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Liberation from Craving and Ignorance


From the Philosophy of Coexistence to the Concept of Symbiosis

The City of Symbiosis, a Way to Liberation


From the Philosophy of Coexistence to the Concept of Symbiosis

I first began to use the phrase "the concept of symbiosis" in 1979. My interest in the idea began when I was serving as the chairman of the Yokohama Design Conference, the main theme of which was "Twoard the Era of Symbiosis." But as early as the 1960s I had been using the words "the concept of coexistence." One of the sections in a book I published in the Kinokuniya Shoten Shinsho series in the early 1960s, Toshi Dezain (Urban design), was titled "The Philosophy of Coexistence" and I quote it below.

Isn't dualism a sickness that has taken root in all areas of modern thought and methodology? To put it impetuously, we cannot conceive of European civilization without Christianity. European civilization is, in other words, Christian Civilization. Christianity presupposes such dualisms as that between a good deity and an evil deity, the god of goodness and light and the evil material world, or the creator and his creation. This is true of Western philosophy as well. The philosophical dualism in which the fundamental principle of the universe was the separation of existence into mind and matter was already established in ancient Greece. In modern times, Descartes postulated a dualism between mind as a limited entity that depended on god for its existence on the one hand, and matter on the other. Kant, who divided existence into the thing in itself and phenomena, freedom and necessity was also a typical dualist. European rationalism has been the spiritual backbone that has supported the industrialization and modernization of society. This rationalism is based on dualism. Our thought has been articulated from head to tail in dualistic forms: spirit and body, art and science, man and machine, sensitivity and rationality. Humanity as relentlessly pursued these two extremes, terrified of the deep chasm it has discovered between them. Without a doubt, the impressive modern civilization born of European rationalism is the product of the recognition of this deep abyss and the will to somehow or other bridge it. The discoveries of contemporary design, too, are based on dualism, giving us such contrasting pairs of terms as beauty and utility, form and function, architecture and the city, human scale and urban (superhuman) scale. All debates about design up to now have been have been a pendulum, swinging back and forth between such extremes. The father, as it were, of functionalism, the American architect Louis Sullivan, proclaimed that "form follows function." From the more modest position that the pursuit of function will produce it own distinct beauty to the most extreme dictum that beauty is to be found only in function is only a difference in degree. The weight of this way of thinking in modern design is considerable indeed. But the other side of this dualism is just as extreme: that humanity, sensitivity, beauty, are independent entities opposed to function, and functionalism compromises humanity, represents the defeat of humanity. From this is born the dogma that only the beautiful is functional. The debate is then reduced to a simple counting of heads on each extreme side of the issue, from which no creative thinking is likely to result. When we try to resolve problems with dualistic methods, the concept of harmony comes into play. Here is an example. In urban space, there are two scales, one human and the other superhuman. They are regarded as antithetical. To bridge the gap between them, a hierarchy of several graded scales leading from the human to the superhuman is created, and that is how these extremes are harmonized.

If these two scales are really antithetical, there will always remain an unbridgeable gap between them, no matter how many intermediary steps are constructed. Conversely, if the gap can be bridged, that means that the two scales were never actually antithetical. As long as dualism is to be a creative logic, it will always arrive at either compromise or escape. Our task is to move from dualism to pluralism, and from there to advance to philosophy of coexistence.

This is the start of my philosophy of coexistence, whose roots are in the Indian philosophy of absolute nondualism that can be traced to the Vadanta philosophers, Nagarjuna, and the Mahayana Buddhist concept of emptiness, as I have show in detail earlier.

This is the source of my present concept of symbiosis. From as early as 1959 it first began to take shape in the corner of my mink, and it has grown and developed for three decades since then.

The City of Symbiosis, a Way to Liberation

In the early 1960s, together with Noboru Kawazoe, Masato Otaka, Fumihiko Maki, Kiyofumi Kikutake, Kiyoshi Awazu, Kenji Eduan, Shomei Tomatsu, and others, I began to form the Matabolism movement. NOTE 1 We borrowed the term metabolism from biology. Just as living organisms have metabolisms, we believed that cities and architecture grew and metabolized. That was the starting point of our movement's philosophy. The Metabolism movement reached out to span many different fronts and it is impossible to summarize it in a word, but it is fair to say that the issue of the symbiosis of past, present, and future, of human beings and technology -- in other words, the issues of diachronicity and synchronicity -- were central to it.

Also at the core of Metabolism was the tradition of Eastern thought. At the time we were starting the Metabolist movement, I remember reading with great interest Hajime Nakamura's The Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples. The work, which is well-known in its English translation, traces the evolution of Buddhism as it was transmitted from India, its land of origin, to Tibet, Thailand, China, Korea, and finally Japan. He investigates the way in which the Buddhist scriptures were translated from Sanskrit and Pali into other Asian languages and explores the changes that took place in Buddhism as it encountered other people and cultures. The purpose of Nakamura's study was to illuminate the various Buddhist-influenced civilizations of Asia. His book had a very great influence on me, and through it I was directed to other sources of stimulation: the Edo-period Japanese philosopher Miura Baien, for example, and the Consciousness-Only current of Buddhist thought that is one of the bases of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy. The book made me aware of the rich and unique cultures of India, Tibet, Thailand, China, Korea, and Japan, about which I had had no clear idea until then.

Nakamura's book marked the beginning of my commitment to Buddhist philosophy, but my acquaintance with it can be traced back to junior and senior high school. I attended Tokai Gakuen in Nagoya, which is affiliated with the Jodo, or Pure Land, sect of Japanese Buddhism. The school was established in the Edo period, and even today most of the teachers are monks. The principal of the school when I attended it was the head of the huge Zojoji temple complex in Shiba, Tokyo, Benkyo Shiio. His lectures over six years had a profound influence on my way of thinking.

Only recently did I learn that the term symbiosis had been coined by Shiio in 1923. He founded a Foundation for Symbiosis (Zaidan Hojin Kyosei Kai), which published works such as Kyosei Hokku Shu (Collection of religious verses on symbiosis) and Kyosei Kyohon (Manual of symbiosis). In those works we find:

We take the truth of coexistence as our guide and concentrate on the realization of the Pure Land, for both the sharp and the dull, the strong and the weak, hand in hand. No one exists divorced from the thoughts of those around him. All comes into existence through an assembly of causes. All things are interrelated. In accord with this principle, it is our aim to build an ideal world, step by step.

This is the true teaching of symbiosis. In Shiio's Buddhism of symbiosis, he reads the characters Kyosei as "living together," or coexistence. At the base of his philosophy is the conviction that all existence -- human beings, plants, animals, and minerals -- is not only living but, at the same time, being given life by the rest of existence. Inorganic matter such as minerals are crucial for human life, and if even one vital mineral is lacking, we cannot survive. Human beings live and are kept alive through their coexistence with animals, plants and minerals. Shiio calls this essentially Buddhist vision of life "true life."

In Buddhism, human suffering is said to be caused by two things: craving and ignorance. Craving is attachment to things and the delusions that arise from that attachment. Ignorance means not to know what our universe is, what our self is. When you think that you are living entirely on your own, you begin to cling to your own life and to fear death -- in other words, craving arises. The arrogant attitude that you know everything there is to know is based on ignorance. The escape from those two kinds of suffering is called liberation, and that escape is based on grasping and living the concept of symbiosis.

This Buddhism of symbiosis has exerted a strong influence on me. But I have not written this book as any sort of religious expression. I wrote it to suggest a new principle of order in general, encompassing all fields -- government, science, philosophy, art, and culture. I mention architecture from time to time because I happen to be an architect. But an age when we must learn to think in a way that transcends all divisions among different fields of specialization is dawning. It is my hope that this book will be read by specialists in a wide variety of fields and people with a wide variety of beliefs and values.




Masato Otaka (b. 1923)

is an architect and the director of the Otaka Kenchiku Sekkei firm. His main works include the redevelopment of Sakaide City in Kagawa Prefecture, the Bunka Kaikan in Chiba Prefecture, the Prefectural Government Building in Tochigi Prefecture, The Gumma Prefectural Museum of History, the The Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art, and the redevelopment of Motomachi in Hiroshima City.

Fumihiko Maki (b. 1929)

is an architect and the director of the NAME firm. A graduate of Tokyo University, his main works are the The Toyota (DA?) Memorial Lecture Hall at Nagoya University, the Kumatani campus of Rissho University, the Daikanyama Housing Complex, the library of the Hiyoshi Campus of Keio University, the Spiral building, and the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art.

Kiyofumi Kikutake (b. 1928)

is an architect and director of the Kikutake Kiyofumi Kenchiku Sekkei firm. His main works include the Isumo Taisha building, the Kyoto Community Bank, Aquapolis, the Tanabe Art Museum, and the Karuizawa Takanawa Art Museum.

Kiyosi Awazu (b. 1929)

is a graphic designer and the director of the Awazu Design Institute. He is a professor at Musashino College of Art and a member of the planning committee for the National Ethnological Museum in Osaka. His writings include Dezain ni nani ga Dekiru ka? (What Can Design Do?), Gaudi Sanka (A Paean to Gaudi), and a collection of his works.

Kenji Ekuan (b. 1929)

is an industrial designer and the president of the GK Industrial Design Institute and the head of the Kuwasawa (OK?) Research Institute. He was a special consultant for the design of the exhibits at the Tsukuba International Science Fair and the producer for the Japan IBM exhibit. His major writings include Dogu Ko (On Tools), Indasutoriaru Dezain (Industrial Design), Makunouchi Bento no Bigakau (The Aesthetics of the Box Lunch), and Dogu no Shiso (The Philosophy of Tools).

Shomei Tomatsu (b. 1930)

is a photographer. In the sixties, his work focused on street scenes in Tokyo and he is regarded as the founder of that genre in Japan. He is the recipient of the Ministry of Education special prize for his work, which includes Taiyo no Empitsu (The Sun's pencil) and 11:02 Nagasaki.



Translated by Jeffrey Hunter

Published 1994 in paperback edition by Academy Editions, London