and the True Man without Rank"
One of the greatest Zen Masters of all time, who spoke powerfully to awaken without compromise, was Ch'an Master Lin-chi I-hsuan Hui-chao (Japanese, "Rinzai Gigen"). His recorded sayings, encounters and travels are preserved in the Lin-chi lu (Japanese, Rinzai-roku). The translation I'm using here is by Ruth Fuller Sasaki, working with a team of Japanese and American scholars, published in 1975 by the Institute for Zen Studies in Kyoto. It is a scholarly, rigorous work, yet preserves the color and vitality of the original language and dialogue.
Through various unconventional means, including shouting, beating, paradox, and personally driven reinterpretations of classical Mahayana Buddhist scripture, Lin-chi sought to wake his students from their clumsy slumber. And yet, his 'skillful means' were simply a straight, simple expression of his own enlightenment. In that way, he was not really trying to do much of anything at all. In his own words:
Nevertheless, Lin-chi was famous for his wild martial style, which later gave rise to the harsh, austere Rinzai lineage in Japan alive to this day, as one of the two major Zen schools. So how can we consider him to be "ordinary" in any way? His own words suggest the answer:
With a mind free of deluding views, his contact with phenomena was
clear and direct, immediate without hesitation and thus, his
innate power could manifest in all its intensity. This is the power
of a true Master, with no obscuring veil between mind and experience:
mind and phenomena freely mingle and play. His teaching, verbal or
otherwise, emerges from this state of being.
So it is interesting, at least to me, that for all his martial power, Lin-chi also gave lengthy discourses. Chief among his teachings, repeated many times in these accounts, is his notion of "the true man." One example:
Lin-chi makes a distinction here between the body (the so-called "lump of flesh") and the true agent that makes use of it. In another discourse, it is recorded:
This is the classical dichotomy between Self and vehicle, spiritual agent and mechanism. It might surprise us that his view is essentially the same as Western Cartesian dualism -- the old mind/body split at the root of so many of our problems. This kind of ontological statement seems more Hindu than Buddhist, as Hindu doctrine posits a Higher Self-principle (the "Atman") as being the agent who uses the physical body. It is interesting that Lin-chi, enlightened as he was (I assume!), still made use of this notion although I am sure he only used it as an expedient teaching tool. The following statement clarifies the matter:
Lin-chi is really saying that the essential Buddha is none other than the One who controls the physical body. This "true man without rank" has no form and is definitely not a fixed thing. The "true man" is intrinsically free from the basic qualities of material and mental phenomena. The One who sits upon this lump of red flesh is free of impermanence, suffering, and insubstantiality what Buddhists call "the three marks" of conditioned phenomena. True nature is intrinsically free, now and forever.
Yet, this is also the "very you" whom Lin-chi states "stands distinctly" before him. The teaching here is really not too different from the Hindu conception. Our Buddha-nature is the formless human essence, not particularly different, or so it seems, from the Western conception of "soul." Actually, Lin-chi probably wouldn't consider this to be an "eternal" soul (as in the Judeo-Christian notion), so there is not total agreement here. The same discourse explains:
Stated simply, each and every form that appears to be apart from this
total pure luminosity is but a false, illusory display. Only true
Mind is "Buddha" (which is, itself, beyond all description!).
Furthermore, the personal mind we use is but an apparently separate
expression of the unified, all-pervading Mind just a temporary
"division into the six spheres of sense."
Notably, the "true man" is associated with light and vision, and many of the metaphors Lin-chi uses to describe true Mind are visual:
For Lin-chi, realization is attained by clear perception and union with the "true man" the One who changes not, despite all outer flux. In fact, this One is none other than the Light pervading all ten directions. Pure Mind is the "true man," the Buddha. The true human agent, separate, yet tied to the lump of red flesh, is the universal principle of pure light/intelligence. Actually, this is a very esoteric statement, not often seen in Zen teaching.
further, we can say that this light-self manipulates the body, and
thus interacts with material phenomena. This is a most 'occult' notion,
in total agreement with the ageless wisdom of Theosophy. Lin-chi is
basically saying that true human nature (a.k.a. "soul")
is none other than radiant luminosity, engaged with, yet absolutely
free of all body/mind phenomena. His teaching is actually esoteric
Buddhism set in a Ch'an context.
this pure intelligent light identifies with transitory forms (physical,
emotional, mental, or spiritual) it is called "a deluded sentient
being." When it realizes its own self-nature to be none other
than pure, formless Mind, that One becomes a Buddha. Indeed, the only
true existence, beyond all change, shape, and shift, is this formless,
boundless, impersonal awareness. Of course, for most of us, such total
luminosity is shrouded by our identification with the flux of body/mind
Again and again, Lin-chi expounds this same teaching:
It is only by direct contact with the "true you", the One who uses the four elements of the dense fleshy form, that one gains existential freedom. Since this freedom is ultimately dependent on nothing, it can't be gained by spiritual practice, nor by virtue or good deeds. In the final analysis, "there is only" this true Way-man, because everything else is impermanent, without abiding self-nature. But lest we get stuck in duality, we should also remember that such "all-pervading radiance" is also the true nature of all things, not located 'in some place' above or beyond our little lump of red flesh
the achieved recognition of the inner man, the One who remains spotless
and untouched by all phenomena, one regains the inner freedom that
had been lost through our depending on causes and conditions
our "thirst for becoming." But frankly, all this discussion
is still nothing but concepts, and even Lin-chi's teaching of the
"inner man" is only used to counteract our mistaken self-identification
with body/mind process. In true liberation, there is no more talk
of inner man or outer conditions
In its most non-dualistic form, existential freedom comes only from realization of the "true man":
Freedom arises when we recognize who we really are -- and in our normal
way of being, it is shattered when we think, speak, and act from habitual
identification with body/mind phenomena. The process of such identification,
this "thirst for becoming" (a deeply insightful teaching
of the Buddha himself), is manifest in the endless stream of our personal
tendencies, divided neatly by Buddhists into the triad of desire,
aggression, and ignorance. When we realize ourselves to actually be
this free inner agent, then we become that freedom itself.
In the chronicle of Lin-chi's rugged teaching, we see a beautiful example of action without hesitation. His wild ways -- shouting, beating, knocking over tables, and so on is but skillful means in accordance with clarity, without fixed root. The true man, ever and always, is free and unperturbed. In Discourse XVIII, we hear a teaching which sounds curiously like the Chinese Taoist, Chuang Tzu:
Actually, this is a very radical statement, and begins to undercut Lin-chi's own previous teaching. Such self-dismissal, and awareness of the relativity of all conceptual teaching, no matter how clear, is the hallmark of the Ch'an school. It is the essence of what constitutes "living Zen" as opposed to "dead Zen" the latter, being that old finger pointing to the moon. Words may be able to point us to the goal, but pondering their intellectual matter is surely not the goal itself.
ideas stand out here. First, the true inner Way-man is utterly non-physical,
formless, and beyond all phenomenal activity. Thus, that One can never
be burned, drowned, or in any other way essentially affected by physical
conditions. Without intending to do so, this statement is not too
far from the ordinary New Age understanding of Higher Self, but that
is another matter!
is pure spacious light cannot be affected by the movement of the four
elements. Thus, the Taoist sage, as described by Chuang Tzu, is unruffled
by gain or loss or disaster of any kind. The true man, real sage knows
himself to be, and has fused in awareness with, this essential agent,
and thus stands free of misfortune and the cycles of phenomenal display.
Lin-chi states that there are no real dharmas to like or dislike anyway
they are all but conditional mirages and the play of phenomena
without abiding self-nature -- so we need not hate anything, and knowing
our innate formless 'self' (dare I use this word?), we can go anywhere
without care. The true man is beyond form, and form itself is empty
so why not be ordinary and do nothing? Or shout, or just do
as you please? Of course, acting freely without total comprehension
and fusion in this state of inner freedom can have disastrous consequences,
as many a recent teacher-scandal shows.
Regarding action and non-action, which gives us another comparison with Taoist thought (as Taoists speak extensively about wu-wei, or non-doing), Lin-chi states:
If we try to seize upon the conditioned states of motion or motionlessness,
within our own mind-stream and/or the so-called external environment,
we are still far from liberation. These two patterns are expressed
by our ordinary self-oriented action-reaction patterns, and the quietist
attachment to stillness and both are forms of false freedom
(if such a phrase can be used!). Only when we at last recognize the
insubstantiality of all such states, can we utilize them all freely.
At that point, we begin to be a real teacher and guide to others on
the 'path to' enlightenment.
a Master may fall silent, shout, beat, or walk away from an inquiring
student. Since the essential Way of liberation cannot be found in
any state, the teacher must undercut all forms of grasping in the
student's mind grasping at form, feelings, opinions, stillness,
energy conditions, and supersensible states. All are still conditioned,
and all are still far from real enlightenment.
am sure some Buddhists criticized the Taoist notion of wu-wei as just
another form of quietism, an apparent attachment to motionlessness.
However, the real meaning of Taoist wu-wei is not quietism at all,
but rather, activity in harmony with the ever-changing, ever-unchanging
Way of all life.
Later on in this same talk, Lin-chi speaks of the vanity of the act of searching itself for the true man, the inner Buddha-nature:
Again, to search for true self is to deny its very presence
right here, right now like "searching for your head with
your head" (from the Surangama Sutra, another Chinese Mahayana
work). Lin-chi's description of the true man fits the ideal Ch'an
Master (or student): brisk and lively, with no roots at all. The "inner
agent" clings to nothing: "the man of the Way leaves no
trace of his activity." That which is beyond form cannot really
cling to form at all but it can cling to a mistaken identification
with form. What is non-physical can never touch the physical, in truth
all else is an illusion.
So Lin-chi had to cut through all that his disciples brought him, and most certainly, their understanding of Buddhism, coming as it did from conceptual process, and not liberation itself:
Buddha, Dharma, and all the profound Buddhist scriptures themselves all are but more display of names and phrases. Their concepts are not particularly important at all. What is really important is simply the One who considers them. It is no less than the true man searching outside himself, for himself. The very searcher that which is sought. Indeed, Hindu yoga says the exact same thing:
Thus, in all his words and acts, Lin-chi uses expedient means to cut through his students' endless round of seeking and conceiving. His teaching of the "true man without rank" is merely yet another form of "name and phrase." And yet, its goal (and hopefully, its effect as well), is only to help the student turn his own mind-light back upon itself, reversing it from its normal focus outwards into the three worlds of samsara. It is a case of a true man, who realizes himself as such, offering guidance and dog-and-pony shows for other true men who have forgotten themselves; and thus live their lives like little children. And lest we think he is proud of his own circus act, or that these tricks of the tongue are sacred word from the great sage on high, Lin-chi is the first to cut away our praise:
Even the Master's words, no matter how clear, are only words. Compared
to the jewel of true liberation, realization of essential freedom
and the "true inner man," they're just shit. Of course,
not too many spiritual teachers speak this way, and certainly not
today. It seems that most students actually do want to remain little
children and idolize their holy daddy, and holy mommy. Few teachers
themselves would risk losing their devotees, ashram, or income by
cutting down their own hallowed words. And thus, few teachers are
as free and complete as Lin-chi I-hsuan Hui-chao. Most teachers still
need their students, and thus bind them still
is the glory of Lin-chi that he knew, and didn't hide the futility
of trying to deliver that which can only be self-generated. As with
Gautama Buddha himself, the intention here is simply to help the student
wake up, and not to create new doctrine or debate old theory. The
only thing that really matters is conscious fusion in awareness with
the inner One who seeks.
we really know this One and let go all "guidance for little children?"
Actually, it is ironic (or perhaps, tragic) that already-enlightened
beings suffer so much to remember our own enlightenment. But this
seems to be the state of affairs in the human, 3D realm.
Overall, Lin-chi's life, teaching, practice, and realization can be summed up thus:
The final result of Ch'an simplicity is just freedom and straight-forward living. Self-doubt and all forms of seeking material, mental, and spiritual are quelled at last. And thus the sage becomes quite ordinary, and disappears into the mass of humanity. And soon, he returns to forever.
Scott has spoken throughout the US, Japan, and Israel at UFO and New Age conferences, and has appeared on over 75 radio and TV shows including The Art Bell Show, Strange Universe, Hard Copy, and the Sci-Fi Network. Currently based in San Francisco, Scott offers study groups and has a private practice in spiritual counseling. For more information, visit his Web site at: www.universal-vision.com. Dr. Mandelker is available for all interviews.