It would be difficult to name any world religious or cultural figure of the twentieth century who did more to transform modern civilization than Zen Buddhist scholar Daisetsu Teitaro (D. T.) Suzuki (1870–1966). While we might look to such luminaries as the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, or Mother Teresa and note the profound changes their lives brought to postwar global consciousness, the influence they exercised was of a different species than Suzuki’s. D. T. Suzuki did not just hold up a “spiritual” mirror to the modern West to reveal its moral contradictions, nor did he engage in activism of any kind. He was, rather, in his unofficial capacity as Zen’s “apostle to the West,” a spirit-minded scholar who consciously wove his life’s work into the fabric of history, helping a modern global society reconsider its assumptions, aspirations, and mode of operating. As a mentor to such international culture producers as Carl Jung, Alan Watts, Thomas Merton, Allen Ginsberg, Martin Heidegger, John Cage, and Gary Snyder—to name but a few—Suzuki worked effectively across cultural, social, and generational boundaries to help articulate a new historical consciousness whose full effects have yet to be realized. While he may not have occupied as strong a position in the hearts and minds of the masses as other modern spiritual leaders, Suzuki was indeed unique in his contributions to the world’s religious culture.
1. One of the most common listings of the precepts of Noble Eightfold Path is as follows: Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration. The last of these, Right Concentration, points specifically to the necessity for dhyana, or meditation. See Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught (New York: Grove Press, 1959), 45.