Faculty Mentor

Dr. Cynthia Coe

Subject Area



Throughout much of the history of Western philosophy, the works of non-Western philosophers were often categorized as belonging to that of mystics and was not worthy of rational discourse. This attitude began to change in the mid-19th century with philosophers such as Arthur Schopenhaur, but even more so in the 20th century as exploration of Eastern philosophy began in full earnest. Of particular note is Martin Heidegger’s examination of Buddhism in his phenomenological work. Heidegger is not the only phenomenologist to have connections to Buddhism. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the leading French phenomenologist of the 20th century, argued that the body was not only necessary for experiencing the world, but also for the attainment of authentic self-hood. In a similar vein, centuries earlier, the Zen master Dogen was formulating a philosophy of the body that closely corresponds with what Merleau-Ponty discusses in his seminal work The Phenomenology of Perception by claiming that the body was the necessary component of attainment of enlightenment through its practice of zazen, or seated meditation. Drawing from these two philosophers, and contemporary commentators, this paper argues that the divide between philosophy in the East and West is not as great as one might think. By providing a space for dialogue between Dogen and Merleau-Ponty, we see how their philosophies discourse with one another, especially in regards to their understanding of the body’s importance in realization of authentic self-hood. And in providing this space, the foundations of a greater discourse between East and West may begin.


Buddha-nature, Dogen, Immanence and transcendence, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology, Soto Zen Buddhism, Zazen, Comparative philosophy