My primordial demand to be a distinct being conditions all my desires and, by my desires, my hopes and my beliefs. Bearing this claim, I am the bearer of an aspiration, of an expectation: believing myself to lack something, I await that which will be able to fulfill my need.
This general aspiration manifests itself in the fact that I await a 'true life', different from my actual life in that I shall then be totally, perfectly affirmed, no longer in a partial and imperfect manner. Every human-being lives, whether he realises it or not, in the expectation that there shall begin at last the 'true life' from which all negation will have disappeared.
What this 'true life' may be each of us represents to himself differently, according to his structure and the moment. More exactly, each man represents to himself that which, according to him, might inaugurate a new era in which the imperfections of his present life would be abolished. Voices arise in me in order to tell me that it would definitely be marvellous if at last I had this.... or if at last I were like that.... or if such and such a thing were to happen. Sometimes I think I see very clearly what could inaugurate the 'true life'; sometimes it remains vague, I merely await 'something' which, I am persuaded, would settle everything. Sometimes this expectation remains dumb in me, but it is only a passing drowsiness from which there will arise again very soon my aspiration for a life at last perfectly satisfying. Everything happens in me as if I believed myself exiled from a paradise which exists somewhere and as if I saw, in such and such a modification of the outside world or of myself, the key capable of opening the door of this lost paradise. And I live in the quest of this key.
While waiting I kill time as I may. One part of my vital energy can devote itself to the effective preparation of the key: I struggle to achieve this or that success, material or subtle. But I can only put into that one part of my energy; the rest I devote to an imaginative elaboration, to reveries concerning the famous inner trial, the successful issue of which should be obtained for me by the key. I feel myself obliged to invest my energy somewhere, to fidget, externally or internally. I cannot remain motionless in my expectation. Besides, without movement, there could not be expectation, tension towards that which should come, aspiration; and without this aspiring movement I would be dead. In the measure in which I cannot fidget externally in order to obtain the expected key I fidget internally by fabricating images which relieve my expectation.
Like everything that I can observe in my natural structure, this expectation is sound in itself but wrongly directed. It is sound in itself because it manifests my deep need of this vision-of-things-as-they-are which will usher in for me a true life. But it is wrongly directed because my aspiration is turned towards things as I see them in actuality. As long as my understanding has not been awakened by correct instruction I necessarily let my aspiration direct itself towards what I know, towards what I can picture to myself, to the dualistic world of phenomena. Searching for the key of the lost paradise in what I can picture to myself, it is inevitable that I picture this key either as something already experienced by me (at least partially), or as something not yet exactly experienced but of the same general nature as what I know. Even when I do not see the key clearly, formally, I picture to myself my return to the lost paradise as an inner state that is perfectly positive, perfectly happy, analogous to, but better than, the happy states I have already experienced. The 'natural' orientation of my aspiration is necessarily situated on the horizontal plane of temporal dualism; it does not tend towards anything new, outside this dualism, but towards an amelioration of that which I know.
There is therein a manifest error. In effect I expect thus, from an amelioration, something that is perfect; but no amelioration of something imperfect, however unlimited one may suppose this amelioration, could succeed in reaching perfection. No 'evolution', no 'progress', can reach that which Zen calls 'the asylum of rest'. Let us note, besides, that my aspiration, turned towards the dualism of satisfaction and unsatisfaction, joy and sorrow, has no right to hope for the dissociation of this inseparable dualism which can only be conciliated in the Tao. Aspiration, turned towards this dualism, can only bring about the dualism itself, with its two poles. The stronger my aspiration thus directed, the stronger becomes my own inner dualism, whether I am conscious of it or not. When my thirst is thus directed the water which comes to me is like salt water which increases my thirst after a moment of apparent quenching. The man who expects the true life from the world of manifestation, from the world which he knows, waits for it in vain until his death.
What is correct in my aspiration itself is revealed in the following manner. In expecting something other than my life of the moment, I escape complete identification with this life, I save my consciousness from being completely swallowed up in the forms that are actually present. But at the same time, on account of the false orientation of my aspiration, I founder in another identification; I identify myself with something that I imagine, more or less clearly, as being absolutely desirable; and this thing, since I imagine it, also has a form (however subtle one may suppose it) in which my consciousness loses itself. If my dream concerning the paradise to be regained saves what I have at my disposal among the circumstances momentarily lived, it abdicates this precious power of disposal in the process of imagining a chimerical phenomenal perfection.
This false direction of my aspiration creates for me the illusion of time and the painful impression that time is unceasingly escaping me. When I conceive that to which I aspire as an amelioration of what I know (which is phenomenon, conditioned by space-time), I necessarily project my perfect satisfaction into the future. Thus there is created for me the illusory absolute reality of time, time which seems to me to stretch out between the present imperfect moment and the future perfect moment to which I aspire.
In face of this time illusorily endowed with an absolute value, my attitude is ambivalent. When I look back I bitterly deplore the passage of time, I would like to make it come back or at least prevent it from flowing on further; when I look ahead I would like to see it flow on with infinite rapidity, because I am impatient for the opening up of the lost paradise. When I evoke some epoch of my past life I feel it quite differently from the way in which I felt it when it happened: in fact, when I evoke it, I am freed from this vertiginous aspiration towards a better future which was then possessing me, snatching me from the moment itself and preventing me from living it. Thus is explained in me my regret for a passage of time which, however, I did not appreciate.
In the degree in which my understanding awakens as a result of correct instruction, a change takes place in me. I understand that my primordial unlimited aspiration has nothing to expect from the phenomenal world, however universally and subtly one may envisage this. I understand that what I have always been waiting for, while incarnating it in an illusory manner in one kind of representation or another, is that which Zen calls satori. I understand that this satori could not be conceived as an amelioration, however fantastic one may suppose it, of that which I know actually; there could not be dissociation of an inseparable dualism, progressive purification of a 'good' cleansed of all 'evil'; rather is it access, beyond dualism, to 'something' which conciliates the dualism in a trinitarian Unity. This 'something' I cannot evidently picture to myself, I can only conceive it as indescribable, unimaginable, entirely different by its very nature from anything I know today.
My understanding, if it is really exact, does not result in a new conscious expectation oriented towards something unimaginable; for there cannot be operation of our consciousness without imagination, and the imagination of something unimaginable is another image. Exact understanding does not result, then, in a new conscious expectation different from the last. The new expectation is not born in the surface consciousness, but in the depths of the psyche in which it balances and neutralises the old expectation oriented towards the imaginable. Correct understanding brings to birth and nourishes, in the depths of me, an aspiration antagonistic and complementary to my natural aspiration; as though a demand no longer to expect any restrictive affirmation of myself‑as‑a-distinct-being were born in face of the natural demand for this affirmation. That which is thus born is as insufficient by itself as that which was before; but a moment will come when these two poles, insufficient by themselves, will be in equilibrium in the 'Great Doubt' of which Zen speaks and in which this state of equilibrium will allow us to experience satori. It is just as though we came into the world with only one eye open and we were obliged to work in order completely to open the second—so that we may obtain at last 'the opening of the third eye'.
If this new expectation, born of understanding, resides in our subconscious only, wherein lies the natural expectation from which aspirations spring, we are not forbidden (nothing, for the matter of that, being forbidden to us) to make a conscious mental effort to try to conceive this new expectation. (It should be well understood that we are not advising this mental effort as a systematic method in view of realisation.)
This new expectation, or expectation of satori, is an aspiration oriented towards 'something' unimaginable, radically new, not resembling anything that I know. When I try to put myself into this state of expectation, my mind comes up against various kinds of imaginable perception which offer themselves to it and which it turns down. The rejected perceptions, as aspects of the outer world or inner states, being situated outside me or within me, their disappearance leaves my expectation between these two situations. My expectation is neither outside me nor within me, nor attached to an object eventually perceived, nor to an I-subject eventually perceiving: it is focussed on the perception itself which joins subject and object. But this perception is itself imperceptible to me, like a point without dimension or situation. There is then virtual liberation from space, which is accompanied, as we shall see, by a similar liberation from time. In my old expectation I awaited something which was not given me at the time but which nevertheless existed for me in the world of possibilities. In my new expectation I await something which does not exist at all for me since it is unimaginable. This something which is outside my possibilities, I can no more imagine in the future than I can evoke in the past; it is outside time as it is outside space (which is not surprising since space and time are two aspects of the same system). When I await this consciousness that is entirely new and unimaginable, of the world, of myself, of their relationship, I await something which, existing neither in space nor in time, is at the centre of my expectation and at the very moment of this expectation, at the point which engenders the whole Universe and in the eternity of the instant, hic et nunc. [here and now] Besides, my expectation ceases to be an expectation since that which I await is separated from me neither by space nor by time. I understand then the mistake that I made when I pictured to myself the state of satori as a future state; my effective becoming-conscious of the state of satori can be seen as a future eventuality, but not the state of satori itself which is from the present moment my state, has always been my state, and is my eternal 'being'. And as for this becoming-conscious of the state of satori, I ought not to believe that it will be offered to me in the future; it is offered to me from this moment, at every moment. Only my acceptation can be regarded as situated in time, in a negative manner, that is to say that I can say at each moment that I have not yet accepted satori, but without rejecting the possibility that I may accept it the next moment. I am comparable with a man in a room, where the door is wide open whereas the window is protected by bars; since my birth I have been fascinated by the outside world and have been clutching the bars of the window; and my keenness for the images outside makes my two hands violently contract. In a sense I am not free since this contraction prevents me from going out of the room. But in reality nothing else shuts me in but this ignorance which makes me take the imaginative vision of life for life itself; nothing shuts me in but the crispation of my own hands. I am free; I always have been; I will realise it as soon as I 'let go'.
It is interesting to compare with these thoughts resulting from Zen the parable of the ten virgins in the gospel. Five of them, the foolish virgins, did not supply themselves with oil; the wise virgins supplied themselves with it; and all slept until the coming of the bridegroom. The sleep of the virgins symbolises the identification of my egotistical life with all the dreams of my hopes and of my fears. The oil symbolises the expectation of the unimaginable, of satori. As long as I have not this oil in me, this new expectation born of understanding, I am the foolish virgin who cannot receive the bridegroom. And, at the end of the parable, the bridegroom says: 'watch, for ye know neither the day nor the hour'; it can be at each moment, it is offered at each moment.
A Zen anecdote illustrates this conception of the pure expectation (pure from time and from space), which is pure attention, attention without an object:
' A man of the people one day asks the bonze Ikkyou: "Bonze, will you write for me some maxims of high wisdom?"
Ikkyou took up a brush and wrote the word "Attention".
"Is that all?" said the man, "Won't you add a few more words?"
Ikkyou then wrote twice: "Attention. Attention."
"All the same," said the disappointed man, "I don't see much depth or subtlety in what you have written there."
Ikkyou then wrote the same word three times.
Slightly irritated, the man said: "After all, what does this word 'Attention' mean?"
And Ikkyou replied: "Attention means attention." '