Hubert Benoit
Zen and the Psychology of Transformation
The Supreme Doctrine

Chapter 1

ON THE GENERAL SENSE OF ZEN THOUGHT

Man has always reflected upon his condition, has thought that he is not as he would like to be, has defined more or less accurately the faults of his manner of functioning, has made in fact his 'auto-criticism'. This work of criticism, sometimes rough-and-ready, attains at other times on the contrary, and in a number of directions, a very high degree of depth and subtlety. The undesirable aspects of the natural1 man's inward functioning are often very accurately recognised and described.

[1. The expression 'the natural man' in this book describes man as he is before the condition known as satori.]

With regard of this wealth of diagnosis one is struck by the poverty of therapeutic effect. The schools which have taught and which continue to teach the subject of Man, after having demonstrated what does not go right in the case of the natural man, and why that does not go right, necessarily come to the question 'How are we to remedy this state of affairs?' And there begins the confusion and the poverty of doctrines. At this point nearly all the doctrines go astray, sometimes wildly, sometimes, subtly, except the doctrine of Zen (and even here it is necessary to specify 'some masters of Zen').

It is not to be denied that in other teachings some men have been able to obtain their realisation. But a clear explanation of the matter and a clear refutation of the false methods is only to be found in pure Zen.

The essential error of all the false methods lies in the fact that the proposed remedy does not reach the root-cause of the natural man's misery. Critical analysis of man's condition does not go deep enough into the determining cause of his inner phenomena; it does not follow the links of this chain down to the original phenomenon. It stops too quickly at the symptoms. The searcher who does not see further than such and such a symptom, whose analytic thought, exhausted, stops there, evidently is not able to conceive a remedy for the whole situation except as a development, concerted and artificial, of another symptom radically opposed to the symptom that is incriminated. For example: a man arrives at the conclusion that his misery is the result of his manifestations of anger, conceit, sensuality, etc., and he will think that the cure should consist in applying himself to produce manifestations of gentleness, humility, asceticism, etc. Or perhaps another man, more intelligent this one, will come to the conclusion that his misery is a result of his mental agitation, and he will think that the cure should consist in applying himself, by such and such exercises, to the task of tranquillising his mind. One such doctrine will say to us, 'Your misery is due to the fact that you are always desiring something, to your attachment to what you possess', and this will result, according to the degree of intelligence of the master, in the advice to give away all your possessions, or to learn to detach yourself inwardly from the belongings that you continue to own outwardly. Another such doctrine will see the key to the man's misery in his lack of self-mastery, and will prescribe 'Yoga', methods aimed at progressive training of the body, or of feelings, or of the attitude towards others, or of knowledge, or of attention.

All that is, from the Zen point of view, just animal-training and leads to one kind of servitude or another (with the illusory and exalting impression of attaining freedom). At the back of all that there is the following simple-minded reasoning: 'Things are going badly with me in such and such a way; very well, from now on I am going to do exactly the opposite.' This way of regarding the problem, starting from a form that is judged to be bad, encloses the searcher within the limits of a domain that is formal, and, as a result deprives him of all possibility of re-establishing his consciousness beyond all form; when I am enclosed within the limits of the plane of dualism no reversal of method will deliver me from the dualistic illusion and restore me to Unity. It is perfectly analogous to the problem of 'Achilles and the Tortoise'; 2 the manner of posing the problem encloses it within the very limits that it is necessary to overstep, and as a result, renders it insoluble.

[2. Ref at Wikipedia ]

The penetrating thought of Zen cuts through all our phenomena without stopping to consider their particularities. It knows that in reality nothing is wrong with us and that we suffer because we do not understand that everything works perfectly, because in consequence we believe falsely that all is not well and that it is necessary to put something right. To say that all the trouble derives from the fact that man has an illusory belief that he lacks something would be an absurd statement also, since the 'lack' of which it speaks is unreal and because an illusory belief, for that reason unreal, could not be the cause of anything whatever. Besides, if I look carefully, I do not find positively in myself this belief that I lack something (how could there be positively present the illusory belief in an absence?); what I can state is that my inward phenomena behave as if this belief were there; but, if my phenomena behave in this manner, it is not on account of the presence of this belief, it is because the direct intellectual intuition that nothing is lacking sleeps in the depths of my consciousness, that this has not yet been awakened therein; it is there, for I lack nothing and certainly not that, but it is asleep and cannot manifest itself. All my apparent 'trouble' derives from the sleep of my faith in the perfect Reality; I have, awakened in me, nothing but 'beliefs' in what is communicated to me by my senses and my mind working on the dualistic plane (beliefs in the non-existence of a Perfect Reality that is One); and these beliefs are illusory formations, without reality, consequences of the sleep of my faith. I am a 'man of little faith', more exactly without any faith, or, still better, of sleeping faith, who does not believe in anything he does not see on the formal plane. (This idea of faith, present but asleep, enables us to understand the need that we experience, for our deliverance, of a Master to awaken us, of a teaching, of a revelation; for sleep connotes precisely the deprivation of that which can awaken.)

In short everything appears to be wrong in me because the fundamental idea that everything is perfectly, eternally and totally positive, is asleep in the centre of my being, because it is not awakened, living and active therein. There at last we touch upon the first painful phenomenon, that from which all the rest of our painful phenomena derive. The sleep of our faith in the Perfect Reality that is One (outside which nothing 'is') is the primary phenomenon from which the whole of the entangled chain depends; it is the causal phenomenon; and no therapy of illusory human suffering can be effective if it be applied anywhere but there.

To the question 'What must I do to free myself?' Zen replies: 'There is nothing you need do since you have never been enslaved and since there is nothing in reality from which you can free yourself.' This reply can be misunderstood and may seem discouraging because it contains an ambiguity inherent in the word 'do'. Where the natural man is concerned the action required resolves itself dualistically, into conception and action, and it is to the action, to the execution of his conception that the man applies the word 'do'. In this sense Zen is right, there is nothing for us to 'do'; everything will settle itself spontaneously and harmoniously as regards our 'doing' precisely when we cease to set ourselves to modify it in any manner and when we strive only to awaken our sleeping faith, that is to say when we strive to conceive the primordial idea that we have to conceive. This complete idea, spherical as it were and immobile, evidently does not lead to any particular action, it has no special dynamism, it is this central purity of Non-Action through which will pass, untroubled, the spontaneous dynamism of real natural life. Also one can and one should say that to awaken and to nourish this conception is not 'doing' anything in the sense that this word must necessarily have for the natural man, and even that this awakening in the domain of thought is revealed in daily life by a reduction (tending towards cessation) of all the useless operations to which man subjects himself in connexion with his inner phenomena.

Evidently it is possible to maintain that to work in order to conceive an idea is to 'do' something. But considering the sense that this word has for the natural man, it is better, in order to avoid a dangerous misunderstanding, to talk as Zen talks and to show that work that can do away with human distress is work of pure intellect which does not imply that one 'does' anything in particular in his inner life and which implies, on the contrary, that one ceases to wish to modify it in any way.

Let us look at the question more closely still. Work which awakens faith in the unique and perfect Reality which is our 'being' falls into two movements. In a preliminary movement our discursive thought conceives all the ideas needed in order that we may theoretically understand the existence in us of this faith which is asleep, and in the possibility of its awakening, and that only this awakening can put an end to our illusory sufferings. During this preliminary movement the work effected can be described as 'doing' something. But this theoretical understanding, supposing it to have been obtained, changes nothing as yet in our painful condition: it must now be transformed into an understanding that is lived, experienced by the whole of our organism, an understanding both theoretical and practical, both abstract and concrete; only then will our faith be awakened. But this transformation, this passing beyond 'form', could not be the result of any deliberate work 'done' by the natural man who is entirely blind to that which is not 'formal'. There is no 'path' towards deliverance, and that is evident since we have never really been in servitude and we continue not to be so; there is nowhere to 'go', there is nothing to 'do'. Man has nothing directly to do in order to experience his liberty that is total and infinitely happy. What he has to do is indirect and negative; what he has to understand, by means of work, is the deceptive illusion of all the 'paths' that he can seek out for himself and try to follow. When his persevering efforts shall have brought him the perfectly clear understanding that all that he can 'do' to free himself is useless, when he has definitely stripped of its value the very idea of all imaginable 'paths', then 'satori' will burst forth, a real vision that there is no 'path' because there is nowhere to go, because, from all eternity, he was at the unique and fundamental centre of everything.

So the 'deliverance', so-called, which is the disappearance of the illusion of being in servitude, succeeds chronologically an inner operation but is not in reality caused by it. This inward formal operation cannot be the cause of that which precedes all form and consequently precedes it; it is only the instrument through which the First Cause operates. In fact the famous narrow gate does not exist in the strict sense of the word, any more than the path onto which it might open; unless one might wish so to call the understanding that there is no path, that there is no gate, that there is nowhere to go because there is no need to go anywhere. That is the great secret, and at the same time the great indication, that the Zen masters reveal to us.

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