“Very significantly for our understanding of Nishitani, he finds in Nietzsche, Sartre, and Heidegger (with whom he studied for three years) the philosophers with whom he is most in consonance. And , of equal significance for his thought’s encounter with typically
optimistic American thought, is the reason for this: they all, Nietzsche most particularly, speak out of the depths of a rational-religious despair, self-consciously despairing among the ruins of Greek-Christian thought and belief structures. Basing themselves squarely on the nihility that now threatens-existence in a no-God, no-meaning world wherein all human values come to naught in death — they propose a new set of “meanings” fabricated solely out of “nothingness” and the courage of desparation, so to speak. But, argues Nishitani from his basis of Absolute Emptiness (sunyata), even they are still within the Western dualistic trap, caught in a subtle form of Cartesian selfhood –Nietzsche in his Superman’s Will and Sartre in his absurd and irrational proclamation of the self’s freedom from all but self. Yet of all Europe’s philosophers, they are nearest to the kingdom of sunyata.
St. Francis of Assisi commends himself to Nishitani – but as an atypical Christian – for his
deep fellow-feeling toward all God’s creatures, even the inanimate, by which he approaches the Buddhist sense of the organic oneness of the whole universe. But most markedly it is with Meister Eckhart that Nishitani feels existential and religious rapport. (No doubt he would agree with D. T. Suzuki’s comment to me that “Eckhart is the leading
Zen man in the West . “) A godhead that is beyond all theologizing, that is interpenetrative of the deepest human essence and interpenetrated by the human essence in turn (and hence transcendently immanent in his “creation”), is very close to that Absolute Emptiness in which, as Nishitani maintains, all that is existent “lives, moves, and has its being,” to use a Christian phrase.
From the way in which Nishitani has dealt with European thought and culture it is by now quite evident that the main encounter of his thought with Western philosophy and religion is in the existential realm rather than in that of formal theology or metaphysics, much less that of language analysis. Perhaps indeed for Buddhism in general, and for Nishitani’s nonsectarian Zen and demythologized Buddhism particularly , the question of reality is an existential and religious one-religious in the sense of Tillich’s ultimate concern”