Hubert Benoit
Zen and the Psychology of Transformation
The Supreme Doctrine


Certain readers of this work have wondered about the exact origin of the thoughts which they have foud therein. They were presented with precise and often paradoxical notions concerning the state of man; one can understand that they asked themselves: 'Who has conceived this manner of looking at things? To what degree does the thought which is offered to us belong to the Zen Masters and in what degree to the author of the book?'

This reaction did not astonish me when I heard it, but I had not foreseen it. I want to explain this, and to propose certain ideas, in accordance with Zen doctrine, on the relations which exist between an intellectual truth and the individuality of the man who conceives it.

Let us first of all recollect the profound distinction that the Vedanta makes between Reality and truths. There is only one Reality, the Principle of all manifestation, embracing everything (intellectual and otherwise), unlimited and in consequence impossible to include in any formula, that is to say inexpressible. There is, on the contrary, an indefinite multitude of truths, aspects correctly perceived by our mind of refractions of Reality on the human intellectual plane. Each expressible truth is only an intellectual aspect of Reality, which in nowise excludes other aspects that are equally valid; for each expressible truth carries a limit within which it exists and outside which it ceases to exist. Within its limit a truth manifests Reality; outside its limit it fails. Every truth should then be seen as a duality: in so far as it manifests Reality—that is in so far as it is valid—and in so far as it does not manifest Reality—that is in so far as it is valueless. This distinction will allow us to connect the notion of truth with notions of the individual and the universal.

What takes place in me when I discover a truth, when there appears to me suddenly a relation uniting intellectual elements until then separated? I see clearly that I have not fabricated this new truth with old material; I have not fabricated it, I have received it, it has appeared in my consciousness in a moment of inner relaxation. Whence has it come to me? From a source within me, the source of all the organic and mental phenomena which constitute me, the Principle of which I am an individual manifestation, from the Principle which creates the whole Universe as it creates me. My truth has come to me from 'something' universal. From the universal my truth has taken on, in my individual consciousness, a form, a limitation; it has 'enformed' itself in my mind in accordance with my particular structure, in conformity with my personal style of thinking. In acquiring this form my truth has acquired the possibility of being conceived and expressed, but it has also acquired, beside the aspect which manifests the original Reality and which therefore is valid, the aspect which does not manifest Reality and which, in consequence, is valueless. The truth that I have expressed, in so far as it manifests Reality, is of a universal nature; it is, on the contrary, of an individual nature in so far as it does not manifest Reality and is valueless. In other words that which is valid, worthy of consideration, in the truth that I express does not belong to me-as-a-distinct-individual, and has not properly speaking any connexion with my particular person.

If I have understood that, I am altogether indifferent to the particular brain in which such a truth has taken shape; that particular brain is only the receiving-apparatus which has caught the message. If there exists an evident relation between the form of thoughts expressed and the particular structure of the man who expresses them there is no relation between this structure and the truth of the thoughts, with what the thoughts manifest of Reality. The formal aspect of my book is certainly mine, but the informal truth that it contains in the network of words and which may perhaps awaken in your mind unformed thoughts in accordance with your structure, this truth is not mine, or the property of any other man in particular; it is universal. A claim to the paternity of any idea is absurd; it comes from the egotistical fiction of divinity which, lurking at the bottom of our psychology, pretends that we are the First Cause of the Universe. In reality the individual never creates anything if man creates it is as universal man, anonymous, and as manifestation of the Principle. In the ages of truer wisdom artists, scholars and thinkers, did not dream of attaching their names to the works which took form through them.

The curiosity that we may feel about the paternity of a doctrine is in relation with a lack of confidence in our own intellectual intuition. If I seek a belief to which to adhere without the impression of internal evidence, without my intelligence exacting that it shall ring true, then indeed I look for private sources, for the authorities that are responsible for this doctrine. But why search thus? Such beliefs might have the most imposing origins but they will remain nevertheless, in my mind, unassimilated inclusions, not reconstituted in accordance with my structure, and in consequence useless for the accomplishment of my being. They will be spokes in the wheels of my machine. If, on the contrary, I wish to build up by degrees an authentic understanding, through intellectual nourishment which I can decompose and recompose in my own way, I shall seek everywhere without prejudice, with a complete absence of consideration for the person to whom I am listening or whose words I am reading. I am ready perhaps to find nothing in a certain famous teaching and to receive veritable revelations from an obscure source. The individual man whose thought I tackle matters little; I am only interested in that which, in this thought, might awaken my own truth which is still asleep. The Gospels interest me because I find there with evidence a profound doctrine, but discussions concerning the historicity of the personage of Jesus leave me indifferent.

If I have written Zen and the Psychology of Transformation as I have, without references, without precise documentation, without tracing anywhere the limit between the thoughts which took form in the brains of the Zen masters and those which took form in my own brain, that is because I am myself incapable of making these distinctions. After having read part of Zen literature and received from it, with an impression of evidence, a vivid revelation, I allowed my mind to work on its own. When we let it function without preconceived ideas the mind only asks to be allowed to construct; it establishes, by intuitive bursts, ever richer relations between the ideas already understood, and assembles them like the pieces of a puzzle. This work of coordination, of integration, results in a whole which is more and more harmonic and in which it becomes strictly impossible for us to determine what has been brought to us and what is created in us. And besides, once again, this discrimination is of no interest. The adhesion given by the reader to such and such a thought expressed in a book should not depend upon the fact that this thought has been conceived by such and such a man or by such and such another, but upon that inner resonance that we must learn to recognise and to use as our only guide.

Preoccupations concerning the individual who has conceived such a doctrinal exposition are in relation with our illusory need to find the Absolute in an aspect of the multiple. We wish to find the Absolute incarnated in a form. When we read a text expressing an ensemble of ideas we are tempted to adhere to it as a whole or to reject it altogether; that should be easier and should save us the personal trouble of reflection. From that moment we are led necessarily to envisage the author of the text as an entity whose individual value intrigues us: does he deserve our respect or our disdain? This way of reading, sound if a documentary text is in question, is no longer suitable when we wish to form our thought and discover our truth (that is, our own intellectual view of Reality). When I seek for my truth I know that I shall not find it outside myself; what is outside me—which I am going to use in order to find the truth in myself—can appear as a coherent whole; but I must not let myself be impressed by this appearance, otherwise I shall never succeed in effecting the analytical process which thereafter conditions my personal synthesis, my intellectual assimilation.

If I regard my book as a whole, I believe that the ancient Zen masters would have given me their imprimatur. But that matters little; above all they would have approved the detachment whereby I struggle to maintain my thought in the face of all other personal thought. One remembers that Zen master who, seeing one of his pupils poring over a Sutra, said to him: 'Do not let yourself be upset by the Sutra, upset the Sutra yourself instead.' For only thus can there be established between the pupil and the Sutra a real understanding.

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