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Buddhist Master Speaks on Zenist 'Formless Selves'

Visiting Professor Lectures To Divinity School Audience


"Zen is the self-awakening of the formless self," Shinichi Hisimatsu, visiting professor of Zen Buddhism, said last night in Andover Chapel of the Divinity School.

In the first of a series of public lectures, Hisimatsu discussed "Philosophical and Religious Aspects of Zen Buddhism," first noting that the more one discusses Zen, the less closely he can communicate an understanding of it.

Hisimatsu noted that the word "form" is generally used in a spatial sense, but that sound, for example, may be said to have "form" in a non-spatial sense. Such ideas as "beauty," "truth," and "good" may be said to have form in that they may be differentiated from each other and from their opposites.


Even that aspect of the spirit which he termed "self-consciousness," may be said to have form in that it is treated as an object for study by psychologists, philosophers, and phenomenologists. But true self-consciousness "is always on the side of the subject," and cannot really be made an object of study.

Everyone has this kind of formless self-consciousness, but few recognize it, because it "absolutely transcends form and limitation."

However, Hisimatsu noted, our individual selves are always limited and given form by the fact that they are distinguishable from the selves of other people. And true Zen self-consciousness is infinitely pluralistic, in contrast to individualistic, he noted.

Since ideas have form, this formlessness is completely different from any ideas that one may have about it. The only understanding of it comes from "satori" or the "awakening," an instantaneous flash of insight. It is impossible, he concluded, to "seek the Buddha externally," but only in oneself.

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