So, there you are, enlightened… by Bill Harris (June 10th, 2008), continued
Even though the Third Rank is such a great place to be, it’s considered in Zen to be another place of stuckness. Just as you can be stuck in the relative world (as most people are), you can also be stuck in the transcendent. In Zen they say, “Enlightenment is delusion.” There are Zen stories where a disciple in the Third Rank says to the Master, “The geese and the mountains and the wind are all the Tao, aren’t they, Master?” and the Master says, “Yes, but it disgusts me to hear you say so.” At a certain point a Zen teacher may begin to tell his enlightened student that he “stinks of Zen.”
This happens partly because the teacher sees that the student, though “enlightened” in the sense that he is established in the transcendent, is, to a degree, lacking heart. The Third Rank is, by its very nature, impersonal. Though its perspective is one of seeing and encompassing all connections, all relationships – everything – the person at this stage doesn’t really FEEL those relationships. There is a denial, or perhaps you could say a distancing from, or an impersonality toward, the suffering of the world.
At the Third Rank you’re on the mountain top, and everything below you in the valley seems far away. From the mountain top it seems as if everything is perfect (which, in a sense, it actually is), including the suffering in the world. “God is playing all the parts. He who suffers and he who inflicts the suffering are both God in disguise.” In one sense this is true. However, there is a lack of personal connection to that suffering. “If only I could help other beings wake up, they would see the perfection I see, and they, too, would be out of the world of suffering and impermanence.”
I asked Genpo Roshi for his thoughts on this, and on the next step, the Fourth Rank, which he describes as a fall from grace. Here is a summary of what he told me:
When we have the experience of Great Death and Great Liberation (taking us to the Third Rank), the ego attaches to the “non-experience experience” of enlightenment and appropriates it. The ego becomes inflated and ignores cause and effect. It seems as if there is no ego, but there is. The ego is denying the ego in order to co-opt the enlightenment experience as its own. Karma, however, inevitably accumulates (in other words, cause and effect continue to work). Eventually the ego balloon pops from its own inflation. When this happens, there is a fall from grace – and in that fall from grace (which is the Fourth Rank) the relative world and all its suffering can no longer be denied and comes back with full force.