Partly out of historical interest, I would like to add Tanabe Hajime here as a participant in the move towards a post-metaphysical, trans-rational approach to spirituality and ethics.  Some critics have seen his notion of 'metanoetics' as anticipating (or representing a distinct, "early" expression of) the development of deconstruction; and as a member of the Kyoto School, his work also served to carry forward (and modify and critique) Kitaro Nishida's philsophy of place (and self-contradictoriness).


Here's the first half of an essay about him, the rest of which can be read here:


Tanabe Hajime’s “Philosophy as Metanoetics” by Steven M. Rosen

Tanabe Hajime, a founding member of Japan’s famed Kyoto School of Philosophy, studied under two giants of twentieth century philosophy, Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger (the latter’s own philosophy was likely influenced by Tanabe’s Buddhist views). “Philosophy as Metanoetics” was developed from lectures the author delivered in Kyoto during Japan’s disastrous war with America, Britain, and China, the shadows of which fall heavily across its pages. In this “appreciation and celebration” of Tanabe’s principal work, Steven M. Rosen (whose own pioneering writings are laying a foundation for a new non-dual philosophy of science) identifies key elements of Tanabe’s paradox-drenched philosophy and pauses to question whether the Buddhist notion of the relative self needs to be supplemented by a more dynamic vision of absolute being such as is found in some Western phenomenological thinkers.

Philosophy as Metanoetics is the 1986 translation of a remarkable work written near the end of World War II, when Japan was succumbing to the military might of America. Its author, the Kyoto philosopher Tanabe Hajime, was thoroughly disenchanted with war, and was calling for an acknowledgment of its folly, along with an expression of sincere contrition on the part of those who had been caught up in it—himself included. This is one meaning of “metanoesis”: an act of “repentant confession.” But Tanabe was urging far more than a mere acceptance of personal responsibility for involvement in destructive patterns of action and thought. The self-examination he exhorted was deeply philosophical. For him, the term meta-noesis additionally implied a movement beyond the noetics of rationalist philosophy and religion.1

Reflecting upon humankind’s philosophical, religious, and existential crisis, Tanabe staged a dialogue with Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, and many other Western as well as non-Western philosophers. In deconstructing them, he also managed to deconstruct himself. The result is a critique of reason that takes us to the borderland of rational thinking and beyond, into a paradoxical realm that surpasses the rational in the very act of bringing it to fruition. In the space of this review, I cannot do full justice to the richness and subtle complexity of Tanabe’s brilliantly innovative work. Instead I will limit myself to touching on some prominent themes that seem especially significant to me.

For the practice of metanoesis to be effectively concretized in his writing, a crucial step for Tanabe is bringing his own subjectivity into the text. At key moments, he removes the cloak of anonymity usually worn by authors of philosophical texts. The disembodied authorial voice now recedes into the background and Tanabe the man stands present, openly disclosing his pride and arrogance, his complacency and inattentiveness—his all-too-human foibles. “Metanoesis is not something to be urged on others before one has performed it for oneself”.2

But metanoesis is not limited to self-reflection, self-criticism, or self-deconstruction. A radical self-transformation is called for and this, in turn, necessitates an emptying of the self, an act whereby “self-power” (jiriki) is surrendered to “Other-power” (tariki). Whereas ordinary action is carried out by the self, “Great Action is not a deed of the self, but a conversion of self-power into Other-power”.3 So self-transformation via metanoesis demands that the relative self defers to an absolute Other.

What is this Other? It is not some higher Self, Being, or God. It is not a positive presence of any kind, nor is it an absence or negation in the relative sense of a negativity that is defined merely in opposition to what is positive.4 Instead Other is what Tanabe calls absolute nothingness, characterized as the “negation and transformation…of everything relative”.5 Absolute nothingness is termed Other because of “its genuine passivity and lack of acting selfhood”.6 Therefore, it cannot be simply autonomous as is the Western God. Unable to act on its own (since it has no “own”), absolute nothingness or Other “acts through the mediation of the self-power of the relative that confronts it as other”.7 Self thus transforms Other and Other transforms self, in a process of mutual mediation.8

In emphasizing action and transformation, Tanabe is bringing out the thoroughly processual character of the absolute. Absolute nothingness means absolute transformation.9 When the relative self is oblivious to the absolute, it labors under the illusion of fixity and stasis, seizing upon those “solid substances” (things, products, capital) that seem to contribute to its own solidity and help secure its permanence. Operating in this fashion, the ends justify the means and products are valued over process. The more the relative self loses touch with the underlying dynamism of the absolute, the more it searches fruitlessly and addictively for closure, for short-term solutions, rewards, and quick fixes—for any thing that might fill the yawning gap created by its failure to acknowledge nothingness, any finite form that could serve as surrogate for infinite transformation.

But Tanabe recognizes that there is no “pot of gold,” no payoff, no final resting place at the end of one’s journey where one may reap the rewards for the work one has done. Instead, there is only the journey. Thus metanoesis must be repeated again and again, must be reenacted within each moment. It must happen on a continual, ongoing basis, since it is not about endings, payoffs, products, or “everlasting salvation,” but about ever-regenerating life-process.10


[The essay continues here.]

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Two additional quotations of note (from the essay):


Now, Tanabe distinguishes himself from other philosophers and mystics by making it clear that he does not seek to transcend the world for some abstract unitary spirit (the path of oso).11 What he wishes to do is descend from the heights of philosophical abstraction and return to the concrete realm of matter and embodiment (the way of genso).12 Yet he would not return to the world merely as a positive being, as an ego or self. Rather, he would come back down to earth from his philosophical excursion as a being who is emptying himself, one who is mediating, and being mediated by, absolute nothingness. It is through the ongoing process of metanoesis that this emptying is enacted.




Tanabe espouses neither a philosophy of monolithic unity nor one of simple duality. Opposites are indeed reconciled or integrated in his thinking, yet—in contrast to the privileging of unity characteristic of Hegel’s dialectical approach—they also remain opposed! “Dialectics, deprived of its paradoxical character,” says Tanabe, “can no longer be authentic dialectic; it degenerates into a mere logic of identity”.16 The practice of metanoesis itself entails paradoxical action. It is the “action of no-action”17 whereby the hitherto active self “acts” by surrendering itself to the utter passivity of absolute nothingness. In the course of the book, paradox frequently operates through use of the word “qua” (“as”), which translates the Sino-Japanese soku. This term “functions as a sort of pivot around which two [opposing] terms revolve and interchange with each other as mutually defining elements in a single dynamic”.18

Paradox frequently operates through use of the word “qua” (“as”).

Interesting language. I just quoted Caputo in the a/theology thread:

In the language of the tradition, it is, not a quod or a quid est but a quo.”

Kyoto school. Nishitani uses a lot of "qua" = "as" formations. There is a little known Sanskrit use of the instrumental case to designate this. I have found it in some Madhyamika texts, and the Tibetan translators don't seem to be quite aware of this usage. Being qua Nothing. Huh?
I love this stuff. I cut my teeth on it at one time.

Tibetan translators don't seem to be quite aware of this usage.

Of course not, as they're too busy metaphysicalizing being as such! ;)

There is a little known Sanskrit use of the instrumental case to designate this. I have found it in some Madhyamika texts, and the Tibetan translators don't seem to be quite aware of this usage.


Interesting.  I'd love to see an example of this loss-in-translation, if you can recall an instance.

Reading a bit of Philosophy as Metanoetics this morning, I am reminded for some reason of Cameron Freeman's work in the first chapter (the paradoxical language of Shinran around the topic of 'salvation' paralleling to some extent Cameron's Derrida-esque reading of Jesus' parables), and of our recent discussions (of the whole and the particular, circularity, rug-pulling, etc) in the second chapter.

Dipping a little further, I've noticed that Tanabe was taken by "neo-quantum" theory and Bohr's complementarity, and he references it in his extension of Kant's critique of reason to a critique of the critique of reason and his challenge to Kant's ahistorical rationalism and his a priori categories of causality, substance, etc.

(I have been quite busy today so I haven't been able to type any of this up.  I will try to do so later).

There are some parallels here with what Bhaskar is up to -- transcending Kantian transcendentalism, for example -- but I think Tanabe's philolosophy, and Kyoto school in general, takes its inspiration primarily from Buddhism -- Zen and Madhyamika specifically -- while Bhaskar's principle inspiration appears to be Advaita Vedanta.  Because of this there will be some recognizable differences. There are also other similarities such as using the vocabulary of modern philosophers.

Tom, yes, I agree.  In particular, I was struck that his circular critique of (rational) critique was consonant with the Bohrian approach you've been describing (though it is consistent, too, with some Buddhist strategies).


Kela, I don't have a good grasp on what Bhaskar is up to yet, though as I noted on the Bhaskar thread, some of it seems reminiscent of Wilber's particular (Vedanta-influenced) version of transcendent/relative distinctions.  From what I know of Tanabe, he was influenced both by Zen and Shinran's Pure Land -- the latter more prominently in his later work.

>>... while Bhaskar's principle inspiration appears to be Advaita Vedanta.

I think more Dvaitāvaita. Here is a paragraph from one of my books:

All around, however, I think that Dvaitāvaita (Sanskrit for non-dualism/dualism) Vedānta, which is associated with Nimbarka (Sanskrit, Śrī Nimbārkācārya, thirteenth century A.D.?) may be the fairest approximation to [Bhaskar’s] meta-Reality. In the Dvaitāvaita school, although both duality and non-duality are real, duality is encompassed by nonduality. Like the other Hindū movements discussed, with the exception of Chaitanya’s Achintya-Bheda-Abheda, Dvaitāvaita incorporates a concept of moksha. An individual is emancipated by surrendering to God.

Mark Foster

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