Self-Realization as Self-Abandonment

  • Richard Stone


In this contribution, I will use Tanabe Hajime’s Philosophy as Metanoetics as a guide to explore the possibility that, in certain cases, self-realization can only be achieved via self-abandonment. Specifically, I shall rely on Tanabe’s notion of the self-awareness of absolute nothingness to show that, specifically in cases in which the subject has met with their own relativity and powerlessness, a switch from active attempts at self-realization to a passive acceptance of a power greater than oneself (Other-power, in Tanabe’s terms) can be the key to finding a new form of self-realization and forming new relationships with other human beings. While analyzing Tanabe’s texts, I shall also reference group therapy organizations for substance abuse treatment in order to give my statements a more concrete basis.


The work we will be handling here, Philosophy as Metanoetics (published in 1946), begins with a public confession of powerlessness. The Japanese philosopher Tanabe Hajime admits that during the course of World War II, he lost all self-control. His old-attachment to reason and rationality proved to be insufficient as a philosopher living in an irrational time. According to his reflections on his own predicament during the war, Tanabe found himself stuck in an impossible situation to solve as a philosopher who felt responsible to support his country. Criticizing his corrupt government, remaining silent to encourage national unity, and doing nothing were all options that not only seemed entirely unappealing, but also carried tremendous weight. This failure to solve his problem through rational discourse caused Tanabe to reach a limit situation. While his only potential method of solving a problem that by all means required resolution was the faculty of reason, it became clear to him that he was not even capable of accomplishing this task. In the face of this powerlessness, all Tanabe could do was repent for his futility and abandon his very self.

Yet it was precisely because of this breakdown that Tanabe was able to reach a religious epiphany and a new form of self-realization. At the moment in which he let go of his own self, he simultaneously met with a power greater than himself. In Tanabe’s words, this act of repentance (zange) was the basis for his revival through the workings of absolute Other-power (tariki). According to Tanabe, this total rejection of his right to self-hood allowed him not only rebirth, but a radical transformation to a new mode of being, in which it was no longer his life, but Other-power living through him. Borrowing from both the Christian tradition of confessional philosophers such as Augustine and the Other-power thought of pure land Buddhism (specifically, the thinker Shinran was influential), Tanabe would furthermore go on to attempt to construct a philosophical system based on this transformation from self-power to Other-power as a means for other suffering citizens to find shelter from the harsh conditions of the post-war era.

From a modern standpoint, the above given narrative may be a bit hard to swallow. Because he worked from the standpoint of a philosopher writing in the midst of war time Japan (and having thus experienced a turbulent intellectual background as well), we may be tempted to write off Tanabe’s work as a by-product of his specific political and cultural background. Otherwise, we could follow the lead of some of Tanabe’s contemporary scholars and claim that his system was founded on nothing more than a desire to efface any responsibility his actions and thought may have had during the war. 1 Yet, at the same time, we ought to recognize that underneath the very specific circumstances which led to Tanabe’s work, there is a valid philosophical issue to be explored: how is the self to be realized when it is no longer capable of continuing by means of its own power? Is self-realization still possible at this stage? How can one cope with the sort of extreme regret or feeling of powerlessness that Tanabe wrestled with? As I shall demonstrate in this contribution, this investigation into what appears at first glance incommensurate with our modern society is actually an important resource for giving a logical account of how recovery from a state of pure powerlessness can even be understood for those of us living in the “secular age.” 2 First, we shall give an account of what is meant by the word powerless as meaning a realization of powerlessness against one’s relative (and hence fallible) nature. We shall then move on to discuss how the process of self-abandonment after a thorough examination of this powerlessness can spur on a unique transformation based in self-abandonment. Finally, we shall show how this transformation can change one’s relationship with their community, and thus provide a real effect capable of leading to a unique form of self-realization.

Powerlessness, Relativity, and Evil

Now, before we discuss further how Tanabe’s religious epiphany managed to provide salvation from his own powerlessness, we ought to be more transparent about what we are discussing when we talk about realizing one’s own “powerlessness.” My introductory discussion here will be based off of the hints Tanabe gives us in his writing. However, due to the abstract nature of Tanabe’s writing, we will utilize some philosophical considerations that have been made in the field of addiction and self-control to give us a more concrete understanding of this phenomenon.

First, when we are referring to “powerlessness,” we are not merely referring to a powerlessness before specific or temporary problems. We are instead referring to the realization of a deeper level of powerlessness concerning the very nature of the self. In this sense, the powerlessness with which we are concerned is a powerlessness concerning our own relativity and futility. These notions of relativity and futility point to the fundamental defects of individuals which cannot ever be fully addressed (precisely because overcoming them would presuppose that we humans could ever be anything other than relative and fallible beings). Indeed, the epistemological limits of our faculties of reason prevent us from ever being fully capable of knowing what to do in a given situation. What’s more, we can never fully trust the limited reason we have to be truly unbiased when we remember that we can never be fully conscious of the various motives and interests that are always somehow intertwined with our process of reasoning. 3 What’s more, the fact that our will is also relative points to the possibility that we may not always have the self-control necessary to do what needs to be done.

What we are specifically interested in here are cases like Tanabe’s, in which this inability to escape relativity becomes apparent to the point of consuming the subject whole, and potentially leading to a breakdown in one’s day-to-day life. Tanabe himself believed that this relativity itself pointed to a radical evil, 4 and seemed to be under the impression that a thorough reflection on one’s self will bring about a feeling of powerlessness for ethically serious subjects (after all, who can ever truly say that they are sufficiently ethical?). While I see no reason to follow Tanabe in even attempting to somewhat universalize this association of relativity and powerlessness (even if we are never perfect, I would surmise that a good deal of persons believe that they are doing well enough and, even if not, that they still see ways to improve their behavior) there are cases in which a realization of relativity can stop a moral subject in her tracks. How can one know how to improve her behavior when she has seen first-hand how ignorant she is? How can one with a perpetually weak-will overcome his desires after failing to restrain himself with all his might? In these cases, relativity becomes a barricade to self-realization and self-improvement, instead of a mere building block for one or the other. Furthermore, as was the case with Tanabe, this impediment can swallow the subject’s conscience whole, leaving them unable to progress in any meaningful way.

Obviously, our analysis does not need to be undertaken only at the level such abstract examples. Indeed, it is quite the opposite, for even if our considerations on powerlessness and evil up to this point have been abstract, it is a phenomenon that can be found with some amount of ease in the real world. For instance, the most common case that we can likely find to illustrate our point is that of addiction. That is to say, insofar as addiction is used to mean a loss of self-control, we can find a situation in which the limits of self-power become fully apparent at a level beyond particular instantiations of akratic behavior. Addiction is a situation which contains the ultimate paradox, insofar as the only item desired is at once the only item from which the subject cannot be free from. Even if there may be some persons who can quit “cold turkey,” by means of sheer will power, there also exist plenty whose efforts to this end constantly fail. 5 It is these persons, who come face to face with the fact that they are too weak to quit of their own accord, who cleanly illustrate the phenomenon of powerlessness as we are discussing it here.

Now that we have hopefully managed to make the notion of powerlessness more clear to some degree, we can hopefully see the paradox lurking within it. Once we have reached the stage at which we have faced this powerlessness, we find ourselves in a limit-situation: insofar as we have reached a state in which we cannot help but be unethical, we must do something to overcome this situation. Yet, at the same time, the relative nature of our existence (be it of our will or reason) prevents us from ever actually overcoming the defects which haunt us. Insofar as we have reached this paradoxical state of needing to do something about the fact that one cannot do anything, we can see clearly the following question. How can one go beyond this powerlessness when any of one’s actions are, by definition, insufficient to do so? It is precisely on this point that I believe that we should return to Tanabe’s work: in addition to his own personal experience of finding recovery in other power, we can see that the only legitimate answer is to look for sources beyond what we have called here “self-power.”

Metanoetics and Transformation

Now that we have discussed the context in which we are using the word powerlessness, we shall now ask how it can be overcome. We have seen in the introduction that Tanabe claimed to have experienced a personal renaissance as a result of accepting his own powerlessness, and thus allowing himself to abandon his very self to an absolute Other-power. In this way, Tanabe paradoxically seems to have found a unique form of self-realization that is possible only once one has realized that one’s own self is thoroughly inadequate and must thusly be discarded. Tanabe recalls the experience of meeting this Other-power in the following way:

Zange thus represents for me an experience of Other-power acting in and through zange to urge me to a new advance in philosophy. I entrust my entire being to Other-power (tariki), and by practicing zange and maintaining faith in this Power I confirm the truth of my own conversion-and-resurrection experience…I have died to philosophy and been resurrected by zange. It is not a question of simply carrying on the same philosophy I had abandoned in my despair, as if resuming a journey after a temporary interruption. It cannot be a mere repetition without negation and change. In the life of the spirit, ‘repetition’ must mean self-transcendence; ‘resurrection’ must mean regeneration to a new life. (Tanabe 1986, 1i)

At first glance, Tanabe’s personal experience seem to be little more than a re-hashed testimonial of what was already found within several different religious traditions (of specific interest to him were confessional thinkers such as Augustine and the Other-power thought of Shinran). In this way, the question of how one who has been consumed by their own powerlessness to solve their own problems can be solved easily: the introduction of a higher power presents the possibility of logically solving the powerlessness of the relative subject by providing a different source of ethical action other than the subject’s inherently relative “self-power.”

With that said, there are any number of reasons that this retreat to religion could be considered unappealing. First of all, the existence of any kind of God seems to be empirically unverifiable, and an uncritical acceptance of the existence of such an Other-power could easily fall into a mere dogma. Moreover, any implication that the leadership of Other-power makes a relative subject infallible should be rejected immediately. However, we find in Tanabe an interesting diversion away from unverifiable dogma which makes his understanding of religious transformation interesting to us. First, Tanabe claimed that his personal transformation was real; i.e., that it caused a genuine transformation in the very nature of his self. Second, Tanabe claimed that this transformation was not the transformation from relative fallibility to absolute perfection; instead he claimed quite the opposite, that this is a transformation which presents relief from powerlessness without actually curing it. This is connected to his third claim, in which he also claimed that the Other-power that caused this transformation is not an all-powerful Deity, but is instead an absolute nothingness . In what follows below, we shall follow along Tanabe’s own attempts to philosophically and expound upon his theory and methodology based in Philosophy as Metanoetics in order to demonstrate how Tanabe was able to give a logical account of a real rebirth via Other-power without resorting to an empirically unverifiable mysticism.

The ramifications of Tanabe’s denial of an omnipotent God figure to resurrect him—and thus guide his actions with infinite wisdom—and simultaneous affirmation of the reality of his conversion is enough for us to wonder precisely how Tanabe intended to tell such a seemingly conflicting story. Was Tanabe’s “re-birth” a mere psychological effect? 6 Was Tanabe using the word “nothingness” in a way so as to hypostatize it, and somehow treat it as though it were capable of “being” the savior of she who is practicing zange? Answering these questions, and demonstrating precisely what Tanabe can show us about what it means to achieve self-realization, requires an analysis of both the process of self-abandonment as the nullification of the self as a real transformation of consciousness (as described above, in Tanabe’s case), and also of how such a transformation is capable of leading us to any form of self-realization without relying on any particular notion of God as an omnipotent deity.

So, then, how can a powerless subject overcome the pain that follows along with their futility? As we have seen in the previous section, a thorough-going inventory of one’s powerlessness can reveal a paradox in some cases, in which nothing can be done to overcome this futility, but not doing anything is similarly unacceptable. As we furthermore saw in the introduction, Tanabe’s conclusion is that the only (non) option left in this situation is to accept one’s own incapability to ever be sufficiently moral and, following this resignation, abandon their unworthy self. In other words, insofar as the self is no longer an agent capable of being moral, the only option left is to reject its very right to determine its own actions. Instead, one must recognize that in his or her own powerlessness, the only recourse left is to “let go” of any delusions of competence that it may have once held.

This rejection of one’s own self, and the ensuing “letting go” bring about a transformation. The self who had previously sought to organize the world in accordance with its own determinations (or, otherwise, by means of its own “self-power”) and maintain its hypostatized self-identity, is reduced to a total nothingness. As it thoroughly denies its own prior attempts to begin from the affirmation of its own reasoning and decision-making, the self is rendered entirely passive. The process of self-abandonment as denoted here is essentially a discombobulation of self and self-consciousness, with Tanabe using words such as “disruption” or “shredding” to indicate the abruptness of the “death” of the self at the hands of its own thorough resignation. At this stage, what once thought itself to be an independent and self-reliant entity capable of affirming and expressing its own right to life has been reduced to a total negation of all those things.

This drags the self down into a total abyss. At this state there is no sign of any kind of god to “catch” the practitioner of zange in her freefall from her everyday life towards her new and unexplored total disruption of self. There is only what Tanabe, in accordance with his own philosophical intuitions (and in a larger context, the tradition of the Kyoto School as a whole) called absolute nothingness. That is to say, what awaits the subject is none other than a pure negativity that could never assert itself directly. The subject finds only an endless fall into an abyss that evades self-identity and appearance into the world of being. The self, by means of its death by resignation, is obliterated to the point of meeting with this pure negativity.

However, although the self has metaphorically died, or at least renounced its right to directly affirm its own desire to determine its own life, our experience of the world does not merely disappear. Quite to the contrary, no matter how hard the self may curse its sinful existence or deny its own qualification to exist, one still lives. This realization of being allowed to (or better yet, made to) live in spite of one’s fallible nature is taken as the forgiveness of the absolute:

Although the sin inevitably produced by one’s action is always condemned from an ethical viewpoint, from a religious viewpoint it is always forgiven by the boundlessness of metanoesis. Hence consciousness of the forgiveness of one’s sinfulness returns one to the relative… In this way metanoesis functions as a mediating force through which the evil of sin, without disappearing, is transformed into the bliss of forgiveness and salvation grounded in absolute nothingness. (Tanabe 1986, 25)

Without washing away the relative nature of the self (or the particular sins which resulted from it), one still finds a somewhat masochistic gratitude towards that which gives it life: the Other-power of absolute nothingness referred to above. Insofar as it continues to mediate the very existence of flawed and relative beings, even once such a being is no longer able to support its own self, absolute nothingness can negate even the radical death caused by zange, thus bringing about a rebirth. In this sense, the subject, without achieving any form of enlightenment or overcoming its inherent powerlessness, finds a certain form of all-encompassing forgiveness from the absolute.

It is in this dialectical development that the subject discovers the truth of its (non) being. Whereas previously the self merely attempted to directly seek its own affirmation of its own reason and will, almost as if to ignore its relative and incomplete nature by affirming its independence in its action, this has changed upon the performance of zange. Instead, this radical self-abandonment brings the subject to the realization that at the ground of its existence is none other than absolute nothingness, and that it is (relative and finite as it is) not capable of existing independently of the absolute, which should thus be the true ground of its action. Hence, the self, rather than clinging to its own privileged claims to self-determination, instead realizes its nature as an “empty being” that owes its very life to the passive support of the absolute. Upon this realization, the self thus transforms into a vehicle that mediates the workings of an absolute nothingness that, by definition, can never exist directly in the historical and relative world of being.

This brings us to the core concept of Tanabe’s thought: returning to the relative world after religious conversion, or, in his terms, genso . Tanabe co-opted the term outgoing from his interpretation of Shinran’s Pure Land Buddhism to express the salvific action of the Amida Buddha in sending already awakened Bodhisattva to aid the as-of-yet unenlightened masses. While the term came to have a noticeably different meaning in Tanabe, the concept of the relative being returning from a religious experience as a mediator of the workings of the absolute maintains a strong theme in his work. 7 Tanabe states as much himself below, when he says:

The self is restored to a state of ‘empty being’ as a mediator of absolute nothingness. In our gratitude the self is led to cooperate in a mediating function in the absolute’s work of saving other relative beings… Hence we may speak of its quality as ‘absoluteness-qua-absolute genso ,’ in contrast with the return of the relative to other relatives that mediates this return of the absolute. (Tanabe 1986, 256)

Thus, in the same way that the practitioner was able to find relief and transformation through the “compassion” of the nothingness that continues to support her existence regardless of her relative nature or sins accumulated, she can pay back her by returning to the relative world to engender this role in lieu of an absolute that can never appear directly in the relative world.

This shift from a self-sufficient subject (whose actions were determined by self-power) to the self as a mediator for the appearance of Other-power as absolute nothingness in the relative world completes a transformation in the nature of the self. The self is rendered passive, left only to contemplate its own futility, which in turn renders it capable of being supported by the absolute. Yet, at the same time, this relationship between the absolute and the relative subject alone would not be sufficient for a genuine form of self-realization (insofar as the absolute itself is nothing, and hence, not capable of giving positive leadership to anyone). Hence, even if we have seen a transformation from dynamic self-determination to a passive non-being supported only the absolute, it is still unclear as to what possible benefit such a transformation could have. What we must make clear in the next section, then, is how this transformation is able to provide any form of real change in the life of a powerless subject.

Genso : Praxis and Love

In order to tackle the above-mentioned question, we must focus more on the previously introduced notion of genso . What we have found thus far is that the practitioner of zange, as a mediator of the appearance of the absolute, returns to society for the sake of the affirmation of the relative others who have not yet found their own salvation. Yet, we have not specified how this is possible considering one specific Tanabe’s theory faces: how can one be lead to guide others to salvation if the guide does is nothing at all? Thus, we must attempt to provide a concrete account of how self-abandonment can lead to a new mode of relating to others.

The key to understanding Tanabe on this point seems to be in recognizing the effect that the transformation to this pure passivity that we have dubbed Other-power has on the action of the subject. After all, having rejected one’s own right to direct self-affirmation, the subject’s action can no longer come from their own decision making. Yet at the same time, the absolute Other-power to which the self has died is not anything at all, and as such could not possibly directly influence the actions of the subject. As such, Tanabe notes that relative others become a necessary mediator in our actions. With direct and unmediated action out of the picture, the only option left is the passive acceptance of the leadership or guidance of other relative subjects. Inasmuch as Tanabe himself stated during a lecture that “As I have abandoned my ‘self’ as a being that is capable of accomplishing something, I have transformed and reached a new state in which I am willing to try anything and willing to be made to do anything,” (Tanabe 2010, 19, italics are my own) we can see a difference in the general attitude towards action after this transformation. Specifically speaking, there is only a total open-ness towards the leadership and guidance of others, as well as a willingness to try anything in order to help search for their salvation. Action becomes both entirely dependent on and entirely for the sake of our interaction with other relative subjects, as mediated by the shift to passivity via absolute nothingness.

So it would seem that there is a fundamental change in the way in our action following this transformation, and this change necessitates providing relief to other troubled subjects. However, after all this we could still ask: what exactly is the purpose of doing anything (or being made to do anything) for the sake of others if our actions are still, by Tanabe’s description, inherently flawed? Yet, to ask this would be to overlook the simple fact that the concrete result of this interaction with others is less important than the change in the relationship itself. What matters is the very shift towards prioritizing the salvation of others over personal gain. Regardless of the practical implications of working for the sake of others, the subject finds herself compelled to put them aside and instead focus solely on finding their affirmation. For Tanabe, this act of self-sacrifice for the sake of the affirmation of others is the work of the absolute (to lead them to overcome their own powerlessness and find rebirth); it is the realization of what has been called “god’s love” many traditions within the relative world, insofar as the negation of one subject allows for the affirmation of the other. This notion of love meant to spur on the salvation of others is not a means to achieve a higher goal: it is the very ends which the practitioner of zange must demand. 8 The realization of a community of those who, through such a conversion, are all willing to give the shirts right off of their proverbial backs. Genso , in the end, is realized in the end by returning to the relative world for the sake of nurturing just such a society. 9

Of course, we still face at least one more problem. Despite the fact that we have referred repeatedly to a “return” to society, the picture we have to ask whether this denial of self-determination and reason is actually healthy. If self-power and relative reason are both left shredded on the floor with only passive faith in the leadership of the absolute, then how can we be sure that the transformed subject will not be led into dangerous situations under the guise of saving the unenlightened? Could this not lead the subject in question to become easy prey for cults or radical religious organizations? Could what started off as an attempt to return us from a life-shattering personal crisis instead remove us from society entirely? If this is the road that Tanabe’s road leads us down, then we should be wary of his thought as a whole. So is there anything left to defend him?

This question as a whole seems to haunt his philosophy, and Tanabe himself does not seem particularly interested in giving a thorough overview of how he can avoid it. Indeed, there seems to be an (almost naïve assumption) that action done after performing zange is bound to be ethical. While there have been notable attempts to try to flesh out a potential response to this question, 10 the only one that I can find in his philosophy is the importance which he gives to social praxis. Insofar as Tanabe denies vehemently any ascension to a higher level of spiritual existence, 11 the only actual way to engage in this neighborly relationship is to go about one’s day-to-day life in the same praxis that one always has. The only difference now is that one has come to terms with their own relativity and futility and—for that reason—these daily activities are now aimed only to help the needs of society, instead of personal gain or interpersonal competition.

The upshot seems to be that, from Tanabe’s perspective, the only solution to the total powerlessness of relative beings is found in the formative process of a quasi-religious society in which the constituents all aim to help one another equally in accordance with what is necessary for the salvation of everyone. The transformation that once removed one from their ordinary and daily life that they had known does nothing other than return the subject back to where it came from. With that said, this does not mean that nothing changed. The return to society brings the subject back in a “self-less” state, in which the same social praxes meant for social gain and competition have become tools for the sake of the salvation of others. This shift in priorities offers a new form of self-realization to those who had once lost sight of it, even as they continue to be plagued by their own powerlessness and afflictions.

Now, the final question we will touch upon here is whether or not the machinations of a post-war Japanese philosopher who had used a mixture of traditions domestic and foreign to speak to others in his country who felt the same powerlessness, could potentially make sense in modern society. The fastest way to do this is to revisit one of our previous examples of how powerlessness can affect one’s life: addiction. To tie our formulations of Tanabe’s philosophy back with addiction, we can see that the communities that form to counter them are paradigmatic examples of the phenomenon we have described here. Of specific interest to us are 12 steps programs, which not only offer this kind of mutual support system, but in and of themselves require an inventory of personal powerlessness as the first step to get in, which is only later followed by public apology and a return to society after rebirth. 12 While it is exceedingly difficult to prove the efficacy of these groups in contrast to other forms of treatment, 13 its universality for all types of persons and patients is not important. All we need to concern ourselves with here at the moment is the fact that these communities can exist and can serve as a place of recovery for those who can no longer cope with their own powerlessness.


Over the course of our reflections on powerlessness and Tanabe’s attempted solution to the problem, we have found that it is possible for persons suffering from this feeling of powerlessness to use this feeling as a springboard to transform, and find a totally new form of self-hood defined by the passive affirmation of other selves. By accepting this powerlessness, and in this acceptance finding strength in a community of other powerless subjects, one can find a sort of paradoxical form of salvation consisting of mutual support between still-powerless subjects. We have here provided a logical schematic for this transformation and attempted to give empirical grounds to it with the very brief example of addiction treatment.

The only question left to address, then, is how this relates to self-realization. That is to say, can a theory which relies on the metaphorical death of the self ever truly be considered self-realization? Instead, is this reduction of the self to a passive mediator for the affirmation of other selves not the end of realizing any self? Does it not instead preclude the very possibility of self-realization? If we were to put all of these questions together, we could easily ask, what does this transformation mean for the realization of the self?

What I believe can be found when we examine the investigation we have made up to this point is a shift in the meaning of self-realization to match with the transformation of self. Self-realization on this model would no longer point to a Maslow-esque search for creative expression and social relationships that follows only after procuring the various interests of one’s own self. The change in priorities here twists self-realization into a process which relies on the total abandonment to these interests and the rejection of the self’s right to dynamic self-determination, replacing it with a reciprocal self-negation for the sake of other equal individuals. As was mentioned above, the mutual benefits or results that can be gained from this reciprocity are not what matters. Overcoming one’s own personal limits and being freed from the paradoxical trap of “needing to do something about the fact that you can’t do anything” within the new context of life with others is in and of itself a valid form of self-realization.


  1. 1.

    Specifically, Tanabe’s emphasis on forgiveness from a higher power not subject to church doctrines or other relative beings seemed to cause friction with those who were critical of his responsibility towards the war. Tanabe’s political philosophy had often been conceived of as far-right statism, and had otherwise seemed to equate the emperor and the absolute, depending on interpretation of course. The particular details or the veracity of these interpretations are not important. All we need to remember is that a certain set of the Japanese public viewed Tanabe as holding some modicum of responsibility, and that this religious turnabout seemed to be a case of Tanabe granting himself forgiveness from an absolute not subject to church doctrine or the judgment of relative others. I have no interest in Tanabe’s personal situation for the sole reason that his logical formulations are—as we shall soon see—valid regardless of the purity of his intentions. Tanabe’s political philosophy’s problematic aspects are discussed in Heisig (2001). Parkes (1997), although not spending much time on Tanabe in particular, shows that many historical works that accuse the Kyoto school of fascism are based on an incomplete understanding of their work, which could also be applicable to Tanabe. On the other hand, Suares (2012) gives a much less sympathetic reading of Tanabe, and points to less pure potential motives, such as merely giving himself a platform to recuse himself from all responsibility.

  2. 2.

    I borrow the phrase, of course, from Charles Taylor. More importantly, though, is for us to recognize the importance that a trans-cultural investigation into religious consciousness can have for a society that has been more interested in spirituality than specific religious dogma for the last several decades (cf. Taylor 2007).

  3. 3.

    It is on this account that Tanabe seems to equate self-power and reason, even going so far as to group the two together openly. Tanabe substantiates this with his “absolute critique” of reason, in which he shows that any critique of reason is fundamentally incomplete and relative. This may seem incomplete as a motive to put “reason” and “self-power” together. However, Maraldo (1990) shows that other twentieth-century philosophers like Habermas have, in various ways, demonstrated the connection of personal interest and reason, and in this context, the idea that the two are connected can make sense. Once we have admitted this point, we are now faced with the fact that the self’s capabilities to reason are equally powerless and, thus, equally ill-equipped to overcome powerlessness.

  4. 4.

    A thorough treatment of the concept of radical evil in Tanabe’s philosophy can be found in Taguchi (2017).

  5. 5.

    What is likely more important than formal possibility of losing self-control is the phenomenology of experiencing one’s own powerlessness. As Wisnewski (2014) has shown, there is very much an experience of what it is like to face a world painted by one’s powerlessness to their addiction (to “reach rock-bottom”, so to speak). Whether or not the subject could do something else, or if there is a theoretical best option, is not crucially important if the subject has no epistemological access to these solutions. Instead, the fact that this sort of face-to-face meeting with the limits of one’s own power and knowledge is precisely the problem at hand.

  6. 6.

    For instance, P. Suares (2012) notes that Tanabe’s description of his own personal experience is consistent with the psychological notion of reaktionsbildung, in which persons who undergo trauma often seem to lose grasp of their self in response to the extreme stress of the situation.

  7. 7.

    A more detailed comparison can be found in Laube (1990).

  8. 8.

    Note that Tanabe himself sees Zange as the key to realizing a society that could be equated with ideas like Kant’s “Kingdom of Ends” or Augustine’s “City of Heaven.”

  9. 9.

    Perhaps one necessary question that wasn’t asked is the matter of whether or not reciprocity within a community is actually necessary or even possible. We’ve already seen that Zange itself starts from a thorough self-inventory which in and of itself does not necessitate the intervention of others. Hence, it would seem that this transformation does not require reciprocity. Moreover, assuming that one’s own personal transformation will also cause others to transform would need to be justified. If I give the shirt off my back to a member of my community, it is possible that the recipient could gain nothing from the exchange other than a new shirt (as opposed to a deep lesson about kindness or altruism). Otherwise, we can also imagine a situation in which the self-sacrificial lamb is merely taken advantage of as someone who will not think properly of her own self-interest, i.e., as an easy or gullible target. The question to be asked here, though, is whether or not this would invalidate the system we are painting here. Would this change in relationship with others be as effective for those struggling with their own powerlessness if no one else in the community would negate themselves for the sake of the affirmation of the powerless subject? Is action for the sake of others sufficient in and of itself? If not, is this whole system nothing more than a roundabout way to seek out a higher form of self-satisfaction that requires the involvement of others? Answering these questions in detail would require a new paper, so we will not solve them here. All I will say here is that Tanabe requires more clarity concerning the necessity of reciprocal relationships that can’t be guaranteed.

  10. 10.

    Cf. Maraldo (1990).

  11. 11.

    Tanabe describes his own position specifically as a “philosophy of action following the path of genso ,” which is opposed to mystic positions which he reduces to purely speculative or contemplative philosophies. Tanabe (1986, 3).

  12. 12.

    Maraldo (1990) presents the most serious attempt to answer this question by trying to rely on the reformation of reason. With that said, when Tanabe says he will be made to try anything, he does not say that with the qualifier that he will try something as long as it falls within the realm of reason. In a sense, it is the exact opposite: the unreasonable practice of giving one the shirt right of your own back is necessary for this system to work. Hence, we cannot take Maraldo’s answer seriously until we have given a far more substantial account of what this type of reformed reason would be and why it allows for such a selective process.

  13. 13.

    We ought to remember that the efficacy of spirituality in addiction treatment, much less specific groups like the twelve steps is not a universally accepted phenomenon. What the precise meaning of spirituality is in these groups (and whether or not they do not presuppose specific religious dogma), apparent disconnects between social workers and therapists familiarity with religion and that of the patients themselves, as well as whether or not these groups actually produce significant results are all problems that remain in the background. Discussions concerning the first two topics can be found in Dossett (2002). Problems concerning bias towards Christian theology can be found in Cook (2004). Now, with that said, there is evidence that these programs can be beneficial for patients. Jarusiewicz (2000) provides a survey that indicates spiritual treatment seems to be a comparatively superior form of treatment.



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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Stone
    • 1
  1. 1.Hokkaido UniversitySapporoJapan

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