The five ranks of Tozan

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  • Myoshin
    • Jun 2024

    The five ranks of Tozan

    Hi guys,

    I wanted to share a document and like the ten ox pictures, a way with different steps, by one of the founder of the soto zen.
    Remember, those ranks are not an intellectual study, nor a method, but different phases wherein we go through the experiment of shikantaza as well in sitting and in daily life.

    The theory of Tozan is associated with some verses on this link

    After that, we can also see the application with the Genjokoan, where Dogen describes all those ranks without mention of the names.

    I let you discover with scholars peoples, I'm not able not explain you and that's not my aim.

    gassho all

  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39221

    Hi Myoshin,

    First, let's quickly tell people what are the "Five Ranks". One of the root teachers of Soto Zen in China, Dongshan/Tozan, is said to have formulated five ways or directions in which the "relative/form" and the "absolute/emptiness" fit together, and play with/in/as each other (and eachother) ... usually rendered as something like ...

    the relative within the absolute
    the absolute within the relative
    coming from the absolute
    arrival at mutual integration
    unity attained

    Taigen Dan Leighton makes this point, citing another scholar:

    Most discussions of Dongshan focus on this five ranks teaching.[iii] One modern Chinese commentator, just before presenting an extensive discussion of the five ranks and Dongshan's related teachings, ironically states, "This doctrine and others like it are not of central importance in the teachings of Tung-shan's school [Tung-shan is the older Wade-Giles transliteration for Dongshan]. They are merely expedient means or pedagogical schemata for the guidance of the less intelligent students. It is regrettable that historians of Ch'an have a tendency to treat these incidents as essentials and to ignore the true essentials altogether."[iv]
    It is clear that later writers added all kinds of interpretations, poetic embellishments and esoteric meanings and diagrams to the 5 Ranks. It got quite complicated, almost like Jews interpreting Kabbalah or fortune tellers reading the I-Ching.

    It is actually my understanding that Dogen was --not-- a fan of the "Five Ranks" or any too pat and clean model of things. Taigen again comments ...

    Dôgen clearly criticizes such analysis, saying, "If buddha-dharma had been transmitted merely through the investigation of differentiation and oneness, how could it have reached this day?" and "Do not mistakenly say that Dongshan's buddha-dharma is the five ranks of oneness and differentiation."[xlv] It is intriguing that Dôgen titles his essay "Spring and Autumn," the seasons when heat or cold are least intense. And yet, in his introduction Dôgen extols Dongshan's summit of cold or heat, and says that "Cold is the vital eye of the ancestor school. Heat is the warm skin and flesh of my late master."[xlvi] This concerns direct experience, beyond systematic formulations such as the five ranks.
    James Mitchell writes in Soto Zen Ancestors in China (he uses the Chinese term "principle" referring to the "absolute" and "phenomena" to mean "the relative"):

    In addition
    to the various statements regarding emptiness, Buddha-nature and thusness, which
    conform in every respect to the commonly accepted teachings of all the chan schools,
    Dongshan also develops the teaching of the Five Ranks, represented in the Sung histories as
    the characterizing philosophical doctrine of the emergent Cao-Dong School. The Five Ranks
    of Dongshan are a set of five modes in which apparent or phenomenal reality interacts with
    ultimate or absolute reality. In traditional Buddhist terms, the teaching demonstrates five
    possibilities for the construction of form and emptiness. In traditional Chinese terms, the
    Five Ranks show the interactive relations of li (principle) and shi (phenomena). The recorded
    teachings of Caoshan Benji likewise indicate the importance of the Five Ranks in the early
    years of Cao-Dong School. They contain extensive elaboration, through the systematic use
    of metaphor and symbol, of Dongshan's original theory.
    Its [the Five Rank's] popularity and employment as a teaching device seems to have varied
    enormously from generation to generation – Dogen Zenji seems to have been little
    impressed with it – but it is reasonable to say that it has always had at the very least a
    background presence throughout the later history of Cao-Dong School. Indeed the Sungperiod
    chan histories agree in emphasizing Dongshan's Five Ranks as the original teaching
    of the school, which alone probably would have precluded the possibility of its complete
    disappearance afterwards

    The point here is not that Dogen rejected insight into the "relative" and "absolute" .... because no Mahayana Buddhist teacher would do so. It is fundamental. What is more, so many of Dogen's writings express this dance of the "relative and absolute". I believe that the first lines of Genjo Koan, as the essay points out, do express this dance of relative and absolute as discussed in the essay you link to ...

    As all things are buddha-dharma, there are delusion, realization, practice, birth and death, buddhas and sentient beings. As myriad things are without an abiding self, there is no delusion, no realization, no buddha, no sentient being, no birth and death. The buddha way, in essence, is leaping clear of abundance and lack; thus there are birth and death, delusion and realization, sentient beings and buddhas. Yet in attachment blossoms fall, and in aversion weeds spread.

    It is simply that Dogen was not a fan of formulas or models to express this living dance of "relative" and "absolute". I do not think he was a big fan of the "Five Ranks" as a good way to capture this vibrant vibrant interpenetrating wholeness flowing dance. The essay you posted says the following, and I do not think it particularly wrong. It says ...

    Dōgen outwardly rejected the formulaic and structured approach of
    the Five Ranks as a teaching method. However, he covertly inserted them into many areas of his
    writings, especially the Shobogenzo, because he understood their value in undermining deep-seated
    misconceptions even though he considered systematic and academic forms not to be consistent with
    traditional teachings of the Buddhadharma.
    ... but I would say that Dogen's vision of the intricated intimate dance of form-emptiness was much more than 5 or 50 or 500000 or 1/5th of a Rank. I am also not particularly a fan of the rest of the essay, which seems convoluted and loses me. Statements like this in the essay seem a bit like psycho-babble ...

    The Universal becomes powerful enough to
    permit a practitioner to use its positive and thoroughgoing vision to directly perceive the nonfabricated
    voice of nature. Forgetting the self of accumulated habits and conditioned states permits
    the voice to resound clearly. The strong Universal perspective allows a vigorous and close
    examination of conditioned states without getting trapped by them. Their harmful effects are not
    quite put to rest as yet. Nevertheless, they are for the most part recognized for what they are and
    appropriately dealt with.
    Loses me.

    I hope that helps.

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 04-16-2013, 01:10 AM.


    • Myoshin

      Thank you Jundo for your comments, a topic like this is not easy, in a way I hoped a comment to see clear in what is written.
      When we are beginner it's not easy to say what is a good source.




      • Risho
        • May 2010
        • 3179

        Thank you for this. Not to oversimplify it, but it seems a lot like what Bruce Lee thought with the martial arts. He wasn't a big fan of kata or forms, but he had spent years mastering the form and basics before he started doing more "freer" movement. In fact it was the foundation of good form that allowed him to be so proficient. I guess it's like that with any good artist or master of their craft. You have to learn the basics but it is in your bones you need to know when to let them go.




        • MyoHo
          • Feb 2013
          • 632

          Like the man said:

          Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own. ( Bruce Lee)




          • Geika
            Treeleaf Unsui
            • Jan 2010
            • 4977

            Would love to learn Jeet Kun Do!

            Be like water, my friends!
            求道芸化 Kyūdō Geika
            I am just a priest-in-training, please do not take anything I say as a teaching.