Hubert Benoit
Zen and the Psychology of Transformation
The Supreme Doctrine

Chapter 15

SENSATION AND SENTIMENT

At each given moment of emotion there exists a relation, as we have said, between the images which pass across our mind and our sub- jacent emotivity. This relation is complex; it is interesting to study because it comprises certain very subtle traps which prevent us from paying attention to our emotivity.

It is important first of all to recall the essential distinction which exists between the imaginative film founded on the real present and the imaginative film invented in the mind. When I observe any spectacle in the outer world I observe it by means of an imaginative film which partially reproduces the spectacle outside, a film founded on the outer forms that my attention has seized. When I day-dream, in idleness or in the course of any activity, I perceive an imaginative film invented in my mind. Emotivity is connected in very different ways to these two kinds of films. We will study these two cases, using the following terms: the film founded on the outer world we will call the 'real imaginative film' (since it is founded on phenomena which, if they lack absolute reality, have, nevertheless a relative reality); the invented film we will call the 'imaginary film'.

When it is a question of a real imaginative film the relation which exists between this film and emotivity is simple enough: the emotivity varies (quantitative variations of contraction-decontraction) according to the character, affirming or negating, of the images of the film: the images associated with a menace to my existence determine the emotive contraction, those associated with the continuation of my existence determine the diminution of this contraction, that is a relative relaxation. This reaction of the emotivity to the images of the real film constitutes a one-way relation: the form of the imaginative phenomena determines the form of the emotive phenomena. From the point of view of form the outside world is active and my inner world is passive. Nothing is motionless; the exterior phenomena change unceasingly, and the reacting emotivity varies unceasingly. There is no motionless emotivity; there are only contractions, no spasm; there is no emotive state, but only emotions.

When it is a question of an imaginary film everything is much more complicated. The relation with emotivity is no longer one-way, it exists in both directions at once. It exists first of all as it existed in the preceding case; the emotivity reacts to the imaginary images as it reacted to the real images (emotivity does not differentiate between these two kinds of images; a jealous man who vigorously imagines a scene in which his wife deceives him is as if the scene were real). But on the other hand the emotive state reacts to the elaboration of the imaginary film; if a real misfortune befalls me and saddens me I start imagining a thousand other misfortunes and I see everything in the same sombre light. Thus there is established a vicious circle of double reactions.

But, in this relation between emotivity and imaginary film, another more important factor intervenes. The imaginary film resembles the real film to a certain extent; the films that I invent are necessarily elaborated with the elements that I have received in the past from the outside world; but there exists an essential difference between these two kinds of films. The real film is invented by the Cosmos, its source is the cosmic source, which is the Primary Cause of the Universe; therefore every real film is harmonic, balanced in the Whole. Its fixed centre is the Noumenon, and there could not be in this film any phenomenal fixity, it is only pure movement. On the contrary the imaginary film is centred on my Ego, on 'myself pretending to be absolutely a distinct individual'; its source, its centre, is not the immutable noumenal centre of the Cosmos, but a false, ex-centric centre. And there is, in this film, at the same time as a continual movement, a certain phenomenal fixity derived from this phenomenal centre. This is revealed by the fact that my day-dreams, if they are made of moving images, are made of images which turn ever more and more round a fixed idea; they are always more or less obsessional. My imaginary scenarios are organised in constellations or complexes, artificially coherent outside the cosmic Whole. To this phenomenal fixity corresponds a fixity in the emotive reaction, an emotive spasm, an emotive state.

The emotive reaction to the real film (a reaction which comprises no element of fixity) is normal or healthy, since it is reaction to the normal relative reality of cosmic phenomena. The emotive reaction to the imaginary film (which always comprises a factor of spasm) is abnormal or unhealthy; it is in fact a reaction to abnormal images since the formation-centre of these images is not the real centre of the Universe.

We have clearly distinguished these two emotive responses, to the real film on the one hand and to the imaginary film on the other. But, with the human-being after earliest childhood, at no moment does the emotivity respond only to a real film; an imaginary film is always there at the same time. The emotions are never pure, there is always an emotive state coexisting, and all the more if the subject is endowed with a need of the Absolute, with a craving to 'be', with 'idealism'. The very young child, in whom the possibility of inventing an imaginary film does not yet exist since its intellectual function is insufficiently developed, still has an emotivity that is nearly pure, quite fluid, without spasm, unstable. But in the degree that the intellect develops, the spasms of the emotive states appear. With the adult, very well endowed with a need of the Absolute, the emotivity presents, under contractions sometimes very unstable, spasms of a slow rhythm; if this man is well able to observe himself he will recognise this duality of rhythm in his emotivity. It will seem to him that he has two distinct emotivities, one which tends to flow and the other to stay put (dreams often contain allusion to this state of things: I want to move, I need to move, and at the same time I remain stuck where I am).

There are, then, two kinds of imaginative film, two kinds of emotive response, and in practice, in our inner phenomenology, two emotivities: one authentic emotivity in response to the real film, and one illusory or false emotivity in response to the imaginary film. The authentic emotivity corresponds with the plane of sensation (sense-perceptions of the outer world), the false emotivity corresponds with the plane of images (imaginary perceptions). The authentic emotivity, that of the child, operates according to a mobile unstable rhythm and it is quite irrational (it is unrelated with the importance that our reason accords to the images according to our scale of values). The false emotivity operates with a slow rhythm and it is more or less rational (except that at moments of fatigue, a certain instability can be seen there also; but this instability is not a healthy absence of fixity, it is only failure of a spasm which is exhausting itself). This emotivity is in relation with the ideal image that I make of the world and of myself, with my desire to see myself in attitudes that are 'beautiful-good-true' and with my fear of seeing myself in attitudes that are 'ugly-wicked-false'. My authentic reaction to a given circumstance scoffs at the 'ideal', it depends only on my vision of the outer world; but my false emotive reaction can be radically different for it depends on my ideal vision of myself. It is made up of sentiments that I cherish, no longer with regard to the outer world but concerning my attitudes before this outer world. On account of that I can very well be falsely gay (in my imaginary emotivity) while being at the same time authentically sad in my authentic emotivity, or the other way round.

For example: I have amused myself, months beforehand, with the thought of my annual holidays; an image of myself-joyous-at-seeing-Florence has firmly developed in my mind; if I am 'idealistic', strongly 'egotistical', greedy to 'be absolutely', the realisation of this image becomes for me the object of a very imperious need. Once I am in Florence, I find myself very tired and depressed; my authentic state, which mocks at my vision of myself and only responds to the real circumstance, is contracted; at bottom I am unhappy. But my desire to see realised the image of myself-joyous-in-Florence forbids me to realise that I am unhappy; if anyone asks me: 'Well, and this holiday?', I reply: 'Splendid; all these museums are a bit tiring, but what does that matter compared with so much beauty.' If I then direct my attention to my emotivity with an honest spirit of investigation, I see the naked truth: I am unhappy, more unhappy than I usually am in the Underground which takes me to my work; and I see that, without a special effort, I cannot realise it; or else I realised my sadness but I attached it illusorily to an imaginary film which was only the effect of it.

Another example: here is a boy who has been tyranised over for years by an egoistic father; he has been humiliated, interfered with in all his undertakings, negated by a sadistic education which was by way of being devoted to his welfare. The father dies. The authentic emotive response of the son is immense relief. But, if this son is very 'idealistic' he has such a need to see himself as sad that he arrives at the state despite the facts; and the sadness of his imaginary film can prevent to a great extent, or even altogether, the profound relief.

This disaccord between my emotions and my imaginary emotive states is particularly striking from the following point of view: my ideal image, absolute, divine, comprises amongst other 'divine' attributes, stability, immutability; but the Absolute Principle, the fundamental One, from which everything emanates, is immutable, above time and the alterations of time. And so one of the essential attributes of the image that I wish to have of myself consists in evenness of humour, stability of the emotive state. That is why the representation that I make of my emotive states, throughout the day, is enormously deformed in the direction of stability. As soon as I begin to examine with an honest spirit of investigation the variations of my authentic emotivity I perceive that these variations are very much more frequent and more marked that I supposed them to be; a word that someone says to me, an image that passes under my eyes, an intestinal spasm, or the absorption of a little wine or coffee, suffices for peaks or precipices to be drawn on the graph of my emotivity. On the other hand the ideal image that I have of myself requires that my emotive reactions shall be rational; as a result of that I pretend that only big things can move me strongly, I pretend that there exists a parallelism between the amplitude of my emotive variations and the importance that my reason sees in the events that affect me. When I observe a young child I am struck by his emotive instability (he passes without transition from laughter to tears) and by the irrationality of his emotions (he shows signs of profound distress when one takes away his rattle); I think of the immense difference that exists between this child's emotivity and my own, so much more stable and rational. In reality the difference only exists between my false emotivity and the emotivity of the child; but this difference depends upon the immense lie which the elaboration of my false emotivity involves. The need that I have to see realised the ideal image of myself, has little by little warped my emotivity. As soon as I make honest efforts to see my emotive variations as they really are I no longer see anything but my authentic emotive variations, and I then perceive that there is no difference between the young child and myself; my authentic emotivity is quite as unstable and irrational as his.

The inner work of which we are speaking here (in order to see directly our instantaneous emotive situation) brings into play an intuitive and direct inner regard, which passes through the false emotivity without stopping there. The only emotivity which does not disappear under this regard is the authentic emotivity, that which corresponds only with the plane of sensation, or the animal plane. The plane of images, the 'angelic' or 'ideal' plane, vanishes. It is a strange revelation to appreciate the unique reality of our irrational emotive agitation and to see with what constancy we lie to ourselves on the subject. We then see that the 'animal' has always persisted integrally in us under angelic imaginary constructions and that this animal is all that is actually 'realised' of our total being; all the rest is unreal. It is to this organism that we must modestly return in order to obtain the awakening, in its centre, of its immanent and transcendent principle.

The intuitive inner regard traverses the false emotivity without stopping there; it traverses the images of the imaginary film, dispelling them as it goes. But, if it dispels this film it does not dispel the profound spasm in its actual determinism. I can already understand this theoretically: it is not enough to dispose of the imaginary film that is joined in the instant to the subconscious, in order to wipe out all this subconscious itself. And practice effectively proves to me the persistence of my profound spasm. This leads me to consider further and to understand that this spasm, which I have called abnormal (and justifiably in a sense) is on the road that leads to satori.

In the spasm of my total organism there is an element of immobility which is quite certainly beneficial; our spontaneous evolution will move towards satori if we are 'obedient to the nature of things', if we cease to busy ourselves with ersatz-forms of satori. 'To do nothing', which is the immobility of our total organism, the immobility of its phenomenal centre, allows the maturing of satori. There is then something right and normalising in the profound spasm; it is beneficial in that it tends to immobilise our centre. If in fact it has not been normalising for me up to the present that is because I have always defended myself by means of a reflex against this immobilisation. Let us remember the double relation which exists between emotivity and the imaginary film; the images release the spasm and then the state of spasm releases images. That the images release the spasm is inevitable and is not to be regretted because that tends towards the desirable immobility. What is regrettable, and avoidable, is that the state of spasm should release images, entailing perpetual variations in the spasm, variations which prevent me from profiting by the immobility virtually contained in it. Why is a new imaginary film released by the spasm, or rather in connexion with it, preventing me from immobilising myself? Because there exists in me a false belief according to which immobility is dangerous, mortal; for lack of Faith in my Principle I still believe that I ought myself to achieve my salvation, realise by a personal activity my total accomplishment. As long as this belief operates in me I cannot prevent my state of spasm from releasing a new imaginary film, and that is a vicious circle of agitation.

The caterpillar has to immobilise itself as a chrysalis in order to become a butterfly. When I am agitated in the vicious circle of emotive states and of imaginary films I am comparable with a caterpillar who feels himself overtaken by the process of becoming a chrysalis and who fights bitterly against the immobilisation which he feels as a danger.

Nevertheless if I understand how absurd it is to fear immobilisation, if I understand that my profound spasm offers me not destruction but only an apparent death (chrysalis) in order to obtain a life that at last is real (butterfly), then I perceive that the release of an imaginary film by the emotive state is not by any means inevitable. Strong in my understanding, in my Faith, I realise that I am able, and quite easily, to lose myself in my spasm, that is in my fear, or sadness, or anxiety, without any image fearful or sad or anxious, without thoughts, or inner movements. At the end of a moment my sadness ceases to be such in order to become colourless immobility merely. I am then insensible, anaesthetised, like a piece of timber; an idiot in one sense, but still very well able to act, to react correctly to the outer world, like a robot in good working order.

One sees at what paradoxical conclusions our study arrives. Our first observations condemned the emotive spasm and inspired in us a nostalgia for the purely fluid emotivity of childhood. But it is impossible to go backwards; and besides the state of the child was the extreme opposite of that of satori. We must go ahead. The deplorable consequences of our intellectual development arose only from the fact that our intellect was not enlightened; as a result of our ignorance we were resisting our inner immobilisation; the resistance to immobilisation caused our variations of spasm, eddies of distress; we were wounding ourselves on the bonds which bound us up. But the remedy is there where we saw the evil; the bonds were only enemies to us when we resisted them. The emotive spasm was only destructive as long as it continued to be emotive, that is agitated. As soon as I cease to dread immobility I free myself from the imaginary film, illusorily coercive, which was born from the spasm; the spasm ceases to be emotive, and it ceases forthwith to be spasm in order to become merely immobility without suffering. The maturing of satori is then possible.

Our intelligence always ends up with this paradox at the moment at which thesis and antithesis are resolved in a synthesis. I was possessed first of all by the unconsidered belief that my emotive state was my very life (thesis); my considered study brings me to the belief, diametrically opposite, that my central spasm is my death (antithesis); and then suddenly my intellectual intuition discovers that my conscious adhesion to my spasmodic emotive state delivers me from it, that is this adhesion conciliates life and death, movement and fixity, spasm and suppleness. The paradox is only apparent, on the formal plane; behind this appearance there is the conciliation of the contraries.

Our comparison between emotivity and a muscle allows us to make clear what new kind of relaxation we obtain in ceasing to struggle against the immobilisation of the spasm; and this comparison, as we shall see, serves us thus at the moment at which it is no longer applicable. When my muscle goes into a spasm it is shortened; when it is decontracted it recovers its length and is ready for a new shortening spasm. When I do not correct inner work it inevitably happens that my central spasm decreases; this eventuality, as with the muscle, then throws me back into a relaxation ready for a new spasm. Up to this point our comparison is applicable, but when I adhere consciously to my spasm, what takes place in me is analogous to a phenomenon that is never seen in physiology: a muscle which is relaxed without becoming longer, which could decontract without recovering its original length, and then be at once shortened and supple. Let us suppose that a failure puts me into a spasm of humiliation; if I take no correct inner action my humiliation will pass more or less rapidly and sooner or later I will come out of this state; I shall be no longer humiliated, but then I shall have come back to my habitual pretention and in consequence open to an eventual new humiliation. If, on the contrary, in my state of humiliation, I consciously adhere to my spasm, my humiliation disappears without my pretention reappearing; my central 'muscle' (as opposed to what can be seen in the case of my material muscles) decontracts without losing its shortening; my humiliation is transformed into humility.

The comparison with the muscle (with its states of expansion and of diminution) is a good one. When a success exalts me I feel myself to be aggrandised, increased tenfold in volume; physically even, I feel my chest fill out, my nostrils open, I use large gestures. When, on the contrary, a repulse humiliates me I feel myself small, shriveled, reduced, I have a weight on my chest, my gestures are curtailed. The inner action of which we are speaking consists in shutting ourselves up willingly in this reduced volume. There is then produced a sort of condensation of the Ego; the Ego is at once denied in its volume and affirmed in its density. This process is comparable with that which transforms coal into diamonds; the aim of this process is not the destruction of the Ego but its transformation, its sublimation. The conscious acceptance results in the coal which has become denser, and so blacker and more opaque, being instantaneously transformed into a diamond that is perfectly transparent.

It is evident that we cannot really accomplish this inner gesture of complete adhesion to our shortening spasm the moment we try. For all our previous automatisms push us towards gestures that are radically opposed to this one. The inner work consists in making with perseverance partial performances of the useful gesture; that already brings me a certain calm which progressively increases; I thus move in the direction of the absolute calm which may permit one day the release of satori.

I learn to feel directly in myself my spasm, my uneasiness, under the imaginative film which more or less masks my centre; the acquisition of this new inner sensation conditions all the rest of the work. Then my attention brusquely abandons my film in order to focus, and remain motionless, on this profound uneasiness which I have felt in its purity. I install myself in this uneasiness from which I have always fled till then (the only place where this lion ceases to be dangerous is in his very jaws); at least I make a very sincere effort to install myself there but, as we have understood, in the degree in which my effort succeeds my discomfort disappears and it is in my centre (where my illusory distress seems to have its seat) that I find myself. For a long time my success being only partial my attention does not reach my centre with stability; it only reaches it for a moment that is without duration. The disappearance of my discomfort removes every object from the field of my attention and this attention finds itself again seized by images; then everything begins once more. Our spirit of investigation has to be persevering.

This work implies the correct 'despair' from which Hope is born. Until now I was hoping that the convulsions of my imaginary film would one day wipe out my spasm; when I had a worry I carried out the forced labour of sterile ruminations (because, implicitly, I believed them to be useful); I was in the jail in which my absurd confidence in my imagination shut me up. Now I have seen imagination for what it is, a sterile camouflage; the hope which I placed in its activity is transformed into Hope placed in its non-activity; the door of my prison opens. I have at last the right to suffer without ruminating, that is to say without perpetuating my suffering; I have at last the right to profit by the essential instability of my suffering, to allow myself to be relieved by the Principle without doing anything. In exempting myself from suffering for no reason, I sacrifice my suffering, I store up, in view of my transformation, the vital energy which I have been wasting up till now.

The description of the inner gesture of which we speak is evidently what should interest us most. Unfortunately our language does not lend itself to the description of things that are altogether 'within'; it loses its efficacity when we approach the limits of the phenomenal, formal world. One can indeed say that what should be perceived, under the imaginary film, is a certain profound sensation of cramp, of a paralysing grip, of immobilising cold (as the cold immobilises the river by freezing it), and that it is on this hard couch, immobile and cold, that our attention should remain fixed; as though we tranquilly stretched out our body on a hard but friendly rock that was exactly moulded to our form. But such a description has only value as an indication; each man should experiment in himself in the light of what he has come to understand.

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