The True Man with no rank in Burton Watson’s translation of the Lin-Chi Lu, “The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi is first described in the introductory preface on page 3 as being “constantly at home, yet never ceasing to be on the road.” This could easily be tied back to Buddhist concept of avoiding the antas, or extremes, and finding the middle ground, or Madhya (R) in that the true man is neither on the road nor at home yet he is both. A description of an arhat (R), or an enlightened body, a True Man with no rank is just that, one who falls between the lines, never reaching or meeting the extremes and exemplifying the label of “without rank” in that he is indescribable, without character, a pure essence likened to zero.
“If you can just stop this mind that goes rushing around moment by moment looking for something then you’ll be no different from the patriarchs and buddhas.” That sounds like a solution to the problem Buddhism seeks! But it seems quite a simple way to reach nirvana, usually a long arduous journey must accompany such a reward and it does so this statement, this solution only sounds easy until it is practiced. However, it is in the suggestion that our thoughts are manipulated and fabricated by the perception of the material world translated by our five senses (skandhas!), or what Lin-Chi calls the environment. Every translation, whether literature or sense object, is tweaked so that it is nearly impossible to get the true essence of the original. What all branches of Buddhism provide are ways to see past this translation difference and allow one to operate their senses in a way to respond to the essence, or pure dharma’s of the universe.
Lin-Chi’s tendency to use a method of teaching discipline and teaching his students a lesson or two to his monks when answering a question employs a sort of “mind over matter” strategy that is actually fairly in sync to the moral of the story of the “Ten-Square Foot Hut” in that you take what you have in life and accept whatever unlucky or unfortunate circumstances you don’t see coming. One cannot necessarily prepare for an unforeseen event, however, if received with acceptance and overall grace by mentally refusing to react, it can serve in avoiding the generation of karma, an act better known as asrava (R), by simply not reacting. The shout, if self-prescribed is actually a great physical feeling when applied at the right times. It can be likened to a type of release felt in many systems of the body, from mental to physical stress release and, if thought of positively, is a great tool given to his students by Lin-Chi. The shout, so simple yet so powerful. It is just a sound but the truest essence of noise, understood by any creature with audible sensation.
It is often argued in theology that the “devil” and/or “god” is not actually a physical entity or a someone or something, but closer to an idea or concept or possibly a behavior generated by the activity of an individual or communal mind that is difficult to describe but not as difficult to feel once successfully described. According to Lin-Chi even the enlightened ones, free of all karma and on their way to a perfect non-existence are potential prey to the seed of doubt, or this case Lin-Chi calls it Mara, or the devil. “Learn to put a stop to thoughts and never look for something outside yourselves” (P.41) is a suggested method by the guru. It is a rare moment of encouragement from Lin-Chi to trust in your own essence and strip away the façade, the materialism, and see the true nature of the universe. One cannot see the world without first seeing themselves.
Komo no Chomei and the Ten-Square Foot Hut
If all accounts are true, Komo no Chomei is a man who has been witness to some unbelievably horrifying events in his time. It is no wonder he believed he was staring Armageddon in the face after surviving twisters, mountain-leveling earthquakes followed by machine-gun like aftershocks, drowning floods, and city-sweeping fires. As a follower of Buddhism he believed he was at the “end time” which is known to be the catastrophic moments before the regeneration of everything and time all over again, a cycle known as samsara (R). Religious, spiritual, believer in something or not, it would be easy to a “true nature” if not a less guarded and material essence of others when attempting to survive physically and mentally the horrors of a deadly natural disaster. For example, he saw the true will of parents rationing off their very last portions to their children to aid their survival before wasting away themselves. It is cruel and quite pessimistic but it does enhance the idea that we are all manipulated into comfort by the sensual perceptions of the structured environment around us.
Komo no Chomei’s hut was just big enough for everything. Adorned with caitya (R), otherwise known as Buddhist relics and charms often seen in temples, it is literally a ten-square foot hut which mathematically is probably about a 36”x40” space, about the size of a large moving box! He eventually adds to it by giving it “three foot eaves” to protect against weather and aid in cooking meals. As crazy small and cozy as this hut may have been the most unique thing about his home was that he made it portable. Moving from different lands to mountainous elevations, his hut came with him wherever he felt necessary. Like Lin-Chi’s student monks are well taught through hit and shout technique, Komo no Chomei learned to take unforeseen punishment with no reaction or emotion and found a way to let his life live on without interference or distraction. He lived life as it came and play the cards you’re dealt without every playing. Ultimately the goal was, for him, to avoid generating karma by avoiding activity and prapancha by embracing the quiet still.
In any quest for spiritual sensation and advice of those aiding you to achieve it, there will be verbal and written contradictions that both seem right or wrong for reciprocal reasoning of their own contrasting statements. This is just the case of Komo no Chomei “grasping” of his need for quiet and minimalist-to-the-extreme dwelling. But it can be argued that this is the Buddhist phenomena of shedding the materialist needs and essentially releasing by grasping. Less is more. He creates without creating a still environment, free from the anitya of regeneration. It is one of many steps of his quest to achieve liberation and release from this world. He may still yearn for quiet and calm, “What place can you live, what activities can you pursue, in order to ensure a haven for your body and bring even a moment of peace to your mind?” (P.63). Maybe without realizing it, he has successfully begun to see the true essence of things when he says of his ten year old friend, a little boy, while at age 60, “We’re far apart in age but we seem to enjoy the same things.” He may never admit his successes and may never perceive himself on the path to enlightenment in this lifetime; after all he claims he has been “born unlucky.” But his need of less and less without ever actually needing anything at all is best mirrored by the rhythmic down-sizing of all his houses: from mansion, to house, to hut. And with each progression he regressed and better understood himself. With each chant of Amitabha’s name he grew quieter and closer.