The Bodymind Experience in Japanese Buddhism:A Phenomenological Studt of Kuukai and Doogen,by David Edward Shaner

         Reviewed by Steve Odin

           Philosophy East and West
           Vol.39 (1989.01 )
Copyright by University of Hawaii Press


The Bodymind Experience in Japanese Buddhism. A Phenomenological Study of kuukai and Doogen, by David Edward Shaner, is an important new book which can be strongly recommended for those in the areas of phenomenology, Japanese Buddhism, and East-West comparative philosophy. At the outset Shaner asserts that "the thesis of this book is not only that the phenomenological method is a useful instrument for laying bare the structure of the bodymind experience, but also that the bodymind experience is a central theme through which the complex philosophies of Kuukai and Doogen may be penetrated" (p. 7). Using the phenomenological method formulated by Edmund Husserl, Shaner endeavors to verify empirically the primordial unity of body and mind described in the Japanese Buddhist teachings of Kuukai and Doogen, as contrasted to Platonic, Cartesian, and Saa^mkhyan philosophy, in which body and mind are by definition ontologically distinct. Central to Shaner's project is his claim that "Phenomenology, as a method of textual interpretation, is appropriate to cross-cultural studies because of its emphasis upon description of the eidetic experiential structures independent of cultural differences"

(p. 189). In this context, Shaner presents a good case for the usefulness of Husserlian phenomenology as a transcultural method insofar as it is a purely descriptive technique with aims to "bracket" all cultural presuppositions and return "to the things themselves," thereby providing a standpoint from which to describe the eidetic structures of the bodymind experience in Japanese Buddhism.

From the standpoint of Husserl's phenomenology, Shaner next provides an illuminating descriptive profile of the eidetic structures characterizing three distinct orders or intentionality levels of bodymind awareness, including a description of the noetic acts and noematic content distinguishing each order: (I) First-order bodymind awareness denotes "a direct awareness of bodymind within the horizon. All thetic positings are neutralized.There is only an awareness of the horizon in toto." (2) Second-order bodymind awareness signifies a mode of experiencing wherein "there is only one specific noetic vector directed towards a single privileged noematic focus." (3) Third-order bodymind awareness designates a mode of experiencing wherein "there may be many overlapping noetic vectors towards a multiplicity of noematic foci" (p. 48). According to Shaner, whereas second and third-order bodymind awareness represent the ordinary mode of perception corresponding to what Husserl calls the "natural attitude," it is first-order bodymind awareness which describes the mode of experience cultivated through the sanmitsua[a] or "three secrets" form of tantric practice extolled by Kuukai as well as the znzenb[b] technique of meditation propounded by Doogen in Japanese Buddhism.

Following the above general discussion, Shaner then develops the Shingon Mikkyoo or"Esoteric" Buddhist theory of enlightenment as formulated by Kuukai (774-835) in terms of first-order bodymind awareness. Shaner underscores the centrality of the nondual bodymind experience in Shingon Buddhism by analyzing Kuukai's fundamental doctrine of sokushin joobutsuc[c] or "achieving Buddhahood in this very body." Moreover, he elucidates the manner in which first-order bodymind awareness is "sedimented" through the sanmitsu or "three secrets" practice of mudraa (gesture), mantra (chant), and ma.n.dala(symbolic images), which are the three methods for transfiguring one's body, speech, and



mind, respectively. Especially interesting is Shaner's phenomenological analysis of mandala contemplation for cultivating first-order bodymind awareness. He asserts that while in ordinary perception various "thetic positings" constitute experience so that a specifiable noetic vector intends a privileged noematic focus, the tantric practice of ma.n.dala contemplation functions to "neutralize" all thetic positings, thereby leading to the firstorder bodymind awareness of "expanded periphery and the horizon in toto." That is to say, by "neutralizing all thetic positings" through ma.n.dala contemplation, one's bodymind awareness is no longer directed to a single noematic focus, but instead presences the whole expanse of the horizon as the infinite empty space of Dharmakaaya Buddha. In this context he describes the Shingon practice of visualizing a ma.n.dala consisting of a Sanskrit ah-syllable encircled by a full moon disc (Ajikan mandara), which is magnified or expanded (Kakudai hoo)[d] until its circumference encompasses the entire universe and its magnitude becomes as inclusive as space (p. 97). Magnifying the full moon disc hence leads to an encounter with "the ground of great space (that) is the Dharmakaaya Buddha"(p. 111). Ma.n.dala contemplation thereby results in the direct experiential realization of such fundamental Shingon Mikkyoo doctrines as hosshin seppoo[e] or "the Dharmakaaya expounds the dharma," hongaku[f] or "orginal enlightenment," and sokushin joobutsu or "achieving Buddhahood in this very body" (p. 97).

After his discussion of Kuukai, Shaner then provides a Husserlian phenomenological analysis of Sootoo Zen Buddhist theory and practice as formulated by Doogen (1200-1253).Shaner underscores the primacy of first-order bodymind experience in Sootoo Zen Buddhism through an analysis of Doogen's key doctrine of Shinjin datsurakug, meaning to "cast off body and mind." Doogen states that he achieved enlightenment when he heard his master Nyojoo shout at a sleeping monk: "Zazen is to cast off body and mind!" According to Shaner's analysis: "'Casting off, 'interpreted phenomenologically, is parallel to the neutralization of thetic positings" (p. 135). More specifically, he employs Husserl's phenomenological theory of intentionality to interpret Doogen's notion of "casting off body and mind" as signifying the neutralization of all physical tensions (body) as well as all mental intensions (mind), which are themselves the "dust" (thetic positings) clouding over the polished mirror of Buddha-nature as given to consciousness. Shaner writes:

Doogen's emphasis on casting off tensions (body) and intensions (mind) during practice arises from his sensitivity to what one might call today phenomenological intentionality.The contribution of thetic positings prevents Buddha-nature from being experienced directly as it is. (p. 137)

Moreover, he asserts that the neutralization or "casting off" of all thetic positings, including all body-aspect tensions and mind-aspect intentions, is itself accomplished through Doogen's practice of zazen meditation, especially the technique of shikantaza[h] or "sitting-only." It is through the constant practice of zazen that one neutralizes all physical tensions as well as mental intensions of second and third order bodymind awareness so as to "sediment" first order bodymind awareness of an expanded periphery and the horizon in toto. On this basis Shaner argues that "casting off body and mind" through zazen practice results in the direct realization of Doogen's other fundamental doctrines expounded in the Shooboogenzoo[i] (Treasury of the Correct Dharma-Eye) such as shushoo ichinyo[j] or "the oneness of cultivation and authentification," hosshin seppoo or "the Dharmakaaya expounds the dharma," and genjokooan[k]. or "presencing things-as-they-are.'' Furthermore, he states that the practice of "casting off" body and mind in order to



presence the horizon as a whole provides a basis on which to understand Doogen's celebrated doctrine of uji[1] or "being-time," which asserts that "all beings-times (uji) are the whole of time, and each particular blade of grass as well as each phenomenon is a time" (p. 150). In this context Shaner argues that whereas thetic positings constitute the linear temporality of ordinary perception, when one presences things-as-they-are through firstorder bodymind awareness, one recognizes that the horizon is the whole of time (p. 150).

Although Shaner's phenomenological analyses of both Kuukai and Doogen are impressive, in my estimation, his treatment of Kuukai is the more original contribution of this book. While Thomas P. Kasulis[1] and others have developed a phenomenological interpretation of Doogen's Zen Buddhism, Shaner's analysis of Kuukai is the first truly philosophical treatment of Shingon Mikkyoo Buddhism that I have seen in the English language. Yet, he could have further enhanced his scholarship by showing the relationship of his analysis of Shingon Mikkyoo to the work of Herbert V. Guenther, who was in fact the first to develop a phenomenological interpretation of Tantric Buddhism, although only in its Indo-Tibetan varieties[2]. Furthermore, Shaner's account of Japanese Shingon Buddhism is simply not comprehensive enough, insofar as he neglects the four major liturgies of Shingon, namely, the Juuhachidoo[m], Taizookai[n], Kongookai[o] and Goma[p] rituals. Even his account of Aiikan[q] ("Ah-syllable visualization") requires much further elaboration in light of the fact that this simple technique represents a synthesis of all Shingon theory and practice as concentrated in a single sanmirsu or "three secrets" exercise. Nonetheless, Shaner has developed a valuable hermeneutic which can be applied with great benefit by those who are more deeply grounded in the complex oral and textual tradition of Shingon Mikkyoo Buddhism.

In his book Shaner emphasizes the goal of "sedimenting" paradigmatic states of firstorder bodymind awareness through repeated sanmitsu or "three secrets" practice in the case of Kuu kai or through constant zazen in the case of Doogen. However, along with the sedimentation of ideal modes of perception, he should have equally emphasized the power to deconstruct and reconstitute all sedimented states of experience through what Husserl calls "fantasy variation" in imagination. As Edward S. Casey has clarified in his work Imagining: A Phenomenological Study, it is only the imaginative power of fantasy variation which can de-sediment experience and give rise to variety, possibility, and multiplicity in phenomena, thus allowing for the free and spontaneous reconstitution of the perceptual field into novel gestalt patternings[3]. From this perspective I would argue that Shaner has emphasized "sedimentation" to the neglect of "spontaneity" throughout his phenomenological analysis of bodymind experience in Japanese Buddhism. Perhaps my strongest criticism is that in Shaner's analysis of both Kuukai and Doogen he restricts himself exclusively to Husserlian phenomenology, thereby neglecting other important resources for a phenomenological study of bodymind awareness in Japanese Buddhism. To begin with, although Shaner provides an interesting case for the usefulness of Husserlian phenomenology as a transcultural `method, he fails to defend his position against those who would charge that the quest for "eidetic structures" or "invariant essences" is itself contrary to the "non-essentialism" (ni.hsvabhaava) and "nonsubstantialism" (anaatman) at the core of Mahaayaana Buddhist philosophy.

Moreover, it is Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in his Phenomenology of Perception, who has made the most significant conlribution to the theme of bodymind awareness in the



twentieth centruy[4].Yet Shaner does not even list Merleau-Ponty's work in his bibliography. There are many points at which Shaner could have utilized Merleau-Ponty's work to deepen significantly his analysis of bodymind awareness in Kuukai and Doogen, although here I will suggest just one. In his analysis of Shingon Mikkyoo Buddhism, Shaner fails to articulate the aesthetic foundations of Kuukai's thought in terms of his Husserlian phenomenological hermeneutic. Kuukai writes: "Since Esoteric Buddhist teachings are so profound as to defy expression in writing, they are revealed through the medium of [mandala] painting to those who are yet to be enlightened."[5] Although Shaner provides an excellent description of how ma.n.dala contemplation results in the bodymind awareness of an expanded periphery and total horizon, he does not explain why this is meaningful in terms of aesthetic-value realization. Yet, for Kuukai the ma.n.dala is a work of art which cultivates a profoundly aesthetic as well as religious form of perceptual awareness. This artistic primacy of Shingon Buddhism could have been rendered most intelligible through Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology, which aims to penetrate beneath "thetic" or "act" intentionality at the level of reflection and judgment, in order to describe the more primordial intentionality of the lived body-" namely an operative intentionality already at work before any posting or judgment, a 'logos of the aesthetic world,' an 'art hidden in the depths of the soul."[6] From the standpoint of Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of perception, then, the presencing of boundless open space as Dharmakaaya Buddha through the contemplation of Shingon ma.n.dala art can be interpreted as the experience of value-laden and aesthetically meaningful core/horizon gestalt environments by means of the "operative intentionality" of the body-as-lived. Notwithstanding these and other criticisms one could make of Shaner's Husserlian phenomenological analysis, The Bodymind Experience in Japanese Buddhism is a pioneering study which makes a valuable contribution to its field.




[1]. See Thomas P. Kasulis, Zen Action/Zen Person (Honolulu, Hawaii: The University Press of Hawaii, 1981).

[2]. See Herbert V. Guenther, Kindly Bent to Ease Us, 3 vols., trans. and annotated by Herbert V. Guenther (Emeryville, California: Dharma Press, 1975).

[3]. See Edward S. Casey, Imagining. A Phenomenological Study (Bloomington, Indiana and London: Indiana University Press, 1979), especially chap. 9, pp. 203-233. In this context also see Steve Odin, "Fantasy Variation and the Horizon of Openness: A Phenomenological Interpretation of Tantric Buddhist Enlightenment," International Philosophical Quarterly (December 1981).

[4]. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (New Jersey: The Humanities Press, 1962).

[5]. Kuukai, Kuukai: Major Works, trans. Y. S. Hakeda (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972), p. 145.

[6]. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, p. 429.  P206



[b]坐禪                                                [j]修証一如

[c]即七成傳                                        [k]現成公案

[d]擴大法                                            [l]有時

[e]法身說法                                        [m]十八道

[f]本覺                                                 [n]胎藏界

[g]身心脫落                                        [o]金剛界

[h]祇管打坐                                        [p]護摩

[i]正法眼藏                                         [q]阿字觀