Global Blake: Masashi Suzuki

In this presentation, Masashi Suzuki discusses the translations of Emanuel Swedenborg by D. T. Suzuki.

Daisets (usually rendered Daisetz) Teitaro Suzuki (1870-1966) is Japan’s foremost authority on Zen Buddhism. Suzuki once referred to Blake as “the great mystic in modern England” and quoted the first few lines of Auguries of Innocence, saying that the mysticism and symbolism implied here would be Western counterparts to those of Oriental Zen. Muneyoshi (Soetsu) Yanagi, Suzuki’s disciple, has often been referred to in Blake studies, but few substantial attempts have been made to examine Suzuki in relation to Blake. The present paper aims to show how Blake and Suzuki, via Emanuel Swedenborg, resonated with each other, even though any tangible reciprocal influences between them might not be traced. 

Between 1910 and 1915 Suzuki translated Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell and three other major works into Japanese. In 1912 he was invited to deliver a short address “A Japanese Impression of Swedenborg” at the annual meeting of the Swedenborg Society. In his small book on Swedenborg’s life and thought Swedenborg (1913), he says that “Now, in Japan, the field of religious thought is finally reaching a state of crisis. Those who wish to cultivate their spirit, those who bemoan the times, must absolutely know of this person [Swedenborg]”. There can be no doubt that Swedenborg’s writings and doctrines are of unusual importance in relation to Blake’s. Blake even writes in A Descriptive Catalogue (1809) that Swedenborg’s works are “foundations for grand things” and that “The reason they [Swedenborg’s works] have not been more attended to, is, because corporeal demons have gained a predominance.” 

What attracts us most about the involvement of both Blake and Suzuki with Swedenborgianism is how they are hugely benefiting from one of his major doctrines, “Science of Correspondences”, by employing it in their own unique way. If Blake’s primary interest in it is the dynamic conflict and unity of the spiritual and natural worlds, Suzuki’s chief concern in his major work Japanese Spirituality (1944) is ‘spirituality’ (reisei霊性) operating as ‘medium’ (John Clowes, On Mediums), which, the paper argues, is implicit in the doctrine.

Masashi Suzuki is Professor emeritus at Kyoto University. He organized International Blake Conference “Blake in the Orient” in Kyoto which was held the first time ever in Japan in 2003. He edited with Steve Clark Reception of Blake in the Orient, a collection of essays based upon the Conference in 2006.