The Logic of Unity:
The Discovery of Zero and Emptiness in Prajnnaapaaramitaa Thought,
By Hosaku Matsuo

Reviewed by Richard Pilgrim

Philosophy East & West
V. 39 No. 1 (January 1989)
pp. 357-359

Copyright 1989 by University of Hawaii Press


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This book is a translation of all but two sections of the book Ichi no ronri, published in Japan in 1981 (Tokyo: Hokuju Shuppan Co., Ltd). It represents the life work of the late physician and advocational Buddhist philosopher Hosaku Matsuo (1901-1985).  The book moves somewhat unsystematically from an explicit concern for the nature of philosophy and comparative philosophy in the context of Eastern (Buddhist) and Western (metaphysics, especially Kant) dialogue (Preface and chapter 1), through an exposition of the author's own "methodology of comparative philosophy" grounded in a Buddhist "logic of unity" (chapters 1 and 2), to an analysis of the philosophic implications of the Heart Sutra (chapter 4). Throughout this process two subthemes are clearly heard, if not convincingly argued: (1) Buddhist thought and realization can and should be the basis not only of a global comparative philosophy, but also of a contemporary educational system in Japan, and the sciences and social sciences more generally. (2) A useful and more contemporary, convincing, and universal analogy for understanding Buddhism may well be mathematics (for example, zero as emptiness; confer the book's subtitle).

This book may well be as provocative and important as it is frustrating to read, but I fear this reader is not convinced. Others more attuned to the dialogue between Western metaphysics and Buddhist thought might well feel differently, but -- as the translator suggests might happen -- I confess to "some annoyance, uneasiness, and even puzzlement," and I do not believe that it is because of any "built-in bias against an alien thought" (p. xv). While none of us is free of built-in biases, I believe my puzzlement arises from other sources, outlined below.  In the meantime, there is an insight and exposition operative here, and perhaps it

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can be articulated as follows: In and with the (Buddhist) "realization of the mind-base" is also the realization of prajnnaa ("wisdom"), pratiitya-samutpaada ("interrelational origination"), and `suunyataa ("emptiness'') as constituting a "logic of (dialectical) unity" which should form an authentic, true, and universal basis for human knowledge. Specifically, this is claimed as the only correct basis for comparative philosophy, for education, and -- indeed -- for human life generally in a globe-threatened era.  As such, the book is an apologetic for Buddhism, especially the Buddhism of text and philosophy. On the other hand. it is a critique of Western metaphysics to the point that "the need to philosophize in the Kantian sense thereby has been rendered redundant" (p. 28).

This much of the message is clear because it is often repeated in an overlapping series of reworkings -- sometimes using mathematical and Kantian categories as analogous, sometimes using diagrams, and sometimes speaking Buddhistically. In the meantime, puzzlement arises at almost every turn in the exposition until obfuscation sets in, relieved, for this reader, only when we get to chapter 4 and the Heart Sutra.  That is, ironically, when the Western categories, the mathematical analogies. and the comparative philosophy are most muted.

Wherein lies the puzzlement? Let me count the ways.

1. Perhaps most obvious is the generally unsystematic and academically undisciplined style of presentation. However valid the reasons given for this by the translator (p. xv), it remains a fact that the book (that is, the arguments and argumentation offered) is a set of relatively distinct essays making relatively unsupported repetitive claims backed up by incomplete, unsystematic arguments in an apologetic (even moral) tone and an aphoristic style.

2. Less obvious but nonetheless puzzling is the too easy translation of Buddhist notions into Western categories. While the Buddhist presuppositions become increasingly clear as the book goes on. the reader is thrown off in the first half of the book by Western categories (for example, intuitive unconscious, synthetic judgment, logic and logic of unity, and so forth) being made to carry only implied or vaguely articulated Buddhist ideas. The author presumes too much and discourages one from seeing the Western categories as helpful.

3. Less puzzling than it is worrisome, I have reservations about seeming to begin and end in Buddhism as a philosophy, as a set of ideas, claims, and views. Buddhism itself has long worried about this, too. but Matsuo seems to have few reservations. The religion and religious discourse of Buddhism are granted, but philosophical discourse and understanding clearly dominate. Obfuscated, here. is the radically existential/ experiential character of true realization (that is, emptiness per se). Matsuo compounds the problem by unfortunately stressing the enlightenment position as a transcendent third or "synthesis'' of is/is not or being/nonbeing. rather than the less philosophically comfortable middle way between is/is not, being/nonbeing. The "logic of (dialectical) unity" may attempt to circumvent the problem. but the author's language and diagrams mitigate against it.

4. Finally. puzzlement might have been relieved somewhat had we been able to read chapter 5 and the Appendix -- the excised sections. If this philosopher is truly

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worth hearing. then he is worth hearing out. If, for example, the Appendix on "Democracy and the Japanese Constitution" is "both provocative and illuminating" as the translator suggests (p. xi), and could help us see the theory in application, then whether or not it is addressed to only a local audience should not matter.

These puzzlements are only underscored by numerous typos and punctuation mistakes (for example, pp. ix, xii, 5, 6, 10, 58, and so on), as well as the unrelenting sexist language. Neither of these latter problems is in keeping with the current canons of academic publishing. If, for example, the original Japanese language seemed to demand gender-specific language. then some explanation would have been useful.  Otherwise, we are led to believe that the problem is in the translation.  Other issues of translation seem much less problematic. One does wonder why sandai is "three greatnesses" in some places (for example, pp. 129 and 142), but "three perspectives" elsewhere (for example, pp. 20, 26, and 52). The close reader can only be pleased, however, that the glossary of important terms, complete with the Japanese characters, is provided.