I’ve been studying the Go-i, or “Five Ranks” developed by master Tung Shan Liang Chieh.Master Tung Shan is notable for two particular teachings, one being the poem Jewel Mirror Samadhi and the other being various writings about the Five Ranks. The Five Ranks idea has then been further developed by his disciples.

There is a great deal written about this doctrine and a goodly bit of it is available on the internet. If you delve into it you will read a great deal about “universality” and “particularity” and other abstract concepts and how they are combined and separated. If you are anything like me, then after a while you start to feel that you have read a vast number of words but very little has actually been said. It is abstruce, abstract and ontological in ways that can soon leave you asking, So what? What is it all about? These teachings lie at the origin of the Soto School of Zen Buddhism particularly but are also important in Rinzai Shu. They have clearly been inspiring to many people, yet in their contemporary presentation seem as dry as dust.

Well, after much digging and reflecting this is where I have got to. We can start with a line in the Jewel Mirror Samadhi. It is because I am making a study of the poem that I got detoured into sorting out what the five ranks are all about.

Line nineteen of the text 疊而為三變盡成五 could be translated “Three permutations, though exhaustively five.” There is clearly here a reference to the traditional manner in which yarrow stalks were used to cast hexagrams in the use of the I Ching divinatory classic, but I think it is probably a red herring to go chasing after a meaning for JMS hidden in the I Ching. Tung Shan is using the allusion to anchor his argument in something already respectably established in Chinese culture.

Scholars are agreed that the “five” here refers to the five ranks and it seems to me that this line betrays the fact that what was special for Tung Shan was that he was proposing something that went beyond “three”, so what are the three?

The key terms here are shih and li. These are the words that some translators take to mean “particularity” and “universality” respectively, or, in other cases “form” and “void” or “relative” and “absolute” and so on. It seems to me that some liberty is being taken with the language here in order to fit into prior metaphysical commitments of the interpreters. Li referred originally the the correct performance of rites and implies the hidden, secret grain in things. Shih means events, the things that happen in the world, up-front, consciously contrived. It seems to me, therefore, that if we do want to choose general nouns to typify the distinction that is being made here, the best we can probably do in English is “the mundane” (shih) and “the holy” or “sacred” (li).

The Hua Yen school, based on the Avatamsaka Sutra, developed a fourfold schema as follows:
1. a world of shih
2. a world of li
3. interpenetration of shih and li
4. complete oneness of shih and li

I think you can see that 3 and 4 are hardly different so that really there are three options here. These three do outline the progress of a spiritual practitioner. First stage is worldliness. The second stage is to turn toward holiness. The third stage is to integrate the two. This, I think, is Tung Shan’s three permutations: 1. just shih, 2. just li, 3. shih and li together.

So he is saying that you can go beyond this. How? Where?

His two additional positions are built upon the fact that, generally speaking, shih and li togther is taken to indicate a path. The religious life is to bring the holy into the mundane world or to raise the mundane world toward the holy. This implies a “vertical” distinction and a gap that one is intent upon closing. Religions then advance a wide variety of methodologies - prayer, meditation, mantras, ceremonies, precepts, and so on, to this end and individuals start to believe that they have got it now that they have a formula by which to live their life which they tacitly think of as a kind of contact with God - if I do as I'm told He will do his bit and save me. All fair enough up to a point and a practical description of real religious life.

However, Tung Shan then points out that there is a liberation that is beyond having a path. Actually, this liberation beyond path is the real nature of faith. The person of real faith does not live by a formula, however good. He or she trusts in an other power to provide guidance beyond what his or her wit could contrive. Within this pathless condition Tung Shan discerns two modes, which thus brings the three up to five.

One mode is that of standing in awe. This actually is the position of the true shravaka. The word shravaka means a listener or hearer. It is often translated as “disciple”. The sravaka is a person of simple faith whose central concern is to pay attention to the Buddhas – to thusness, in the terminology of Tung Shan. The Buddhas and the ancestors are intimately and secretly transmitting thusness throughout time and space. The first line of JMS says so: 如是之法佛祖密付 "By Buddhas and ancestors the Dharma of thusness is secretly transmitted."

The second mode of pathlessness is that of the bodhisattva who is also acutely attentive to thusness but rather than being a passive receiver, is an activist. Bodhi signifies awareness of thusness. Sattva implies courage or strong character – one who has the courage of the vision.

So Tung Shan's extra two are actually the passive and active faces of faith. This makes his teaching not a new departure creating a different sectarian tendency – which is what has generally been made of it – but rather a reaffirmation of Mahayana fundamentals that are just as consistent with Pureland and with the “philosophical” schools, such as Hua Yen, as with Zen , even though there is the seemingly inevitable tendency to render the whole thing into abstruse ontologies that would have been ridiculed by Shakyamuni.

This also gives us a sense of how wisdom and faith are a single entity in Buddhism, one being the intuitive knowledge and the other being the courage to carry it into the world. Of course, this is circular because it is the wisdom that gives faith its courage and faith that gives wisdom its willingness to heed. These - prajna and shraddha - therefore, are simply two sides of a coin.

There is a set of traditional diagrams associated with the Five Ranks which you can see in the left but one column of the picture. In the first, the dark overwhelms the light. In the second the light overwhelms the dark. In the third, the dark has been safely surrounded. These are the three and for many people, number three is the goal of religion. However, four and five give other possibilities - the obvious one's really. In four, there is no dark because attention is completely taken by the Dharma Light, the Light of all the Buddhas. In the final, however, the quintessence, there is total darkness (see In the Dark). This is the dark side of the mirror. This is what is most difficult to grasp (actually defies grasping completely) because, as Tung Shan suggests, it goes well beyond the ordinary idea of religion.

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Thank you Dharmavidya. 

  Dharmavidya gave a very inspiring and accessible illustration of Tung Shan's Five ranks at Oasis this morning. 

Les 5 degrés ou niveaux de Tung Shan (807-869) tels qu'ils sont évoqués dans le go-i ou "Le très précieux miroir du Samadhi" texte fondamental du Zen Soto et Rinzai.

Voici une traduction libre et partielle de l'étude rédigée par Dharmavidya le 5 février 2017. (cf version complète en anglais)

Il s'agit plus particulièrement d'un passage difficile à comprendre pour le lecteur occidental moderne, où il est dit: "Empilés trois fois, les bâtons de ri retrouvent à nouveau leur ancien motif après cinq permutations".

Il est probable que Maître Tung Shan se réfère ici aux tiges de l'achillée mille feuilles (herbe au charpentier) utilisées pour les hexagrammes du jeu divinatoire bien connu du I Ching. Cette allusion permet à Tung Shan d'illustrer le fait qu'il existe un au- delà des trois niveaux ou degrés.

Les deux termes importants sont shi et li traduits le plus souvent respectivement par"particulier" et "universel", ou "forme" et "vide" ou encore "relatif" et "absolu". Ces diverses interprétations ont sans doute été proposées pour confirmer les vues métaphysiques antérieures des traducteurs. On peut dire que li a trait à l'exécution correcte des rites et implique le cœur caché et secret des choses. Shi signifie les événements, ce qui se produit dans le monde. On peut donc proposer la traduction suivante: le mondain pour shi et le sacré pour li.

L'école Hua Yen, qui se fonde sur le soutra Avatamsaka, a développé le schéma suivant:

1. le monde du shi

2. le monde du li

3. interdépendance du shi et du li

4. complète unicité du shi et du li

On peut dire que 3 et 4 peuvent se confondre de sorte qu'il reste 3 options. Celles-ci indiquent en fait le progrès du pratiquant spirituel. Le premier niveau signifie que l'on vit dans le monde; au deuxième niveau, on se tourne vers le sacré; au troisième, on intègre les deux. Cela représente selon moi, les trois permutations dont parle Tung Shan: 1. simplement shi 2. simplement li 3. l'ensemble shi et li.

Mais Tung Shan indique que l'on peut aller au-delà de ces 3 niveaux.

La conjugaison de shi et li indique un chemin. La vie spirituelle consiste à introduire le sacré dans le mondain ou à élever le mondain vers le sacré. Cela implique une direction verticale et une brèche que l'on cherche à combler. Pour ce faire, les religions proposent une variété de méthodes: prière, méditation, mantras, cérémonies, préceptes etc. Le pratiquant peut être amené à penser tacitement que, pour peu qu'il applique ces méthodes, il disposera d'un moyen de se rapprocher de Dieu. Si je fais ce qu'on me dit de faire, Dieu me sauvera. Cela peut être une description pratique de la véritable vie religieuse.

Mais Tung Shan indique qu'il y a une libération au-delà du fait que l'on dispose d'un chemin et c'est la vraie nature de la foi.La personne qui a une vraie foi ne vit pas selon des formules toutes faites, si bonnes soient elles. Le pratiquant a foi dans un Autre pouvoir qui le guidera au-delà de ce que sa propre intelligence peut concevoir. A ce stade, il n'y a plus de chemin tout tracé et Tung Shan discerne alors deux modes, ce qui porte le trois au cinq.

Le premier indique que l'on demeure dans la vénération et la crainte: c'est la position du shravaka, l'auditeur. Le terme est souvent traduit par disciple. Le shravaka est une personne d'une foi simple dont le souci principal est de prêter attention aux Bouddhas, à l'ainsité selon les termes de Tung Shan. Une ainsité secrètement transmise par les Bouddhas et les ancêtres, à travers le temps et l'espace.

Le second mode qui se situe au-delà du chemin est la position du bodhisattva qui, tout en étant attentif à l'ainsité, n 'est pas un récepteur passif, mais actif. Bodhi signifie conscience Sattva implique courage et force de caractère. Le bodhisattva a le courage de la vision.

Ces deux niveaux, entrevus par Tung Shan, sont les deux faces active et passive de la foi. Son enseignement ne marque donc pas un nouveau départ qui créerait une tendance sectaire - ce qui s'est généralement produit - mais c'est une réaffirmation des fondements du Mahayana qui sont en accord avec la Terre Pure tout autant qu'avec les écoles "philosophiques" telles que le Hua Yen, même si parfois il existe une tendance apparemment inévitable, à traduire cela par des ontologies absconses dont Shakyamuni se serait moqué.  

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