As noted before, I keep re-reading Hubert Benoit's brilliant book about Zen, "The Supreme Doctrine." No matter how many times I ponder a page, a fresh understanding (or productive non-understanding) almost always pops into my psyche upon another perusal.
This morning I re-read Benoit's chapter on The Immediate Presence of Satori. In the first few paragraphs he accurately captures the psychology of both spiritual seekers and humanity at large.
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 fulfil 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, accoring 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.
Some of those who seek this paradise through religion, spirituality, or mysticism believe that a holy book is the key. Others, a guru, savior, master, yogi, or other human being, alive or dead. Still others search for a ritual, lifestyle, practice, meditation, or such that will open the door to the "true life."
But Benoit says that while our aspiration is worthy -- to find a way out of the suffering, disappointments, and sense of unfulfilment that Buddhism (along with countless other philosophies) teaches is our ordinary lot in life -- we shouldn't expect that we know what to expect.
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.
...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."
OK, maybe you feel this description of what Zen says can't be described is too abstractly conceptual. Benoit then takes another stab at the subject, offering up one of the best images I've ever come across of what Zen (and I'd say, life itself) is all about.
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."
Of religion. Of spirituality. Of mysticism.
Of searching. Of not searching.
Of myself. Of the outside world.
Of everything. Of nothing.