The Ontological Foundation in Tetsuro Watsuji's Philosophy:
Ku and Human Existence
By Isamu, Nagami

Philosophy East & West
V. 31 No. 3 (July 1981)
pp. 279-296

Copyright 1981 by University of Hawaii Press




Isamu Nagami is affiliated with Hiroshima University.




In the last few hundred years Western civilization has been expanding throughout the world. It is so powerful and influential that it is not too much to say that non-Western civilizations can never free themselves from the overwhelming influence of Western civilization.

    Having been isolated from foreign powers for nearly three hundred years, Japan finally decided to open her doors to Western civilization in 1854. This opening of the gate resulted in the decline of the Tokugawa shogunate, the restoration of the Meiji imperial authority, and finally the total adoption of Western institutions in Japanese life. In the beginning of the Meiji era it was Anglo-American pragmatism which mainly influenced Japanese life, as exemplified in the thoughts of Ito and Fukuzawa.[1] In the later period of Meiji, German ideology became an important influence on Japanese political thought as well as its political system. The adoption of the Prussian Constitution as the best model for the Japanese Constitution in 1889 indicates the intensity of this German influence.

    Part of the impact of Western civilization was that of Western philosophical thought on Japanese philosophy. This meant that any Japanese thinker had to distill his own thinking out of the conflict between his own traditional heritage and what he adopted from the Western mind. Tetsuro Watsuji is one of the most influential philosophers of modern Japan to develop his philosophical thought out of this struggle. The English-speaking world may be rather unfamiliar with Tetsuro Watsuji, but in Japan he established himself in the history of contemporary Japanese thought by the distinctive ethics he developed and the important questions he raised about the relation between the individual and society. Based on the specifically Buddhist philosophy of ku [a] (Emptiness, 'suunyataa), he attempted to develop a notion of ethics which emphasizes the ethos typical to Japanese culture.

    The main purpose of this article is to introduce Watsuji's thought with special emphasis on the notion of ku, which is symbolic for the ontological foundation of his thought. The concept of ku in his thought is important because it is the Eastern counter symbol to the Western notion of Being, central to all Western philosophy.



Almost without exception, the greater a thinker's influence, the more sharply divided are his supporters and his critics. Watsuji's case is no exception. There are various reasons for the controversy about his thought. It may be explained in terms of his concern for philosophy and ethics, which are approached metaphysically, not dealing with the concrete political and social situations of human existence. This is the criticism usually heard from those who are




engaged in social scientific disciplines. An important factor may well be, however, that Watsuji is really "conservative."

    After the Japanese defeat in the World War II, many thinkers were engaged in heated debates about the future direction of the Japanese Imperial House. Watsuji defended the institution of the Japanese emperor in the earnest conviction that the emperor is the symbol par excellence of Japanese culture and tradition. To those who believe that one of the main causes of the Japanese involvement in the war was the existence of the Emperor, Watsuji's defense of this institution makes him into a reactionary.[2] Others, on the contrary, see in Watsuji a man who clarifies the character as well as the meaning of Japanese culture.[3] It is difficult to judge which view is more reasonable. However, the fact cannot be denied that Watsuji struggles to reflect on the original meaning of Japanese culture after a rupture of this culture, due to the influence of Western ideas, had taken place.

    Watsuji was born in 1889 and he died in 1960. In his early years he was influenced by his father, a doctor who adhered to Confucian ethics, and taught Watsuji the meaning of loyalty and devotion through his medical practice.[4] This teaching may hold a key to understand Watsuji's respect for the imperial house. His father also opened his eyes to the significance of michi [b] , which becomes one of the central notions in his later philosophical works.[5] After entering the philosophy department of Tokyo Imperial University, he became familiar with various Western ideas as part of the newly created Westernized educational system. Using this knowledge and endowed with literary talent, he wrote various novels, plays, and essays while at the university. Although there was an early sign of his unusual talent as writer, these had no academic merit. In his mid-twenties he produced his first papers of scholarly quality: Nietzsche Kenkyu [c] (Studies on Nietzsche) and Soren Kierkegaard [d].[6] These reveal a few important aspects of Watsuji's thought. First of all, they indicate that he was greatly influenced by Western minds. After all, he wrote about Western figures in his first academic works rather than about his Japanese or Oriental heritage. But secondly, these writings disclose Watsuji's lifelong concern: the creation of a dialogue between Western and Oriental cultures. In those days, the neo-Kantian influence was rampant in Japanese academic circles. Watsuji paid little attention to the rationalistic tendency of neo-Kantianism, but all the more to those existentialists who fought the mainstream of Western rationalism. This means that Watsuji's concern was with the inner meanings of human existence, with a Lebensphilosophie rather than with the logical argumentation of neo-Kantianism. In this inner meaning of human existence Watsuji tried to clarify the meaning of Japanese tradition. In fact he wrote of an inner rapport between Nietzsche and the Japanese mind: "I believe that authentic Japanese blood corresponds to Nietzsche."[7] Very few commentators have seen an inner connection between Watsuji's studies on existential thinkers and his later interest in the cultural history of his own heritage.[8] From 1916




on, however, Watsuji dealt specifically with his own cultural heritage and called for a revival in the traditional Japanese sensibility to man and to nature. As a deeply felt protest against the destruction of the traditional Japanese values which he wished to preserve, he wrote several books which seek the origin of this Japanese tradition: Guzo saiko [e] (Revival of' Idols) in 1918; Koji junrei [f] (Pilgrimage to ancient shrines) in 1919; Nihon kodai bunka [g] (Ancient Japanese culture) in 1920.[9] It is obvious that his main intention in writing these books is to defend the values of Japanese culture against the overpowering influence of Western civilization. Some paragraphs in Guzo Saiko reveal this fact.

After having made efforts for the last forty years, our nation finally achieved a modern civilization. This rapid growth, although it became a world wonder, does not necessarily prove its civilization to be superior.... If the political, military and economic development of contemporary Japan becomes a criterion to judge our superiority, then we would have to admit the powerful European nations, Great Britain, France, Germany as well as the U.S.A., are still far superior to Japanese culture by this criterion .... We don't have to be ashamed that our spiritual ancestor is in ancient India and China.... Now we have to develop our own identity with the help of various human understandings.... We feel that we need to grow ourselves in relation to the authentic European culture.[10]

This quotation indicates Watsuji's struggle in finding an adequate dialogue between European culture and Japanese tradition: on the one hand, he tries to criticize the overpowering character of Western materialism; on the other hand, he attempts to share European culture in its universal validity. In this regard he is not a fanatic cultural conservative.

    He became academically more sophisticated after his appointment as assistant professor of ethics at Kyoto Imperial University in 1925. In those days, Kyoto University enjoyed some freedom from Japanese bureaucracy, in contrast to Tokyo University. This freedom helped to create a good academic atmosphere, in which an original philosophical School called Kyoto Gakuha [h] could develop. This school explored Buddhist philosophy using Western terminology. It is from his Kyoto experience that Watsuji could write one of the most important academic works of his life: Ningen no gaku to shite no rinrigaku [i] (Ethics as the study of man).[11] He submitted another well-known academic work as a dissertation to Kyoto University, Genshi Bukkyo no jissen tetsugaku [j] (The practical philosophy of early Buddhism),[12] which has been placed as one of the classical texts for the study of Buddhism in Japan. In it Watsuji describes the notion of ku, emptiness, in relation to man's everyday existence, a notion which will be examined later in this article. Both books contain his notion of ethics, which emphasizes man's existence as relational: the existence of man to man, of man to family and of man to society, and its ontological foundation in ku, reveals the dynamic movement of negation.

    In 1927 he was sent to study in Germany. At that time he had occasion to




read Heidegger's Sein und Zeit and was deeply impressed with Heidegger's discussion of temporality and historicality. However, he saw in Heidegger a lack of development of the concept of spatiality and was convinced that this concept had to be developed more fully. Perhaps his best-known book, Fudo [k] (Climate) was written with this conviction.[13] Watsuji understands spatial geographical settings conditioned by climate as rinri [l], ethics, which creates various modes of people's sensitivity toward natural circumstances as well as human existence. As far as the title is concerned, Fudo is not a book on ethics. However, for Watsuji, the Japanese word rinri expresses simply spatial and geographical settings based on social and natural human existence, which are the main issues of his ethics. Ethics, in Watsuji's sense, is not a normative value judgment, but the mode of human existence in which various values emerge. This human existence is based on social and communal life with its sense of sincerity and trust. The Japanese attitude to man and nature reveals itself in this social and communal life. The recovery of the Japanese cultural meaning, therefore, is to realize this relational human existence in ethics. In this way he relates the Japanese tradition with his main academic achievement, ethics.

    Watsuji's life-long concern is with these themes: (1) retrieval of the significance of Japanese culture, and (2) revelation of the relational human existence in the sense of trust and sincerityethics.[14] Out of this former concern Watsuji wrote Koji junrei (Pilgrimage to ancient shrines), Nihon seishinshi kenkyu [m] (Studies on Japanese spiritual thought), Sonno shiso to sono dento [n]  (Thoughts on reverence for the Japanese emperor and its tradition) and Nihon rinri shiso shi [o] (History of Japanese ethical thought). Fudo (Climate) and Ningen no gaku to shite no rinrigaku (Ethics as the study of man) were written out of the concern with ethics.[15] As already pointed out, these two themes are interrelated in the sense that the meaning of Japanese culture can be understood within the relational character of human existence in the sense of sincerity and trust. Watsuji probes into the ontological foundation for these themes and understands its foundation in terms of the symbol of ku, emptiness. For the study of ethics and Japanese culture Watsuji begins to realize the importance of primitive Buddhism because its teaching is the very basis on which Japanese culture and mentality are based. This point is stated in the introduction of Ninhon Seishinshi Kenkyu:

As this study develops, I realize how deep Buddhist thought was rooted in Japanese spiritual life in those days [Kamakura era, 12-13 centuries] and came to the conclusion that the study cannot go on without a basic understanding of Buddhist thought. Therefore, I intended to understand how the Japanese accepted Chinese Buddhism and in what sense it became a new movement in the Kamakura period. But the understanding of Chinese Buddhism is not possible without an understanding of Indian Buddhism. Above all, I came to acknowledge that an understanding of the peculiarity of Buddhist thought in Japan and China is only possible with that of the historical development of primitive Buddhism.




Watsuji deeply felt the necessity of a thorough understanding of primitive Buddhism for the ethos of the Japanese mentality. In this concern he wrote The Practical Philosophy of Primitive Buddhism after the publication of Nihon Sheishinshi Kenkyu.



It is well-known that Heidegger inquires into the meaning of Western culture in relation to ontology, Being. Within the symbol of Being he tries to understand Western metaphysics. Watsuji follows a similar path of thinking. He made an effort to disclose various everyday modes of human existence within the symbol of ku. Unlike Heidegger, however, Watsuji does not explain clearly how the notion of ku relates itself to everyday modes of human existence.[17] Rather, he first describes various modes of human existence and then claims that the ontological foundation for these modes is ku. There is an ambiguity in his thought concerning the relationship between everyday existence and its ontology.

    What is the nature of human existence? This is a fundamental question for Watsuji because it inquires into the authenticity of being human. But how can we penetrate this question? One of the most influential approaches in Western civilization is given by Descartes. In attempting to find an answer to the question of what is the most certain, Descartes came to the conclusion that there is no way to deny the very existence of the doubting selfthe Cartesian ego. In this ego we get certainty because the existent appears in front of us as a representation which this ego projects. The existence is understood as objectivity of representation, and truth as certainty of representation. This means that knowledge about anything is known to conform to the process of representing self-consciousness. In short, knowledge can be understood within the domain of the subject-object relationship. It is in this self-consciousness that the nature of human existence has been examined in the tradition of Cartesian philosophy.

    Watsuji thinks that the essence of Western thinking can be characterized as the individual consciousness symbolized by the Cartesian ego. The individual consciousness is, according to him, problematic because it cannot claim the starting point of inquiry into the mode of human existence. In this regard he wants to show the problem of this Cartesian ego within the framework of traditional Japanese thinking.

    When a Japanese says "human" or "man," he uses two words: ningen [q], and hito [r]. How did the Japanese tradition understand these words? In responding to this question, Watsuji follows a hermeneutical approach in which the etymological origin of these words is examined. Ningen was originally a Buddhistic word and was placed in between chikusho-kai [s] (the place where bird, beasts, fishes worms and other creatures belong to the subhuman species) and tenjo-kai [t] (heaven). Within this Buddhistic world-view, he points out that




ningen can be understood as yono-naka [u]. (Yono-naka means "to be in the world.") Ningen consists of two Chinese characters, nin (or hito [v]) and gen (or aida [w]). (In general, there are two ways of pronouncing any Chinese character). Nin or hito signifies, as the Chinese character shows, two men who are supporting each other. Gen or aida, on the other hand, implies "between" or "among." Hence, Watsuji concludes that ningen means "men, who are supporting each other, exist in the world." This etymological analysis shows that the Japanese tradition never understands man as an individual existence but always as a relational existence.

    Watsuji's basic intention for this analysis is obvious. Human existence cannot be understood in terms of individual subjective consciousness; one must understand it in terms of relational existence. The mode of individual consciousness emerges from the relational aspects of contact between man and man, man and his family, man and society, and man and nature. He names this relationality aidagara. In aidagara man cannot be regarded as an individual nor as a mere social entity, but as the inevitably relational being who is related to man, nature, and the society to which he belongs. The significance of the Japanese culture, Watsuji argues, is due to the fact that man can never be understood as an individual entity, only in terms of relational existence. It is in this relationality that various modes of individual consciousness emerge in the world.

    One question remains. How can Watsuji be sure that the relationality of man (aidagara) is prior to the Cartesian ego? Isn't it true that the moment he points out the relational character of aidagara, he already presupposes the Cartesian ego as the basis of self-reflection through which the relational character reveals itself? In his thought the structure of inquiry can reveal the relational character of existence. Every inquiry has something which is asked about. When I ask what human existence is, in that question there emerges the primordial link between the question of human existence and the emergence of one mode of myself as the inquirer. The question of human existence emerges because of a specific mode of my consciousness. But, at the same time, the mode of my consciousness emerges only through the question of human existence. It is important to acknowledge that in the question my consciousness is ruled by the thing about which the question is asked. Hence, in the question, there is a relationship between the inquirer and the thing which is inquired into.[18] This relationship precisely indicates aidagara for Watsuji. The aidagara relation, hence, is prior to the Cartesian ego.

    What does this relatedness mean for the understanding of man? These significances are of two kinds. First, this relatedness indicates the denial of the priority of the self-certainty of the cogito. Second, it leads us to understand that the real ego (man) is constituted by the structure of the question itself. This ego can no longer claim to be the valid center of existence. [19]    

    In aidagara there exist various relationships such as you and I, he and I. In




this context, I am I and you are you, and yet, I am you and you are I. [20] Accordingly, aidagara is the practical understanding of the other as the subject. It is the mutual understanding which is the active relationship. If there is no aidagara, there is no I, you nor he.

In human practical and active relationship there first exists the unification between subject and object as aidagara. This unification is practically understood prior to each mode of human action. In aidagara it is already understood practically and actively. While separating itself into the other, it unites as aidagara. The separation can be understood only with its unification. Without the unity, there is no separation.[21]

    It is obvious that the aidagara relation discloses a "place" or human existence in which dialectical movement moves itself. For those who are familiar with Japanese philosophy, the notion of aidagara reminds them of the "pure experience" in Nishida, in the sense that both aidagara and pure experience are dialectically oriented themselves prior to the separation between subject and object. [22]

    One of the best explanations about the notion of aidagara can be found in Fudo. As pointed out, Watsuji was deeply influenced by Heidegger. Hence there is some similarity between his notion of Fudo and Dasein's ek-sistence in Heidegger's thought. In Being and Time Heidegger argues that our knowledge about ourselves and the world is a founded mode of ''Being-in-the-world'' which arises as a modification of "circumspective concern."[23] This founded mode of "Being-in-the-world" corresponds to the notion of Fudo. But, due to Watsuji's critical response to Heidegger's one-sided emphasis on historical and individual modes of human existence, Fudo is understood within a spatial and climatic mode of human existence.[24] Taking the example of a climatic phenomenon of cold, Watsuji asks a question: What is this cold that we feel? "Is it that air of a certain temperature, cold, that is, as physical object, which stimulates the sensory organs in our body so that we as psychological subjects experience it as a certain set mental state?"[25] If this is the case, we have to admit that the "cold" and "we" exist as separate and independent entities as if this "cold" presses upon us. But it is impossible, in existential reality, for us to feel "cold" from the independent existence of the cold. Rather, it is by feeling cold that we discover the cold. Does this mean that feeling cold is a matter of subjective conscious feeling? Watsuji answers "No." Neither objective nor subjective explanations of "feeling cold" can give a satisfactory answer because both explanations are based on the view of the usual distinction between subject and object, or between the cold and the I. This explanation of the phenomenon of the cold reminds us of the emergence of facticity from man's involvement with tools in Being and Time.[26] In this respect, we can understand a profound influence of Heidegger on Watsuji's thought.

    When we feel cold we are already in the coldness of the outside air. This "already" means that there is the inevitable relatedness between subject and




object and between the cold and subjective consciousness within which we exist in a Heideggerian sense. It is this climatic phenomenon that conditions various modes of human relationship. This inevitable relatedness in climatic phenomena indicates the aidagara relationship. Perhaps the uniqueness of Watsuji's philosophy is due to his attempt to explain modes of human existence, aidagara, in term of climatic phenomena. Fudo (climate) reveals itself as the place in which various modes of man's contact with nature, man, and society, as well as man's productive modes, are conditioned.[27] Further-more, he describes all culture as human-climatic activity. Because of this climatic influence on human activity, Watsuji claims that three main types of climatethe monsoon, desert and meadow zonescondition various characters of different cultures.[28]

    Ningen is not an individual entity but aidagara, a relational contact between man and nature, man and man, man and society. Individuality (self) is purely abstract and hence can be understood only in relation to others. Aidagara is dialectically oriented in relational existence between self and others. The realization of aidagara or human existence is due to the negation of self-   consciousness since the consciousness affirms itself in distinction to other objects, but at the same time, the negation of other objects is a way to realize aidagara, because the affirmation of objects conceals the relational character of self-consciousness with other objects. Here human existence can be understood within the dual structure in negation. Watsuji explains this negation in the following way.

Neither self nor other originally are themselves. Self and other appear as the result of the negation of negation. They are no longer united: Self is not other, but self itself; other is not self, but other itself. Yet, self and other originally are united so that they are related unparallelly. The 'unparallel' means the negation of self and other. Aidagara exists only because the union separates itself and at the same time 'unparallels' itself. Aidagara as the practical and active relationality is the relationship among union, separation and connection.[29]

Here Watsuji understands the foundation of aidagara in the movement of negation and symbolizes it as ku. It is obvious that in Watsuji's thought ku indicates the ontological foundation for human existence. He defines ku as "the movement of the negation of negation as returning to itself through the self-negation of the absolute negation."[30]

    For Watsuji the authentic structure of existence can be understood by aidagara. The foundation of the aidagara relation, Watsuji symbolizes, is ku in the sense that aidagara can realize itself through the negating process of existence. In this way Watsuji understands ku as the ontological foundation of the everydayness of human existence. However, some questions remain. What is the nature of ku? How can Watsuji understand ku as the ontological foundation? To explore these questions, let us focus on one book, The




Practical Philosophy of Primitive Buddhism, for it is in this book that Watsuji describes the notion of ku, the meaning of emptiness in relation to human existence.



It is acknowledged that Watsuji's thinking is a culmination of his effort to unify his deep understanding of both Western and Eastern philosophical and religious ideas. Heidegger's influence on his thought, in particular, is very evident. However, the very basis of his thinking, according to Itoh, comes from his association with Buddhism.[31] With regard to this association, Watsuji wrote The Practical Philosophy of Primitive Buddhism, one of his main academic writings, which has been regarded as one of the classical texts for the study of Buddhism in Japan. As already pointed out, in this book the notion of ku is described and is one of the central symbols in the teachings of primitive Buddhism. This notion indicates the ontological foundation, in the sense that it is seen as the very basis on which every dynamic human activity exists. To understand the meaning of ku, Watsuji first inquires into the meaning of the silence of Buddha.

    Buddha was asked some metaphysical questions concerning human reality: Are self and world unchanging or transient? Are self and world limited or unlimited? Are body and soul unified or different entities?[32] To these questions, Buddha remained silent. Watsuji wonders why Buddha did not answer these questions. Historically, people simply explained the reason of the silence in terms of an expression, "no-necessity of gedatsu [x]." [33] But this explanation, Watsuji argues, cannot provide a satisfactory understanding of Buddha's attitude toward human existence and the world. Hence, with a critical eye to the historical answer for the silence of Buddha, he studied several suutras concerning the story of the silence of Buddha from a hermeneutical approach, and concluded that this silence indicates a revolutionary approach toward human existence and reality in the history of Eastern thought.

    The meaning of silence can be understood if we study two influential systems of thought contemporary to that of Buddha, the orthodox Braahma^na and Rokushigedo [y].[34] The orthodox Braahma^na establishes the spiritual principle in the center of the notion of ga [z], self. On the other hand, Rokushigedo emphasizes the material principle of sensory materialism. It is obvious that these two schools are different in terms of their principles. However, if we examine their philosophies carefully, behind the difference lies a common metaphysical attitude toward reality. The common element is an attempt to substantiate the ideal with which to objectify the outside world. By taking either Self or World they unconsciously affirm the opposition between subject and object. In short, they substantiate the knowledge gained by ordinary experience in a metaphysical way. It is metaphysical because they ignore the existential situation of man and his World. [35] It is in contrast to the metaphy-




sical framework of these two schools of thought that we are able to understand the meaning of Buddha's silence.[36]

    It is clear that the silence of Buddha indicates a way of thinking which shows that one must adopt a nonmetaphysical approach toward human existence. Then what is the "nonmetaphysical approach" which discloses the real meaning of the silence? To this question, Watsuji introduces the notion of muga [aa], no-self, in contrast to keiga [ab], self.[37] As the expression indicates, the no-self of muga is a denial of keiga, a denial of the split between subject and object, and instead discloses the everyday experience of human existence as the relational existence prior to the split. In the Aagama Suutras we find a teaching about human existence in terms of mujo [ac] (transience), ku [ad] (suffering), and muga. [38] The teaching clearly implies the connection between muga and the everyday experience of human existence. Human existence is revealed in that the process of becoming through mujo, kit, and muga is held together. If one understands this togetherness of existence, there is no way for a self or a material entity to claim the principle of understanding this living process of our life. It is this muga which can reveal the meaning of the silence of Buddha in such a way that he would inevitably show the totality of the everyday life of human existence as it is in a nonverbal way. Here we learn that we cannot presuppose any principle with which to understand the meaning of human existence.[39] But how is it possible for muga to grasp and show the real situation of human existence? According to Watsuji, a teaching of early Buddhism, goun [ae], is able to answer this question. The early Buddhist used goun to express the dynamic life of human existence symbolically.[40]

    Historically, both muga and goun are called dharma. Watsuji, however, understands two different modes of dharma in muga and goun. Goun is the dharma for living existence, while muga is a higher mode of dharma to unify various modes of existence.[41] In other words, the dharma of goun expresses various modes of existence of the human world, while that of muga is the unifying activity which discloses existence as a whole. The idea of goun is to express existence as such. However, every existence exists temporally. Hence, goun also expresses the temporal character of existence. The best evidence that the early Buddhists knew of this temporality can be found in the well-known expression about goun: goun is transient; goun is suffering; goun is muga. The transience of goun means the changing character of every existence. However, these dharmas of goun are not themselves changing because goun is not an entity but is, instead, dharma, the expression of the law of the temporal character of existence. Muga means this law which unifies that temporal character. Zen Buddhism teaches us the meaning of muga in teaching the elimination of self: in order to see real human existence, we first have to get rid of our ego, our self. This elimination is an attempt by man to unify himself with his world so that everyday experience discloses itself as it really is.

    In general, whenever experience is discussed, modern man always under-




stands it in such a way that an objective entity first exists, and then the subject becomes conscious of it. This is the approach which keiga always takes. Muga, on the other hand, is the unifying activity which lets real existence reveal itself as existence. Yet the very fact that one already thinks and describes experience reveals self-conscious activity. There is no way for man to avoid this metaphysical approach except to negate various descriptions of experience. Therefore, the way toward the true recognition of our experience and existence is to negate the metaphysical approach, that is, to negate self-conscious activity. Muga is the movement to go forward, the negation of every attempt to affirm the separation between subject and object. This negation is the way to reach nehan [af], nirvaa^na. In this silence, there is no distinction between subject and object, theory and practice. Hence, Watsuji contends that this silence is the fundamental characteristic of early Buddhism, and at the same time the full realization of human existence.

    Watsuji understands early Buddhism as a movement for overcoming the problem of keiga. This self is the transsensory and transcendental subject which is able to know the outside world as opposed to the subject. In this respect, it is interesting to acknowledge that the Eastern tradition also acknowledges something like the Cartesian ego. Like the Cartesian ego this self clearly shows the metaphysical character of separating subject from object. Hence, it is not existential but abstract. Early Buddhism, on the other hand, does not take this metaphysical approach, but affirms the law of dharma as the way of realizing the true nature of human existence. It furthermore claims that there is no transcendental subject in the cognition of the World.[42] One question remains. We understand the meaning of the silence of Buddha in relation to the notion of muga and goun. But in what sense can we understand the relationship between ku and the silence of Buddha? Or, rather, in what sense does ku reveal itself in the notion of muga? To this question an understanding of Naagaarjuna becomes of decisive importance because it is he who deeply influences the thought of Watsuji concerning the notion of ku.

    Watsuji understands ku as the foundation of the interplay (interdependence) of subject and object in which muga resides. And the silence of Buddha symbolically expresses the dynamic interplay between subject and object. However, the designation of that as ku originally derives from the philosophy of Naagaarjuna. The notion of ku means emptiness and negation in a literal sense. It is through this notion that Naagaarjuna understands the interdependence of human existence. This interdependence is not static since human existence also means living. "Living" means "changing." In life, man always regenerates himself. This regeneration is a key to understanding the notion of emptiness. To regenerate means to move from one mode to another. To move from one mode, there has to be an empty spot into which we are able to move. Life always reveals emptiness in that it is possible for it to change itself. If there is no emptiness in the essence of life, there is no way to live and to




change. Mind is the stream of consciousness which is changing. This mind sometimes discloses itself as a mode of affection. It sometimes changes its mode into the mode of anger. To change its mode, the mode of affection has to disappear from the mind. This disappearance clearly indicates emptiness. This emptiness is ku. Ku is the foundation for establishing a thing by means of. changing. Ku, therefore, is the foundation of existence. Hence, man cannot posses ku but resides in it. Thus the notion of ku signifies the meaning of emptiness in human existence.

    Ku also reveals the negating activity in itself. In the moment we describe the totality of human existence, that description becomes the affirmation of keiga (self-consciousness). Hence, Naagaarjuna describes ku in terms of "how various forms are not able to show the experience" rather than "how they are able to show it.''[43] That is why Naagaarjuna's well-known doctrine of interdependent causation indicates total negation. This total negation is symbolized by ku, which is the fundamental foundation for existence. Watsuji shares Naagaarjuna's concern in this respect and stresses the absolute negation of the subject in the symbolism of ku.

By the very reason to negate the totality, the individual is essentially the totality. This negation is the self-consciousness of the totality. Accordingly, as soon as the individual realizes itself in negation, a way is opened to realize the totality through its negation of the individual.... That man's existence is essentially the movement of negation means the origin of man's existence as the negation itself, that is, as absolute negativity. Both the individual and the totality in truth are ku which is the absolute totality.[44]

As his quotation indicates: ku is the essence for the existence of individuality as well as totality. The notion of ku shares this characteristic with Being: Being is the total horizon for existence as well as the basis for individual entities. Yet, unlike Being, ku signifies the negating power to express that existence. If we understand this movement, we cannot affirm or negate things, because truth resides only in absolute interdependent causation. Since things exist interdependently and relatively to each other, the notion of the appearance of a thing-in-itself is denied.[45] Since there is no such thing as the appearance of a thing-in-itself, a thing does not exist. Through this negating process the absolute interdependent causation, ku, reveals itself.

If the totality, as aforementioned, is the negation of differentiation, the absolute totality, which is beyond the limited-relative totality, is the negation of the absolute differentiation. Because of absoluteness, the absolute totality is the non-differentiation which negates even the difference between the differentiation and the non-differentiation. Accordingly, the absolute totality is the absolute negation and the absolute-ku. The absolute-ku is the infinitude that has originated in the ground of the totality of every finitude.[46]

    The mode of existence is always changing. Hence if someone takes keiga to affirm a static mode of existence, that mode conceals the changing mode of existence. In fact, he who takes this mode will never reside in ku. Accordingly,




he has to let himself negate his attachment to things and his world so that the negation makes him open himself to entering into the horizon of ku. This negation of keiga is muga, no-self. Since keiga is the affirmation of man's egoistic desire, the realization of ku is at the same time the negation of the egoistic desire. In this respect, as Mizuno points out, ku is muga.[47] We now realize two important characteristics of ku: emptiness and negation. Because of these two, Watsuji always refers to one expression: "ku go ku zuru [ag]" which means "ku (the Emptiness) is ku-'izing' (negating itself)" To be sure, this negation and emptiness should not be understood in distinction from affirmation and Being. As has already been explained, emptiness, ku realizes itself only when some things, being, or man exist. This means that the emptiness of ku is at the same time the affirmation of beings. In Hannya Shingyo [ah], the well-known expression, shiki soku ze ku, ku soku ze shiki [ai] reveals the identical meaning of emptiness and affirmation.[48] A well-known Japanese philosopher, Keiji Nishitani, also affirms this complete identification between emptiness and affirmation, ku and Being in the following way:

Ku actualizes itself when it negates [kuzuru [aj]] the attitude that one represents ku as a thing. This process means the self-realization of ku with Being, or of the identity between ku and Being, rather than the idea that ku exists outside of Being or ku is different from Being.[49]

This complete identification is a unique philosophy which the Western tradition, perhaps, has never experienced. It is true that Hegel, in a sense, understands the identification of "non-Being" and "Being" dialectically in the moment of an historical event. But that identification is the manifestation of the absolute Geist which is Being or affirmation. That is to say, that any negation and non-Being always has been understood within the revelation of the affirmative Being. Nishitani symbolizes this complete identification in terms of so, place, in which both non-Being and Being, ku and aidagara are completely one. It is in this complete identification that Watsuji understands two opposite movements in ku. On the one hand, ku reveals itself in the phenomenal world, that is, as the aidagara relation. This aidagara refers, as already pointed out, to the relational structure of human existence. Yet, in describing modes of aidagara, we represent our consciousness of those modes as entities or objects. Rather, without the chasm between subject and object, we cannot represent modes of human existence, because representation means that it represents itself with others and returns the other to itself. We face a paradoxical situation: while the aidagara relation cannot be treated as an object, our understanding of it as representation already presupposes something as an object through which its relationality emerges. The dynamic force of this paradoxical movement is ku because the movement is due to the emptiness of ku. Ku, on the other hand, realizes itself through the perennial negation of itself(emptiness). In pointing this out, ku becomes an idea which




covers up the emptiness of ku. Ku again has to negate the idea of what ku tries to realize. In this way, ku has to express itself only through the absolute negating process. It is in this absolute negating process that we are able to understand the following assertion about ku: "the absolute totality is the non-differentiation which negates even the difference between the differentiation and the non-differentiation."[50] Hardly anyone can understand the meaning of negating "the difference between the differentiation and non-differentiation'' unless we grasp this perennial negating process in ku.

    Watsuji explains the meaning of human existence within the absolute negating process of ku. He understands this absolute negating process as the fundamental character of primitive Buddhism. Indeed, this absolute negation is the fundamental principle of human existence as exemplified in the silence of Buddha. With this negating process Watsuji explains social organizations. A specific mode of human existence arises only when human existence negates itself. That is to say, various modes of human existence appear in such social institutions as family, relatives, community, economic organizations, and nation in a dialectically negating moment. Hence, every social institution has a self-negating moment in itself. A formation of relatives can realized in a self-negation of family. In this way this negating process reaches its apex at the moment of the formation of a nation. Watsuji believes that the formation of a nation can be achieved at the moment when every self-identity of social organizations has been absolutely negated (or sublimated.) In this respect, for Watsuji, the nation is organically the most obvious locus where the authenticity of human existence can be realized, for the nation is the culmination of the self-negating process of ku. It is within this understanding of nation that Watsuji appreciates the meaning of the Imperial House as a symbolic form of authentic human existence.



The reader may well feel that Watsuji's thinking is highly nationalistic in the sense that he regards nation as the culmination of human existence. This feeling may be justified: Watsuji certainly defends Japanese culture as well as the system of the Japanese emperor. It is not surprising that some thinkers criticize him as a reactionary. Marxist thinkers, in particular, emphasize his reactionary aspect. Contending that the only authentic thinking is science as revealed in the Marxian dialectics, Jun Tosaka, for instance, asserts not only that Watsuji's thinking cannot provide an objective factual description of human existence and the normative power to improve the human condition, but also that his whole thinking is imperialistic, reactionary, and anti-cultural.

    Whether or not this criticism is valid has to be determined by careful comparative study of the two thinkers. It may seem that Watsuji overemphasizes the meaning of human existence within Japanese tradition. This does not mean, however, that his thought is meaningless. In Japan, modern




Western civilization has had a tremendous influence on the total lifestyle of the Japanese people. In education, every Japanese child has to undergo the modern Western-style of education: social science, history, mathematics, geography, natural science, and even modern Western music. It is, of course, very important for us to be acquainted with different cultures and subjects, as long as we are aware of the meaning of our own traditional and cultural heritage. However, modernization in Japan has often developed at the expense of our own highest values. Because of this, modern Japan has adopted all kinds of Western ideas which have altered much of Japanese life. As a result, the Japanese has lost a sense of direction except for the direction which results in the creation of a purely technological society. There is a general sense of loss. Many Japanese ask themselves questions: Who are we? What does it mean to be Japanese? What is a meaningful life in a technological society? Watsuji's thought becomes significant in response to these questions.

    Watsuji made an effort to recover the primordial meaning of the Japanese tradition which has been destroyed in the name of modernization. This effort culminates in one of his books, The Recovery of the Meaning of Idols, in which he critically describes the danger of a modernization for the survival of Japan's most authentic and cultural heritage, as it affects human existence in a rapidly changing society.






1.    Both Ito and Fukuzawa were influential in introducing Western political philosophy to Japan. While Hirobumi Ito was active in the political arena, Yukichi Fukuzawa was engaged in education.

2.    One of the severest criticisms comes from Jun Tosaka, well-known as a defender of Marxism. His lifework has been focused on criticizing idealistic philosophers from the perspective of Marxist philosophy. See Jun Tosaka, "Dr. Watsuji, Climate and Japan," Tosaka Collected Papers, vol. 5 (Tokyo: Koso sha, 1967), 5:95-102.

3.    It seems that only three persons so far have presented Watsuji's thought in English: (1) Gino K. Piovesana, Recent Japanese Philosophical Thought (Tokyo: Enderle Bookstore, 1963), (2) Robert N. Bellah, "Japan's Cultural Identity: Some Reflections on the Work of Watsuji Tetsuro," Journal of Asian Studies 24, no. 4 (August, 1965): 573-594, and (3) David Dilworth, "Watsuji Tetsuro: Cultural Phenomenologist and Ethician" Philosophy East and West, (January, 1974): 3-22. All of them characterize Watsuji as a man who puts great emphasis on the meaning of Japanese culture.

4.    Tetsuro Watsuji, "Report on the First Journey," an unpublished paper written in 1905 when he was sixteen years old. Soseki Natsume, a Japanese novelist, is another figure who influenced Watsuji's thought in later years. David Dilworth explains this influence in his article.

5.    Michi can be translated as "way" in a literal sense, but the notion signifies more than that. Confucius and Meng-tzu taught the meaning of michi as the ethical principle of human existence. It indicates the authentic way of human living.

6.    Tetsuro Watsuji, Nietzsche Kenkyu (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1913); Zenshu, vol. 1. Soren Kierkegaard(Tokyo, Iwanami, 1915); Zenshu, vol. 1.

7.    From Watsuji's diary.




8.    Yuasa suggested some connection between them. See Watsuji Tetsuro, ed. Yasuo Yuasa (Tokyo: San ichi shobo, 1973), pp. 349-350.

9.    Tetsuro Watsuji, Guzo Saiko (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1918), Zenshu, vol. 17. Nihon kodai bunka (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1920), Zenshu vol. 3.

10.    Guzo Saiko, Zenshu, vol. 17, pp.270-272.

11.     Tetsuro Watsuji, Ningen no gaku to shite no rinrigaku (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1934), Zenshu, vol. 9.

12.     Tetsuro Watsuji, Genshi Bukkyo no jissen tetsugaku (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1927), Zenshu, vol. 5.

13.     Tetsuro Watsuji, Fudo (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1935) Zenshu, vol. 8. Fudo has been translated into English by Geoffrey Bownas. See Climate, trans. G. Bownas (Tokyo: Japanese Printing Bureau. 1962).

14.     Takeshi Umehara exposits these two themes in his critique on Japanese culture. See his "Cases of Daisetsu Suzuki and Tetsuro Watsuji" in Discovery of Beauty and Religion (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo, 1967).

15.     Tetsuro Watsuji, Koji junrei (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1919), Zenshu, vol. 2.; Nihon seishinshi kenkyu (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1926), Zenshu, vol. 4.; Sonno shiso to sono dento (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1943), Zenshu, vol. 14., and Nihon rinri shiso shi (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1952), Zenshu, vols. 12 and 13.

16.    Watsuji, Nihon seishinshi kenkyu, pp. 270-272.

17.    Those who are familiar with Heidegger's thought may agree that his main struggle in Being and Time is to explicate the inevitable relatedness between the ontic aspects of everyday existence and its ontological foundation-ontic-ontological.

18.     Watsuji, Ningen no gaku to shite no rinrigaku, pp. 130-136.

19.     Watsuji believes that Descartes' inquiry reveals the inevitable relatedness between human consciousness and his world. To contrast ego with object, Descartes' basic mode of inquiry puts him into solitude. He then asks which is more certain of itself. If the ego is the only thing certain of itself and if the other exists only through the ego's judgment, then there is no such thing as doubt in the world. The doubt clearly indicates the inevitable relatedness between Descartes' ego and the world.

20.    The notion of holistic relationship can be understood in relation to the dynamic movement of ku which will be examined in this article.

21.     Watsuji, Ningen no gaku to shite no rinrigaku, p.190.

22.    It is interesting to note that recent phenomenologists in the West characterize the meaning of horizon of intersubjectivity as similar to the notion of aidagara.

23.    Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), pp. 95-102.

24.    In Fudo, Watsuji criticizes Heidegger's notion of Dasein because the notion is explained in an individual and historical mode mode. This criticism can be found also in such Western thinkers as Buber and Sartre. I am not sure whether this criticism can be justified. In Being and Time, mitsein is one of the most important notions through which man's relationship with outside objects as well as his fellowmen can be understood. It is true that Heidegger describes individual man in relation to the notion of death. But the realization of individuality is, at the same time, that of social existence. In this respect, we cannot simply criticize the individual mode as such.

25.     Watsuji, Climate, trans. G. Bownas. p. 2.

26.     Heidegger, Being and Time pp. 95-99.

27.    This point is clarified by Zenya Takashima. See "For a Development of Fudo Theory," in Hitotsubashi Shinbun, January-June, 1966.

28.     According to Watsuji, the monsoon climate determines a passive-receptive form of culture which symbolizes the main character of Oriental culture. African and Muslim cultures are typical of the desert zone and are characterized by a combative spirit. Europe, on the other hand, represents the pastoral zone. Regional spirit and desire for conquest grow in this climate. The validity of this classification may be questioned; the classification itself is due to Watsuji's impressionistic approach toward the human condition.

29.     Watsuji, Ningen no gaku to shite no rinrigaku, p.213.

30.     Watsuji, Rinrigaku,jo (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1937), Zenshu, vol. 10, p.124.




31.     Compare Yoichi Itoh, "A Thesis for the Understanding of the Buddhistic Philosophy of the Principle of Watsuji's Rinri," Rinrigaku nenpo, No. 7 (1958) 174-84.

32.    These questions can be found in the Aagama Suutras, (or in Agon keiten). The Aagama suutras are the suutras of primitive Buddhism. They have been regarded as the suutras which contain a number of actual sayings of Buddha.

33.     Gedatsu means freedom from the bonds of illusion and suffering in the world, vimukti According to Watsuji, H. Oldenberg is responsible for this historical answer.

34.     Watsuji, Genshi Bukkyo no jissen tetsugaku (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1927), pp. 99- 102.

35.    Ibid., pp. 102-106.

36.    Notice that Watsuji's way of inquiring into these thoughts indicates an attempt similar to Heidegger's response to the metaphysical tradition of the West. Both Watsuji and Heidegger try to destroy the metaphysical traditions, in order to reveal the meaning of the foundation of human existence. However, it should be noticed that The Practical Philosophy of Primitive Buddhism was written prior to Watsuji s association with Heidegger. The similar approach, it seems, is due to their commitment to hermeneutics.

37.    Muga, one of the essential ideas of Buddhism, means nonself, which is called anatta in Paali and anaatman in Sanskrit. Keiga, on the other hand, is the position of taking self as the principle of the understanding of existence. It is called atta. Ga indicates keiga.

38.    This ku is different from ku. Ku means suffering.

39.    This insight has been known in the West through the Zen Buddhist notion of kensho [ak], presented to the West by Daisetsu Suzuki.

40.    Goun, pa~nca skandah in Sanskrit, means all physical, mental, and other elements of this phenomenal world, which are classified into five kinds of aggregates in Buddhist philosophy: (1) shiki [al] (ruupa). a generic term for all forms of matter: (2) ju [am], (vedanaa), perception; (3) so [an], (sa^mj~naa), mental conception and ideas; (4) gyo [ao], (sa^mskaara), volition; (5) shiki [ap] , (vij~naana), consciousness of mind.

41.    The Japanese translate dharma as ho [aq], which means, etymologically, something that always maintains a certain character and becomes a standard of things. From this meaning, dharma becomes law, truth, the universal norms or laws which govern human existence.

42.    Notice again how similar this concern is to the attitude Heidegger took in Being and Time. At the very beginning of that book, Heidegger pointed out that the question of Being has today been forgotten. With this claim he laid out several traditional understandings of Being, one of which is Being as transcendents. He reminds us, however, of the fact that the understanding of Being as transcendents is due to the representation of man's experience with Being and that, therefore, the meaning of Being is still veiled in darkness. For Heidegger, the only way to understand Being is for us to return to our everyday life existence. Here Watsuji's understanding of Buddha would agree with Heidegger's emphasis on the everyday life experience.

43.    Susumu Yamaguchi, "Development of Mahayana Buddhist Beliefs" in Path of the Buddha, ed. Kenneth W. Morgan (New York: Ronald Press, 1956), p.162.

44.     Watsuji, Ningen no gaku to shite no rinrigaku, p. 26.

45.     Yamaguchi, "Development of Mahayana Buddhist Beliefs" p.62.

46.     Watsuji, Ningen no gaku to shite no rinrigaku, p.105.

47.    Kogen Mizuno, Basic Knowledge of Buddhism (Tokyo: Shunju sha, 1971).

48.    Hannya Shingyo is the Japanese translation of Sanskrit, Praj~naa-paaramitaa-h.rdaya suutra. This suutra, which became one of the most important suutras for Mahaayaana Buddhism, describes the practical philosophy of a Bodhisattva. It contains a famous expression, Shiki soku ze ku. Ku soku ze shiki which means: every phenomenon is ku and at the same time, ku is every phenomenon. This implies that there does not exist the eternal, unchanging entity as such in the world, but ku.

49.    Keiji Nishitani, What is Religion?(Tokyo: Sobu sha, 1961), p.110.

50.     Watsuji, Ningen no gaku to shite no rinrigaku, p.105.


a. d. Кリя⑦•ワラюンヶレю
b. e. 偶像再興
c. ЯユХラ研究 f 古寺巡禮




g. 日本古代文 z.
h. 京都學報 aa. 無我
i. 人間ソ學シウサソ倫理學 ab. 計我
j. 原始佛教ソ實踐哲學 ac. 無常
k. 風土 ad.
l. 倫理 ae. 五蘊
m. 日本精神史研究 af. 涅槃
n. 尊皇思想シガソ傳統 ag. 空ゎ空ォペ
o. 日本倫理思想中 ah. 般若心經
p. 間柄 ai. 色即是空,空即是色
q. 人間 aj. 空ォペ
r. ak. 見性
s. 畜生界 al.
t. 天上界 am.
u. 世ソ史 an.
v. ao.
w. ap.
x. 解脫 aq.
y. 六師外道