Cross-Reanimating Martin Buber's "Between" and Shin'ichi Hisamatsu's "Nothingness"

Article excerpt

   There is neither a first nor a last word and there are no limits to
   the dialogic context (it extends into the boundless past and the
   boundless future). (1)

Does juxtaposing the thought of Martin Buber (1878-1965) and Shin'ichi Hisamatsu (1889-1980)--one Western, one Eastern; one Jewish, one Buddhist; one Germanic-speaking, one Japanese-speaking; one pointing to God, one pointing to True Self--seem, at first, a bit strange to you? It may not if we recognize the possibility that Buber's central subject, the "Between," can fruitfully interact with Hisamatsu's central subject, "Oriental Nothingness." If we place these two writers in dialogue with one another, how, and in what ways can Buber's "Between" be clarified and more deeply appropriated when viewed through the very specific lens of Hisamatsu's "Nothingness"? Vice versa, what new insights and fresh realizations can accrue when we view Hisamatsu's "Nothingness" through the lens of Buber's "Between"?

To initiate this inquiry, I will place Buber's important essay,"Elements of the Interhuman" (first published in 1957 and appearing as a chapter in The Knowledge of Man), side-by-side with Hisamatsu's equally important essay, "The Characteristics of Oriental Nothingness" (first published in Japanese in 1946; E.T., 1959). In his "Elements of the Interhuman," Buber attempted to clarify his philosophy of dialogue as he had expressed it in works such as I and Thou (1923), "Dialogue" (1929), and "What Is Man?" (1938). In "Elements of the Interhuman," Buber focused specifically on his concept of "the Between." Hisamatsu's essay, meanwhile, focuses on the theme of "Nothingness," which he treated in a fragmentary and unintegrated manner elsewhere. Here, Hisamatsu presented concisely what he believed "Nothingness" was not--along with six positive characteristics of what it is.

My primary intention here is neither to compare the strengths and weaknesses of Buber's "Between" and Hisamatsu's "Nothingness" nor to contrast these two concepts against one another. Rather, I examine each thinker's expression of his central subject--which for both writers was the subject of authentic humanness--through the eyes of the other for the purpose of clarifying, challenging, and opening new possibilities for understanding and applying the implications of each thinker's insights. First, I discuss what each thinker held was the fundamental problem of human existence, the problem of the egoistic "I." Next, I explore what I call "the humanly human" in each work. "The humanly human" is a nondualistic resolution to the human problem of the self-seeking ego. Finally, I suggest several ways in which Buber and Hisamatsu, when each is looked at through the eyes of the other, can shed light not just on this human condition but also on each other's religious traditions and perspectives. (2)

The Two I's: The Fundamental Problem of Human Existence

Buber, a European philosopher of Hasidic Judaism, said that "if ["each mortal hour's fulness of claim and responsibility"] is religion, then [religion] is just everything, simply all that is lived in its possibility of dialogue." (3) Hisamatsu, a Japanese Rinzai Zen philosopher, said that "it is the living experience of Self-realization which constitutes the concrete base of my own religion and philosophy." (4) Buber was concerned with "the fundamental fact of human existence," the relationship between person and person in genuine dialogue. (5) Hisamatsu was concerned with "that awareness of Oneself in which the subject and object of awareness are one and not two." (6) As Buber lived his life on the "narrow ridge" in the "holy insecurity" of what he called the Between, Hisamatsu lived his life in present-moment Awakening to true Nothingness.

What Buber and Hisamatsu were attempting to establish in their uniquely situated and culturally specific ways was the personally life-transformative outcome of a central subject they shared in common--authentic humanness. …