Hubert Benoit
Zen and the Psychology of Transformation
The Supreme Doctrine

Chapter 18

THE PRIMORDIAL ERROR OR
'ORIGINAL SIN'

In the preceding study we have spoken of discipline, or of the 'schooling of our horse', including in this idea all the particular modalities of training. From this point of view we have distinguished between man before satori, with whom there must necessarily be training, and man after satori, with whom there is no longer training.

It is interesting now, for me as man before satori, to remark that there are various kinds of training and that these various kinds are ranged, in my eyes, as is everything that is phenomenon, according to a hierarchy stretching from the very gross to the very subtle. This hierarchy evidently is not absolutely, phenomena as such do not participate more or less in Absolute Reality; it exists relatively, in proportion to my affective partiality. It should not be symbolised by a ladder sloped obliquely (as my affectivity suggests), but by a road which, on the horizontal plane, runs towards the point from which the vertical axis strikes off. It corresponds with all the inner work by means of which man chronologically approaches satori but which could not bring him near to it really, in the sense that no creature could approach its Principle since it has never been outside it.

To this horizontal hierarchy of disciplines there corresponds a gradation in the functioning of our Independent Intelligence. In this connexion we must establish the distinction which exists between the principle of our pure thought, which is Infinite Wisdom, Objective Knowledge, the Buddhi of the Vedanta; and the relative, limited play of this unlimited intelligence. For that we will take a concrete psychological example. One day I am in anger and I manifest this anger impulsively; another day I am equally in anger, but I hold back the manifestation of it because I am conscious of an ideal image of myself that I wish to realise and which necessitates the control of my manifestations (because this attitude is more aesthetic, or more comfortable ultimately or more favourable to my plans and to the general conduct of my life, or because I expect from this meritorious attitude a 'spiritual' reward, etc.). In the first case my mind is geared with my most immediate affective movement, with my affectivity limited to the very moment, with my 'quality' of the moment. In the second case this gearing is thrown out, but my mind this time is geared with my love for my ideal. That is with a generalised affective movement, operating in duration, hovering over the smaller particular affective movement which is that of the moment itself. I am set free from the affective quality of the moment, but bound to a quality which participates in the fourth dimension, in time, and which in a sense lies above an indefinite multitude of moments. There is, in this second case, operation of the Independent Intelligence since I am independent of the quality of the moment itself, but this operation is imperfect since I am not independent of a new quality that lies in duration. Participation in the fourth dimension is deliverance from the limitations of the third, but subjection to the limitations of this fourth.

What then is this Independent Intelligence which participates in the Absolute Impartiality, in the Objective or Divine Reason, and so in the Infinite, and which we see, in our example, as imperfect, limited, relative? The apparent difficulty of this question comes from the confusion that we make easily between a principle and the manifestation of this principle, beneath the words Independent Intelligence we are tempted to confound Buddhi and the manifestation of Buddhi. There is in me a possibility of thinking completely with perfect impartiality; that is Buddhi, or the Independent Intelligence-principle. But, before satori, this possibility is not entirely realised; it is manifested only by a relative impartiality. But this relative impartiality is in reality the relative manifestation of an absolute impartiality. There is no imperfect Buddhi, there is incomplete appearance of the perfect Buddhi. My Independent Intelligence, such as it is manifested today, has two aspects that I ought not to confound. In it resides its principle, Buddhi (immanence of the principle), and it participates there in the nature of Buddhi; but before satori, my manifested Independent Intelligence is not Buddhi (transcendence of the principle). As soon as my mind escapes however little from my affective movement of the moment (that is as soon as there is a certain passage from the particular to the general), Buddhi is manifested in this mind, but at the same time I would be deceiving myself if I identified this functioning of my mind with Buddhi itself or the 'vision of things as they are'. The Independent Intelligence necessitates throwing the affectivity out of gear with the mind, but there are degrees in the execution of this process; in so far as there is throwing out of gear it is perfectly thrown out of gear, but this qualitatively perfect process is only incompletely effected quantitatively.

From this quantitative gradation of the functioning of the Independent Intelligence flows the whole horizontal hierarchy of disciplines of which we have spoken; and this quantitative gradation conditions, in the eyes of my affectivity, a qualitative gradation of the kinds of training, from the most gross to the most subtle. The purpose of our discussion here is not to study the whole hierarchy itself, but that which constitutes the summit of it. It is important to study the most subtle modality of the operation of the Independent Intelligence, the primordial training, that which gives rise to all the inferior kinds of training, in order to find therein the primordial insufficiency of the manifestation of Buddhi in us, the ultimate error which, in our return to the beginning, we have to transcend.

We have seen that all training consists in an evaluation of the functioning of our horse, in a judgment of this functioning; and that this judgment is in reference to an ideal norm conceived by the rider. Each man, at each moment, has a certain conception of the manner in which in his view his horse ought to work, and this conception expresses itself in an image. The more this image is personal, gross, the more the corresponding training is felt as being 'low' in the affective hierarchy of the modes of training; the more the image is general, subtle, the more the corresponding training is felt as being subtle or 'high'.

But in the degree in which my understanding becomes richer and more precise my lucidity dissipates idolatries, my ideal image of myself becomes poorer and blurred. I end by understanding that Reality is 'up-stream' of all form and that every ideal image is in consequence illusory; I have no longer any theoretical reason to wish that the functioning of my horse should have one form rather than any other.

One might think, then, that this disappearance of all ideal images causes the disappearance of this judgment of myself which took for reference an ideal image. For lack of criterion to which to refer, the judgment would no longer exist; I would cease to judge myself, total impartiality would reign in me and I would then be the man of satori.

It would be thus if the ideal image were the cause of the judgment, that is if I judged myself in function of a pre-existing ideal image. But the opposite is the truth: I construct an ideal image in order to be able to pronounce a judgment the need for which I feel beforehand. The suffering which my temporal limitation inflicts on me awakens in me a doubt concerning my 'being', and releases the need of evaluating myself, of judging myself; and thereafter this need of judging myself releases the process of constructing an ideal image-criterion that I shall be able to copy, hoping thus to obtain my absolution. And the suffering experienced within my temporal limitation was itself the consequence of the profound and implicit belief that I ought not to be temporarily limited. And this belief itself represents the erroneous interpretation, projected onto the phenomenal plane, of the intuition, altogether primordial, unconscious and correct, that 'I am of the nature of Buddha'. All this inner genesis can be resumed thus: in the original Unconscious (universal source), I know that I am Buddha; in my 'subconscious' (first personal plane) I pretend to Temporal non-limitation, I pretend that I should never be denied by a Not-Self; in my consciousness I painfully doubt my subconscious pretention, I have need to judge myself in the hope of dissipating my doubt, and I construct an ideal image that I can copy in order to obtain my absolution.

That is why, when I reach a sufficient degree of understanding to dissipate all idolatrous images, my need to judge myself is not, itself, dissipated. It persists because my doubt of myself persists, and this doubt persists because its profound causes persist. Every personal ideal image on which a personal training could depend disappears, but the implicit general image which gave rise to all the personal images persists (the primordial image that 'I should never be denied') and it continues to control a kind of training, primordial training which tends to obtain from my horse that he shall never be denied, that is that he shall triumph always and completely over the Not-Self.

One can see that my inner situation becomes more serious, in one sense, in the degree in which my understanding abolishes in me all personal formal ideals. As long as I had a personal formal ideal I found therein a refuge which affirmed me; a negation could come to me from the outer world in the form of a set-back or of some threat of a set-back; I could soften the blow, compensate it, and even overcompensate it, by imitating my ideal. There existed for me a 'place' where I could, by my effort, by my control exercised over myself, procure for myself as much affirmation as I needed in order to neutralise the negation of the outside world. As my understanding develops, this comfortable artifice becomes impossible to me. The disappearance of personal disciplines thus results not in the absence of all discipline, but in the general, primordial discipline which obliges me, without protecting trickery, to face up to the antagonism of the Not-Self, to the spectacle of my personal non-divinity. And this ultimate discipline cannot be exceeded as easily as have been the personal disciplines; the ideal form which it comprises is no longer a conscious form, valorised by my consciousness, and which my consciousness can easily revoke. It is a subconscious, subterranean form, which I cannot seize and devalorise directly, but whose slow devalorisation I am obliged to await with an ardent patience, in a vigilant impartiality, by really living the idea of Zen: 'Let go; leave things as they may be.'

Let us examine attentively in what consists this primordial discipline and the subconscious ideal image on which it is founded. Let us remember what we said just now. In the universal, original Unconscious I know that I am Buddha; on my subconscious, or primary personal plane, I pretend to be Buddha as a distinct being, in so far as I am face to face with the Not-Self, I then pretend that I never ought to be denied by the Not-Self, that I should triumph always and completely over the outer world; then, in my consciousness, I doubt the legitimacy of my subconscious pretention and I experience distress in face of the redoubtable Not-Self (one understands why the feeling of guilt is attached to every defeat). As long as I had a personal ideal I escaped from the subconscious obligation of succeeding always and absolutely; a personal domain was chosen to represent the whole, and my success in this chosen domain kept me immune from all negation experienced elsewhere. But here my understanding has devalorised all conscious ideal form; then there falls on my shoulders the primordial obligation of triumphing always and completely over the Not-Self. But this primordial obligation is subconscious. At the same time my judgment of myself withdraws into the shadow; my conscious observation is no longer on myself to evaluate myself; but fixed on the outer world, on the episodes of my struggle to live and to succeed, insisting on being affirmed and refusing to be denied. My 'states of mind', positive or negative, affirmed or denied, no longer depend on the form of my mechanisms (beautiful or ugly according to whether it resembles or does not resemble a particular ideal form), they depend on my psycho-somatic fluctuations, my successes or my failures in the outside world, and on my coenaesthetic states of well-being or of discomfort. According to the circumstances affecting my psycho-somatic organism I am arrogant or abashed before the Not-Self, but without consciously feeling in these attitudes a judgment of myself; I have the conscious impression that I no longer exact anything from myself, that my exigence is turned uniquely towards the outside world. Nevertheless, as we can understand, my exigence that the outside world admits is only the expression of my subterranean primordial exigence in seeking to triumph over the world. There lies the fundamental claim, the first personal manifestation of my universal Identity with the Absolute Principle, and so the first egotistical dualistic error, the 'original sin'. One can see the importance of the point that we touch on here; we are at the very root of this Ignorance from which flows all our illusory distress.

Let us analyse in detail the situation created by this primordial training. The horse desires to feel himself affirmed in his opposition to the outside world. The rider exacts from the horse that he succeed in feeling himself always affirmed. It can appear at first that horse and rider tend thus towards the same end. In reality it is quite the contrary; the nature of their respective tendencies and the orientation of these tendencies are radically opposed.

The nature of the horse's tendency is relative; the horse belongs to the plane of manifestation, to the relative plane of phenomena; he desires to feel himself affirmed as much as possible, not without limits, for the limitless is not in his domain. He prefers affirmation, but supports negation and adapts himself to it as best he can. Besides the desire of the horse is oriented towards the outer world; the horse desires such and such an object that belongs to the Not-Self.

The nature of the tendency of the rider is absolute; my identity, in the Unconscious, with Buddha-the-Absolute, engenders in my subconsciousness, not a relative desire that my Self triumph over the Not-Self but an absolute exigence that it shall do so. My rider is the representative of the Self, of the Absolute Principle of only being; however ignorant my consciousness may be in fact, my rider is none the less the representative in me of the Absolute Self; the independence of my intelligence, however incompletely manifested it may be, is none the less absolute by nature. Directly issuing from the Absolute and representing it, my rider is therefore, in the temporal plane, like a mathematical infinity which multiplies everything by an unlimited coefficient; the absolute exigence of the rider towards the horse is manifested by an unlimited claim, that is it has power to mobilise in my organism all the energies that are available at each moment. Therefore the absolute nature of the rider's tendency is radically opposed to the relative nature of the tendency of the horse.

Besides, the tendency of the rider is not oriented towards the outer world, but towards the horse. The rider does not exact such and such an object belonging to the Not-Self, he exacts that the horse shall obtain this object (one knows the familiar expression, 'it is not for the thing itself, it is for the principle'). The rider is quite indifferent to that which concerns the horse; the horse does not interest him at all for himself (this is seen at its maximum in the case of suicide; when the rider sees the horse to be definitely incapable of satisfying his exigence he condemns him to kill himself). The rider only considers the horse as an instrument capable of incarnating in a false manner, in a total phenomenal triumph of the Self over the Not-Self, the noumenal superiority of the Absolute Principle over its manifestation. Therefore the orientation of the rider's tendency is radically opposed to the orientation of the tendency of the horse; the horse strives against the outer world, against the Not-Self, while the rider strives against the horse, against the Self.

The situation created by the primordial training carries then a radical antagonism between my two parts. This is not surprising since this antagonism is one of the aspects of the dualism of Yin and Yang. But, in the equilibrium of the Tao, the two poles Yin and Yang, if they are antagonistic, are at the same time complementary. What I can deplore is that, on account of my ignorance, the antagonism of my two parts is radical, I only live the antagonism of my two poles and not their complementary character. What I live is not to be destroyed, but to be completed.

This achievement will come through understanding and can only come through that. Understanding, which has freed me from personal ideal images and has thus purified in me the radical antagonism which was making these idolatrous illusions, will go deeper in its work. The clear theoretical conception of the ideas expressed in this study will penetrate little by little my concrete inner life, my inner experience. In the degree in which I recognise theoretically my subconscious pretention of triumphing always and completely over the Not-Self, and the implied subconscious exigence of my rider towards my unfortunate horse, in this degree a new inner attitude appears with regard to the old and neutralises it little by little. This new attitude is indulgence towards the horse, acceptance that he feels himself denied; I cease to bear myself ill will each time I fail, each time that I am unhappy or unwell. I regard my horse as a friend and no longer as a simple instrument of my limitless claims. I make it up with my brother before going into the temple, as the Gospel has it.

But this new attitude does not appear consciously; and so it must not be confused with the banal conscious self-satisfaction which is the comfortable result of personal training. It is like a base that one throws into an acid; scarcely present in the mixture, the base ceases to exist as such, and its presence is only represented by a diminution of acidity. No friendly partiality is apparent in me for my horse, but only a diminution of my unfriendly partiality against him. No absolving judgment is apparent, but only a diminution of judgment in general, which always condemns when all is said and done.

My horse works well in the degree in which I leave him alone. Zen says: 'When the cow is properly looked after she becomes pure and docile. Even without a chain and attached by nothing, she will follow you by herself.'

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