by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Host and Guest in Undifferentiated Oneness

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.

--Poem on the Fifth Rank
Great Master Tozan
translated by Ruth Fuller Sasaki in Zen Dust
quoted in A History of Zen by Dr. Y. H. Ku

The Stench of Holiness

Self-judgment and pride are two sides of the same coin. Just as it can be difficult to refrain from dropping the hammer of self-judgment on ourselves when we make (or think we have made) a big mistake, so it can be difficult to refrain from congratulating ourselves when we get it right (or think we get it right).

In terms of the Host/guest metaphor, we might characterize spiritual pride as "the guest takes credit for that which came from the Host." When we suffer from spiritual pride, we give off what Rev. Master referred to as "the stench of holiness."

Spiritual need has deep roots; spiritual conversion takes time. It is possible for very noticable progress to be made in the process of re-harmonization with the Eternal while still falling into self-judgment or pride at times.

Rev. Master pointed out that in the Fourth Rank, there is still some trace of the stench of holiness, that is, there is still a tendency toward spiritual pride. After all, look how far one has come!--Oops, there it is again.

A cautionary note: It is important not to confuse genuine spiritual certainty--whether manifesting within oneself or in the actions of others--with spiritual pride. The two are completely different things. Nor is it helpful to confuse genuine humility with self-doubt. Again, the two are completely different things.

Coal and Ashes

So here we are at the Fifth Rank, "Host and guest in undifferentiated Oneness."

Now there is no stench of holiness. And there is no clinging to "being or non-being"--that is, there is no clinging to life as we know it, or to death as we know it; to existence as we know it, or to any idea of emptiness. There is just "The leaf goes where the Wind blows and does not disobey the Wind," whether that be in the context of living an ordinary daily life, or in the context of the surrender of what we think of as "our" life into the hands of the Eternal at the time of death.

In the Fifth Rank, self-judgment and self-congratulation--indeed, the very belief in an enduring self or ego-identity--are shadows on the horizon of consciousness. One might get involved again with these shadows, but why would one do so when there is the reality of the Great Immaculacy?

"Coming back to sit among the coal and ashes" means that in the Fifth Rank the trainee accepts this present situation--whatever it is--as Buddha. Where is there not the Eternal? Where is there not the Love of the Eternal?


In How to Grow a Lotus Blossom, the Fifth Column is the Buddha Nature of this very body and mind. When the Buddha Nature manifests unhindered in and through our lives and our actions, the Fifth Rank is realized.

In the Five Aspects of Meditation, the Fifth Aspect is "Follow gladly!" Wholehearted following--the leaf in oneness with the Wind--is one way to characterize the Fifth Rank.

There is no "Fifth Noble Truth." I would say that if there were a Fifth Noble Truth it would be the same as the Fifth Column in How to Grow a Lotus Blossom.



Click here to proceed to Part XLVII, "The Five Ranks: Help and Need"


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