THE FIVE RANKS OF MERIT
Thus far we have stated how to train our body and mind according to the
general rules and customs established by Zenists. And here we shall
describe the different stages of mental uplifting through which the student
of Zen has to go. They are technically called "The Five Ranks of Merit."
The first stage is called the Rank of Turning, in which the student "turns"
his mind from the external objects of sense towards the inner enlightened
consciousness. He gives up all mean desires and aspires to spiritual
elevation. He becomes aware that he is not doomed to be the slave of
material things, and strives to conquer over them. Enlightened
consciousness is likened to the king, and it is called the Mind King, while
the student who now turns towards the King is likened to common people.
Therefore in this first stage the student is in the rank of common people.
The second stage is called the Rank of Service, in which the student
distinguishes himself by his loyalty to the Mind King, and becomes a
courtier to "serve" him. He is in constant "service" to the King, attending
him with obedience and love, and always fearing to offend him. Thus the
student in this stage is ever careful not to neglect rules and precepts laid
down by the sages, and endeavors to uplift himself in spirituality by his
The third stage is called the Rank of Merit, in which the student
distinguishes himself by his "meritorious" acts of conquering over the rebel
army of passion which rises against the Mind King. Now, his rank is not the
rank of a courtier, but the rank of a general. In other words, his duty is not
only to keep rules and instructions of the sages, but to subjugate his own
passion and establish moral order in the mental kingdom.
The fourth stage is called the Rank of Co-operative Merit, in which the
student "co-operates" with other persons in order to complete his merit.
Now, he is not compared with a general who conquers his foe, but with the
prime minister who co-operates with other officials to the benefit of the
people. Thus the student in this stage is not satisfied with his own conquest
of passion, but seeks after spiritual uplifting by means of extending his
kindness and sympathy to his fellow-men.
The fifth stage is called the Rank of Merit over Merit, which means the
rank of meritless merit. This is the rank of the King himself. The King does
nothing meritorious, because all the governmental works are done by his
ministers and subjects. All that he has to do is to keep his inborn dignity
and sit high on his throne. Therefore his conduct is meritless, but all the
meritorious acts of his subjects are done through his authority. Doing
nothing, he does everything. Without any merit, he gets all merits. Thus the
student in this stage no more strives to keep precepts, but his doings are
naturally in accord with them. No more he aspires for spiritual elevation,
but his, heart is naturally pure from material desires. No more he makes an
effort to vanquish his passion, but no passion disturbs him. No more he
feels it his duty to do good to others, but he is naturally good and merciful.
No more he sits in Dhyana, but he naturally lives in Dhyana at all times. It
is in this fifth stage that the student is enabled to identify his Self with the
Mind-King or Enlightened Consciousness, and to abide in perfect bliss.