Circuminsessional Interpenetration

“The force of the world makes itself manifest in the force of each and every thing in the world … As the field of circuminsessional relationship, the field of sunyata is the field of a force by virtue of which all things as they are in themselves gather themselves into one: the field of the possibility of the world” (Religion and Nothingness p 150-51).

“Circuminsessional interpenetration” is the term Jan Van Bragt, the translator of Religion and Nothingness, borrowed from Christian mysticism (where it describes the relationship between the divine persons of the Trinity) to approximate the notion of concept of jijimuge (Ch shishi wuai), which Nishitani is said to have found in the writings of the Huayan School. The doctrine associated with this school is referred to as the “mutual identity and interpenetration of all phenomena,” or, more technically as a relationship of “simultaneous mutual identity and mutual intercausality (or interdependence)” among all things in the cosmos.”

The Huayan doctrine represents reality as a field of connectivity, both in terms of interdependence and in terms of a dynamic relationship. It obviously goes back to the doctrine of co-dependent origination, but the emphasis seems to have switched from the logic of multi-dimensional interconnectedness to an experience of reciprocal intimacy with all things at our depths, a sharing of roots.

Because the Huayan worldview is complex, it has become customary in Buddhist circles to use the metaphor of Indra’s Net to help convey its key insights. The world of phenomena is compared to a wonderful net stretched in all directions on which one has “hung a single glittering jewel in each “eye” of the net, , and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number … If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring” (Francis Cook). Thomas Kasulis notes that, for us, DNA may provide an even better image of this structure which has no centre: “every part of the whole reflects the pattern of the whole, much like the DNA in every cell of my body contains the blueprint for all the cells of my body.”

Nishitani develops his own view of the interpenetration of all things in the Section VI of the “Standpoint of Sunyata,” as an elaboration on his characterisation of the mode of being of the “middle.” He writes: “That beings one and all are gathered into one, while each one remains absolutely unique in its “being,” points to a relationship in which all things are master and servant to one another. We may call this relationship, which is only possible on the field of sunyata, “circuminsessional” (RN 148).

Nishitani explains: “To say that a certain thing is situated in a position of servant to every other thing means that it lies at the ground of all other things, that it is a constitutive element in the being of every other thing, making it be what it is and thus to be situated in a position of autonomy as master of itself. It assumes a position at the home-ground of every other thing as that of a retainer upholding his lord” (RN 148).

Nishitani further defines “circuminsessional interpenetration” in the following terms: “All things that are in the world are linked together, one way or the other. Not a single thing comes into being without some relationship to every other thing … On [an] … essential level, a system of circuminsession has to be seen here … In this system each thing is itself in not being itself, and is not itself in being itself … To say that a thing is not itself means that, while continuing to be itself, it is in the home-ground of everything else. Figuratively speaking, its roots reach across into the ground of all other things and help to hold them up and keep them standing. It serves as a constitutive element of their being so that they can be what they are, and thus provides an ingredient of their being. That a thing is itself means that all other things, while continuing to be themselves, are in the home-ground of that thing; that precisely when a thing is on its own home-ground everything else is there too; that the roots of every other thing spread across into its home-ground” (RN 149).

Nishitani speaks of the field of sunyata as “a field of force. The force of the world makes itself manifest in the force of each and every thing in the world … As the field of circuminsessional relationship, the field of sunyata is the field of a force by virtue of which all things as they are in themselves gather themselves into one: the field of the possibility of the world” (RN 150-51).

Also, “The force of the world, or “nature,” becomes manifest in the pine tree as the virtus of the pine, and in the bamboo as the virtus of the bamboo. Even the very tiniest thing, to the extent that it “is,” displays in its act of being the whole web of circuminsessional interpenetration that links all things together. In its being, we might say, [with Heidegger], the world “worlds” (RN 150).

The best way to grasp this is through Dogen’s well-known formula, “To practice and confirm all things by conveying one’s self to them, is illusion; for all things to advance forward and practice and confirm the self, is enlightenment,” which Nishitani says encapsulates his own thought (RN 164). The first part is the “light of reason” that “thinks into (hineindenkt) objects.” The second is the “natural light” emanating from all things when, through self-emptying, we truly return “to our own home-ground,” and at the same time “to the home-ground of things that become manifest in the world” (RN 163). “On the field of sunyata, the very being of all things, each of which becomes manifest as itself even as it is being gathered into unison with every other thing, is the being of the light of our knowledge (a knowing of non-knowing) returned to its own home-ground through its reentry into the field where all things are manifest. This is why the “natural light” within us was spoken of earlier as the light of the things themselves coming to us from all things. The light that illumines us from our own home-ground and brings us back to an elemental self-awareness is but the nonobjective being of things as they are in themselves on the field where all things are manifest from their own home-ground” (RN164). This is what the term “dharmic preaching” refers to. “In the preaching of dharma, it is things that do the preaching. In being just what they are, things themselves show their own dharma” (RN 194). Nishitani here echoes not only Dogen with his concept of allowing “things to advance forward and practice and confirm the self,” as well as that of zenki (“total dynamic function”) and gujin (“total exertion”of all things), but also Kukai with that of Buddha as Cosmos that expounds the truth.

Krummel also identifies here a debt to Nishida and, through him, Nicholas of Cusa: “Nishitani characterizes that field of emptiness as an endless void, where all things are gathered together even while each remains uniquely itself. Nishitani here takes Nishida’s own appropriation of the western mystical notion of the cosmic sphere without circumference found in Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464), and unpacks its connection with Buddhist ideas already implicit in Nishida. In a circumference-less sphere, the center is everywhere. This means that each point in space and time, each thing or event, in its selfness, serves as the “center” (Jp chushin) of everything else in the universe. And in its interconnectedness with everything else, each mirrors the rest. Each qua center assembles all others on to itself, drawing on their support. But in turn it supports all others as world centers. As center, each plays the role of “master” in relation to which all others are “servants” … All are simultaneously “master” and “servant” to one another. The autonomy of each entails the subordination of all else but also means the subordination to all else.”

In the last essay of the book, Nishitani writes that “the field of reality as a circuminsessional interpenetration is at the same time, as a field of emptiness, a field of infinite indeterminateness or inexaustible possibility. It is what the Zen phrase calls “the inexhaustible storehouse with not a single thing in it.”

Krummel adds that “Like any other thing-event, the human self also plays the role of center. All things are gathered into the self as the world’s absolute center. Yet at the same time, that “self-centeredness” is selfless and its self-mastery is subordinate to the being of all others, on the basis of its dependence upon the entire network for its being (RN 249). The self realizes its freedom in the service of others, that is, in open engagement with the world. Such a self is a “self that is not a self.” For it has its “original basis” (Jp moto) in all things just as all things are in their original basis in the self.”

Nishitani Keiji – Religion and Nothingness
John W. M. Krummel – “Nishitani Keiji: Nihilism, Buddhism, Anontology,” in The Dao Companion to Japanese Buddhist Philosophy, Ed. Gereon Kopf
Francis H. Cook – Hua-yen Buddhism – The Jewel Net of Indra
Thomas P. Kasulis – Engaging Japanese Philosophy