Friday, March 13, 2009

A Thought from D.T. Suzuki

In his introduction to a series of lectures from a conference on Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis, D.T. Suzuki opens with some a general comparison between Eastern and Western philosophical systems and their attendant modes of ethical living. In once section he concerns himself with the long standing critique of the mechanization of human productive activity, citing the 3rd century Chinese philosopher, Chuang-tze story of a farmer who refused to use modern mechanical technologies to draw water from a well more efficiently, preferring instead to use a pail, to demonstrate his point. Suzuki wrote,

"Mechanization means intellection, and as the intellect is primarily utilitarian there is no spiritual aestheticism or ethical spirituality in the machine. The reason that induced Chuang-tze's farmer not to be machine-minded lies here. The machine hurries one to finish the work and reach the objective for which the machine was made. The work or labor in itself has no value except as the means. That is to say, life here loses its creativity and turns into an instrument, man [sic] is now a goods producing mechanism. Philosophers talk about the significance of the person; as we see now in our highly industrialized and mechanized age the machine is everything and man is almost entirely reduced to thralldom. This is, I think, what Chuang-tze was afraid of. Of course, we cannot turn the wheel of industrialism back to the primitive handcraft age. But it is well for us to be mindful of the significance of the hands and also of the evils attendant on the mechanization of modern life, which emphasizes the intellect too much at the expense of life as a whole." (p. 8)

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