Hubert Benoit
Zen and the Psychology of Transformation
The Supreme Doctrine

Chapter 11


We would like to revert to the psychological conditions of satori and to the necessity of training ourselves to perceive inwardly, upstream of all form, our impression of existing-more-or-less. There indeed lies the heart of the concrete inner work aiming at our transformation.

Zen says to us: 'Look straight into your own nature.' Certainly, but I, as a natural man, realise that I do not succeed in doing so. This way of looking depends on the 'opening of the third eye', and everything takes place in me as though this third eye was always closed. I have understood that the third eye exists in me and that no film covers it; there is nothing wrong with it, it does not have to be cured; but it is used to remaining shut and I have to do something in order to get rid of this habit. I ask myself, therefore, how I am to lose this habit from which spring all my sufferings. I have understood that there ought to be a certain way of using my two ordinary eyes, that is to say with my ordinary attention, which should gradually do away with the spasm of the eyelid of the third eye and enable me one day to see suddenly and definitively into my own nature. I ask myself then what this way may be. What is this way of looking which, possible in my present state yet incapable by itself of giving me the 'vision into my own nature', will nevertheless modify my state in such a way that it will cease to oppose the 'opening of the third eye'? I know that the effective effort will not be an effort of contraction but an effort of relaxation; but I ask myself: 'What exactly is this effort of relaxation that I must make and which although fruitless in itself—since an inferior manifestation could not be the cause of a superior manifestation— will make me subject, ultimately, to the direct action of Intemporal Reality?'

This effort of relaxation consists in a certain glance within. This inward glance, as we have said, is that which I make towards the centre of my whole being when I reply to the question: 'How are you feeling at this moment from every point of view at the same time?' If someone asks me: 'How are you feeling at this moment from a physical point of view?' I look into myself so as to perceive what is called my coenaesthesis, what I shall call here my physical coenaesthesis. If someone asks me: 'How are you feeling at this moment from the "moral" point of view?' I look into myself so as to perceive that which I will call my psychic coenaesthesis (that which is called also my state of mind or my mood). And when someone asks me: 'How are you feeling at this moment from every point of view at once?' I look into myself so as to perceive what I shall call my total coenaesthesis. It is this last way of looking which constitutes the essential effort in order to obtain one day the 'sudden' release of 'vision into my own nature'.

In order to study this special inner perception which is total coenaesthesis we will use the similarities which relate it to physical coenaesthesis. Two points are interesting. First of all coenaesthesis is a perception obtained by a de-contraction; the coenaesthetic sensation of my right arm, for example, which consists in feeling the existence of my arm, or in feeling my arm from within, cannot be felt if my arm is contracted; in this state of contraction the sensibility of my arm is projected to the surface; I must decontract my arm in order to feel it in its central axis, as though its sensibility flowed back then into the marrow of its bones. Again, coenaesthetic perception is in-formal. When my arm is contracted I feel its form; when on the contrary it has lain as relaxed as possible for some minutes and its sensibility has flowed back entirely into its central axis, I feel this arm certainly, I feel it as existing (this corresponds with the painless sensation of the missing limb that a man has, whose limb has been amputated), but I no longer feel its form. If I think of it from the spatial point of view I feel it to be as big as the whole universe, as though its form had burst and was dissolved in the totality of space; I have therefore certainly an in-formal perception of it.

These two points, de-contracted perception and in-formal perception, are common to the three coenaestheses. But the physical coenaesthesis differs from the two others from a point of view that is capital, the point of view of time. The perception of my physical existence is capable of continuity in duration; I can feel my arm, or the whole of my physical body, 'from within' during a certain continuous period. On the contrary, when I perceive my total coenaesthesis, that is to say when I feel myself from within in my psychosomatic totality, it is only in an instantaneous flash, and I cannot hold it with the least temporal continuity; this perception escapes me at the same moment that it reaches me. It escapes me in its in-formal purity and drifts at once towards formal perceptions. For a moment, for example, I feel 'not very well' without this discomfort having any form; then, at once, I feel the manner of my discomfort, how I am not very well; then why, in my opinion, I am thus; then what I envisage in order to feel better, and so on....

Thus, then, my effort to perceive purely my total existence has only resulted in perceiving my actual and instantaneous state of existence. And so the view which this perception gives me is at once a view which sees and which does not see; it sees something of that which it is looking at, since it sees an instantaneous aspect of it which is not without reality, but it does not see what it is looking at in the moving reality which sustains all its instantaneous aspects. One dimension is lacking, that of time. It is this dimension which must be conquered in order that my perception of existing may be a real subjective consciousness, a consciousness of self.

This difference which separates my total coenaesthesis from my somatic coenaesthesis is the cause of another difference between these two perceptions. If my global perception of existing has all the same a certain reality it is in the measure in which this instantaneous perception is opposed to a previous perception, that is to say in the measure in which I feel myself to exist more, or less, than a moment ago. If I withdraw myself from the stimulations of the outside world in order to consecrate myself to repeated efforts of perception of my state of existence, these efforts soon cease to have any result. Since my state of existence does not vary in its impermeability to outside influences, my instantaneous states are identical, they are not in opposition. The time element which was represented by these oppositions from one moment to the next, in the memory that I had in that moment of the moment before, has disappeared, and with it all in-formal perception of existing. If, as we have said, the time dimension is lacking in the consciousness of the natural man, it is still necessary that time should be represented there by memory, and that it manifest thus in connexion with modifications of my state of existence—in order that there may be a certain perception of existing. In any case this perception is relative; in my state of natural man I am not able 'merely' to feel myself existing, I can only have, as in-formal perception, that of existing-more-or-less-than-a-moment-ago. (It is different where my physical coenaesthesis is concerned; and it is because the perception of the physical existence of my arm participates in the absolute, in the intemporal, that a man who has suffered amputation still feels the existence of the arm which he no longer has.)

The perception of existing, of which alone I am capable today, is then a perception limited to the moment, and it is relative; it is only an instantaneous perception of existing-more-or-less-than-a-moment-ago. My impression of existing varies unceasingly according to the ups-and-downs of my relations with the outside world. It is comparable with a bottle-imp, the kind that bobs up and down inside a vase. According to whether I see myself affirmed or denied by the outside world my bottle-imp rises or falls. And my perception of existing-more-or-less consists in perceiving instantaneously the position of this bottle-imp in relation to that which it occupied a moment before.

I perceive the positions of the bottle-imp in their reciprocal relations, I see the bottle-imp higher or lower than it was a moment ago. But I cannot, actually, see it move; I can only indirectly see its displacements by perceiving the difference between my successive instantaneous observations of it; I do not perceive them directly. These displacements of the bottle-imp, these modifications of my states, express my profoundest vital movement. They represent the first phenomenal manifestation of my noumenal existence, of my Principle, of the Universal Supreme Principle, of that which the Vedanta calls the Self. I perceive instantaneous states, different and contrasted, of the manifestation of my Principle, not that manifestation itself in its continuity. The Principle alone sees its manifestation in its continuity; and consciousness will only benefit by its identity with its Principle when it sees, in its continuity, this manifestation which is the spectacle of my creation, or as the Vedanta also says, when I shall be the Spectator of my Spectacle.

Often this notion of a Spectator of the Spectacle is imperfectly understood; some believe that the spectacle in question is at the level of our formal inner phenomena, that it is the imaginative film of our ideas and sentiments. This is a serious mistake; it pushes us towards ordinary introspection which subjects us more and more to our imaginative world. The problem, attacked on this lower level, is insoluble; we cannot be the active spectators of our imaginative film; we only see it when we are not actively looking at it; every active look stops it. The spectacle of which we have to become Spectator is situated at a level above the imaginative film; it is at the level of our first, profound, in-formal movement, from which derive thereafter all our formal inner movements. And this first movement is that which we have called the movement of the bottle-imp, displacements upwards or downwards of our total inner state, synthesis and source of our states both somatic and psychic.

In short, to obtain satori, it is a question of obtaining the transformation of these instantaneous perceptions of existing-more-or-less-than-a-moment-ago into a continuous perception which will then be just perception of existing. Man can arrive at that by training himself to have more and more of these instantaneous perceptions. A comparison will help us to understand what happens in the course of this work. Let us suppose that someone projects a cinematograph-film at the speed of one image every 10 seconds, and we see each image clearly; let us suppose next that the projection is accelerated progressively, and for a certain length of time we still see clearly the images in their discontinuity; but a moment will soon come when we will no longer see them clearly in their discontinuity and when we will not yet see the film clearly in its continuity. Finally, the speed of projection becomes sufficient for us to see clearly the film in its continuity. Zen well describes the intermediate stage which separates the clear and dead vision (ordinary consciousness) from the clear and living vision (consciousness after satori); at its height this intermediary stage is called by Zen 'Tai-i' ('Great Doubt'), and it is described to us as a mental state of complete confusion without form (confusion so complete and so lacking in form that it is in no respect a state of chaos and resembles the transparent purity of an immense crystal behind which there would still be nothing). The idea of the three successive stages of which we are speaking is found also in this passage of Zen: 'Before a man studies Zen, for him the mountains are mountains and the waters are waters; when, thanks to the teaching of a good master, he has achieved a certain inner vision of the truth of Zen, for him the mountains are no longer mountains and the waters are no longer waters; but later, when he has really arrived at the asylum of rest, once more the mountains are mountains and the waters are waters.'

Let us come now to the practice of the inner work such as we envisage it at this moment. As regards the manner of this work we can say nothing more than what we have already said; let us merely repeat that the difficulty of this looking inwards comes from its simplicity. When one fails in looking as one should it is always because one is looking for difficulties where none exist; the question is simply to see if one feels better altogether or less well altogether, if the bottle-imp has bobbed up or dropped down.

This way of looking, let it be said, is only useful if the man who is training himself has profoundly understood, with true intellectual evidence, that, the attainment of satori being the only possible solution of his present state of distress, it is absolutely without importance whether the bottle-imp be high up or low down; the only thing that matters is to obtain the continuous perception of his movement, and not to be happy or unhappy, to tremble or to be self-assured, etc. Above affective preferences, which evidently persist, the impartiality of intellectual comprehension should be firmly established. In the same order of ideas it is evident that the way of looking of which we are speaking assumes the understanding of the equal nullity of the forms of all our mechanisms. At the beginning the man should analyse his mechanisms in order to understand in what the inner mechanics consist; but the concrete inner work assumes that all this has been done and that one has ceased to attach importance to his complexes. The work of theoretical understanding should have been done, and well done, before the concrete inner work can be undertaken.

But an important question remains which we must study. Since, like every natural man, I have five different manners of thinking, which of these manners will constitute the most favourable psychological climate for my efforts to 'see into my own nature'? The reply is simple: there is only one manner of thinking which is compatible with this perception, that is the fourth manner, that of the man who adapts himself to the real outer world. When the variation of my states of existence depend on the non-real and non-present outer world that my imagination creates, that is to say on an imaginative film that I fabricate outside present reality with the materials of my reserve of images, at that moment my mental apparatus is entirely occupied by this fabrication, and it is not available for active perception. I can only actively perceive my varied states of existence when these variations depend not on my activity but on another activity than mine, on the activity of the Not-Self, of the present real outside world. And this activity of the present real outside world only concerns my psychic mechanism during the periods when I join myself to this world, when I adapt myself to reality. One could object that, even at that moment, the variations of my states depend on a certain activity of my mind; which is true, but reactive activity; re-activity, not activity. When I adapt myself to the real outside world the initiative of the mechanisms which will result in my states is outside me, not in me, and it is that which matters. From the moment that this initiative is outside me my initiative is available to me for an active perception.

Experience proves to us, better than any reasoning, what I have just said. If I wish to perceive my state of existence at a moment when I am daydreaming, or at a moment when I am meditating, I must suspend my activity in order to achieve it; I must suspend that which is my life of that moment, and stop living. If, on the contrary, I want to perceive my state of existence at a moment when I have real concrete occupation I realise that I can do so without interrupting my action, that I can feel myself even in the middle of my action. The imaginative film that I have in my mind when I am paying attention to the present outside world is an accurate reflection of this world; it is reactive; it is the outside world which determines it. This reactive imaginative film does not hinder my perception of my state of existence; it is like a wheel which turns with the regular rhythm of the cosmos and at the centre of which my attention can direct itself to the perception of my state of existence at this moment. Every active imaginative film, on the contrary, fabricated by my mind without contact with the present outer world, forbids me the perception of my state of existence. The inner work is, then, incompatible with sleep, with day-dreaming, and with meditative reflection; it is only compatible with life that is adapted to the present concrete world.

Thus are we able to understand why Zen masters have so often repeated that 'the Tao is our daily life'. A monk one day asked his master to instruct him in Zen; the master said to him: 'Have you had your breakfast, or not?' 'I have had it,' replied the monk. 'Very well then, go and wash your dishes.' Zen says also: 'When we are hungry, we eat: when we are sleepy, we lie down; where in all that does the finite or the infinite come in? It is only when the intellect, fertile in restlessness, comes on the scene and takes command that we cease to live and that we imagine that we lack something.'

The inner task consists in an effort of decontraction, in a non-action opposed to our reflex inner agitation; it is a simplicity opposed to our natural complexity; and Zen insists often on this simplicity, this relaxation. Sometimes then we come to think that the inner task should be easy, that we do not have to take trouble; on account of our ignorance of the non-action we believe that it is only in order to 'do' something that we have to take trouble. Let us try, however, to decontract our whole body and to maintain it in a state of complete decontraction for five minutes; we will see then what trouble we must take to remain vigilant, without which one group of muscles or another will quickly slip back into a state of tension. That is why Zen, if it often recalls the simplicity of the inner task, says also: 'Inner peace is only to be had after a bitter fight with our personality.... the fight should rage with extreme force and virility; otherwise the peace which follows will only be a sham.' This battle with the personality is not on the plane of form, it is not, for example, a battle with shortcomings; it is a fight against the mental inertia which engenders all our formal inner agitation, a struggle against that current in order to remount it little by little right up to the reintegration of our consciousness with the in-formal source of our being.

We must now complete what we have said concerning the relations of compatibility or of incompatibility which exist between the effort to 'see into our own nature' and our five manners of thinking. We ought further to enlarge the distinction that we have made between the reactive imaginative film, based on the present outer world, and the active imaginative film, fabricated by our mind with the material of our reserve of images. This distinction is parallel with a distinction that the observation of our concrete psychological life imposes on us: we live at the same time on two distinct planes, the plane of sensation and the plane of imagery. Most men, for example, crave for riches, luxury; they expect from that affirmation of themselves; in fact the rich man obtains from his wealth affirmation of himself. But these affirmations are of two kinds. My wealth affirms me on the plane of sensation by favouring my organic life (good food, good sleep, refreshing sensory impressions, etc.), and on the plane of imagery 'I feel that I am "someone" because I have all that.' The plane of sensation corresponds with physical coenaesthesia, the plane of imagery with psychical coenaesthesia. Notice at the same time that the plane of sensation is real while the plane of imagery is illusory; in fact the plane of sensation corresponds with the man in so far as he is as all other men, that is to say universal man; while the plane of imagery corresponds with the man in so far as he sees himself and wishes himself unique, distinct, that is with the egotistical personal man, who has the illusory image of an Ego. It is illusory because, if each man differs from every other, it is only in formal factors and not at all in his specific condition.

The natural man, except when he sleeps deeply, never lives on just one of these two planes; he lives always on both planes at once. His mind never limits itself to building up a reactive film (plane of sensation) or even an active film (plane of imagery); he builds up unceasingly two films at the same time, one reactive, the other active; his attention shifts from one to the other of these films and it is only on one at each moment, but the two films are unceasingly built up together. It is easy enough at first to see that I do not live on the plane of sensation without living at the same time on the plane of imagery: the lawsuit between my being and my nullity is pleaded unceasingly within me and it is influenced by everything that happens to me on the plane of sensation; according to whether I experience physical discomfort or well-being, I mistrust myself or I have faith in myself, etc. On the other hand it may seem that I live sometimes only on the plane of imagery; we will see, however, that it is not so, and we will even realise that the plane of imagery is based on the plane of sensation, that it depends upon it, that it results from it. Let us study to that end a case in which the play of the plane of imagery is nevertheless carried to extremes. A rich financier goes bankrupt and he kills himself in order to escape from a life curtailed, in which he would no longer be important. This man destroys his body in order to save his image of himself; it would certainly appear that such an act is performed entirely on the plane of imagery and that there is here priority of this plane over the plane of sensation. But let us look more closely: this man kills himself in order to avoid a loss of consideration; but this loss of consideration is only unbearable to him because it is the loss of a consideration on which he placed an extremely high price. And he only envisaged this price of the consideration of himself by others because this consideration, this affirmation of himself by others, represented an alliance of the others with him in his combat against the Not-Self, a protection of his organism against death. However paradoxical the thing may seem, this man kills himself in order to preserve that which virtually protects him against death. In the light of this example I understand that the plane of imagery is a sort of illusory construction which my active imaginative mind builds on the plane of sensation; everything that I like on the plane of imagery, everything which affirms me on this plane, I see as affirming me because I see it as favourable ultimately to my organism. I say 'ultimately' because there is no immediate coincidence between my imaginative affirmation and the organic affirmation from which it derives. Here, for example, is a powerful business-man who works unceasingly and becomes very rich; this daily agitation is a negation of the plane of sensation; he leads, according to the popular expression, a dog's life, nevertheless if he clings to his position it is because the power that it confers upon him represents a virtual protection of his organism against death. This man also kills himself by degrees, in order to maintain and to increase that which protects him against death. There is no immediate coincidence between the affirmation that he obtains on the plane of imagery and that which his wealth procures him eventually on the plane of sensation; it is nevertheless this last affirmation, however virtual it may be, which determines and supports the first.

The natural man lives, then, unceasingly on these two planes at once. These two planes correspond with the two domains, somatic and psychic, that we studied in another chapter. Let us recall that every episode of our lives results ultimately in concomitant reactions in us in these two domains, but that the contacts with the outside world which will release these reactions in the two domains together come to us via the one or via the other. I am touched by the outer world either on the plane of sensation (the outside world effectively present), or on the plane of imagery (the outside world recollected), but I experience each of these two contacts at the same time on the two planes.

If the natural man lives unceasingly on the two planes at once we have said that he only pays attention to one of them at each moment. When a man dreams, when he day-dreams, and when he meditates, his attention is fixed on the plane of imagery only, on the active imaginative film only; the reactive imaginative film is developed alongside it, but the attention is not on it. It is only when he adapts himself to the present outside world that a man experiences his life at the same time (thanks to the rapid alternations of his attention) on the plane of sensation and on that of imagery. If I observe myself well I realise that I day-dream always a little, and very often enormously, at the same time that I adapt myself to the real present in order to join myself with the outer world and use it. Knowing that, we can now reconsider more exactly the compatibility which exists between the fourth manner of thinking and the inner task. Theoretically this compatibility is absolute; concretely everything happens as though it was not absolute because I am never unreservedly in the fourth manner of thinking. My attention alternates incessantly between the fourth manner and the third, I am astride these two manners of thinking. The aim of the inner task is precisely to install myself some day, by means of satori, entirely in the fourth manner of thinking, to adapt myself at last really to the outside world, to reach Reality by the elimination of the dream.

Experience demonstrates it to me. As soon as I begin to make the right kind of efforts in order to perceive my instantaneous state of existence I realise that these efforts curb the active imaginative film which is in me and which is incompatible with these efforts. More exactly these efforts have a solvent effect on my illusory film, by taking my attention from it and placing it on the real reactive imaginative film. In short my efforts dissolve my life-on-the-plane-of-imagery and purge of it my life-on-the-plane-of-sensation. The inner work eliminates my psychic coenaesthesis, which is illusory, from my physical coenaesthesis, which is real; it eliminates my egotistical life, which is illusory, from my organic life, which is real. I realise that there is in me a real 'Earth', my organic life with my perceptions, reactive to the real present, and an illusory 'Heaven', my active imaginative life. On account of this illusory Heaven I really have today neither my Earth nor Heaven. The inner work, by abolishing the illusory Heaven will give me back to my Earth; and this restitution of my Earth will be at the same time the enjoyment of the true Heaven. Such is the sense of that phrase of Zen: 'The Earth, that is Paradise.'

This understanding, which re-valorises our organic life and de-valorises our imaginative life, exposes us to the temptation to devote ourselves directly to our organic perceptions, to our organic coenaesthesis. Such an inner proceeding would be sterile and dangerous. It is impossible artificially to wipe out our imaginative life; we would thus make merely an absurd pretence. It is not on the dualistic plane where the real and the illusory manifest that there can be effected the subtle distillation which will eliminate illusion; our formal inner manipulations are powerless there. Only our Principle can effect this alchemical distillation, this purification. We have only to stop opposing this action of our Principle; and it is by means of the instantaneous total inner relaxation of which we have spoken that we can learn to stop our habitual opposition.

The progressive dissolution of our life-on-the-plane-of-imagery brings us nearer to delivery, to our birth in Reality. But, looked at before satori, this dissolution represents the laborious agony of the 'old' man. Consequently the inner work carried out in order to 'see into one's own nature' constitutes the veritable asceticism (of which exterior kinds of asceticism are only imitations), the veritable purification, the veritable mortification. (Let us make it clear that the veritable asceticism evidently requires no modification of the outward manner of living.)

It is important clearly to understand the immensity of what we have to abandon, in our actual way of looking at things, and at the same time the perfectly painless character of this abandonment. This plane of imagery that I am going to lose is more than immense for me today, it is everything; it is the salt of my life, it gives it all its meaning. It may be the scene of my terrors, but it is also the scene of my delights, fervours, compassion, and of my hopes. The natural man can only imagine the disappearance of sentiment from his life, the disappearance of the dualistic sensibility of his 'soul', as the death of his being; this illusory Heaven, with its tempests as with its sunshine, seems to him to be more precious than anything, in particular more precious than his Earth, than his body. But the dissolution of life-on-the-plane-of-imagery represents the definite renunciation of this illusory Heaven, of all that we see as 'sacred', 'super-natural', in our actual condition.

However, this renunciation is perfectly painless; the agony of the 'old' man is laborious (that is the bitter fight with our personality), but it is not painful. This renunciation indeed only takes place according to the degree in which, without snatching from me anything regarded as precious on the plane on which I see it as such, I obtain, in procuring a displacement of my attention which encourages in me the plane of sensation, the dissipation of the mirages which caused me to see value where there is none. The plane of imagery is not taken away from me—which would be horrible—it is I who leave it; no regret is possible to me for what I thus leave, since the plane of imagery only exists illusorily for me when I am on it. An inner task that is painful is badly done; it directly attacks the emotions; the correct inner task, the effort 'to see into my own nature', acts in us at the point from which the emotions spring. How could I be painfully moved in escaping from emotion? We have nothing to fear from forms in the course of efforts correctly carried out towards the in-formal; in dissipating this shadow the light dissipates all the shadows.

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