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The 5 Stages of the Spiritual Path - Tozan
« on: 10 January 2010 »

Genpo Roshi talks about these a lot ... a great interview with him on by the way.

Here is one cool descrption from .... I am amazed at how accurate a model it is despite being written 1,200 years ago in ancient Japan!  Uh?

The 5 Ranks of Tozan
June 19, 2008 by admin 

The 5 ranks of Tozan is a description on the various stages of enlightenment. Tozan was a Zen Master who lived more than 1,200 years ago.

According to this description, there are 5 stages that one goes through as he progresses towards enlightenment. The majority of people in the world today are in pre-stage one.

Pre-Stage One

At this stage, one is fully engaged and absorbed in the physical reality, and only in this physical reality. One is still unaware of the other reality that is transcendental and sublime. In pre-stage one, one’s main focus and attention is on the day to day survival as well as physical accumulation of wealth. This is because one is able to see only this physical world as real. The spiritual and transcendental reality is not perceived as real. One may be able to conceptualize and rationalize about spirituality but one does not truly appreciate the reality of this subtle realm.

Stage One

In this stage, one is now convinced of the reality of the transcendental realm. One behaves and lives according to this perception and acceptance of this new reality. This means that one’s priorities in lives change to put more emphasis on the importance of spirituality. More time and energy is directed towards the pursue of this spiritual understanding and growth. Material comfort and accumulation become secondary.

Accumulating spiritual understanding means acquiring more understanding about the reality of the transcendental realm, its nature, its qualities. It initially leads to the accumulation of more new beliefs, concepts and assumptions about the various spiritual teachings. The rational mind tries to make sense of all these terminologies, concepts and beliefs.

Stage Two

This is the stage where the rational mind comes against a wall. It soon realizes that the rational mind cannot fully grasp the transcendental reality. After all, how can a mind that functions in time and space fully grasp what is beyond time and space? There arise great doubts about the whole concept of understanding via the rational mind. It begins to see the limitation of names, labels, concepts and beliefs.

To progress, the spiritual seeker needs to surrender all his attachments and clinging to concepts and names. In fact, he needs to let go entirely of the need to rationalize with his rational mind. To do that, he needs a great leap of faith in the beyond – believing that whatever is beyond the rational mind is far more superior and sublime than the rational mind. He needs to literally jump off the edge of a cliff and have faith that his fall is safe. This is the great death that will lead to a great rebirth.

Stage Three

After the great death comes a new rebirth into the transcendental realm. It is here in this transcendental realm that is timeless and limitless that one experiences only the now. Here one experiences the oneness of all things. Here is peace. Here is eternity. Here is now. Many who have caught or taste a glimpse of this realm believe themselves to be fully enlightened. The experience in this realm is one of detachment from the physical world, even to the point of not caring for physical existence. One may try to convince oneself that here at last he has completely eliminate his ego. However, he will only be deluding himself as the denial of the suffering of the physical world is still a denial, albeit a sublimely subtle one. That is why this stage is sometimes said to have a big mind but no heart. If not careful, one can completely indulge oneself by staying in this realm indefinitely as a form of escapism.

Stage Four

At some point, one begins to realize the remnant of his subtle ego. The ego has matured tremendously at this stage but one is still not completely free of it. Soon there follows a fall from grace. From this great transcendental realm, one fall into a greater realization of the need to interact with the physical world.

Stage Five

In this final stage of Tozan, one finally fully realizes and is able to integrate both the transcendental experience with the physical world. One is able to be “in this world, yet not of this world”. In other words, one develops a great heart of compassion for all sentient beings who are still caught in the physical world and comes back to co-exist for the well-beings and uplifting of their spirituality. This is the stage of big mind, big heart. One is able to live a full physical life and yet is above all the conflicts and sufferings that normally accompanies a physical life.

Another way of looking at this is by drawing a triangle as shown above. The left corner represents the human aspects of our existence, where everything is perceived in relative dualism using the rational mind. Here we experience both pain and pleasure. The right corner represents the transcendental aspects of our being where oneness is experienced. Here is peace and is where the rational mind cannot fully comprehend due to its limiting nature. The transcendental or intuitive mind functions here.

To exclusively dwell in either one of these domains is unhealthy for us as human beings. To be a human being, we must be both able to experience the human aspect of ourselves as well as the transcendental aspect. A fully enlightened being is one who has fully integrated both, as represented by the apex in the triangle.

Author: Dr. Ong
« Last Edit: 10 January 2010 by Mike » Logged


Posts: 604

Re: The 5 Stages of the Spiritual Path - Tozan
« Reply #1 on: 10 January 2010 »

Ah, you know I said I thought the task was to be a human being ...  smiley
Posts: 5,460

Re: The 5 Stages of the Spiritual Path - Tozan
« Reply #2 on: 10 January 2010 »

Yeh I recall ... think thats the bottom-left vertex mate ... pre-stage 1 wink ... mind you plenty of company there (billions at the last count)  tongue


Posts: 5,460

Re: The 5 Stages of the Spiritual Path - Tozan
« Reply #3 on: 22 October 2010 »

Nice source material at:


The Five Degrees of Tozan, also known as the Five Ranks of Tozan, and WU KENG CHUAN in Chinese, are different levels of Realization formulated by Zen master Tozan Ryokai, known as Tung-shan Liang-chieh in Chinese (807-869). In ascending scale the five are known as:

           1. sho-chu-chen

           2. hen-chu-sho

           3. sho-chu-rai

           4. hen-chu-shi

           5. hen-chu-to

    The first three degrees or steps are noetic and the last two are conative. The middle, or third step, is the transition point at which the noetic begins to be conative and knowledge turns into life.


    At this level the world of phenomena is dominant, but is perceived as a dimension of the absolute Self. This level correlates with Tozan's first stanza below titled "The Apparent within the Real."

        The Apparent within the Real:

        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.


    At this stage the undifferentiated aspect comes strongly to the fore and diversity recedes into the background. This level is equal to Tozan's second stanza "The Real within the Apparent."

        The Real within the Apparent:

        A sleepy eyed grandam
        Encounters herself in an old mirror.
        Clearly she see a face,
        But it doesn’t resemble hers at all.
        Too bad, with a muddled head,
        She tried to recognize her reflection.


    At this level no awareness of body or mind remains; both "drop away" completely. This level is related to Tozan's third stanza "The Coming From within the Real."

        The Coming from within the Real:

        Within nothingness there is a path
        Leading away from the dusts of the world.
        Even if you observe the taboo
        On the present emperors name,
        You will surpass that eloquent one of yore
        Who silenced every tongue.


    With this fourth degree or level of Attainment the singularity of each object is preceived at its highest degree of uniqueness. The difference between this level and the next is paper-thin and practically non-existant. The fourth level matches Tozan's fourth stanza below titled "The Arrival at Mutual Integration."

        The Arrival at Mutual Integration:

        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.


    At this, the fifth and highest level formulated by Tozan, form and Emptiness mutually penetrate to such a degree that no longer is there consciousness of either. Ideas of satori or delusion entirely vanish. It is the stage of perfect inner freedom and is refered to by and in Tozan's fifth stanza below "Unity Attained."

        Unity Attained:

        Who dares to equal him
        Who fall into neither being or 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.

    The key words are sho and hen which are mutually related aspects of the One. The attributes of sho are: absolute, emptiness, equality, oneness, and absolute self. The attributes of hen are: relative, form-and-color, difference, manyness, and relative self.

    The word chu, which for the most part translates as "within" or "among" expresses the interrelation of the sho and hen. In the last of the last two steps shi is replaced by to. They mean the same action, that is, to "arrive" or "to reach." However, shi traditionally means "has not yet arrived," whereas to translates into "the completion of the act."


        Ken means "both" -- meaning the indepth realization of how both sho and hen are NOT separate but actually fully integrated-interdefused aspects of the same single, non-dual phenomenon -- refering to for example, albeit simply put, the interdefused non-dualism of say hot and cold --- seemingly different, but in actuality, both related aspects of a single non-dual temperature spectrum. Thus then, it can be seen the replacement in use of the word ken in lieu of the word hen, as say in ken-chu-shi rather than hen-chu-shi in the Fourth Degree carries within it's scope a much deeper meaning than a simple syntax variance or first letter change, the attributes again of hen not encompassing the full scope, being: relative, form-and-color, difference, manyness, and relative self.

        A fairly good example of that subtle letter change can be found in ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT: The Path Unfolds, wherein the Wanderling writes of his Zen mentor: "...ken-chu-shi was graciously accorded me by the person from which I sought guidence; he himself, having experienced full realization under the grace and light of Sri Ramana Maharshi some thirty-nine years earlier..." Notice his Mentor specifically selected ken-chu-shi over hen-chu-shi, meaning he felt in the nunances of it all a deeper level of understanding was attained than what hen-chu-shi offered. However, notice as well his Mentor DID NOT grace him with hen-chu-to, and most significantly NOT ken-chu-to, apparently indicating in both cases that although the Wanderling's attainment was deep, it was, at least at that time, not total.


Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.



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