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Barth and Buddhism in the theology of Katsume Takizawa

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 March 2011

John Parratt*
Oakwood, Longtown, Carlisle, Cumbria CA6 5SZ,


Katsume Takizawa (1909–1984) was one of the most innovative of twentieth-century Japanese philosophical theologians. His study with Barth (1935) led him to attempt to bring together aspects of Barth's theology with concepts derived from Jodo-shin and Zen. He found in both religions a basic relationship between God and man which transcended both identity and distinction, which he expressed in Nishida's concept of the self-identity of the absolute contradiction. This relationship he called ‘Emmanuel 1’. The fulfilment of the relationship is ‘Emmanuel 2’ and is reflected for Christians in Jesus.

Research Article
Copyright © Scottish Journal of Theology Ltd 2011

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1 Barth, K., ‘No Boring Theology: A Letter from Karl Barth’, North East Journal of Theology 2 (1969), p. 5Google Scholar. This half-volume was dedicated to Barth, who had died a year before its publication. Given the extent of Barth's influence in Japan it is surprising that the editor (K. Koyama, himself Japanese) seemed unaware of any Barthians among East Asian theologians at the time.

2 Odagaki, Masaya, ‘Theology after 1970’, in Furuya, Yasua (ed.), A History of Japanese Theology (Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1997), p. 113Google Scholar. Kitamori, the first Japanese theologian to have an impact on the West, on the other hand, had begun to challenge Barth's influence as early as 1947: see my ‘Kitamori's Theology of the Pain of Pain of God Revisited’, in Becker, D. and Feldtkeller, A. (eds), Mit dem Fremden Leben, vol. 2 (Erlangen: Erlangen Verlag, 2000), p. 147Google Scholar.

3 Toshi Sato, ‘The Second Generation’, in Furuya, History of Japanese Theology, pp. 53, 56.

4 ‘Theology after 1970’, p. 117.

5 Although Takizawa had never studied under Nishida he sought his advice. Nishida (a Zen master) advised him to study theology since ‘there is something required for truth, that is God’.

6 Takizawa, K., Reflexionen über die universale Grundlage von Buddhismus und Christentum, ed. Hamer, H. (Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 1980)Google Scholar; Takizawa, , Das Heil im Heute: Texte einer japanischen Theologie, ed. Sundermeier, Theo (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1987)Google Scholar. For a recent preliminary assessment of Takizawa's relationship with Barth see Hennecke, Susanne, ‘Speaking in Many Voices about the One God’, in McCormack, B. and Neven, G. (eds), The Reality of Faith in Theology (Berne and Oxford: Lang, 2008), pp. 141–62Google Scholar.

7 ‘Praesentische Theologie: Der Beitrag K. Takizawa's in interkulturellen Gespraech’, in Takizawa, Das Heil, p. 11.

8 As Sundermeier puts it, Takizawa wanted to relate the Christian thought which he encountered from Barth to the Japanese Buddhism which remained very important for him: ‘Vorwort’, in Das Heil, p. 7.

9 I adopt Conze's rendering ‘initial vow’ in his trans. of the Diamond Sutra (Conze, E., Buddhist Scriptures, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984, p. 164Google Scholar). Takizawa's terminology might better be translated as ‘original vow’.

10 ‘Religions of Japan’, in Bleeker, C. and Widengren, G. (eds), Historia Religionum, vol. 2 (Leiden: Brill, 1971), p. 525Google Scholar.

11 The term derives from the Sanskrit dhyana meaning meditation, through the Chinese ch'an. Zen expanded in Japan around the eleventh century, but its appeal was more to the military classes and the educated.

12 A good illustration of this concept is the following stanzas from On Believing in Mind by the Chinese Ch'an (Zen) master Seng-Ts'an (trans. in Conze, Buddhist Scriptures, p. 172): ‘Abide not with dualism, / Carefully avoid pursuing; / As soon as you have right and wrong, / Confusion ensues and Mind is lost. // The object is an object for the subject, / The subject is a subject for the object; / Know the relativity of the two / Rests ultimately on one emptiness.’

13 Takizawa, Reflexionen, pp. 46–65; see also ‘Religion als Sache der Gegenwart’, pp. 28–39 in the same volume, and ‘Rechtfertigung im Buddhismus und im Christentum’, in Das Heil, pp.181–96, where the issue is also discussed. In his book publ. in Japanese in 1964, Buddhism and Christianity, he had already explored the relationship between the two religions. In response to Hisamatsu's defence of Buddhism as atheism, Takizawa argued that there is a deep structural similarity in the ontology of human nature in Buddhism and Christianity. See Kenzo Tagawa, ‘The Yagi–Takizawa Debate’, North East Asia Journal of Theology (1969), pp. 41–60.

14 Takizawa, Reflexionen, p. 49.

15 Ibid., p. 56.

16 Ibid., p. 29; he returns to this argument in ‘Jodo-Shin-Buddhismus verglichen mit dem Christentum’, pp. 66–110 in the same volume.

17 See esp. ‘Der Überwindung des Modernismus: Kitaro Nishidas Philosophie und die Theologies Karl Barths’, ibid., pp. 127–71.

18 In Takizawa's German: ‘Für ewig gescheiden, / Jedoch keinen Augenblick getrennt; / Den ganzen Tag zusammen, / Doch keinen Augenblick in eins; / Dieser Logos wohnt in jedem Mensch.’

19 Takizawa, Reflexionen, pp. 144–6.

20 Ibid., p. 160.

21 Terazono, Yoshiki, ‘Das christliche Leben in Japan’, in Terazono, K. and Hamer, H. (eds), Brennpunkte in Kirche und Theologie Japans (Neukirchen: Neukirchner Verlag, 1988), p. 12Google Scholar.

22 E.g. Takizawa, Reflexionen, pp. 170–1.

23 See esp. the paper ‘Jodo-Shin-Buddhismus verglichen mit dem Christentum’, ibid., pp. 66–110.

24 Engl. trans. Church Dogmatics I/2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1952), pp. 372–7.

25 I find this type of argumentation unconvincing and circular: given the premise of the essential centrality of Christ, any system which does not share this must of necessity be false. This is hardly a helpful basis for fruitful interaction with other religions or indeed with Christian theology that comes out of a non-Christian context.

26 Takizawa, Reflexionen, p. 72.

27 Ibid., pp. 73–4.

28 Ibid., p. 76.

29 It is hardly a key term for Barth himself and Barth's use of the term is quite different from the meaning Takizawa gives it.

30 Ibid., p. 85.

31 Ibid., p. 18.

32 Ibid., p. 6.

33 A point developed in his paper on Gen 2:23–4, ‘Die Einzelne und die Gemeindschaft’, in Das Heil, p. 43.

34 Takizawa, Reflexionen, p. 10.

35 As Sundermeier remarks, this language is reminiscent of the Creed's definition of the dual natures in Christ as ‘without confusion, change, division and separation’, and Takizawa is ready to apply this christological statement to all humanity (‘Praesentische Theologie’, p. 10).

36 Takizawa, Reflexionen, p. 27.

37 Ibid., p. 34.

38 The earliest traditions about the life of the Buddha Sakyamuni were not written down until some six centuries later in the Buddhacarita of Ashvaghosha (first century ce) and in language which was complex and rhetorical. By contrast the Synoptic Gospels, in popular koine, were written within a half-century or so of the death of Jesus.

39 Takizawa, Reflexionen, p. 32.

40 Ibid., p. 59.

41 Ibid., p. 60.

42 Ibid., p. 79.

43 Ibid., p. 102.

44 Das Heil, p. 53.

45 Ibid., p. 62.

46 Ibid., pp. 79, 91.

47 Ibid., p. 62.

48 Ibid., pp. 52–3, 67.

49 Yagi, Seiichi, ‘Christ and Buddha’, in Sugirtharajah, R. S. (ed.), Asian Faces of Jesus (London: SCM, 1993), p. 33Google Scholar.

50 Such a position is not exclusively Eastern. The idea that there is no pure ‘subject’ uninfluenced by the perceived object is found in Western tradition too.

51 ‘Christ and Buddha’, p. 37.

52 Yagi,‘“I” in the Words of Jesus’, in Hick, J. (ed.), The Myth of Christian Uniqueness (London: SCM, 1977), pp. 117–34Google Scholar.

53 ‘Christ and Buddha’, pp. 33–4.

54 Reproduced in Das Heil, p. 197.

55 He seems to me closer to the position of Paul of Samosata.

56 This is reflective of Zen in general which, as D. T. Suzuki points out, emphasises a transmission outside the scriptures, i.e. through experience: Essays in Zen Buddhism (1st series, New York: Grove Press, 1949), pp. 19–20.

57 Tagawa, ‘Yagi–Takizawa Debate’, p. 42.

58 As does his misunderstanding of Judaism: like Yagi, Takizawa seems to me to have absorbed the anti-Judaism still characteristic of some Western scholars.

59 ‘Der Tod des Lehrers: Natsumi Sosekis Roman “Kokoro” und die Evangelien’, in Das Heil, pp. 128–80.

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