Emanuel Swedenborg | influence

DT Suzuki

D T Suzuki (1870 - 1966) proclaimed Swedenborg to be the 'Buddha of the North'. Suzuki was a similarly fascinating figure, a thinker of remarkable insight, engaged with both Eastern and Western traditions.

Internationally renowned for introducing Buddhist ideas to the West, Suzuki will be known amongst readers of Swedenborg as the scholar who introduced Swedenborg to the East. In the preface to his Japanese translation of Heaven and Hell(1910), Suzuki stressed the urgency of Swedenborg's writings in the context of an increasingly materialistic society; 'those who wish to cultivate the spirit, those who bemoan the times, must absolutely know of this person. This is the reason for this book.' According to Suzuki, religion is not anathema to modern society; belief in a higher 'truth' is essential to human fulfilment in every culture - old or new, East or West. In A New Interpretation of Religion (1895), Suzuki argued for a 'universal truth' which unites all men and all religions. In order to achieve this religion must co-exist with freedom of thought and religion and science must be mutually instructive. In this way, Suzuki echoed the concerns of Swedenborg; both rejected arbitrary distinctions between faith and reason. Carl Jung was a keen reader of Swedenborg and Suzuki, finding support for his argument that the human psyche is 'by nature religious' and necessitates 'individuation'.

Suzuki is now identified as the father of 'Buddhist Modernism', a universalist approach to Buddhism. Similarly, Swedenborg envisaged a spiritual commonwealth or 'New Jerusalem' which transcends divisions of nation, doctrine, time and space. Both thinkers sought to redefine the divisive concerns of their age.

See Buddha of the North by D T Suzuki and Testimony to the Invisible, edited by James F Lawrence. Both are available in our bookshop.