Benoit – Trapped in Opposites


A man arrives at the conclusion that his misery is the result of his manifestations of anger, conceit, sensuality, etc., and he will think that the cure should consist in applying himself to produce manifestations of gentleness, humility, asceticism, etc. Or perhaps another man, more intelligent this one, will come to the conclusion that his misery is a result of his mental agitation, and he will think that the cure should consist in applying himself, by such and such exercises, to the task of tranquilizing his mind. One such doctrine will say to us, ‘Your misery is due to the fact that you are always desiring something, to your attachment to what you possess’, and this will result, according to the degree of intelligence of the master, in the advice to give away all your possessions, or to learn to detach yourself inwardly from the belongings that you continue to own outwardly. Another such doctrine will see the key to the man’s misery in his lack of self-mastery and will prescribe ‘Yoga’, methods aimed at progressive training of the body, or of feelings, or of the attitude towards others, or of knowledge, or of attention.

All that is, from the Zen point of view, just animal-training and leads to one kind of servitude or another (with the illusory and exalting impression of attaining freedom). At the back of all that there is the following simple-minded reasoning: ‘Things are going badly with me in such and such a way; very well, from now on I am going to do exactly the opposite.’ This way of regarding the problem, starting from a form that is judged to be bad, encloses the searcher within the limits of a domain that is formal, and, as a result deprives him of all possibility of re-establishing his consciousness beyond all form; when I am enclosed within the limits of the plane of dualism no reversal of method will deliver me from the dualistic illusion and restore me to Unity. It is perfectly analogous to the problem of ‘Achilles and the Tortoise’; the manner of posing the problem encloses it within the very limits that it is necessary to overstep, and as a result, renders it insoluble.

Hubert Benoit – Zen and the Psychology of Transformation



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