Friday, December 4, 2015

The Two Truths In Zen: Dongshan's Five Ranks

In Tibetan Buddhism, many Masters talk about the two truths, i.e. relative truth and ultimate/absolute truth. In Zen, there is also talk about the two truths. This is best encapsulated by Dongshan Liangjie, the founder of Soto tradition within Zen Buddhism. He composed what is known as “Dongshan’s Five Ranks”. However, it may not be easy for ordinary persons to understand.

1. The Bent within the Straight (meaning the Relative within the Absolute)
In the third watch of the night
Before the moon appears,
No wonder when we meet
There is no recognition!
Still cherished in my heart
Is the beauty of earlier days.

2. The Straight within the Bent (meaning the Absolute within the Relative)
A sleepy-eyed grandma
Encounters herself in an old mirror.
Clearly she sees a face,
But it doesn’t resemble hers at all.
Too bad, with a muddled head,
She tries to recognize her reflection!

3. The Coming from within the Straight (the Absolute)
Within nothingness there is a path
Leading away from the dusts of the world,
Even if you observe the taboo
On the present emperor’s name,
You will surpass that eloquent one of yore
Who silenced every tongue.

4. The Arrival at the Middle of the Bent (the Relative)
When two blades cross points,
There’s no need to withdraw.
The master swordsman
Is like the lotus blooming in the fire.
Such a man has in and of himself
A heaven-soaring spirit.

5. Unity Attained
Who dares to equal him
Who falls into neither being nor non-being!
All men want to leave
The current of ordinary life,
But he, after all, comes back
To sit among the coals and ashes.

note: the above 5 verses are taken from "Zen Masters of China" by Richard Bryan McDaniel.

No comments: