharma …. The true Way cannot exist apart even for an instant; what can do so is not the true Way … When we run, we are on the true Way, when we stumble and fall, we are still on it. Religion is not apart from common experience. (Nishida, Last Writings, 115)

Human consciousness is a spectrum which extends from the unaware and beastly natural, to the enlightened awareness of kensho as the bottomless identity of contradictories of self as absolute, of absolute as self. The enlightened is preferable, but all are equally moments in the divine creation.” (Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God, 154)

[For Dogen] the very act of questing, or questioning of self, is to have abandoned the complacent, uncritical, and conventional standpoint that simply assumes that we are who we appear to be … To put these assumptions in genuine doubt and to undertake the search for a deeper understanding of one’s own complex nature is the religious act itself. (Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God, 156)

A global humanity is formed when the historical world, as the self-determination of the absolute present, transcends its racial particularities … When mankind, however, maximizes the human standpoint in a non-religious form, in a purely secular direction, the result is that the world negates itself and mankind loses itself. This has been the trend of European culture since the Renaissance, and the reason that such a thing as the decline and fall of the West has been proclaimed … The world then becomes mere play or struggle, and the possibility of a true culture is undermined. (Nishida, Last Writings, 117 and 119)

That the self transcends itself in its own immanent depths does not signify a loss of itself; it rather becomes a unique expression of the world’s self-expression. It rather signifies that the self becomes truly individual, a real self … I thus maintain that we must proceed by the logic of absolutely contradictory identity – that is, of transcending immanently. This immanent transcendence is the road to a new global culture. (Nishida, Last Writings, 111 and 120)





The approaching tide of technological revolution in the atomic age could so captivate, bewitch, dazzle and beguile man that calculative thinking may someday come to be accepted and practiced as the only way of thinking … Then man would have denied and thrown away his own special nature – that he is a meditative being. Therefore, the issue is the saving of man’s essential nature. (Martin Heidegger, Discourse on Thinking, 56)

Music heard so deeply, it is not heard at all, and you are the music, while the music lasts. (T. S. Eliot)

Since there is no mind in me, when I hear the sound of raindrops from the cave, the raindrop is myself. (Dogen)


The point at which emptiness is emptied to become true emptiness is the point at which each and every thing becomes manifest in possession of its own suchness.(Nishitani, Religion and Nothingness,106)

To revert to the field of sunyata entails at one and the same time an elemental affirmation of the existence of all things (the world) and an elemental affirmation of our own existence. The field of sunyata is nothing other than the field of the Great Affirmation. (Religion and Nothingness,131)

The double negation of things and self results in a restoration of both things and self on the field of emptiness, which could be called “the field of ‘be-ification’ or, in Nietzschean terms, the field of the Great Affirmation, where we can say Yes to all things.” (Religion and Nothingness, 124)

Absolute nothingness, wherein even a thing that is nothingness is negated, is not possible as a nothingness that is thought but only as a nothingness that is lived.(Religion and Nothingness, 70)

The Truth enters into us and we enter the Truth. (Buddhist liturgical text).  

(It is) not that the self is empty, but emptiness is the self; not that things are empty, but that emptiness is things. 

(Religion and Nothingness, 138)

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.(Albert Einstein) 

Own photo

We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.(Albert Einstein)

In religious Love or Compassion, the highest standpoint of all comes into view. (Religion and Nothingness, 281)


The wasteland grows. Woe to him who hides wastelands within. (Friedrich Nietzsche – Thus Spoke Zarathustra)

The fundamental problem of my life … has always been, to put it simply, the overcoming of nihilism through nihilism. (Nishitani, quoted by James W. Heisig, Philosophers of Nothingness, 215)

With Nietzsche’s “God is dead,” “the foundation of European life had not just cracked but had collapsed altogether. Philosophy and religion were now seen to be have been human-made, mere constructions. An abyss opened, casting all forms of meaning, security, and hope into radical doubt.” (Robert E. Carter, The Kyoto School – An Introduction, 95)


With regard to everything else we can make a telos of  ourselves as individuals, as man, or as mankind, and evaluate those things in relation to our life and existence … But religion upsets the posture from which we think of ourselves as telos and center for all things. Instead, religion poses as a starting point the question: For what purpose do I exist?  (Religion and Nothingness, 2-3) 

Lightnings below the summit – Thirty six Views of Mount Fuji – Hokusai (1760-1849)

We become aware of religion as a need, as a must for life, only at the level of life at which everything else loses its necessity and its utility … When we come to doubt the meaning of our existence in this way, when we have become a question to ourselves, the religious quest awakens within us. (Religion and Nothingness, 3)

Taking a step back to shed light on what is underfoot of the self … marks a conversion in life itself. This fundamental conversion in life is occasioned by the opening up of the horizon of nihility at the ground of life. It is nothing less than a conversion from the self-centred … mode of being, which always asks what use things have for us …, to an attitude that asks for what purpose we ourselves … exist. Only when we stand at this turning point does the question “What is religion?” really become our own. (Religion and Nothingness, 4-5)

By the “self-awareness of reality” I mean both our becoming aware of reality and, at the same time, the reality realizing itself in our awareness. The English word “realize,” with its twofold meaning of “actualize” and “understand” is particularly well suited to what I have in mind here, although I am told that its sense of “understand” does not necessarily connote the sense of reality coming to actualization in us. Be that as it may, I am using the word to indicate that our ability to perceive reality means that reality realizes (actualizes) itself in us; that this in turn is the only way that we can realize (appropriate through understanding) the fact that reality is so realizing itself in us; and that in so doing the self-realization of reality itself takes place … What I am speaking of is not theoretical knowledge but a real appropriation (the proprium taken here to embrace the whole man, mind and body. (Religion and Nothingness, 5-6) 

Own photo

As an example, let me evoke a reminiscence of my younger days. It happened while staying in a hotel during a trip. Watching the sun rise from the balcony, I was suddenly struck by a powerful feeling. The light of the morning sun formed a golden thread and jumped up, like a serpent as it were, to where I was standing. While being bathed in the brightness of the sun’s ray, I really felt that I was truly seeing the sun. The overwhelming experience was that the radiance of the sun was focused on me and that the world was opening brightly, concentrated on myself alone. (Nishitani, “Encounter with Emptiness,” in The Religious Philosophy of Nishitani Keiji, edited by Taitetsu Unno, 2)


To look at things from the standpoint of the self is always to see things merely as objects, that is, to look at things without from a field within the self … This standpoint of separation of subject and object, or opposition between within and without, is what we call the field of “consciousness.” And it is from this field that we ordinarily relate to things by means of concepts and representations … On the field of consciousness, it is not possible to get in touch with things as they are, that is, to face them in their own mode of being and on their own home-ground. On the field of consciousness, self always occupies center stage. (Religion and Nothingness, 9)

[The Cartesian] cogito, ergo sum expressed the mode of being of that ego as a self-centered assertion of its own realness. (Religion and Nothingness, 11)

By wielding his great power and authority in controlling the natural world, man came to surround himself with a cold, lifeless world. Inevitably, each individual ego became like a lonely but well-fortified island floating on a sea of dead matter. The life was snuffed out of nature and the things of nature; the living stream that flowed at the bottom of man and all things, and kept them bound together, dried up. (Religion and Nothingness, 11)

The self-consciousness of the cogito, ergo sum, therefore, needs to be thought about by leaving its subjectivity as is and proceeding from a field more basic than self-consciousness, a field that I have been calling “elemental.” Of course, when we say “thinking about,” we do not mean the ordinary type of objective thinking. Thinking about the ego from an elemental field means that the ego itself opens up in subjective fashion an elemental field of existence within itself … This way of thinking about the cogito is “existential” thinking: more elemental thought must signal a more elemental mode of being of the self. (Religion and Nothingness, 15)

The cogito of Descartes did not pass through the purgative fires in which the ego itself is transformed, along with all things, into a single Great Doubt. The cogito was conceived of simply on the field of the cogito. This is why the reality of the ego as such could not but become an unreality. (Religion and Nothingness, 19)

In order to approach the fact that fire is, reason invariably goes the route of asking what fire is. It approaches actual being by way of essential being …This standpoint does not enter directly and immediately to the point at which something is. It does not put one directly in touch with the home-ground of a thing, with the thing itself.(Nishitani, Religion and Nothingness, 114-115)

“The elemental mode of being, as such, is illusory appearance. And things themselves, as such, are phenomena. Consequently, when we speak of illusory appearance, we do not mean that there are real beings in addition that merely happen to adopt illusory guises to appear in. Precisely because it is appearance, and not something that appears, this appearance is illusory at the elemental level in its very reality, and real in its very illusoriness. (Nishitani, Religion and Nothingness, 129)


According to science, “what cannot be measured is not real.” (Max Planck) 

Charlie Chaplin in the film Modern Times

Once natural science and its image of the world had been established, the teleological conception of the natural world gave way to a mechanistic one, bringing a fundamental change in the relation between man and nature … As this intellectual process continued, the natural world assumed more and more the feature of a world cold and dead, governed by laws of mechanical necessity, completely indifferent to the fact of man. While it continues to be the world in which we live and is inseparably bound up with our existence, it is a world in which we find ourselves unable to live as man, in which our human mode of being is edged out of the picture or even obliterated.” (Religion and Nothingness, 48)

Present-day science does not feel the need to concern itself with the limits of its own standpoint … Science … seems to regard its own scientific standpoint as a position of unquestionable truth from which it can assert ifself in all directions. Hence the air of absoluteness that always accompanies scientific knowledge… The basic reason that science is able to regard its own standpoint as absolute truth rests in the complete objectivity of the laws of nature that afford scientific knowledge both its premises and its content. One cannot “get a word in” … from any point of view other than the scientific one. Criticisms and corrections may only be brought to bear from the scientific standpoint itself. (Religion and Nothingness, 78)

Machines and mechanical technology are man’s ultimate embodiment and appropriation of the laws of nature. (Religion and Nothingness, 82)

The higher we proceed up the chain of being, the deeper the reach of the rule of law; but, at the same time, the more fully actualized the freedom of things that use those laws.(Religion and Nothingness, 82-83)

The emergence of the machine marks the supreme emancipation from the rule of the laws of nature. (Religion and Nothingness, 84)

We are in a situation in which we must speak of the controller becoming the controlled. (Religion and Nothingness, 84)

The rule of the laws of nature, arrived at the extreme of a profound, internal control of man, opens up a mode of being in which man behaves as if the stood entirely outside the laws of nature. Simply put, it is a mode of being at whose ground nihility opens up. (Religion and Nothingness, 85)

It is the mode of being of the subject that has adapted itself to a life of raw and impetuous desire, of naked vitality. In this sense it takes on a form close to “instinct”; but as the mode of being of a subject situated on nihility, it is, in fact, diametrically opposed to “instinct.” (Religion and Nothingness, 86)

The emergence of the mechanization of human life and the transformation of man into a completely non-rational subject in pursuit of its desires are fundamentally bound up with one another. (Religion and Nothingness, 87)


Absolute nothingness, wherein even a thing that is nothingness is negated, is not possible as a nothingness that is thought but only as a nothingness that is lived. (Religion and Nothingness, 70)

Emptiness in the sense of sunyata is emptiness only when it empties itself even of the standpoint that represents it as some “thing” that is emptiness. It is … self-emptying … True emptiness is not to be posited as something outside of and other than “being.” Rather, it is to be realized as something united to and self-identical with being. (Religion and Nothingness, 96-7)

When we say “being-sive-nothingness,” or “form is emptiness; emptiness is form,” we do not mean that what are initially conceived of as being on one side and nothingness on the other have later been joined together. In the context of Mahayana thought, the primary principle of which is to transcend all duality emerging from logical analysis, the phrase “being-sive-nothingness” requires that one take up the stance of the “sive” and from there view being as being and  nothingness as nothingness.” This is what he calls “a standpoint of absolute non-attachement” that is shackled to neither being nor nothingness, and views them as “co-present and structurally inseparable from one another.” (Religion and Nothingness, 97)

Emptiness lies absolutely on the near side, more so than what we normally regard as our own self. Emptiness, or nothingness, is not something we can turn to. It is not “out there” in front of us. (Religion and Nothingness, 97)

Own photo

Just as we overlook the cosmic sky that envelops us while we move and have our being within it, and stare only at the patch of sky overhead, so too we fail to realize that we stand more to the near side of ourselves in emptiness than we do in self-consciousness. (Religion and Nothingness, 98)

Just as a single beam of white light breaks up into rays of various colors when it passes through a prism, so we have here an absolute self-identity in which the one and the other are yet truly themselves, at once absolutely broken apart and absolute joined together. They are an absolute two and at the same time an absolute one.” (Religion and Nothingness, 102)

Separated from one another by a hundred million kalpas, yet not apart a single moment; sitting face-to-face all day long, yet not opposed for an instant. (Zen Master Daito Kokushi, which Nishida also quoted, Religion and Nothingness, 102)


No doubt Kant marks a milestone in the awareness of such a subject. Since his time, the process of awakening to subjectivity has progressed rapidly, arriving at the notion of ecstatic existence within nihility, that is, at the notion of subjectivity in Existenz. The same subject now comes to exist within nihility “essentially,” that is, in such a way as to disclose its very “existence” in nihility. (Religion and Nothingness, 111)

“This is not fire, therefore it is fire” (Diamond Sutra)

“The burning that takes place when the fire burns firewood points to the selfness of fire, but so does the fact that fire does not burn itself. The two are here one and the same. As something that burns firewood, fire does not burn itself; as something that does not burn itself, it burns firewood. This is the mode of being of fire as fire, the self-identity of fire. Only where it does not burn itself is fire truly on its own home-ground. In other words, we speak not only of the selfness of fire for us, but also of the selfness of fire for itself … That a fire sustains itself while it is in the act of burning means precisely that it does not burn itself. Combustion has its ground in non-combustion. Because of non-combustion, combustion is combustion. The non-self-nature of fire is its home-ground of being.” (Religion and Nothingness, 116-117)

We speak here of the field of the selfness of things, the self-identity of things where they appear pro seipsis (for themselves) and not pro nobis (for us). And since this field is absolutely other than the standpoint of everyday life, of science, or of philosophical thinking, the self-identity of a thing on this field – for instance, the fact that this is fire – can be truly expressed in the paradox: “This is not fire, therefore it is fire.” (Religion and Nothingness, 118)

Bamboo in the four seasons
Bamboo in the Four Seasons – Attributed to Tosa Mitsunobu (1434-1525) (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City)

From the pine tree, learn of the pine tree. And from the bamboo, of the bamboo.(Poet Basho, quoted in Religion and Nothingness,128)

Basho does not simply mean that we should “observe the pine tree carefully.” Still less does he mean for us to “study the pine tree scientifically.” He means for us to enter into the mode of being where the pine tree is the pine tree itself, and the bamboo is the bamboo itself, and from there to look at the pine tree and the bamboo. He calls on us to  betake ourselves to the dimension where things become manifest in their suchness, to attune ourselves to the selfness of the pine tree and the selfness of the bamboo. The Japanese world for “learn” (narau) carries the sense of “taking after” something, of making an effort to stand essentially in the same mode of being as the thing one wishes to learn about. It is on the field of sunyata that this becomes possible. (Religion and Nothingness, 128)

The point at which emptiness is emptied to become true emptiness is the point at which each and every thing becomes manifest in possession of its own suchness.(Religion and Nothingness, 106).

On this field of emptiness, modern man’s standpoint of subjective self-consciousness, which had been opened up by Kant’s Copernican Revolution, has to be revolutionized once again. We appear to have come to the point that the relationship in knowledge whereby the object is said to fashion itself after our a priori patterns of intuition and thought has to be inverted yet again so that the self may fashion itself after things and correspond to them. The field of emptiness goes beyond both the field of sense intuition and rational thinking … It pertains to the realization (manifestation-sive-apprehension) of the thing itself, which cannot be prehended by sensation or reason. This is not cognition of an object, but a non-cognitive knowing of the non-objective thing in itself; it is what we might call a “knowing of non-knowing.“ (Religion and Nothingness, 139)

All things that are in the world are linked together, one way or the other. Not a single thing comes into being without some relationship to every other thing … On [an] … essential level, a system of circumsession has to be seen here … In this system each thing is itself in not being itself, and is not itself in being itself. Its being is illusion in its truth and truth in its illusion … To say that a thing is not itself means that, while continuing to be itself, it is in the home-ground of everything else. Figuratively speaking, its roots reach across into the ground of all other things and help to hold them up and keep them standing. It serves as a constitutive element of their being so that they can be what they are, and thus provides an ingredient of their being. That a thing is itself means that all other things, while continuing to be themselves, are in the home-ground of that thing; that precisely when a thing is on its own home-ground everything else is there too; that the roots of every other thing spread across into its home-ground. (Religion and Nothingness, 149)

To practice and confirm all things by conveying one’s self to them, is illusion; for all things to advance forward and practice and confirm the self, is enlightenment. (Dogen, quoted in Religion and Nothingness, 164)






If we provisionally divide the entire dynamic of “from union to eksasis” into two segments, referring to the moment of union with the usual term mysticism, and naming the moment of ekstasis in particular as non-mysticism, then my intent is to attempt to clarify the relation and connection between these aspects … I regard true mysticism as the entire movement “from union to ekstasis,” that is to say, the entire movement “from mysticism to non-mysticism,” hence up to the point of including the moment of “to non-mysticism.” In fact, in this case the expression mysticism ceases to be fitting; it is no longer appropriate. True mysticism is not mysticism. Rather, it is appropriate to call it non-mysticism. With mysticism as a springboard, to go beyond and shed mysticism by means of the ecstatic thrust inherent in mysticism itself, this is what we can speak of as the mode of body-mind-dropped-off mysticism (Ueda Shizuteru, USS 8:38)

[Eckhart’s metaphysics] “begins and ends with the Godhead as a trans-wordly source and eschatological end of the created world. The path of Zen, on the other hand, begins and ends with the everyday world. Life in the midst of the nondual multiplicity of the world is affirmatively engaged in by way of passing through and beyond the One, as opposed to the world being affirmed as an outflow of and pathway back to the Godhead.” (Bret W. Davis, FJP2, 234)

“Unlike Zen [Eckhart] does not let go of God so as to simply affirm the suchness of natural phenomena, that is, things such as they present themselves as they are within nothing but the empty expanse of absolute nothingness. Quoting Eckhart as saying: ‘To one who looks at a stick in the divine light, the stick looks like an angel’, Ueda writes: ‘Eckhart’s affirmation of the stick is not an affirmation of the stick as a stick, but of the stick as an angel in divine light. Zen Buddhism speaks more straightforwardly: ‘Mountain as mountain; water as water’…”(Davis, FJP2, 235) 

“In the final analysis, Ueda concludes, Eckhart’s “nothingness” remains a negative theological sign pointing towards an inexpressibly higher Being: “In the case of Eckhart, because of the excellence of the suprabeing (Uberwesen) of God’s being, it is called nothingness.” When all is said and done, Eckhart’s nothingness of the absolute (zettai no mu) is an adjective modifying a substance. In contrast, Zen’s nothingness (zettai mu) is a verb referring to “the activity of emptying out.” (Davis, FJP2, 236)


Precisely in the midst of despair in the modern world, [an] unadulterated radical origin of philosophy as a practice of thinking while living and living while thinking can be revived … Nishida spoke of “digging down in between East and West.” Today it is necessary to dig down beneath the bottom of the homogenized world. With a shared sense of dismay, and by means of mutual questioning, we are called upon to dig down deeper. (Ueda Shizuteru, “Contributions to Dialogue with the Kyoto School,” in Japanese and Continental Philosophy: Conversations with the Kyoto School Ed: Bret W. Davis, Brian Schroeder and Jason M. Wirth (2011), 31)

Torii, Naoshima