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  • Wer und was bin ich? Zur Phänomenologie des Selbst im Zen-Buddhismus by Shizuteru Ueda
  • Bret W. Davis
Wer und was bin ich? Zur Phänomenologie des Selbst im Zen-Buddhismus. By Shizuteru Ueda. Verlag Karl Alber, 2011. 224pages. Softcover €29.00.

Ueda Shizuteru (b. 1926) is the central figure in the third generation of the Kyoto school of modern Japanese philosophy. Wer und was bin ich? (Who and What Am I?) contains a selection of his essays written in German in the years 1976–1996 and one newly written essay. In the afterword, in addition to thanking his teachers in Germany, Ueda expresses his gratitude to his principal teacher in Japan, Nishitani Keiji (1900–1990), the leading figure of the second generation of the Kyoto school, who Ueda says “has guided and supported the studies and work of the author for nearly sixty years” (p. 218).1 Ueda once showed me his copy of Nishitani’s major work, Shūkyō to wa nanika,2 nearly every page of which was carefully marked up with three different colors. Ueda rarely writes explicitly on Nishitani’s thought, and perhaps this is because he remains too close to his teacher; he might even say what Nishitani once said of his teacher, Nishida Kitarō (1870–1945), the founder of the Kyoto school: that in him he encountered someone who was “nearer to me than I was to myself.”3 Yet Ueda is no more a “follower” than was Nishitani; indeed, they both resemble Nishida in their spirit of original thinking as much as in the content of their thought.

Although Ueda has played a leading role in the burgeoning revival of Nishida studies since the publication of his first monograph on Nishida’s philosophy in 1991,4 by that time he was already well established as a prominent philosopher-practitioner of Zen and a preeminent scholar of Meister Eckhart (Eckhart von Hochheim; [End Page 321] ca. 1260–ca. 1327). Given that most of Ueda’s oeuvre can be roughly divided into works that focus directly on Zen, works that focus on Meister Eckhart (often in comparison with Zen), and works that focus on Nishida (often in connection with Zen), it is noteworthy that while Wer und was bin ich? does contain a chapter on Meister Eckhart and Zen, it includes relatively few references to Nishida’s thought (see pages 26–29, 72, 77, 83, 144, 194, and 208, which I mention because, unfortunately, the book does not contain an index). This is presumably because the original composition of the chapters either predates or coincides with the early years of Ueda’s work on Nishida. The book’s primary focus on Zen is entirely understandable, given that the basic thrust of Ueda’s thought always emerges out of and returns to the practice of Zen, whether he is discussing this practice and the texts of the Zen tradition on their own; comparing these with Eckhart or with other religious thinkers, philosophers, and poets; or writing on Nishida.

Ueda’s close connection to Nishida and Nishitani in particular, rather than to other Kyoto school figures such as Tanabe Hajime (1885–1962), is no doubt related to their engagement in the practice of Zen along with the academic discipline of philosophy. Although Abe Masao (1915–2006) was more active than Ueda in the United States and wrote in English, in Japan and Europe Ueda is regarded as the most significant inheritor of this thread of the Kyoto school, which has woven together Western philosophy and Zen Buddhism. Yet he is not simply an inheritor and representative of a tradition or a school of thought; like Nishida and Nishitani before him, Ueda always goes directly not only to the primary sources of Western and Eastern thought, but also to things and experiences themselves, often employing his own distinctive locutions rather than simply adopting those of his predecessors. A case in point is the manner in which Ueda takes up the legacy of one of the central lines of Nishida’s and Nishitani’s thought. Whereas Nishida spoke of “the place of absolute nothingness” (zettai mu no basho), Nishitani spoke of “the field of emptiness...


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