June 10th, 2008
In my last post, I took you through the first three parts of what are called the Five Ranks of Tozan. Tozan was a Zen master who lived about 1200 years ago, and his description of the stages of enlightenment are very well-respected and have stood the test of time for twelve centuries. To fully understand this post, I strongly suggest that you read my last post before you read this one, since this is the second of two parts.
So, in our last episode, we left our hero in the third of the Five Ranks, established in the transcendent. This Third Rank is what most people would consider “enlightenment.” In this stage one’s center is no longer a separate self, a separate ego, a separate, agentic “doer.” Instead, one’s center is experienced as being everywhere, and the only doer is the entire universe, the Tao, the entire going on of it all. In the Third Rank there are no boundaries, no beginning, no end. You are birthless and deathless. This is Genpo Roshi’s Big Mind.
In this place all opposites are clearly and obviously one thing. And, you ARE that one thing. You are the background, the ground of being, the awareness out of which everything comes and into which everything dissolves. You are pure awareness, awareness without content. Good and evil, life and death, me and not me, and all other supposed opposites have collapsed into just being–not being something, but just being.
The experience is one of peace…flowing…perfection…oneness. (For a more extensive description of the transcendent, you might want to read my post about the Unitive level of development, two posts back.)
At any rate, there you are–enlightened.
Pretty cool, huh? Everything is perfect. Good/bad, having/not having, healthy/unhealthy, alive/dead, whatever–from this perspective, the universe is dancing along in a perfect way, and you are that dance. There’s nothing outside of you, so what could you possibly fear? There’s also nothing to get, because your experience is one of completeness. Since nothing is outside of you, what would you get–and where would you get it? There’s nowhere to go, because you’re everywhere.
In addition to being everything and everywhere, you’re also everyWHEN, because it’s obvious from this perspective that time is an illusion–or, more properly, nonsensical. It’s always NOW, and it will always be now. Even “now” doesn’t make sense, because now only exists or makes sense in relation to not-now, and there’s nothing from this perspective that’s not-now.
This is Eckhart Tolle’s now moment, the presence, except you don’t have to do anything to get yourself there. In fact, it’s not a matter of getting there or not getting there. It isn’t that there is a you that then experiences it. You are IT. Your experience of life isn’t some thing or some place to get to, but rather WHO YOU ARE.
When “you” act, it’s obvious that it’s the entire universe acting, not some separate person or separate ego. All divisions are seen for what they are–ideas, an artificial and arbitrary mental chopping of the One into pieces. No division is real, other than in the mind.
This is, to be sure, a tremendously great experience (especially at first, because of the contrast with what it felt like to be–supposedly–separate). After a while, you integrate the experience, and it isn’t so novel anymore. At that point it feels more “ordinary,” but as I said in my last post (quoting D.T. Suzuki), it’s like normal life, but about two inches off the ground.
So what’s missing from this place, the Third Rank of Tozan, where you’re everything, everywhere, everywhen? Heart, for one thing. Though at this stage you see the suffering of humanity, and you feel compassion for all those who are caught in it, you can’t help thinking that if people would just wake up to who they really are they could step out of it, just as you have. You certainly feel tremendous love for humanity–in fact, for everything–but you are, to a certain extent, detached from it all. So in one sense you do have heart, but it’s a detached heart, you might say.
Many great teachers live at the Third Rank. A person at this stage has tremendous charisma, and what Eastern mystical schools call “shakti,” divine power or energy. Others, if they have enough sensitivity, can “feel” you. They sense your power, your centeredness, your equanimity, that you are somehow above it all and not caught in the same bullshit everyone else seems to be caught in.
In the 60s and 70s we used to say that you could get a “contact high” from being around such a person. Because of this contact high, this vicarious taste of the transcendent, and the clear and potent teaching of someone at this stage, students typically love (and flock to) teachers who are at the Third Rank.
Even though the Third Rank is such a great place to be, it’s considered in Zen to be another place of stuckness. Just as you can be stuck in the relative world (as most people are), you can also be stuck in the transcendent. In Zen they say, “Enlightenment is delusion.” There are Zen stories where a disciple in the Third Rank says to the Master, “The geese and the mountains and the wind are all the Tao, aren’t they, Master?” and the Master says, “Yes, but it disgusts me to hear you say so.” At a certain point a Zen teacher may begin to tell his enlightened student that he “stinks of Zen.”
This happens partly because the teacher sees that the student, though “enlightened” in the sense that he is established in the transcendent, is, to a degree, lacking heart. The Third Rank is, by its very nature, impersonal. Though its perspective is one of seeing and encompassing all connections, all relationships–everything–the person at this stage doesn’t really FEEL those relationships. There is a denial, or perhaps you could say a distancing from, or an impersonality toward, the suffering of the world.
At the Third Rank you’re on the mountain top, and everything below you in the valley seems far away. From the mountain top it seems as if everything is perfect (which, in a sense, it actually is), including the suffering in the world. “God is playing all the parts. He who suffers and he who inflicts the suffering are both God in disguise.” In one sense this is true. However, there is a lack of personal connection to that suffering. “If only I could help other beings wake up, they would see the perfection I see, and they, too, would be out of the world of suffering and impermanence.”
I asked Genpo Roshi for his thoughts on this, and on the next step, the Fourth Rank, which he describes as a fall from grace. Here is a summary of what he told me:
When we have the experience of Great Death and Great Liberation (taking us to the Third Rank), the ego attaches to the “non-experience experience” of enlightenment and appropriates it. The ego becomes inflated and ignores cause and effect. It seems as if there is no ego, but there is. The ego is denying the ego in order to co-opt the enlightenment experience as its own. Karma, however, inevitably accumulates (in other words, cause and effect continue to work). Eventually the ego balloon pops from its own inflation. When this happens, there is a fall from grace–and in that fall from grace (which is the Fourth Rank) the relative world and all its suffering can no longer be denied and comes back with full force.
Where the Third Rank was impersonal, the Fourth Rank is very personal, and very humbling. In the Third Rank you thought you were beyond the world of suffering, that you had escaped from the vicissitudes and problems of the human condition. Now, having fallen, you’re up to your neck in personal problems, personal suffering, and the human condition. In fact, it seems worse than before. Everything is personal, and everything is relational. You feel your own suffering, plus that of all the others who suffer. And, having fallen from so high, you are humbled. In the Third Rank you felt quite extraordinary. Now you realize that you’re incredibly and totally ordinary.
And, in the Fourth Rank, you FEEL. You feel everything. Before the First Rank, back in pre-stage one, you were subject to the world of human suffering, but this time it’s different. In pre-stage one you were unaware, unconscious, unawake. Now you’re very awake, very conscious. And, because you are so conscious, so aware, you feel everything.
In the Third Rank you were “one with the universe”–but you were detached from the human aspect. You saw the suffering and even felt compassion about it. Perhaps you worked to help others wake up, to help others out of their suffering, but you weren’t really FEELING it. Now you are. You’re really one with everything now, including all the suffering. And, it hurts.
This is, however, not the same as it was when you were just another unconscious human being, before your “enlightenment” experience. Without having the experience of the first three Ranks you wouldn’t be able to handle what you’re feeling and experiencing in the Fourth Rank. In pre-stage one you had many defenses and ways of avoiding. You were able to repress, ignore, project, and otherwise delude yourself. You had “great hope” for something better in the future, some heaven or some better state or situation to hope for and anticipate.
Having experienced Great Doubt, though (part of the transition to the Third Rank), and having the awareness to clearly see reality for what it is, you now KNOW that there’s no escape. And, there’s no going back to your previous pre-stage one delusional state–or, to the delusion of the Third Rank. You’ll never again be able to feel that you’re above it all–that you’re divorced from the world, from suffering, from the human condition, and from cause and effect.
The Fourth Rank shatters the ego in the sense that from this point on delusion becomes very difficult. You know too much to be deluded by the Relative–and you also know too much to be deluded by the Transcendent. All the pain of being human, you discover, is real, and there’s no escape from it.
One famous Buddhist teaching is that of Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. The first Truth is that all life is suffering. This is so because everything is in time, everything is transient. Sometimes we get what we don’t want, which creates suffering. Sometimes we don’t get what we do want, which also creates suffering. And even when we get what we want, we still suffer because when we get what we want it still exists in time and eventually passes away. Whatever we get we eventually lose because all things, at least in the relative world, have a beginning and an ending.
The second Truth is that suffering is caused by our attachment to things being a certain way–especially our attachment to life, to the idea that we must go on living.
The third Truth is that suffering can be ended by giving up attachment, and the fourth Truth is the method for doing that. (We could go much more deeply into the Four Noble Truths, but I won’t do that now because I’m introducing them just to make a particular point, which is…)
In the Third Rank, we think that we’ve given up attachment, and therefore ended suffering, but we haven’t. When you’re in the Third Rank it certainly seems like it, because everything feels perfect. Everything is flowing effortlessly and you’re continuously happy. However, the truth is that you’ve just found something else to be attached to (the transcendent) and another (and much more elegant) way to delude yourself about what it means to be human (what a bummer, huh?). You’ve stepped out of the relative entirely, as if it didn’t really exist.
In the Fourth Rank you find that the relative is real, and you can’t avoid it. You discover that cause and effect are all too real. As long as you’re here, in a body, being human, cause and effect will hunt you down, and there’s no avoiding it. The Fourth Rank is painful—and Genpo Roshi tells me that it took him years to recover from his fall from grace.
So what does it take to get out of the Fourth Rank? And what is the Fifth Rank all about? The Fifth Rank is the integration of the relative and the transcendent. I’ve referred to it in other things I’ve written as knowing who you really are (ultimately, that you are the transcendent, the entire going on of it all, Big Mind, beyond all beginnings, beyond all endings, and without boundaries or limits) but also knowing that you are expressing That from the perspective of a limited human being, living in time, subject to the laws of cause and effect, subject to karma.
Genpo Roshi sometimes calls someone in the Fifth Rank the one who chooses to be a human being. Knowing what you know, being unable to delude yourself anymore about who you really are, and what is really real, you choose to be here, you choose to be human.
(This is, in fact, the only stage at which you actually could choose to be a human being, where you really have the ability to make a conscious choice. Before this stage, you wouldn’t make this choice. At previous stages you either don’t know enough to choose (you don’t really see things the way they are). And, if you did know enough, you wouldn’t make this particular choice. You wouldn’t be strong enough, aware enough, wise enough, or compassionate enough.
In a sense the Fifth Rank involves another, and even deeper, surrender than that which you went through in the Second Rank, because now you really feel the reality of the relative and KNOW that there is no escape (at least as long as you’re a living human being). In the Fifth Rank you surrender to what is in a whole new way, because for the first time you really know what is.
This is not unlike the story of Jesus, who is seen as being the Son of God (in other words, the transcendent), yet takes the form of a human being, despite the suffering involved in being human. There is a famous passage in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Phillippeans which describes this choice to be a human being:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippeans 2:5)
When you consciously choose to be a human being, fully knowing what is involved, and being totally awake to (and fully feeling) your own suffering and the enormity of the suffering of all of humanity–while also knowing at the same time that you are simultaneously the unborn, undying transcendent–something remarkable happens. Having REALLY surrendered to what is, you’re free.
Freedom, in this case, however, doesn’t mean freedom from suffering. It means the freedom to CHOOSE. In surrendering you don’t remove yourself from cause and effect, or from the fact that human bodies and psyches are sensitive and therefore subject to both pleasure and pain. At the Fifth Rank, however, you can choose your suffering.
What do I mean by that? You may have heard me describe The Game of Black and White, where we divide the world into two piles, the desirable (White) pile and the undesirable (Black) pile. Then, we add the rule that White Must Win. Since White and Black GO TOGETHER and define each other (and are really just ideas about reality, anyway–not reality itself), White can’t win, any more than up could win over down. In playing this game we put ourselves in a double-bind, an unwinable situation.
To be here, to be human, you have to play the game of Black and White at least a little bit. You can’t be human without becoming attached to something. Without desire you wouldn’t eat or come in out of the cold. Without desire, we wouldn’t procreate, and humanity would cease to exist. The unconscious person, however, plays the Game of Black and White without knowing that it’s an unwinable game. The unconscious person creates one kind of suffering after another by playing a hard and serious version of the Game of Black and White, desperately trying to get White to win.
The enlightened person, the person at the Fifth Rank–the one who consciously chooses to be a human being–chooses when and how he plays. He plays with full awareness of the karma he is creating, with full awareness of how cause and effect works. Though he is, relative to other unconscious and unaware people, unattached to life, he still chooses, for instance, to be attached, to some degree, to his children, his spouse, his friends, his motorcycle, his body, his life–or whatever.
Since he is very aware that everything is in time, he knows that whatever he becomes attached to will eventually pass away, and that becoming attached to anything has consequences. But the Fifth Rank human being doesn’t become attached unconsciously, like other humans. He chooses, and he chooses knowing full well what the consequences are. And, moment by moment, he surrenders to those consequences. The surrendering of the one who chooses to be a human being therefore isn’t a one-time event, but rather ongoing, in each moment. And, in being fully aware of the consequences of his actions, the one who chooses to be a human being avoids all sorts of unconscious suffering common to most human beings.
Genpo Roshi uses a triangle to describe the integration of relative and transcendent, self and no-self, mind and no-mind. The lower left corner of the triangle represents the relative, the world of the mind, the separate self. The lower right represents the transcendent, Big Mind, the world of no-self or no-mind.
The apex of the triangle represents the integration of the relative and the transcendent, the place where one has transcended and included both. The only way to really be in the world and be fully aware–and fully human–is to integrate both mind and no-mind, relative and transcendent, to transcend and include both. This is what Jesus meant by “being in the world, but not of it.”
Genpo Roshi also refers to the one who chooses to be a human being as “the Master.” When you integrate relative and transcendent, you become the master of your life. You are subject to cause and effect, and the impermanence of the relative world, but you have mastered life by fully (and continually) surrendering to the fact that this is the way things are. You have mastered life, not by defeating Black, as others try to do in playing the Game of Black and White, but rather by embracing Black and White–ending resistance to Black while also surrendering to the impermanence of White–and then, transcending them both.
A person at the Fifth Rank lives spontaneously. He is completely alive, completely comfortable in his own skin, and completely comfortable being a human being.
And that is a rare event.
A few announcements before I let you go.
1. I want to urge you once again to come and experience Genpo Roshi (and me) in person at our New York workshop, June 28-29. I promise that it WILL change your life. Just go to www.centerpointe.com/bigmind to register. There are a FEW spots left. Since every workshop so far has sold out, if you’re interested in attending NOW is the time to decide to go and sign up. You’ll be VERY glad you did. I look forward to meeting you in person.
2. I’ve just launched a free online course about the work of Eckhart Tolle, featuring several awakened teachers: Genpo Roshi, Ken Wilber, Saniel Bonder and Linda-Groves Bonder, Diane Hamilton, Sally Kempton, and me. If you’ve been captivated by Eckhart Tolle, his books, and the lessons he’s been teaching through Oprah, and want to learn more of the power of Now and how to awaken to who you really are, go enroll in this free course I’ve put together for you. Just go to www.masteringthepowerofnow.com.
Next, I think I’ll write something about Holosync, but I’ll also tie in many of the other topics you’ve asked me to write about. Thank you so much for your suggestions and your other posts. Do let me know what you think about this one–I really want your feedback. Also DO tell others about this blog, please.