Hubert Benoit
Zen and the Psychology of Transformation
The Supreme Doctrine

Chapter 7


In order to tackle profitably the problem of liberty it is necessary to come back to the basic idea that the whole cosmic architecture consists of the exact, rigorous equilibrium of two inferior principles, positive and negative, brought about by a conciliatory principle which is above them. Seen in the perspective of our actual state, in which we have not yet attained 'realisation', the conciliatory principle takes on two aspects:

1. When we consider particular phenomena we see the conciliatory principle under a partial aspect, and we can call it the 'temporal conciliatory principle'. It is the Demiurge who presides at the creation of the Ten Thousand Things, at constructive and destructive phenomena, anabolism and catabolism, all of which manifest the cosmic metabolism;

2. When we consider the spatial and temporal totality of the cosmos we arrive at the conception of the Intemporal or Supreme, or Absolute Conciliatory Principle, which presides at the Unity of phenomenal multiplicity, the Intemporal Principle in which there does not yet exist any dualistic manifestation and for which the temporal conciliatory principle represents a sort of inferior delegate.

This Supreme Conciliatory Principle is the First Cause, anterior to all manifestation, and it is to it that our abstract thought tends when it reascends the universal chain of effects and causes.

The existence of the Demiurge between the First Cause and phenomena leads us necessarily to distinguish two determinisms:

1. A partial determinism according to which the temporal conciliatory principle determines the phenomena;

2. A total determinism according to which the Supreme Conciliatory Principle determines the temporal conciliatory principle and, through it, the phenomena.

Each of these two determinisms is manifested by laws. But it is interesting to see the differences which exist between the laws of partial determinism and the law of total determinism.

The laws of partial determinism operate only on the concrete plane, temporal and spatial. Each particular manifestation of these laws operating in the partial is apparently disordered. This man, for example, has an unhappy destiny during the whole of his existence, while that other man has a happy destiny. The partial determinism, operating in appearance; appears to be unbalanced, unjust, disordered.

The law of total determinism operates not only on the plane of particular phenomena, but in the universal. We can only conceive this determinism as perfectly ordered. The totality of positive phenomena is exactly balanced by the totality of negative phenomena. Each phenomenon is integrated in a totality in which it is counter-balanced by a phenomenon that is exactly complementary.

The partial determinism, phenomenal, apparent, visible, disordered, is not 'real' since it is partial (and there can only be Reality which includes totality). But the ignorant man takes the visible for the real; also he believes in the unique reality of this partial determinism; and this is revealed by the fact that he calls it 'determinism'. Besides, this man has a certain innate intuition of Reality, that is to say of the Supreme Principle, which he conceives as endowed, among other attributes, with liberty. Since, for him, determinism only exists at the partial level, and since he does not conceive total determinism as operating at the level of the Supreme Principle, he opposes the only determinism that he knows to the liberty of the Supreme Principle. Thus he finishes up with the opposition between 'determinism and liberty'. In reality this opposition is illusory. What is not illusory is the distinction between 'partial determinism and total determinism', a distinction which is not at all an opposition, but which expresses two different views, one at the individual level, the other at the universal level, of one and the same Causal Reality.

The natural egotistical man desires to be free, unconditioned, while thinking of himself as a distinct individual. I can envisage myself thus as a distinct individual, as a psycho-somatic organism, but I ought then to understand my liberation from partial determinism as a passing-beyond, an accomplishment of this partial determinism in the total determinism of the Supreme Principle. When I have attained Realisation my psycho-somatic organism will no longer be governed only by the apparently disordered laws of partial determinism but by the total law of universal and cosmic equilibrium, a law rigorously ordered which is the principle of all the apparently disordered laws of partial determinism. If I suppose myself to be liberated by Realisation I ought not to imagine my organism escaping all determinism, but as being conditioned at last by the total determinism of the Supreme Principle which is my 'own nature'; I ought not to imagine my organism no longer obeying any cause, but as obeying at last the First Cause which is its own Reality. In short my liberty does not reside in the absence of all causation geared onto my organism, but in the perfect equivalence in me between that which is caused and that which causes it, between that which is conditioned and the Principle which conditions it. If, at the moment at which I attain Realisation, I cease to be constrained, it is not because that which was constraining me has been wiped out, but because that which was constraining me has expanded infinitely and has coincided with the totality in which Self and Not-Self are one, in such a way that the word 'constraint' has lost all sense.

Failing the understanding of that, the natural egotistical man fatally envisages an act of free-will as an act of fantasy, gratuitous, arbitrary, connected with nothing, and he ends up thus at absurdity, at that which no longer has any meaning. This illusory liberty, which is on this side of partial determinism, and not on the other side, chimerically excludes our organism from the rest of the cosmos and thus contains an internal contradiction which wipes it out. In a book on Zen that appeared recently a Western author affirms that the man liberated by satori can do anything in any circumstances; but this is radically contrary to a true understanding, for the man liberated by satori can only perform one single action in a given circumstance. He can no longer do anything but the action that is totally adequate to that circumstance; and it is in the immediate, spontaneous elaboration of this unique adequate action that the enjoyment of the perfect liberty of this man lies. The natural egotistical man, activated by partial determinism, elaborates in a mediate manner one of the innumerable inadequate reactions to the given circumstance; the man who has attained Realisation, activated by total determinism, elaborates with absolute rigour the unique action that is adequate.

On this side of the adequate act of free-will there exists a whole hierarchy of actions more or less inadequate according to the narrowness or the amplitude of the partial determinism which rules it. Right at the bottom of this hierarchy it is purely reflex action, without any reflection, in which we see come into play a spontaneity on this side of reflection. Then, reflection intervening more and more, we see this inferior spontaneity disappear little by little; the action becomes adequate to an ever-wider aspect of surrounding circumstances. After satori reflection is left behind and the action finds quite a new spontaneity at the same time that it becomes perfectly adequate, adequate to the spatial and temporal totality of the phenomenal universe.

In the range of this intermediate hierarchy there is a direct proportion between the discipline of the act and the inner impression of liberty which accompanies it. The more the rigour of the determinism increases, the more the action is felt inwardly as free. If, for example, someone asks me to name any substantive, I feel uncomfortable, a confusion of which I am prisoner; I do not know what to say. If someone asks me to name a musical instrument of any kind I like, I feel a lesser degree of discomfort and I reply more readily. If someone asks me to name the smallest instrument of a quartet, the confusion of which I was prisoner disappears entirely; by naming the violin I experience within an impression of liberty which is bound up with my certainty of being able to reply adequately. According to the degree in which my possibilities of reply are restricted, in which my exterior liberty of reply decreases, in the same degree my impression of interior liberty increases; in other words, my mind is freer in the degree in which that which I have to elaborate is more rigorously defined.

The modern evolution of art is a striking illustration of the disorder which seizes the human spirit when it rejects all discipline. In refusing to accept limitations man deprives himself of the impression of liberty which he feels when he is within accepted constraints; with this impression of liberty he loses a tranquility of which he has need in order to receive the message of his deeper inspiration. And so the artist who refuses all discipline, and who even makes a virtue of outraging it, cuts himself off from his deeper source and no longer succeeds in expressing himself; he mumbles and even ends up by feeling himself impotent, restricted by his exterior liberty.

A discipline which we accept spontaneously is necessary in order that our life may not be a suicidal chaos. But let us admit, on the other hand, that if it is dangerous for our temporal life not to have discipline, this discipline constitutes at the same time an obstacle to Realisation. Indeed it procures us an impression of interior liberty; but, before satori, we are not really free at all. This impression of liberty is illusory and it constitutes a palliative, a compensation for our dualistic condition that is not yet conciliated. The counterfeit joys which flow from it consume vital energy which we are not able to save from them.

Therefore discipline is, as regards intemporal realisation, at once favourable and unfavourable; it is favourable indirectly since it favours temporal realisation without which there could not be intemporal realisation; and it is unfavourable directly to intemporal realisation in giving to man the illusion that all is going well in him henceforward.

The Zen adept resolves this contradiction by opposing to it a method that is also contradictory: he refuses all particular discipline (no 'morality', no asceticism, no 'spiritual' exercises) and he adheres, as his understanding advances, to the total discipline which consists in depriving himself pitilessly of all particular discipline. 'Cease to cherish opinions', 'The perfect way is closed to all preference', 'Awaken the mind without fixing it on anything', etc.... This man gradually faces up to the distress inherent in complete external liberty. By rejecting all opinion he tastes to the full the inner servitude of our egotistical state; he maintains himself in the middle of our illusory prison right up to the moment of this culmination of impotent immobility in which satori entirely overthrows appearances and rebuilds them in the new light of a liberty that is real, that transcends its own inner and outer aspects.

top of page