by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

The Five Ranks: Conclusion

When your heart becomes the same as the world of Immaculacy
It will manifest the laws of Immaculacy
And realize its True Body, the Great Immaculacy,
Which transcends existence and non-existence, life and death.

Process and Perspective

Imagine that you are an astronomer who is studying the Milky Way--the galaxy of which our solar system in a tiny part. Imagine that you have access to the best telescopes of all kinds located all over the globe. No single telescope will tell you everything about our galaxy, but each telescope will provide some unique and valuable data.

All the telescopes are looking at one galaxy. All have somewhat different perspectives on that galaxy. By combining the information gained from a number of these perspectives, we come to a better understanding of the Milky Way.

The teachings of Buddhism are like telescopes trained upon the amazingly complex and beautiful spiritual galaxy that is the process of training/enlightenment. There are many, many smaller telescopes and a fair number of large ones scattered around the Buddhist "globe." The teaching of the Five Ranks is one of the large ones.

As I have discussed each individual Rank, I have compared it briefly to teachings that provide other perspectives on the process of training/enlightenment: the Five Columns from How to Grow a Lotus Blossom, the Five Aspects of Meditation, and the Buddha's Four Noble Truths.

Each of these teachings is another "telescope" aimed at the same spiritual "Milky Way" that the "telescope" of the Five Ranks is aimed at. It should not surprise us that the spiritual "Milky Way" looks pretty similar from the perspective of each of the widely-scattered "telescopes" trained upon it. Nor should it surprise us that each "telescope" provides its own uniquely clear view of some features of the process of training/enlightenment.

Astronomers sometimes use telescopes located at great distances from one another on the surface of the earth in combination in such a way that, in effect, these different telescopes together constitute one great instrument for studying the heavens. That is how I view the teachings of the Four Noble Truths, the Five Ranks, the Five Columns, and the Five Aspects of Meditation. Each teaching is as a facet of one great Jewel of Teaching. And, of course, these are not the only facets of the Jewel. I think that there must be no limit to the number of facets to this Jewel. I only know about a few of these facets, but I am sure there are many, many more. Perhaps there is a facet for every single person who follows in the Buddha's footsteps.

Essence and Experience

Is it possible to identify one essential feature, or a number of essential features, shared by all these perspectives on training/enlightenment?

Here is one such essential feature: Each of these teachings came alive for someone in the course of that person's actual experience of the process of spiritual conversion--the process of re-harmonization with our wonderful True Nature. So each of these teachings reflects that person's own experience, while at the same time key aspects of the experience are generalized into a series of steps or stages that may be of benefit to others as they walk the Path.

Here is another essential feature: The practice of pure meditation--the meditation discovered, practiced and taught by the Buddha--provided the doorway to the deep spiritual experience within which each of these teachings arose: "The means of training are thousandfold, but pure meditation must be done." (Great Master Dogen)

The Absolute Upright

Note that the first step in each of the teachings acknowledges the existence of an urgent spiritual need. In the second step of each of the teachings, the nature of this need is clarified, and the nature of the Help that will address the need is either adumbrated or explicitly stated. The later steps in each teaching show the way in which the need is helped.

The need of which these teachings speak is the deepest of all needs; the Help is the greatest and deepest of all helps. Contrary to what many people believe, Buddhism is a religion, not a philosophy or a way of life. The issue that lies at the heart of Buddhist training and teaching is the same issue that lies at the heart of all religion. In the long, confused and often tortuous history of religion, human beings have groped for a cure for the spiritual dis-ease within their hearts. Many of the "solutions" that they have thought that they have found have in fact exacerbated ignorance and suffering. Yet the fact that we can be so thoroughly confused does not prove either that the spiritual need is not a real need, or that the Help does not exist.

The Buddha found that Help. Many people who have followed in His footsteps have found It. What does it matter to the Source of that Help whether we call It "Buddha Nature," "the Eternal," "Nirvana," "the Great Immaculacy," "No-self," "the Unborn," "Infinite Love," "Great Wisdom," "Great Compassion," "Vairocana Buddha"--or "God"? There is That which is greater than oneself; there is a Refuge that we can turn to in all need--and in gratitude and love. It is the "Absolute Upright" that holds the whole of existence--me, you, and all our spiritual need--within "Its own delicate balance."

There have always been those who have a burning longing to find that "Absolute Upright" for themselves--to take refuge in It directly.--Not just to read about It; not just to learn about It from others. The Path described in the teachings of the Four Noble Truths, the Five Ranks, and the Five Columns is for people who have this burning longing. The Path described in these teachings is the greatest of all adventures. And yet it is a Path that is walked one step at a time--one realistic, possible, do-able step at a time.

I wish every success to all who would walk this wonderful Path.


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