Hajime Tanabe (1885-1962) was a pioneer of the Kyoto School of philosophy, a creative interaction between Japanese Buddhism (as a melange of various schools, such as Zen or Pure Land, as well as with traditional paganism [Shinto]) and western philosophy. It takes up the challenge of German Idealism, seeking a synthesis between the Asiatic (Indo-Chinese) and the European (Hellenic). Tanabe began writing in response to the far more Idealist Kitaro Nishida, who stood for the systems building that Tanabe found suspect. Nishida combined the Zen school with Hegel to form a method of dialectical reasoning towards Nothingness. In contrast to a Christianized neoplatonic definition of nothing as barren absence, the Void is the realm of pure potency (akin to Matter) and the fundament out of which all creation is formed. Through dialectical reasoning, the sage will ascend through discursive rings, overcoming false dichotomies towards greater universals. In contrast to vulgar teaching on Hegel, synthesis is not A + B = C, which is then replicated as C + D = E until one reaches utopia. Rather, the process of aufhebung (which is what Nishida effectively describes) is sublation. It is not a crooked jamming together of a thesis and antithesis. Rather, through a higher reasoning, a synthesis is effected where one categorically moves on from a polarity, with the remnant built into the genealogy of the synthesis. Most pop-philosophy textbooks have a completely ignorant view of Hegel, a product of his less than stellar students. But I digress.
For Nishida, reaching the Void requires a move through the universal of judgement, between subject and object, to reach self-consciousness. From the universal of consciousness (subjectivity and objectivity) one reaches towards the universal consciousness (somewhat similar to Hegel's absolute subject). Finally one moves into the totality of Nothingness from the universal of intelligence, overcoming the God-world problem, which can also be phrased in the Kantian noumena (thing-in-itself) and phenomena (thing-as-it-appears). The result is Zen, an awareness of the All-as-One, which then allows one to live in peace and harmony, a piece aware of the whole. You begin to enjoy the infinite plurality of life as the unfolding of the infinitely fecund Void. From the All-One all emanated, the pure potency behind all of reality. And to All-One on returns, the hope of Nirvana and blissful existence as the indivisible part of the Whole. Universal harmony is recognized and enjoyed, as the sage becomes vehicle of Nothingness. Nishida's philosophy is, in someways, a pairing of dialectical rationality with Heideggerian phenomenology. But such is framed in very Japanese terms: Buddhist monks had already deployed dialectical reasoning in service of self-emptying for centuries.
But Tanabe found Nishida lacking. In his historical context, Tanabe was a Japanese nationalist grieved with his nation's plunge into militaristic empire. Such not only ended horribly for Japan (reduced to American vassalage), but brought untold nightmare across Asia in pursuit of colonies (the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere). While Tanabe did not name Nishida, he is clearly his antagonist. The constructive project of synthesis did nothing to stave off man's ultimate sinfulness. Such is manifested, in philosophy, through the hubris of closing the circle (or reaching the most outer ring). The sage's dialectical mastery puffs him up, but it's a lie. For he has not unleashed dialectical reasoning upon dialectical reasoning, he has not critiqued the critique. Thus, for Tanabe, Kant never went far enough in his critical reasoning, for critique itself had not been critiqued! Instead, Kant had arbitrarily bounded a purified and "enlightened" Christianity, which had failed to fully grapple with the nature of time. That is why Tanabe thought Hegel was a good Kantian viz. his attempt to complete the system of Idealism. Hence Hegel placed such a heavy accent on history as the very dimensions in which dialectical reason plays out. Since time is unfinished so too is the project of dialectical criticism always unfinished.
But Tanabe saw in Hegel the same Zen concern of dialectical mastery through reason. It is pure jiriki, self-power, the ability for the sage to ascend through his own intellectual capacity. Tanabe does not believe such is impossible, but laments. Such is very good for the man who bears Wisdom in his soul (as Socrates was compared to ugly Satyr vase who was full of gods). But what about the rest of us? Tanabe laments that he no such sage, he cannot pull himself up from his own power. Thus the world is doomed to decays as a few rare individuals reach enlightenment on their own. Of course, most who claim this status are themselves deceived fools. Hence, in the hands of less worthy students, Hegelian dialectics congealed into a stale systematic pantheism. The logic of identity (A = A) turns this dialectical process into metaphysical ontology. Thus Hegelians end up baptizing, often in a crude way, a whiggish teleology of history reaching towards the liberal constitutional state. For those who realize the fundamental bankruptcy of this project, a "criticize, but no further", one laments how this false world-order depends on a refusal to press on out of fear. For if the dialectician went all the way, the entirety of this social order would be open to radical change. Such was what Kierkegaard saw in the popular Hegelianism in church and state in his native Denmark. They had said "this far, no further", but such was arbitrary and bloodless. It reconstructed a metaphysical abstraction, which mutilated history in the process.
But Tanabe, like Kierkegaard (and Pascal before him), saw a way out through metanoetics (repentance). Reason is not self-sustaining, depending on axiomatic laws of self-subsistence. Logic cannot exist through identity (Reason = Reason; A = A). Dialectical process will, if not radically pursued, fall again into a falsely reified ontology. Instead, reason must pursue its end unto its death. It must become "trans-rational" through self-negation. For, as Tanabe explained, "Reason, whose very nature it is to be dialectical, is self-negating and can exist only in the mediation and resurrection effected through its self-negation or self-destruction." (Philosophy as Metanoetics, 50-51). Reason, logic, philosophy: the only hope is through death and resurrection. Hence the fundamental importance of tariki, Other-Power. Man can only be saved from one outside, and thus the task of humanity in all its brilliance is through opening. Humanity is not to build, but to wait (even wait with haste as the Blumhardts said). Only the grace of God can overcome the despair endemic to the positive project of rational systems. Philosophy as repentance is the only thing that can clear the eyes so as to see divine intervention.
As an aside, Tanabe seemed to recognize what Alexandre Kojeve recognized about Hegel. While Hegel was committed to the use of dialectical reasoning to build up towards a universal perspective (viz. the Absolute Subject), Kojeve saw Hegel as almost producing a theory of revelation. It was not that history had simply evolved from one stage into another through a process of contradiction. Rather the contradiction produced the opening through the Absolute Subject may appear, an unveiling of the entire shape of time. Now Tanabe saw this insight in conflict with Hegel's intellectualist dependence on the axiomatic law of identity, which will inevitably drive this approach into ontotheology, temporality is closed and ejected even as it is (self-evidently!) still on going. Tanabe argued this shift as a misunderstanding of time's shape. Defined linearly, time becomes space and takes on substantial qualities. Thus, the "eternal now" of the mystic's vision (where past and future dissolve into the present) is not the glorification of time, but its utter ruin. It is not the movement of a death and resurrection, but pure substantive life (which becomes a living death). If such is true about Hegel, its roots may lie in Hegel's dependence on the German mystical tradition (Theologica Germanica and Tauler viz. Luther, and especially Jakob Boehme, c.f. O'Regan The Heterodox Hegel). The openness of man is rejected for closure, which is again an elite quest for the jiriki of the Zen sage, dialectical ascension (through asceticism, per medieval monasticism) into the light. Boehme preserved this tradition through Luther and Meister Eckhart, which Hegel takes up in a far more rational direction.
But for Tanabe, this redemption (even if it were possible) left the world condemned. Though he doesn't draw this comparison, it reminds me of the shadow of Ivan Karamazov's Grand Inquisitor (in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov). The satanism was actually the jiriki of the ascetic sage, a monk in the desert pouring himself out for the Lord. But this pursuit was too much. Not only was it costly, but left the world damned. It's this accusation the Inquisitor flings at Jesus: You ask too much! You've abandoned the world! We will be the savior you failed to be! Thus Babel viz. the Roman magisterium would build a system to care for the world-as-it-is, even if it requires deceit, manipulation, and coercion. The Inquisitor listened to the wisdom of the serpent: he turned rocks into bread, he miraculously dove from the Temple, and he accepted vassalage to the devil in exchange for earthly sovereignty. If hating God and embracing satan is the price to pay for peace and prosperity, so the Inquisitor reasons, so be it. From cradle to grave, the masses will find happiness and contentment. Aloysia Karamazov is disturbed by this Jesuitical version of Christian faith, but the fulfillment of this story is not in the lines drawn. The Inquisitor was wrong, God had not abandoned the world and only expected the perfect. His very life (and silence before his accusers) was poured out for the life of the world. By embracing the tomb, the glorious light of resurrection shone forth. Rather than the false reification of jiriki, either in a mystic's escape or an idolatry as a means to an end, tariki hopes in the grace of God.
It's from this vantage that Tanabe praised Christianity, but found it flawed. The anthropomorphism of the Bible and the long tradition of neoplatonic ontotheology (from Plotinus into figures like Augustine and Boethius) traps the radical vision of resurrection from exploding. The problem is, fundamentally, a definition of God in personal (and ontological) terms. Theism is Christianity's weakness. Instead, Tanabe adhered to the teaching of Shinran and Pure Land Buddhism. In short (and put imperfectly and crudely): Pure Land Buddhism adhered to the salvific grace of Amitabha Buddha (revered as the savior Buddha). For Pure Land, Amitabha ascended (reaching Nirvana) but did not cease. Instead, he created the Pure Land and remained psychically present, operating in the world to save all those who call upon his name (and access his merits). Through the teaching of Shinran (1173-1263), a Japanese Buddhist monk, Japanese Buddhist received the teaching of the Pure Land. Shinran effectively taught a form of salvation by grace through faith alone, which (like St. Paul) encountered criticisms of laxity and lapses into sin (which was blamed on Shinran's teachings). But this grace became available for all, especially non-monks. One does not need to ascend through ascetic practice and dialectical mastery to find Nirvana. Instead, the grace of the Buddha opened a path of life for the world, and he is present to hear the cries of the faithful, to save them according to their desire (not merit or ability). Tanabe defended the teaching of Shinran (and the philosophy of metanoetics) as not license to do whatever one wanted (reminiscent again of St. Paul). However, it was only through tariki that redemption for the radical evil of man (manifest in Japanese imperialism and genocide on the mainland) can be expurgated through radical good. It was only this path which could save individual Japanese, loaded with national guilt, as well as open the nation up to a future beyond a return to empire or complete capture to the American orbit. Only repentance could change the future.
Again, Tanabe rejected axiomatic substantive-identity as a dead-end. The mystic's quest ultimately was self-focused (which was what led to despair), whereas death-and-resurrection placed one in the grace of the fecund void, the power of the Pure Land to which all aspire. Time was therefore not linear (and not collapsible into a single point of "eternal now", but parabolic. The hope is that the present is glorified as a pure medium of exchange between past and future. The past gives shape and form to the future, while the future frees the past from its passing. The present is the site of resurrection, a future with flesh, a past risen from the dead. Love (viz. metanoetics) overcomes the false antinomies (past vs. future) through self-abandonment. Those willing to lose their lives for the Good News will live forever. Tanabe believed Schelling was onto this truth in his later revision away from axiomatic self-identity. However, Schelling pursued this path through sheer paganism, a pantheistic All-One through self-affirmation (a less rigorous lapse into Zen's jiriki). Only abandoning oneself can the grace of Amitabha flow into the moment. Sins are forgiven, redemption made possible, and hope manifest. And thus one is thrown back into the world to weep with it, channeling this grace to others so they too may call on Amitabha and be saved.
There's much to recommend to Tanabe's vision and his rejection of limits to the critical project of philosophy. Like Kierkegaard, whom he deeply admired, one must follow the dialectical spiral into the oblivion as the only honest path. And it's from emptiness that redemption emerges. For having arrived at the Pure Land, graced through the salvific work of the Buddha, one can be a vessel for sacrificial mercy. Philosophy services this, admonishing (as Pascal had) that the heart has reasons which reason cannot comprehend. Such is true not only for the radical evil that manifests in the world through sin, but also the potential for radical good overcoming such through forgiveness. And this forgiveness reaches down to the very bottom, to the most depraved, lost, and weak among us. There's hope even for Tanabe (who saw himself as a beggarly and broken man) and the wreckage of his Japan.
A Christian may use this philosophy fruitfully, as well as appreciate the "noble pagan" ethos of a theologian like Shinran (who Tanabe brings into conversation with Pascal and Kierkegaard). Of course, for a Christian, a key element to its theological ethics is the historicity of the Christ in Israel's history. It is precisely because the story of Israel consummated in the fullness of time that Tanabe's death/resurrection (as an exitus/reditus of fall/redemption) is true. Amitabha does not need to be quite historical to describe this Other-Power which suspends the world, even as it stands a part. Hence Tanabe sees parallels with his philosophy in the revelational philosophy of Karl Barth. Scripture is true, even if its history is not verifiable (which is left off as a side question). Barth's Christocentrism is thus easily unmoored to fit other contexts. It's really only Barth's eurocentrism (and misunderstanding of other religious movements) which keeps him explicitly Christian. But, as St. Paul said, if Christ was not raised, our trust in God is in vain! Jesus is the Christ, but as the Christ he is the fulfillment of Amitabha Buddha. He is the man who makes the Pure Land available. But even more so, he is the Logos who built New Jerusalem, from which our historic forms take place. Tanabe is not denying the importance of history (far from it!), but focused on it strictly in philosophical abstract. The need for evidentially based resurrection (eye witnesses viz traditioned texts) does not get rid of his more fundamental arguments.
Obviously the hardest nut to crack here is Tanabe's critique of theism. Tanabe construed the God-world dichotomy as another antinomy that falsely stalled out criticism. Such was the very problem of revelation as such, giving rise to both mystics and the intellectualist (later rationalist) quest. Even Aquinas, who carved out much knowledge of the world through scholastic dialectical methods, depended on a revelational mystery at the end. These truths are known because they come from heaven. But such remains open to further dialectical critique, which was what appeared in the panentheism of various mystics. The divide (and all the metaphysical and epistemic problems flowing from it) is overcome through a kind of mystical union in a neoplatonic exitus-reditus. But, per Tanabe, this approach does nothing for humanity as such, unless one embraces a universalism which denies any meaning to history and collapses good and evil as false subjective perspectives. Pantheism denies redemption, for there is no radical evil to be done away with. Forgiveness is reconceived as simply a metaphysical return, not an ethical problem. The influence of Heidegger on Tanabe is clear (especially when he discusses historical contingency as "thrownness"), though reflecting an erroneous vitalist self-affirmation in the end.
For Tanabe, the divine grace comes from the fecund Nothing of pure potency. Freedom is unleashed when the negativity of the Buddha transforms you into a medium for this grace. Again, the past and future intermingle (without collapse) in the present, which has no definition of its own except in its sheer negativity. It is how time does not simply become a species of space, a place to dwell and not the flow of resurrected life. Repentance is the self-emptying tariki so as to become other than one's self according to the Other-Power. God, as a personal agent governing the world, gets in the way of this process because it is a dialectic which freezes. Creator and creature remained radically juxtaposed, which results in the panentheistic erasure through reditus. For Tanabe, the schema of movement only describes time, not substances. Otherwise, ontologically, the mystic's dance ends in the complete eradication of all diversity as the All-One reassumes all of its emanations (the Plotinian adaptation of Stoic eschatology for Platonic metaphysics of form and matter). Thus redemption not only becomes impossible for this world, but it also means that the only real hope is the sage's escape through mystical ascension. Ascenticism becomes about gaining power, and not hoping in grace. The god of Plotinus redefined Christian eschatology (and its primitive notion of deity) in a way which destroyed the flow of time.
In more traditionally Christian terms, the above is the problem of communion. How can God and creature meet? In medieval Latin theology, some theologians introduced what (effectively) was an infinite regress. God's grace was, ultimately, creaturely, flowing from Augustine's hypothetical that God's theophany in the OT was triadic and mediated through an angelic creature. In other words, Moses saw the trinity in the burning bush, but the miraculous fire was itself a creature. The reason for this view (though Augustine is only speculating) was to defend the consubstantial trinity professed at Nicaea from Arian diminutives. Most Arians (including Arius himself) did not deny that Christ is God, only that He is not "homoousios", consubstantial, which seemed to smack of monarchism (condemned in 3rd century Antioch and associated with Paul of Samosata). In other words, there was a fear of collapsing the Father and the Son into a simple being who wore different masks pertaining to his actions (and the incarnation became a sort of God-controlled man). Now while the problem was overcome directly in relation to Christology (the categories of person, nature, and hypostatic union), how this applied to men in general was not always as clear. However, the Cappadocians (Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, and Gregory Nyssen) collectively utilized Aristotelian notions of "energy" (energeia, or works) to argue for a divine identity through eternal works. Hence God didn't need a world to be just, and yet God was visible through the enactment of historical divine justice through these works. Hence, God was present in the Red Sea without that historic event meaning some kind of metaphysical collapse.
The concept of "energies" became far more important in Byzantium than the Latin West (where it was formally vindicated in the 13th c. councils related to Palamism). However it was present too in some forms of Scotistic metaphysics in the West. There is more to be done here, research wise, but suffice to say that this metaphysical approach was a means to overcome Hellenistic philosophy. In short, it allowed the Bible's anthropomorphisms to mean what they mean, overcoming the accusations of Hellenistic accusers. George Berkeley's idealist philosophy, drawing from the well neoplatonic metaphysics, made this view clear for patristically-oriented Protestants who shifted further away from Aristotelian dichotomies (as well as the insane fragmentation of Ramist logic). Dualities that exist throughout the world do not form into dualisms, caesura throughout the created world. Rather the multiplicity of things interpenetrate each other, not metaphysically (a question of substance and space) but temporally. In lay terms, there's a time for the sun and a time for the moon, and both have unity through divine love, each giving way to the other, the reciprocal pouring out and being poured into. Thus the God-world problem is overcome not through pantheism (or panentheism), or frozen into a metaphysical idolatry, but through God's energetic presence. Hence the Pauline language of me working, but not me, but Christ in and through me (1 Cor. 15:10; Gal 2:20). The personality of God is manifest through this working, and this happens not substantively (the "energies" are not things) but through the flow of time. Idealism fits this mode, moving away from questions of substantive material to solve actuality/potentiality, towards the divine will enacting His own actuality (again, a Scotistic definition of divine forms).
In short, Tanabe doesn't quite grasp the plethora of Christian theology (dependent, as I suspect, on German philosophy for its reading) to see how it is Christ as Logos, not Amitabha as Buddha, which provides a far more satisfying (and true) ground for metanoetics. It is the cosmic effect of the cross which makes the New Jerusalem a coming reality. It is to fidelity to Christ in the heart, and confession with the tongue, which creates the space through which one receives grace. It is through the energetic presence of God, the fire of the creative Logos, which leads to the Pure Land of the Heavenly Jerusalem. The true tariki is God Himself who descended into the depths for the redemption of the world. It is a shame repentance has often been so far from the lips of Christians. Tanabe helps restore the primacy of this to true philosophy, an entire form of life.