Karl Jaspers and Seung Sahn Essay

Karl Jaspers and Seung Sahn Essay

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Karl Jaspers and Seung Sahn


In this paper I will be making a comparison between the thoughts of Karl Jaspers and Korean Zen master Seung Sahn on the nature of consciousness and transcendence. The essays in question by Jaspers are his essays “On the Origin of My Philosophy,” written in 1941, and his lectures on the significance of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and “the Encompassing,” given in 1935 (p. 158). The other text being studied is The Compass of Zen, a compilation of Seung Sahn’s lectures on the three main branches of Buddhism. The Compass of Zen was begun in the 1960s as a basic text to explain the “bone,” or common essence, of Buddhism to Sahn’s Zen students. The 1960s brought a sharp rise on interest in Buddhism among Americans, and The Compass of Zen is often used as a primer to help Westerners understand its teachings. Thus, Sahn has combined teachings from all over Asia (the three main branches of Hinayana, Mahayana, and Zen Buddhism) into one text. Jasper’s philosophy is similarly based on the desire for a “universal historical view.” He considered the three main sources of philosophical thought to be India, the Orient, and the Western tradition beginning with the Greeks. He writes that it is important to understand many different types of philosophies because they all spring from the basic human desire for understanding. As he writes in Kaufmann’s anthology, “there is more than one universal truth in man.” Both Jaspers and Sahn are trying to create a universally applicable philosophy of inner reflection (meditation) to gain transcendence (enlightenment, nirvana, moshka, satori); in practical terms, inner peace.

Jaspers’ philosophy is based in the idea that philosophy is ruined by attempts to put it into ...


... middle of paper ...


... mentioned in Jaspers, it is prominent in the thinking of both Bergman and Camus.)

As we can see, the philosophies of Jaspers and Seung Sahn agree on many of the same essential points, particularly on the structure and origin of consciousness. Where the two differ is in questions of methodology. Jaspers wants to stretch the limits of thought to find transcendence, while Buddhism (particularly Zen) tries to go to a place beyond thought, before thought, and thinks it best to do this by not thinking.


Works Cited

Jaspers, Karl. “On the Origin of My Philosophy,” “Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, “The Encompassing.” Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre. Ed. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Plume, 2004. p.158-232.

Sahn, Zen Master Seung. The Compass of Zen. Boston: Shambhala, 1997.

Tzu, Lao. Tao Te Ching. Trans. David Hinton. Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 2002.

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