Friday, August 24, 2012

Zen-Nazism? Gershom Schloem Writing About "Zen In The Art of Archery"

I recently rediscovered on my bookshelf, the classic "Zen in the art of archery" by Eugen Herrigel. Though I've never been mystically inclined myself, there was a brief period of time where I enjoyed reading such books and remember them quite fondly.

 As I was re-skimming my way through the book, I had a dim memory of reading a response to the book by  Gershom Schloem in his collections. Thankfully the Internet has relieved us all of the burden of memory, and within seconds of Googling I was able to retrieve the article. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover I was not going to have to sit and translate it for the blog as the original was in English and not in the Hebrew I had previously read.

This short letter by Gersom Schloem was written in 1961 and published in "Encounter".Make sure you read it through to its amusing finish:

With reference to the article by Arthur Koestlcr, "A Stink of Zen," in your October issue, I think I ought to make a remark illustrating his point concerning the amoralism of Zen teaching. Kocstler goes in for a lengthy criticism of Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the art of archery and some other texts by Zen adherents. About one he says that what he quoted could "come from a philosophically-minded Nazi journalist." It has obviously escaped Koestler’s attention that Eugen Herrigel, who wrote this widely-discussed treatise, had in fact become a member of the Nazi Party after his return from Japan and having obtained whatever Zen illumination he might have got there. This fact has been carefully hushed up by the circle of his admirers after the war and it is thus small wonder that Koestler did not hear about it. Herrigel joined the Nazi Party after the outbreak of the war and some of his former friends in Frankfurt, who broke with him over this issue, told me about his career as a convinced Nazi, when I enquired about him in 1946. He was known to have stuck it out to the bitter end. This was not mentioned in some biographical notes on Herrigel published by his widow, who built up his image as one concerned with the higher spiritual sphere only. Herrigel’s case is an excellent illustration of what happened to many high-minded German intellectuals.
On the other hand, when in 1954 I asked Dr.Suzuki Point-blank whether someone who had passed through a true Zen experience could have become a Nazi, he flatly denied this possibility. At the same time, however, he also denied having known any Westerner who--in his opinion--had achieved true Zen illumination or satori. This left me not a little baffled--which of course may be just the right state of mind for a student of Zen, or for that matter, for any student of the history of mysticism in general.
The Hebrew University,

No comments: