Encounter with Enlightenment

A Study of Japanese Ethics

By Robert E. Carter
Foreword by Yasuo Yuasa

Subjects: Religion
Series: SUNY series in Modern Japanese Philosophy
Paperback : 9780791450185, 292 pages, June 2001
Hardcover : 9780791450178, 292 pages, July 2001

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Table of contents


Introduction: Contrasts and Ideals
Many “Easts,” Many “Wests”
The Critical Path

1. The “Do Nothing” and the Pilgrim: Two Approaches to Ethics
On the Nature of the Will
The Transformation of the Everyday World
The Will in Eastern Thought
Wu-Wei and Non-doing
On Human-Heartedness
A Radical Interdependence
The Morality of Enlightenment

2. The Significance of Shintoism for Japanese Ethics
The Importance of the Shinto Perspective
Shrine Shinto (Common Shinto)
In the Beginning
Kami and Evil
Attitudes, Virtues, and Rituals
The Connection to Ancestors
The Way to the Future
Reflective Epilogue
The Ecological Dimension
Ethics and Nature
Shinto and Zen

3. Confucianism and Japanese Ethics
The Confucian Self
Original Human Goodness
The Importance of Sincerity
Self as Field
Confucianism in Japan

4. Buddhism and Japanese Ethics
The Beginnings
Buddhism and Morality
The Ground of Morality
What Happened to Nirvana?
Ethics and Enlightenment
The Bodhisattva
The Path of the Bodhisattva

5. Zen Buddhism and Ethics
Zen and Enlightenment
Evil and Zen
The Cat Again
Seeing into One's Own Nature
Why Should One Be Moral?
Cats! Cats! Cats!
Zen and Nature
And If the Cat Were Not a Cat?

6. The Fundamentals: Modern Japanese Ethics
The One and the Many
Toward Nothingness
Ethics as Contextual
The Importance of the Family
The Complexity of Climate

7. An Ethics of Transformation: Nishida, Yuasa, and Dogen
The Need to Differentiate
Why the One Differentiates
The Nature of Good Conduct
From Self to No-self
On Self-cultivation
Dogen on the “Now”

Conclusion: The Mutuality of Learning in a Global Village
Social Ethics
Final Reflections
Ecological Ethics, East and West

Selected Bibliography

Examines the influence of Shintoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Zen Buddhism on Japanese ethics, with implications for our understanding of various social, economic, and environmental problems.


In Encounter with Enlightenment, Robert E. Carter puts forth the East, and specifically Japan, as a source of possible solutions to the world's social, economic, and environmental problems. Not only is the book a sustained scholarly analysis of both the religious and philosophical roots of Japan's distinctive ethical approach to life, but it also provides the Western reader with a context for understanding Eastern values—values that although familiar to the West tend to be deemphasized. Encounter with Enlightenment begins a horizontal fusion between East and West, and establishes a common ground for mutual understanding and for working toward an ethical approach that could resolve some of the earth's difficulties.

Robert E. Carter is Professor of Philosophy at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan. He is the author of Becoming Bamboo: Western and Eastern Explorations of the Meaning of Life and The Nothingness Beyond God: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Nishida Kitaro; editor of God, the Self, and Nothingness: Reflections Eastern and Western; and translator of Watsuji Tetsuro's Rinrigaku, also published by SUNY Press


"Encounter with Enlightenment provides a comprehensive and compelling account not only of the history and development of Japanese ethics, but also serves as an excellent introduction to and analysis of Japanese religious philosophical thought … The book both calls and challenges its readers to move out of a strictly western framework and into a genuinely global dialogue about ethics and human being-in-the-world. " — Religious Studies Review

"This new book by Robert E. Carter is the first to give a comprehensive view and a deep understanding of the characteristics of Japanese ethics. Carter describes clearly the early mythological tradition associated with Shinto, as well as the role that Confucianism and Buddhism played in forming an enlightened moral character. Furthermore, he describes how Japanese philosophers in recent times have sought after a new concept of humanity which can unite East and West. " — Yuasa Yasuo, author of The Body, Self-Cultivation, and Ki-Energy

"…extraordinary…Carter's integration of Japanese ethics in relation to Zen is admirable. " — Frederick Franck, author of The Zen of Seeing

"Carter has now anchored his position as the comparative philosophy scholar whose clear and unmistakable writing makes him the favorite author of students of the Japanese philosophical tradition. In this new book, Carter sensitively and faithfully explains not only the basics of Japanese ethics, but also the diverse sources of inspiration behind Japanese moral philosophy (Shintoism, Confucianism, Buddhism), as well as modern Japanese intellectual and spiritual encounters with the West. " — David Edward Shaner, author of The Bodymind Experience in Japanese Buddhism