The Five Ranks Of Merit
Thus far we have stated how to train our body and mind according to
the general rules and customs established by Zenists. And here we
shall describe the different stages of mental uplifting through which
the student of Zen has to go. They are technically called 'The Five
Ranks of Merit.'[FN#269] The first stage is called the Rank of
Turning,[FN#270] in which the student 'turns' his mind from the
external objects of sense towards the inner Enlightened
Consciousness. He gives up all mean desires and aspires to spiritual
elevation. He becomes aware that he is not doomed to be the slave of
material things, and strives to conquer over them. Enlightened
Consciousness is likened to the King, and it is called the Mind-King,
while the student who now turns towards the King is likened to common
people. Therefore in this first stage the student is in the rank of
[FN#269] Ko-kun-go-i. For further details, see So-to-ni-shi-roku.
[FN#268] Ko in Japanese.
The second stage is called the Rank of Service,[FN#271] in which the
student distinguishes himself by his loyalty to the Mind-King, and
becomes a courtier to 'serve' him. He is in constant 'service' to
the King, attending him with obedience and love, and always fearing
to offend him. Thus the student in this stage is ever careful not to
neglect rules and precepts laid down by the sages, and endeavours to
uplift himself in spirituality by his fidelity.
The third stage is called the Rank of Merit,[FN#272] in which the
student distinguishes himself by his 'meritorious' acts of conquering
over the rebel army of passion which rises against the Mind-King.
Now, his rank is not the rank of a courtier, but the rank of a
general. In other words, his duty is not only to keep rules and
instructions of the sages, but to subjugate his own passion and
establish moral order in the mental kingdom.
[FN#271] Bu in Japanese.
[FN#272] Ko in Japanese.
The fourth stage is called the Rank of Co-operative Merit,[FN#273] in
which the student 'co-operates' with other persons in order to
complete his merit. Now, he is not compared with a general who
conquers his foe, but with the prime-minister who co-operates with
other officials to the benefit of the people. Thus the student in
this stage is not satisfied with his own conquest of passion, but
seeks after spiritual uplifting by means of extending his kindness
and sympathy to his fellow-men.
[FN#273] Gu-ko in Japanese.
The fifth stage is called the Rank of Merit-over-Merit,[FN#274] which
means the rank of meritless-merit. This is the rank of the King
himself. The King does nothing meritorious, because all the
governmental works are done by his ministers and subjects. All that
he has to do is to keep his inborn dignity and sit high on his
throne. Therefore his conduct is meritless, but all the meritorious
acts of his subjects are done through his authority. Doing nothing,
he does everything. Without any merit, he gets all merits. Thus the
student in this stage no more strives to keep precepts, but his
doings are naturally in accord with them. No more he aspires for
spiritual elevation, but his, heart is naturally pure from material
desires. No more he makes an effort to vanquish his passion, but no
passion disturbs him. No more he feels it his duty to do good to
others, but he is naturally good and merciful. No more he sits in
Dhyana, but he naturally lives in Dhyana at all times. It is in this
fifth stage that the student is enabled to identify his Self with the
Mind-King or Enlightened Consciousness, and to abide in perfect bliss.
[FN#274] Ko-ko in Japanese.
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