The eccentric Bankei has long been an underground hero in the world of Zen. At a time when Zen was becoming overly formalized in Japan, he stressed its relevance to everyday life, insisting on the importance of naturalness and spontaneity. I had arrived at Columbia University two years earlier, hoping to study the history of Japanese Rinzai Zen, but my general coursework and the extreme difficulties of mastering written Japanese had left me time for little else. Now that I was finally to begin my own research, all that remained was to choose a suitable topic. Brimming with confidence and armed with a list of high-sounding proposals, I went to see my advisor, Professor Yoshito Hakeda.
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Compiled from various sources  see endnotes by Timothy Conway Initially enlightened at age 25, fully enlightened four years later, he left behind all sectarianism, formalism, elaborate methods e.
Yet almost no rules were needed, and here and at his monasteries none of the traditional Zen beating or scolding was allowed, since Bankei trusted the natural goodness of our perfect Buddha-nature to prevail over our human nature.
He usually had both monastics and laity training together under one roof, both male and female. But in the midth century, the Zen scholar-mystic D. His father, Suga Dosetsu, was a Confucian scholar and a samurai without a patron who then turned to the practice of medicine.
In his boyhood Bankei was called Muchi. He had three older brothers and four sisters. A very intelligent lad, he also displayed a very unruly, rebellious streak of mischief. His father died when Bankei was only 11 and he was raised by his mother, to whom he was extremely devoted, and by his eldest brother, with whom he clashed. In the next year he entered school and began studying some of the old Chinese Confucian classics, but these texts greatly confused him.
Bankei began to be filled with doubts and questions, and took to grilling every teacher he could find on their knowledge. Like Socrates, he asked penetrating questions of Confucian and Buddhist scholars and attended religious gatherings in search of answers. But to no avail. By age 13 Bankei was studying with the priest at the family temple, and the next year a nearby family friend, Nakabori Sukeyasu, constructed for Bankei a small hut on the mountain behind the Nakabori home.
During his travels he spent his nights at temples or slept in the open wilderness, begging scraps from all and sundry. Bankei left shortly after this return and built a small hut in the nearby village of Nonaka and lived as an isolated hermit. He sat for long, rigorous hours immersed in zazen meditation. He abandoned all bodily comforts and focussed intently on arriving at a complete understanding of life and phenomena.
The results? Exhaustion, a shrunken stomach, and an increased desire to go on. More exhaustion, and huge painful sores on my bottom. I spat against a wall. A mass of black phlegm large as a soapberry rolled down the side Suddenly, just at that moment I realized what it was that had escaped me until now: All things are perfectly resolved in the Unborn [the Eternal, Absolute, Open, Infinite Awareness].
This breakthrough ended Bankei's doubts and questioning. So Bankei visited the temples of other Zen teachers in the area, but found no one with the direct intuitive understanding to confirm his awakening. Bankei was initially offended by this and refused to accept it. In , at age 30, while meditating with the congregation, Bankei experienced irreversible enlightenment Sanskrit: anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.
He also refused a senior position in the monastery, preferring to remain humbly working within the kitchen. Some cogent verses communicating his deep Zen wisdom are as follows in a translation by Peter Haskel  :. Unborn and imperishable is the original mind…. Nothing is left, nothing at all. At some point during his period as a hermit, Bankei began to be discovered as a great holy man by a wider community of spiritual aspirants, and by now he knew how to present the spoken Dharma-teachings in a more intuitively comprehensible way.
They were frightened and must have thought me a heretic, as bad as a Roman Catholic. Not a single person dared approach me. But… today all you have to do is look around you to see how many come to me. Bankei became the most popular Buddhist preacher of his era. How is there any difference between men and women?
Everyone is the Buddha-body…. Everyone intrinsically possesses the One Identical Buddha Mind. Bankei also traveled on invitation to teach. This temple no longer exists. Here great crowds would gather to hear him. These places became the main teaching centers for Bankei. He traveled extensively among them and to other sites, especially those temples needing restoration, to train disciples male and female and preach to the masses of people.
He led long retreats, conducted in a very loving and non-restrictive manner. On occasion he went into personal retreat, and also spent time in seclusion just to rehabilitate his health, which was frequently problematic e. Bankei repeatedly drove home the profound if paradoxical point that no sentient being, in their Absolute Identity as Buddha-Nature Skt. We are always already none other than the One that is also Many; our real Nature is the undefined, unstructured, infinite Openness-Emptiness Skt.
When Bankei told his disciples that his death was near, they asked him for the customary Zen farewell poem. Bankei was above the use of special devices in making people achieve the satori of the birthless Buddha-mind.
He simply preached and exhorted. My advice, then, is that you accustom yourself to remaining in a state of non-birth. Give your ear to me, and forget as so much rubbish all your preconceptions.
Indeed, at my one word of exhortation, you can gain satori [awakening]. He also distinguished between a basic enlightenment or satori and a complete, thorough, established enlightenment, a flawless realization of Buddha-Mind or wholly Awake Awareness.
And your realizing it will be due to your earnest and single-minded cultivation. There are no regulations, no formal discipline.
Nevertheless, they have agreed among themselves to sit in Zen for a period of two incense sticks [an hour or so] daily. All right, let them. But they should understand that the birthless Buddha-mind has absolutely nothing to do with sitting with an incense stick burning in front of you.
Whether asleep or awake, one is a living Buddha. Zazen means only one thing—sitting tranquilly in the Buddha-mind. In my temple, at least, such things are allowed. A natural thing, after all…. There are no binding rules here. Of course, all this forces people to have doubts. No, they never teach the importance of staying in the birthless Buddha-mind. They would make of it a lump of doubt. A very serious mistake. The noted Buddhist scholar D.
Though his world was very different from our own, there is something contemporary in much of what he has to say. See this essay on the 6 kinds of karma. Nothing can be so weighty as the Buddha-mind. But perhaps you feel that to remain in it is too tough a job? If so, listen and try to grasp the meaning of what I say. Stop piling up evil deeds, stop being a demon, a hungry ghost, an animal [etc.
A layman asked: "If you become a Buddha, where do you go? You fill the vast universe to its very limits. It's when you become any other sort of being that there are different places to go. No, I would never carry on in so harmful a way. Indeed, I make it a rule not to give even the words of Buddha himself, let alone the Zen patriarchs. To attain the truth today all one needs is self-criticism.
If one of you thinks himself astray, let him come forward and show me in what way. But remember, until that moment you were secure in the birthless Buddha-mind. Only at that moment, only then were you deluded. Then you will never stray, then you will be a living Buddha for all time. It is my desire to bear witness to your satori [awakening]. The birthless Buddha-mind can cut any and every knot. You see, the Buddhas of the past, present and future, and all successive patriarchs shouold be thought of as mere names for what has been born [i.
From the viewpoint of birthlessness, they are of little significance. To live in a state of non-birth is to attain Buddhahood…. A blessed state. From the moment you have begun to [authentically] realize this fact, you are a living Buddha, and need make no further efforts on your tatami mats…. To prepare you for this is my greatest desire…. When you have fully settled in the immaculate Buddha-mind of nonbirth, nothing will deceive you….
Bankei Zen: Translations from the Record of Bankei
Post a Comment. Bankei Yotaku was a great Zen master. He was also original and somewhat iconoclastic in his approach to the teaching of Zen. Perhaps this latter trait has denied him the fame and acclaim that other Zen masters have received both in the east and the west. Or perhaps it's in the very essence of his teaching of the Unborn Buddha Mind that his directness is uncomfortable for more conventional Zen enthusiasts.
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