5.3 The D.T. Suzuki Museum

Sachiko: I wonder how Suzuki would like his museum… would he be pleased of having such a beautiful museum commemorating his life and works?

Scott: Well, even though he was a very modest person, I think on a personal level, he published books, he wanted to influence the way people think, he had a philosophy, he had very strong ideas, and I think that he was convinced his ideas were not about him. I think he enjoyed the attention, being famous, but I think he also saw himself as a representative of a set of ideas. I think it wasn’t only about him. I think he was very proud to be a spokesperson for a philosophy and a tradition that was so important to him. I think he saw himself – I don’t know but I guess – sort like the Dalai Lama: he believed in what he said. 

Sachiko: I met the Dalai Lama in India! It was a big event about wellbeing world and I was one of the eight Japanese people invited to attend, the Dalai Lama was on the stage at that event.

Scott: I think Suzuki is like him too, so if there is a museum created to his ideas, not just his ideas but the ideas of Zen, I think it is very powerful. I mean: the museum has a little bit about his life to the front, but the main thing about the museum is the idea of Zen and the museum itself… Let’s pretend there is nothing there about him, from the museum itself you can feel what Zen can offer. I am not a Zen Buddhist. I don’t practice Zen but what I mean is that you feel this sense of observation and of emptiness and I think Suzuki would appreciate that. Suzuki’s pictures are not everywhere, it’s not a monument to him, it’s a monument to an ideal. 

Sachiko: Very simple.

Scott: Very simple. And that is not easy, you know!

Sachiko: No, absolutely not… You have a very nice introduction to the architecture of the D.T. Suzuki Museum, designed by Yoshio Taniguchi:

“Nick and I were unaware of Taniguchi’s reputation, and neither of us are architecture scholars, so it was all the more impressive that we felt what we felt. We experienced the museum without being analytical or informed—that would come later. For the time being, while we were inside Taniguchi’s creation, we might be able to sense what he had wanted us to sense. (page 140)

You experienced the museum without being analytical…

Scott: Yes, that is right. There was a joke the other day by a comedian on the radio. And he was talking about… let’s say you are a woman, and you are on a date with somebody, and the first date you just love the person you’re dating and you just feel very happy with this person, and then you feel this way for six months…

Sachiko: Six months? That’s a very long time, normally that feeling lasts less than three days!

Scott: So, month number six shows up, and the person says something really crazy, and you go: what was I thinking? Was I with this person? What a crazy, horrible thing this person just said! And what the comedian said was: “You loved this person so much that for the first six months you didn’t know he was saying this the whole time!” and you just liked being with him and you just enjoyed that other person but month number six, you start to think: well, you love him, but there are other things you start to like and then love them. So that’s the thing with Zen: in other words, the museum was there, I was not analytical, I loved everything about it. Everything about it… I loved being there… I felt so at home there, I felt understood, I felt like no matter what I said or did it was going to be okay, it was so beautiful, so quiet. And I think it is unusual to be in a building like that and not to be analytical. Often, when you go to an office building or a restaurant, or a café or a hotel, you start looking around and you say: “You know, the color of that chair, it doesn’t match the wall.” Or the lighting is too bright, or the room is too small… any number of things. But when I was in the D.T. Suzuki Museum, I didn’t feel analytical. I felt very safe, not really happy, but I felt a sense of peace, that’s all. That’s what I felt when I was there.

Sachiko: A journalist that visited us said about Beniya Mukayu: “You don’t feel that you need to shrink yourself to fit in the space, but you feel that you are free to expand”. And the way that she described it was really interesting, and that resonates with what you just said.

Scott: That’s a great way of putting it: you can expand yourself. You senses wake up a little bit.

Sachiko: Yes, and our guests may experience Beniya Mukayu without being analytical too. Not everybody knows that Beniya Mukayu was designed by Sey Takeyama 竹山聖, or that the graphic design is by Kenya Hara 原研哉 or the staff uniforms are by Akiko Ando安藤明子 or that some of the tableware is by Suda Seika須田菁華 or Akito Akagi赤木明登… Not many guests are aware of the culture and symbolism behind each detail here… and to be honest, it doesn’t really matter!

Back to your book, I really like this passage:

We reached an area just outside of the museum’s main building, the Contemplative Space and Water Mirror Garden, and here felt something strange and deeper. The space is a dark, square room, with openings on all its sides and views of a garden. There is nothing to see in the room. The emptiness is the truest thing about the space. You sit on wide wooden platforms and look up and out in silence. We sat a long time, and it wasn’t until much later that Nick told me that this was the most beautiful museum he had ever visited. He had been to a lot of museums, and I wasn’t sure what it was that he loved most about this one. He talked about emptiness. Going into a place where nothing is there and feeling that everything is there inspires well-being. (page 141)

When I visited the D.T. Suzuki Museum, I was also impressed by the Water Mirror Garden. I loved how the light reflected on the surface of the water. It reminded me about the komorebi in the veranda…It was very calming, very relaxing. Even mesmerizing, just like the Tsukubai Ho-sun 蹲方寸 at Beniya Mukayu… To me, it seemed that Taniguchi has designed the water garden as the quintessential Zen space in the museum… I am not sure, but I think he designed that because it is a museum connected with Zen.