Zen (on The Book of Great Deliverance)
An acquaintance with Zen Buddhism is accessible to Western readers in part thanks to the translations and admirable studies by Suzuki. We have all seen clearly that Zen is neither a psychology nor a philosophy in the sense that we usually give those words. The shock that Zen intends, operating within a soul--which then is transformed--comes to fruition in a totally irrational process, unconnected to the data and provisions of logic and dialectic. The implications of this process, and the discovery that on completion creates the initial reality of a new mode of being and perception are specifically what brings the Zen school of Buddhism and Jung’s psychotherapy into harmonious relationship. We would like to take up this harmony here as the initial theme of our “paraphrase.”
From the outset, we might wonder if such a theme doesn’t tend toward a contradictory initiative. What forms the essence and raison d’être of Zen is the central intuition that is designated by the Japanese term satori, which we can attempt to translate by “enlightenment.” Here we have a mysterium ineffabile. Between the famous and very strange anecdotes with their often absurd wording that Zen offers for contemplation by its adepts, and the enlightenment that blossoms abruptly and brutally, there yawns an abyss that cannot be bridged with rational contemplation or explanation. As Jung says in his Gesammelte Werke, that all you can do is to maneuver through the neighboring proximity and the maneuvering is all the more difficult because you are then going counter to the spirit of Zen. The impression that seems to emerge is one of an experience a nihilo, that corresponds to an inner movement of what in astrology or cosmology is called creatio ex nihilo. What rejects this, setting itself in opposition to emanationism, is specifically the train of thought that begins by positing something based on which there would be derived or emanate, necessarily, all the superabundance of being. This being said, we do not mean to imply that the creationist doctrines were aware of this--far from it. But instead: the legendary brutality with which certain famous Zen masters replied to their students’ questions by hitting them with their stick or their fist, responds to the necessity to create pure, naked fact, before and beyond all affirmation and all negation, before and beyond all pre-existing material support on which it might repose. The explosion of an encounter, the injunction Show me--or discover--or study--your face as it was before you were born, before the creation of the world. Absolute initium. Urerfahrung. Experience that is ab initio and ab imo, initial and of the void. That which supports the intuitive understanding of what the void (śūnya) is—this concept about which so many misunderstandings have arisen and which has led so superficially to talk of Buddhist “nihilism.” It is a question of expunging from consciousness all representations of objects, the assemblage or configuration of which are imposed on consciousness as data that it sustains, as well as expunging along with those representations all the laws of physics and history. One must put oneself back to the origin, pierce through to the mind whose own law alone assembled these objects and their representations. And then, finding this original Void, which is absolute power, the principle of contradiction will also have been surmounted, since things and beings once again will be there but in a transformed sense.
This is the sense of the very striking image used by one of the masters whom Suzuki quotes, “Before someone studies Zen, for him, mountains are mountains and waters are waters. Once he has managed to penetrate into the truth of Zen through the teaching that a good master provides for him, then mountains are no longer mountains and waters are no longer waters. But when he has truly attained the place of rest (that is, obtained satori), then for him, once again, mountains are mountains and waters are waters.”
The man who confronted the world of objects and the reality of objects was a man who was full of himself. What was this himself of which he was full and how, specifically, by giving way to illusion, does he “egoify” this “I?” How does he make it into ego by succumbing to the illusion of objects? An “I” that clearly has not been and could not have been set aside by a rational negation (that is, a negative, logical operation).
“If I came to see you with nothing, what would you say?”
“But I just told you I have nothing! How can I drop it?”
“So, pick it up!”
Because this nothing about which he has been thinking is still something affected by a negative sign, a nothing that is still rational, decreed by logic. It is not the Void that is referred to by the teaching of the Great Vehicle which is attained, “realized” through a shattering of the “I” that clamps onto rational consciousness--the consciousness that is like a blinding and a limitation of consciousness itself. The experience of satori is the emancipation from that, and, by discovering your face before the initial instant of the creation of things (where all things are created in front of you and through you the pure Thus), it gives you access to the Pure Land of transcendent consciousness. There we have a totality of the consciousness of life. “The moon of the mind includes the whole universe: it is cosmic life and cosmic mind, and simultaneously individual life and individual mind.”