Hubert Benoit
Zen and the Psychology of Transformation
The Supreme Doctrine

Chapter 17


The dualism of the Yin and the Yang, which rules the cosmos under the conciliation of the Tao, exists in man as in all created things. Man is conscious of this dualism, which reveals itself in him by the belief that he is composed of two autonomous parts which he either calls 'body' and 'soul', 'matter and spirit', 'instinct and reason', or otherwise. The belief in this bipartite composition expresses itself in all sorts of common sayings: 'I am master of "myself", 'I cannot prevent myself from...', 'I am pleased with myself', 'I am annoyed with myself', etc....

But we know that the belief in the autonomy of these two parts is an illusion; there are not in man two distinct parts, but only two distinct aspects of a single being; man is in reality an individual artificially divided by an erroneous interpretation of his analytic observation. The error of our dualistic conception does not lie in the discrimination between two aspects in us—for there are indeed two aspects—but in concluding that these two aspects are two different entities, of whom one, for example, may be perishable while the other is eternal. To tell the truth, our observation does not show us that there are two parts in us; it only shows us that everything happens in us as though there were two parts separated by a hiatus. It is our ignorant intellect that takes an illusory leap from the statement 'everything happens as though' to the erroneous affirmation that there are in us two parts separated by a hiatus. In reality it all happens in us thus because we believe that it is thus or, more precisely, because the universal consciousness which alone can reveal to us our real inner unity is asleep in us. An illustration will help us to understand this problem. What man interprets as his two parts he conceives, the one as inferior, instinctive, affective, motor, irrational, the other as superior, rational, directing, capable of deciding what the inferior part should carry out. He conceives himself as a horseman riding a horse.

In reality, as Zen reminds us, we are not horseman and horse, with a hiatus between the two. The true symbolic representation of man, in this connexion, should be the centaur, a single creature comprising two aspects separated by no hiatus. We are centaurs but everything happens in us as though we were horse and rider because we believe in the reality of a hiatus between our two aspects, or, more exactly, because we do not see the unity in which the two aspects are integrated.

We will try to define, in our concrete structure, what we see as horse and as rider, and to understand why we have this false vision of ourselves.

We are first of all tempted to trace the boundary between the horse and the rider starting from a morphological standpoint: the horse would be our gross manifestation, or soma, the rider our subtle or psychic manifestation.

But this morphological point of view does not suit the angle from which we are studying man at this moment. We are studying, at this moment, not only the modalities of the functioning of the human machine, but the problem of the determination of this functioning. Going beyond the consideration 'how our life works' we are studying the orientation of this working. Looked at from this higher perspective, the two parts of man are no longer two modalities of phenomena, some physiological the others psychological, but two ways of being, two styles, two different rhythms of the manifestation of our being.

The horse represents my way of being when my thought does not function in an independent, impartial manner. It is my personal life, egotist and partial, that which I live when my intellect works geared to my desires, my fears, my affective reactions in general. It is my life when there operates in me only the inferior conciliatory principle, the Demiurge who rules over the metabolism of the temporal plane. It is Nature willing herself in me, achieving her ends through my organism. It is I in so far as I wish to be distinct, in so far as I wish to be Self beside, and opposed to, the Not-Self.

The rider represents my way of being when my thought, ungeared from my affective life, works in an independent, impartial manner. It represents my Independent Intelligence, impartial reason, or pure, objective, or universal thought. It is I in so far as I think without wishing to be distinct, outside all opposition between the Self and the Not-Self.

The rider, understood in this sense, is not a motive-power. It is the principle of direction in the movement of my machine, but it is not the motor. It is the principle of my 'acting', itself 'non-acting'. In consequence, if the horse and the rider are two ways of being, the horse alone is a way of living; the rider is not a way of living—since living implies movement and the rider is 'non-acting'—it is a way of thinking that is independent of my life. In my actual state my life is necessarily egotistical, partial, natural, affective; when my thought functions independently of my affectivity it is independent of my personal life, of my life itself. In other words the horse represents my life, accompanied by partial thought; the rider represents my thought, pure, non-acting. I am the horse when my attention is seized by my life, I am the rider when my attention, escaping from this domination, arouses my Independent Intelligence.

My conscious attention, which is a unity, could never be focussed at once on my life and on my pure thought that is above my life; it is necessarily focussed on one or the other of these two aspects of my being. The moments alternate during which, by means of my attention, I identify myself with the horse (when I feel and act), or again with the rider (when I think impartially). And it is because my surface consciousness alone is actually awakened in me—and that thus I can only be alternatively horse and rider—that I believe in the existence of a hiatus between these two parts although this hiatus does not exist in reality. The illusory hiatus between horse and rider is not a hiatus between two parts operating at the same time, but a false interpretation of the fact that I cannot be conscious at the same time of my partial life and of my impartial reason. If I had no memory this interpretation would not exist; it exists because I have a memory and because, thanks to this faculty, my imagination can evoke at once the two ways of being of which I am never conscious at one and the same time. In memory I picture myself imaginatively at once as horse and as rider, and thus I can see simultaneously the image of these two aspects of myself which never operate simultaneously for my surface consciousness; but because these two aspects never operate simultaneously for my surface consciousness the image which brings them together does not succeed in uniting them. It cannot be the image of a centaur; it is necessarily the image of a horseman mounted on a horse, with a hiatus between the two of them.

Since the horse and the rider, defined thus as two ways of being, never operate consciously at the same time, the horse is never guided. We mean by that that the rider never guides the movement of the horse while this movement is taking place. Nevertheless the play of the rider has a directive action on the movements of the horse; but it is an indirect action and displaced in time. At the moment at which the rider is awakened (and at which the attention which animates him cannot be upon the horse), he sees, thanks to memory, how the horse has functioned the moment before and evaluates this functioning in relation to the ideal norm which he is able to conceive. This judgment, favourable or unfavourable, constitutes an image, affirming or negating, which flatters or wounds the horse in his need of affirmation. Thereafter, when the attention comes back to the horse, his functioning will be affected by this judgment, by the caress or the blow that it constituted; the horse preserves the memory of it marked in him as a conditioning factor of his reflexes. In this state of things, in which horse and rider cannot operate at the same time, the only guiding action that the rider can have is one ofschooling, of elaboration of automatisms; it is a mediate action, a consequence of the illusory hiatus, entirely comparable with what happens when a man schools a real horse. By caresses or by little blows of his crop, he conditions the automatisms of the horse, but he and he alone executes each movement that the horse carries out. The horse depends mediately upon the man, but immediately he does not depend upon him at all.

So in my actual state, before satori, my 'life' can only be an ensemble of conditioned reflexes and not of directed movements; and my Independent Intelligence cannot really conduct my life but only have on it a mediate action that is relative and limited. In my actual state, all self-direction can only be a training, an elaboration of this or that automatism. In speaking of automatisms one means necessarily fixed, stereotyped movements. However numerous, however fragmented the automatisms may be, the fixity that they imply prevents any automatic demeanour from being really adapted to the outer world. It is like a broken line; however frequently broken one may imagine it, this line can only cover a curve approximately, it cannot coincide. As long as I believe myself to be horseman and horse, and in consequence, as long as everything happens in me as though I were horseman and horse, I can only achieve a schooling of my horse without being really adapted to the outer world.

But man's veritable realisation is something very different from a training. It takes place as a result of a flash of consciousness by the centaur in which the illusory hiatus between the rider and the horse is abolished. Then there is no longer trainer or trained, no longer reflection in which 'I', consider 'myself (subject and object); the 'I live' and the 'I think' are conciliated in a unique 'I am'.

The majority of men do not even envisage this realisation; they do not envisage the disappearance of the illusory hiatus. And so they conceive realisation as a training that has succeeded; that is, they confound intemporal realisation with temporal realisation. We will see shortly how absurd it would be to condemn the training; we will even see the necessity of this in the course of the work which prepares satori. What we wish to show at this moment is the error in regarding realisation as the accomplishment and success of a training; if the realisation chronologically follows such training it should not on any account be regarded as engendered or caused by it. If it is true that satori is released after such and such phenomena and on the occasion of such phenomena, it could not be released or caused by any phenomenon.

The error which consists in considering realisation as the success of a training is epitomised in the adhesion given by so many men to systematic methods: the conception of this or that 'ideal', yogas of one kind or another, 'moral systems' proclaiming that such automatisms should be installed and such others eliminated, in short any kind of discipline to which one attributes an intrinsic efficacity for realisation. The error is not in doing and putting to the test what these methods require, the error does not consist in following these methods; it consists in believing that these methods can result by themselves in satori as roads issue at the end of a journey. All training, since it implies the illusory hiatus between him who trains and him who is trained, is powerless to dissipate the illusion of the hiatus; but only this destruction of the illusion will be realisation.

Another current error, which follows directly from the preceding, consists in estimating the position in which a man is, with reference to the eventuality of realisation, basing himself on the degree of harmony of his training. Only the degree of understanding can give us information about this, and not the degree of harmony of the training. Such and such a man can be a master for me if I sense in him an understanding capable of enriching mine; no matter the kind, perhaps mediocre, of schooling of his horse. At the same time I have no reason to disturb myself, as far as I myself am concerned, if my horse has very unharmonious reactions, more so perhaps than at an epoch of my life when my understanding was inferior; for, if the schooling is very important from the point of view of inner comfort, the only thing that counts from the point of view of realisation is understanding.

We have seen that all training consists fundamentally in the fact that I evaluate my life, in that I judge it good or evil; every appreciation of my phenomena, exterior or interior, is a caress or a blow given to my horse. And Zen reminds us with insistence of the importance of passing beyond this partiality: 'As soon as you have good and evil confusion results and the mind is lost.' Zen shows us that this evaluation, this training, constitutes the inopportune inner manipulation which is our habit and of which we ought to rid ourselves; there is the regrettable 'doing' to which Zen alludes when it tells us that we have nothing to do, that we ought to learn no longer to 'do' anything.

But this advice is hard to understand in the right way. If I see in it a condemnation of training I am mistaken, for this condemnation does not free me from evaluation; it only results in an inversion of training. In this false understanding I would train myself to train myself no longer, which would change nothing; I would be believing, without escaping from my error, in the efficacity for realisation of a counter-training which would still be a training. Zen tells us not to lay a finger on life: 'Leave things as they may be.' It is not for me to modify directly my habits of training myself. It is only indirectly that I can obtain the disappearance of these habits, by means of my understanding, ever more profound, that these attempts at training, which I continue to make, have in themselves no efficacity for realisation. It is a question, in short, of obtaining the devalorisation of these compensations which are my attempts at training; and this implies the defeat of the attempts and the correct interpretation of this defeat. I am not obliged to concern myself with the defeat; that will flow from the very nature of things; but I am concerned with the correct interpretation of this defeat. If I believe in the intrinsic efficacity of a discipline, I attribute its failure to all kinds of things but not to the discipline itself; so that it does not devalorise itself. If, on the contrary, I have understood the intrinsic inefficacity of the discipline, while not by any means forbidding myself to practice it if I feel the need to do so, a profound lassitude will develop little by little in me which will detach me from this discipline in a real transcendence. I neither can nor should forbid myself the indiscrete interventions which it is natural to me in this moment to operate in my inner life; but, if I have clearly understood the sterility of these interventions, the affective belief that I have in their usefulness will disperse little by little in the course of the experience. Beliefs may be compared with wheels set going at a high speed; if the intellect ceases to keep my beliefs going by admitting that they are right, they will end up some day by exhausting themselves.

Satori, as we know, is not the crowning of an ultimate success but of an ultimate defeat. The consciousness of always having been free appears in us when we have exhausted all the attempts, all the training, that we believe may be capable of liberating us. If the disciplines could not be 'paths' resulting in satori, that does not mean that they may not be paths to be followed; they are paths leading to blind-alleys, all leading to a unique and ultimate blind-alley; but they are to be followed just because satori cannot be obtained unless we have come up against the end of this last blind-alley. They are to be followed with the theoretical understanding that they lead nowhere, so that experience may transform this theoretical understanding into total understanding, into this clear vision which is the arrival in the blind-alley and which lays us open to satori.

Let us cite here a dialogue between a Zen monk and his master. The monk, Tsou-hsin, has just had satori. 'Tsou-hsin went towards the master Houel-nan, and, as he was about to make his bows, the master smiled and said: "You have now come into my room." Tsou-hsin was very pleased about it and said: "If the truth of Zen is what I possess now, why do you make us swallow all those old tales and exhaust us in efforts to find out the meaning of them?" The master said: "If I did not make you fight in every possible way in order to find the meaning and lead you finally to a state of non-fighting and of no-effort from which you can see with your own eyes, I am sure that you would lose every chance of discovering yourself."'

I am not then obliged to refuse to see myself actually as a horseman on horseback, nor to refuse to act as a horseman who schools his horse. But I do not forget, despite this optical illusion, that I am in reality a centaur, and that all schooling which allows the illusory hiatus between horseman and horse to persist keeps me away from my true nature. However fine, however exalting, may be the result of my schooling, it keeps me away from my true nature. Little does it matter to me in reality that my horse is schooled to be a 'saint' or a yogi with spectacular powers, or to experience inner states felt as transcendent; my true nature is not there, it consists in no longer being other than one with my horse; then the smallest gesture of my life, however apparently banal one may suppose it, will participate in Reality.

But at the moment in which the illusory hiatus is abolished, the centaur, this formal symbol of which my understanding made use before realisation, is abolished at the same time that it is realised. 'In not being two', says Zen, 'everything is the same and everything that exists is included therein.' The horseman and the horse are united, but they unite in the in-formal All; so that there is no longer either horse or horseman, and the centaur is transcended as soon as he is reached. It is this that is demonstrated by the admirable Zen-text entitled: 'The Ten stages of the Training of the Cow.' In that Zen affirms the necessity of passing through the training; but it affirms also that the ultimate aim is by no means a trained cow. 'Mounted on the cow, the man is at last back at home. But behold here there is no longer a cow and with what serenity he is sitting all by himself.' Then the man himself disappears also: 'Everything is void, the whip, the cord, the man and the cow; who has ever contemplated the immensity of the sky? On the incandescent furnace not a flake of snow can fall. When one has arrived there, manifest is the mind of the old Master.'

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