One day Zen Master Rinzai (Ch. Lin-chi) said, “There is a true man of no rank (ç„¡ä½çœžäºº) in the mass of naked flesh , who goes in and out from your facial features. Those who have not yet testified, look, look!”
A monk came forward and said, “Who is this true man of no rank?”
Master Rinzai came down from his seat, grabbed the monk by the throat and said, “Speak! Speak!”
The monk hesitated.
Master Rinzai let go and said, “What a worthless shit-stick this true man of no rank is!”
I first started to grasp the idea of the person of no rank (the above is a standard translation in which the genderless word äºº – pronounced “hito” or “nin” in Japanese – has been translated as “man”) when I was in a Tokyo park watching some pigeons.
As I watched those birds gather around my bench hoping I’d drop some rice from my onigiri I noticed that the differences between me and those birds were fairly superficial. Up until then I hadn’t thought much about my rank in relation to birds. If anyone had asked, I imagine I would have said that I was superior to birds in terms of intelligence and and inferior in terms of flying abilities.
More significantly, I would have assumed that my internal experience was more sophisticated and nuanced than that of a bird, since, for example, I can name the entire cast of Gilligan’s Island whereas a bird couldn’t be expected to do much more than whistle the theme song with no real understanding of the story the lyrics tell.
That day I noticed with a very sharp clarity that there really is no big difference between the various internal experiences of any being in the universe. Any rank I could assign to another person or creature was imaginary. This, when I was working in the extraordinarily rank-conscious world of Japanese business.
That doesn’t mean everybody is equal in every way. Some people really are experts at certain things and we can learn a lot from them about the areas that they have studied and practiced. But that’s not quite the same as the idea of rank.
To have no rank means you not only don’t regard anyone as your superior, but you don’t regard anyone as your inferior either. It’s easy not to regard anyone as your superior. I used to do that so much I got to be an expert. I was superior to everybody. Including you! So there!
That’s just arrogance and defensiveness. It’s a coping strategy and it can work pretty well in lots of situations – again I can attest to its efficacy from lots of experience.
It was an eye-opener to see that while no one was my superior, no one was my inferior either. Little children, dogs, pigeons, hateful religious fanatics, rich dipshits in stupidly expensive cars who cut you off on the freeway, both of the guys from Hanson… none of them are in any way inferior to me or to you.
Take note. Although I described those guys in stupidly expensive cars as dipshits, this does not mean I am superior to them, nor does it mean they aren’t still dipshits or that the excessive money they spent on their cars is any less stupid.
What I mean is that I can still have an opinion. So can you. More important I still do have an opinion and so do you.
A lot of times people hear stuff about being a person with no rank and try to envision what that would mean, then they train to themselves to act like the person-of-no-rank character they’ve created. What sort of dialogue would you write for your person-of-no-rank? Well, he has no rank, right? So he would simply looooooove everybody regardless of what they did or said. He would be just the fluffiest, most cuddly thing ever! He would only say lovey things and never call anyone a “dipshit” or, indeed, have any opinion about anyone anywhere ever!
I’ve run into a lot of people who strive for this and they are annoying as… hell, I don’t know. Something really, super annoying. Is that the way Master Rinzai behaves in the example?
Having no rank doesn’t mean having no opinion, no personality, no position on anything. It’s more of an understanding of how things actually work.
This is not an easy understanding to come to or accept. Last Saturday I watched a movie called ROAR! It’s an insane film about a family who try to share their home with dozens of gigantic killer lions, tigers, panthers, cheetahs and other big cats. The family is portrayed by a group of actors – including Melanie Griffith – actually sharing a real house in California with dozens of huge, un-tamed killer cats. It’s the most amazingly deranged movie you will ever see.
Anyway, one of the plot lines in the film involves a struggle for dominance by two large male lions. Animal trainers warned the director that you could never use two male lions in a film because they’d spend the whole time trying to kill each other. This movie features something like seven male lions living in a house together. And they fight constantly.
The point is, our tendency to try to figure out where we rank in terms of others is not something that we invented when we started to form armies and assign some people to be sergeants and others to be corporals. It goes way back to our prehuman ancestors. It’s not something you can think your way out of. This is because it’s an inclination that operates at a much more basic level than that of thought. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re better than the other guy or not. By the time it has reached the level wherein you can think consciously about it, it’s already established.
What you can learn to do, though, is to notice what’s happening. Watch yourself slip into ranking mode. Don’t try to stop it because by the time you’ve consciously noticed it, you’re already doing it. Just recognize that it’s meaningless the same way you recognize that just because that itch on the back of your head feels like there’s a tarantula under your bonnet does not mean there really is a tarantula under your bonnet.
When you have no rank at all, you are free from comparison.
This is not a once-and-forever deal. It’s not like you realize this once and then, forever after you are free from rank. In fact it’s quite the opposite. You notice that the tendency to accord a rank to yourself and others is always there and always will be there. You notice that this is something you will always have to remind yourself about.
It’s not necessary to play the person-of-no-rank role straight out of Central Casting either. In the moment that you need to modify your relationship to the ranks you assign to self and others, you’ll see what you need to do. It won’t always be what you want to do. You may, in fact, choose not to do what you clearly see you ought to. You’ll also see what happens when you do that.
TONIGHT, just like every Monday at 8pm I lead zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!
Every Saturday at 9:30 am I lead zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!
Registration is now open for our 3-day Zen & Yoga Retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center April 24-26, 2015. CLICK HERE for more info! YOU ONLY HAVE A FEW DAYS LEFT TO REGISTER! DO IT!!
April 24-26, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY ZEN & YOGA RETREAT
May 16-17, 2015 Nashville, TN 2-DAY RETREAT AT NASHVILLE ZEN CENTER
July 8-12, 2015 Vancouver, BC Canada 5-DAY RETREAT at HOLLYHOCK RETREAT CENTER
August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT
August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE
August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR
August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY
September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany LECTURE
September 5, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY
September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT
September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT
Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info
* * *
Your donations to this blog help out more than you think. Thank you!
I have the rank of number one.
I guess that means I’m number two.
This is interesting. Can you give any examples from your experience?
All I can think of is the opposite, when reality hosed me suddenly and revealed my ranking full stop. I was in a silent retreat and was heaping criticism on the person walking next to me for whatever reasons. Then at the end this person came up and thanked me for my steady walking. What a goof my ranking brain.
Okay, say for example you’re Gilligan and you have the lowest rank on the entire island of uh… Gilligan. Not a good to be lowest, and there’s no way to change your rank. The skipper is the skipper, the Howl’s are rich, the Professor is like super smart, Ginger is hot, Marry ann is girl-next-door-hot. Y’all got noth’n, but what you can do is modify your relationship to the ranks. You can think to yourself, “hey, there really are no ranks,” and that, my friend, will make you feel good.
A true man of no rank is a true survivor.
I have attempted to read all of Brad’s work including his books and blogs. As a former monastic in one of the ‘premier’ monasteries I tend to want to examine every view, including Brads. I study and research as many teachers and groups as possible. I study all religions but since I only have so much time, I am limited in many ways.
Because this is my primary focus in life I wanted to not only study the paths I wanted to experience them. As a result I spent many years traveling around , living in seven spiritual centers. I am writing a book on my experience which I hope sells enough to buy Brad a beer.
I did the whole buddhist circuit including the big shots of zen and other paths. My conclusion is probably better kept to myself, at least for now. My primary was as well known as any Zen teacher in the world, so I have been to the ‘top’ of the Zen world. I also was around when these ‘world class’ zen masters met, about 40 of them. Again, I will not comment but I suspect you have a sense what I thought.
As far as Brad goes I like the dude. I would have a beer with him and I would also do face to face with him. In fact, he might be the only one I would do face to face. I like Brad, meaning, I like his approach and his honesty. I might even send him enough money to survive another month. I have seen every abuse in religion which includes the abuse of money. I also am very aware how some ‘zen masters’ now want to correct other ‘zen masters.’ I am trying to hard to be nice because I am about ready to expose what I saw. It probably would be old news but many people seem to want to know my views and experience.
My entire life is dedicated to Zen – but my view of Zen – is The Person of No Rank – which is why I am writing today. In my book, I will simply point out my experience and my intent is not to cause harm. But I am feeling there is more harm in not speaking out. I also like Brad because I doubt he would try to censor others.
Regarding my personal path and views they are most reflected by Sam Harris, Brad Warner, and Steven Batchelor. I have some very good Buddhist friends and some are teachers. Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. There certainly are some amazing Zen Masters or Teachers . Sadly , there are also the reality of some of them are so FOS they remind me of the Christian pastors I know in my 59 years of research into spirituality, religion, and the meaning of life.
No, I not trying to sell my book. Should I make any money I can promise it won’t go into the pockets of churches. It will go directly to a fund to help homeless single mothers or something like that. And, again, I will save enough to by that beer for Brad.
Is that backwards?
Who are you?
Well, that was tongue in cheek. My teacher was a big time zen dude and my monastery was one the the well known training centers. I am simply saying I have examined a bit and what I discovered in only my views. If someone wants to know what I think I might respond but in general anything I say is just more bull shit. I do enjoy this blog and do enjoy Brad. I also have enjoyed your posts.
haha welcome 🙂
“I will save enough to by that beer for Brad.”
It’s a nice thought. but I don’t think that Brad drinks.
è‡³ é“ ç„¡ é›£ ï¼Œ å”¯ å«Œ æ€ æ“‡
but that picking and choosing sneaks up on you.
From Khenpo Karthar’s stories about Lamas he knew, “The Siddhas of Ga”:
Yonten Chopel was a monk of Longsho, a Geluk monastery. He would often say, “Since all beings have sugatagarbha, they are all buddhas.” Whenever he saw another person, no matter who it was, he would immediately rise and join his palms in respect. He even did this to birds and other animals. Yonten Chopel would roll treacle into balls and scatter them. Rodents would eat the treacle. Delighted he would say, “I have presented offerings to rodents!” and bow with respect.
Great post! I’m pressing the donate button.
I actually got a laugh, somewhere around Gilligan’s Island. Thanks, Brad; you rank!
“There is a true man of no rank (ç„¡ä½çœžäºº) in the mass of naked flesh , who goes in and out from your facial features.”
Is the part about “in and out of your facial features” too obvious to talk about? Mumbles said the universe is already perfect; that’s handy. I can hardly breathe, just thinking about it.
“…if where you stand is reality, then your actions have power…
The Fourth Patriarch said: ‘If not for mind, there’s no question of buddha.’
Deshan said: ‘A buddha is just someone with no concerns.’
Yongjia said: ‘It is not apart from here, always profoundly clear and still. If you search for it, you cannot see it.’
Linji said: ‘The real being, with no status, is always going in and out of the doors of your face.’
This is the substance of all these sayings.”
(“Zen Letters: Teachings of Yuanwu”, trans. Cleary & Cleary, pg 3)
“It is not apart from here“- the place and things sits shikantaza, but it means:
“Your body is practicing zazen in imperturbability while your mind is moving.”
forgot to close the emphasis after here. whoops!
“It is not apart from here“- the place and things sits shikantaza, but it means:
“Your body is practicing zazen in imperturbability while your mind is moving.”
If Brad doesn’t drink I will drink his also and I will buy him the drink of his choice.
It’s interesting because I have been saying quite the same for some time. I have observed that hierarchy is an animal thing, and that, in conflicts between different types of societies, it is the one which can better implement cooperation that wins. Cooperation means equality in rank. That is, even a hierarch in such organisations would not really have a superior status.
Of course, reality is often more complicated, but still, cooperation also means stepping down from one’s ladder for those up, and up for those down. It also means responsibility, which is the difficult part of a cooperative attempt.
But yet, everything that Brad stated here corresponds to my observations. You can’t avoid establishing rank, but you can see it happening, and thus you may at least deflect it somehow.
The worst problem of too formally hierarchised societies is that no one is responsible. This is the main problem of France at the moment. Some who view it from outside will say that it’s because the French are lazy or sloppy, which is not the case. The Economist (London) stated the other day that even if French workers did not work on fridays, they would still produce more than their British counterparts. French workers are among the most productive of the world. The French are a nation of engineers, inventors, and even commercials.
BUT… France is a country deeply shaped by the First Modern Dictatorship of Modern History, and that dictator organised everything along the lines which he best knew: the Army. And for that, he (the Great Military Dictator) enlisted the help of the deeply hierarchical Chinese administrative system, for which the Jesuits had made a huge propaganda for two centuries.
This is what we’re stuck with today, and this is what’s paralysing us… Stiff hierarchy.
Many years ago, I became fascinated by indigenous cultures. When I was a child, and long after, such societies were typically labelled “primitive,” but each culture had evolved rather naturally in response to the needs of the society and the demands of their environment, to a point of sufficient efficiency. Although the particular forms that develop are endlessly diverse, many elements are common to traditional communities of, say, two hundred individuals or less.
The people I know best, American Indians of the Northeast and the Plains, have a rather fluid leadership. The role of chief falls to whomever can get others to go along with an endeavor, be it building a fish weir or going to war. If you disagree, you withhold your allegiance. Of course, compulsion, in the form of charisma and personal power, is always a potential element, but in small groups, democracy is the norm. I think this is true of Dyaks and Sami and whoever, at similar levels of technology and population.
Tribal structure comes up again and again in human societies, even one as “modern” and complex as ours. Economic forces favor those who act in concert. Hippies knew that the same amount of wood that could keep one person warm could do the same for twenty, if they could live together. Minority youth see that gang members have more power and protection than individuals. Looking at these two examples suggests some principles. Perhaps, as a rule, autocracies form easier under stressful conditions. In autocratic cults (are there any non-autocratic cults?), the stress can be more imaginary than real – fire & brimstone, FEMA camps, Armageddon, COMMUNISM! We have to kill them all, because they all want to genocide us! So says the Leader who binds us into an iron fist.
Anyway, how can we apply our natural tendencies in a positive way to our current challenges? I think allowing the natural development of affinity groups into tribal structures in a low-stress context would automatically encourage a cooperative society. Good luck with that low-stress thing in the looming future, but Buddhist practice is conducive to that, no?
Oh yes, of course. Example:
Nicely done, Brad.
I like to think I’ve always been intelligent; self-aware. But I do believe something changed when I started practising zazen.
Facing myself in silence for half an hour or more a day I began to realise things about how I thought, what I thought, why I thought it and how that impacted pretty much everything, in ways that I don’t believe I’d been aware of before.
So ‘bodhi/enlightenment’ or ‘prajna/wisdom’ doesn’t show up one day and sort things out once and for all. What slowly changes is one’s understanding of how one is, how and why other people and things appear the way they appear, and why what happens happens. That kind of understanding – call it what you like – helps things run more smoothly.
Of course there’s no way of knowing: I might have got better at understanding without a group, without a teacher and without zazen. Perhaps getting older would have done the trick. But I suspect not. Not in quite the same way.
I wonder if that happens for everybody who meditates? I doubt it. I suspect most other meditators, like most other people, are dipshits.
It’s called religious belief.
This is now officially the best comments thread ever.
This is a false thread of no rank, a naked mass of flesh, coming in your face.
All was well with the cyber sangha until Master Grand Bukakke grabbed a chicken by the throat.
Old Linchi comes across as an abusive dipshit-stick most times.
“Is it my fault people don’t know when I’m joking? What a worthless piece of shit this record turned out to be!”
What a bunch of chicken choking circle jerking dipshits of no rank.
Shamany, if you have tasted it all, spit some of it out right here.
” who goes in and out from your facial features. Those who have not yet testified, look, look!”
A thread of orient pearls, at random strung
The Hanson reference is absolutely hilarious. For those who don’t know who the hell Hanson is…good for you. I always get a good chuckle from Brad’s digs on what he considers to be really bad music.
Kinda scary that you guys even know who they are.
So, if I understand the lesson of the post, are you saying it’s ok to call certain folks dipshits and believe that you are superior to them in certain ways so long as you know that ultimately you are not any better or rank higher on a more general scale of humanity than that person? It would seem the more often you do the former (call people dipshits) the more difficult it would be to truly believe and or understand the latter (that you are no better or worse than anyone else). And again, I enjoy the humor of your jabs but it always seems out of tune with zen teachings. But I suppose it’s an example of a misperception on my part that practitioners of zen should all be saintly and beyond name calling.
It’s an all girls band. Pretty cool.
I think that’s Brad point – you can be an asshole and enlightened at the same time.
Although the point Charles makes about picking and choosing has some validity.
What’s the difference between an enlightened asshole and a regular asshole?
Enlightened assholes are so vain.
Weren’t there three guys in Hanson? Or am I missing the joke again?
But have you heard it transposed to a minor key?
So much tween angst.
Enter Jazz Man.
And the opposite. Sort of.
This one truly counts as a new form of music.
Comments are closed.