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LESSONS. Lesson 5 B. The Second Rank to End Suffering

Divided Man by FLY, 2019


The main teaching I was introduced to many years ago by my first teacher was from the Genjo Koan by Dogen, a 13 century Japanese Zen monk. It is simple and worth memorizing.

To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by the myriad things. When actualized by the myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization exists, and this no-trace continues endlessly.

It is a clear and reliable approach to finding the Buddha Way. But as most teachings, it is not easy. It requires a turn that very few are willing to make. Nevertheless, it is worth our attention.  An elucidation of how this teaching relates to the Buddha’s promise to end suffering is priceless. Before I dive into this teaching, I want to remind us that all the high spiritual teachings in the world give us the same instruction. The never-ending Way of Eternal Truth is continuously flowing with immeasurable generosity for us to awaken.

It is never apart from one right where one is.

In the last lesson, Lesson 5 A we dipped into the first rank. Refer to it here. In summary, we looked at the relative in the absolute – sometimes described as the material in the eternal or the personal in the universal. I’d like to expand on the first training with a caution and further explanation.

First, a caution. Many get stuck in studying the self and end up polishing the self to look good, to become a good person, to do good. By itself, this does not lead to the end of suffering, but is a step to take and then overcome. It is not the end of the Way. It is a first step and must be remembered as such otherwise the spiritual practitioner risks getting an inflated ego that thinks itself as a goodee, goodee or a badee, badee.

Suppose one gains pride of understanding and inflates one’s own enlightenment, glimpsing the wisdom that runs through all things…one is making the initial, partial excursion…but is still somewhat deficient in the Way of total emancipation.

Fortunately, our glimpse into wisdom helps us to continue to practice. And since we are in the middle of it right here, right now we are in the midst of endless opportunity and potential to discover our unbounded self. But far too often, when things don’t go well for us, don’t go our way, we get stuck in it – isn’t this true? All sorts of fretting and worry rush in – but as long as things go smoothly, we are able to see the truth given in the first rank.

Here is how to work with the first rank of seeing the relative in the absolute. As mentioned before, the relative is that which changes. In order to understand this and to practice it, we need to see what in the self-construct changes. The simple answer is everything in the self-construct comes under the law of change. There is NOTHING in the relative world that lasts.

In brief, the body, the breath, the mind, the intellect and even the beguiling ego changes. All of it is empty of an eternal attribute. But don’t jump the gun. Knowing this intellectually is not enough. Ananda, Shakyamuni Buddha’s faithful companion knew all the teachings – many by heart – but he knew it intellectually which did not hold him on the path.

At some point, he faced a temptation that almost swamped him. Those around Buddha asked – what is happening to your faithful Ananda? Buddha’s reply was Ananda thinks his mind is real.  Ananda was stuck in the first rank. After, Buddha dies, however, Ananda does awaken.

Let’s now add the next step. Remember, first step is to study the self (body, breath, mind, intellect, ego; earth, water, fire, air, ether) and to realize all of it changes.

The second step is to forget the self.  Here is where many adepts falter. We forget to forget the self and instead end up reifying it in some damnable way that makes us and others miserable.

The second rank requires we let go of our grip (belief in thinking the self is real) on the self-constructions. Step One and Two are simple and yet challenging. We like studying our self, but we do not like to let go of what we have studied. It is a precarious place where most of us need a teacher to help us travel across it without getting stuck in it. The main work of a teacher is to point out to us when we are heading towards the swamp and to encourage us to stop going there. The rest of the work is up to us.

To forget the self requires we see the absolute in the relative ( the second rank) – even a glimpse of the absolute is enough. This step is not a belief in the absolute – it is a realization. It is important to remember that the Truth is ever-present, we are never apart from it – but we miss it because we are looking at the self-attributions of the construction and not at the nature of them. Step One is necessary. We need to realize the self-construction is not lasting. It is unreliable in terms of the eternal.

To let go of the studied self is not a dictum or demand – it is a realization that comes from studying the self and discovering it does not hold. Not holding is the realized awareness that comes when the first rank is realized.

Step Two is taken when we see the self for its relative attribute. Forget the self follows and we see a glimpse into THAT which lasts. Again, it is not to use the intellect to fill in what lasts – but to know and discover what is always there.

Suffering, at this point, begins to lessen because suffering is connected to the constructed self. The self-construction is the holder of misery because it is the holder of all that passes – it is what gets blown around by the eight worldly winds. When we let go of it by forgetting the self we open to the realization of seeing what is always present. THAT which does not change. Our grip loosens, but we are not yet free. Our vision, however, shifts and we glimpse at what has not been seen before.

Here is a chant that reminds us of our work.

Life is precious.

Life is fragile.

Death is sudden and strikes without warning.

Cause and effect are inescapable.

Suffering in the conditioned world is inescapable.

Liberation is beneficial.

A teacher is helpful.

May all beings realize the emptiness (love) of the three wheels,

giver, receiver and gift.

May this benefit all beings everywhere.

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image credits: Fly, 2019

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