A student and successor of Nishitani at Kyoto University’s Institute for Religious Studies, and an authority on the thought of Nishida, Ueda Shizuteru (1926-2019) is the central figure of the third generation of Kyoto School philosophers. He appears to have spent more time in the West than his predecessors, starting with a three year period of study in Germany (1959-1962), followed by regular visits to other European countries, Spain in particular. Unfortunately, relatively little is available about his thought in the English speaking world because of the lack of translations. Most accessible are the essays written by, or about, Ueda, published in various anthologies (see list in Short Bibliography). Please note that the essays published in the Frontiers of Japanese Philosophy series are available online from the Nanzan Institute’s website.
Both Nishida and Nishitani had shown a keen interest in Meister Eckhart’s “Nothingness beyond God,” but had not been able to study his writings in depth. Nishitani is said to have encouraged Ueda to study the German mystics in general, and Eckhart in particular, and in 1959, Ueda enrolled at the University of Marburg where he studied medieval German and Latin before embarking on a PhD dissertation on Meister Eckhart, which he published in 1965 under the title Die Gottesgeburt in der Seele und der Durchbruch zur Gottheit. Die mystische Anthropologie Meister Eckharts und ihre Konfrontation mit der Mystik des Zen-Buddhismus.
Ueda then returned to Kyoto University from which Nishitani had just retired, to teach philosophy of religion. He later focused on the thought of Nishida on which he is now regarded as an expert.
Ueda has had a life-long practice of Zen at the Shokoku-ji Temple in Kyoto, where Nishitani had also practiced.
Two books by Ueda are readily available for those with the required language skills:
- Zen y filosofia (2004)
- Wer und was bin ich? Zur Phänomenologie des Selbst im Zen-Buddhismus (2011).
Succeeding Nishida and Nishitani as head of the Kyoto School was probably not an easy task for Ueda. When taking over from Nishida, Nishitani had opted for a more existentialist, and perhaps more religious, articulation of the basic Nishidean concept of self-contradictory identity. Ueda’s outstanding command of the German language has allowed him to point out how the thought of Heidegger had come close to an understanding of emptiness, thereby preparing for an integration of Kyoto School philosophy within mainstream “Western” philosophy. For the same reason, he was able to study the mysticism of Meister Eckhart, a study which even Heidegger had wished to do, and this allowed him to compare Eckhart’s achievement of “breaking free from God” beyond the traditional Christian mystical union with God and the Buddhist kensho. Ueda also returned to a number of topics already found in Nishida and Nishitani, for instance, the Cartesian cogito, which he submitted to a thorough deconstructive exercise.
Steffen Döll, who has published an introduction to Ueda’s thought entitled Wozu also suchen? Zur Einführung in das Denken von Ueda Shizuteru (2005), gives a short presentation of its main points in an essay published in Japanese and Continental Philosophy – Conversations with the Kyoto School. He starts with the following summary: “Ueda’s philosophical standpoint is characterized 1) by a severe critique of the modern understanding of the self as subject; 2) by a logic of locus (basho no ronri) which he develops in reference to Heidegger’s topological ontology; and 3) by an endeavour to lay a philosophical foundation for the soteriology of Zen practice. These three characteristics find their paradigmatic formulation in Ueda’s core concepts of “being-in-the-world” and “self as not-self.” Also crucial is his original understanding of the central Kyoto School notion of “absolute nothingness” or “absolute negation.” (Ueda Shizuteru’s “Phenomenology of Self and World: Critical Dialogues with Descartes, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty,” Japanese and Continental Philosophy, 120).