On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

March 15, 2023

Dharma Talks – Part 2

Bankei (1622-1693)

A certain priest has said, “All you do is repeat the same things day after day. You ought to give your listeners a change. Their minds will be more receptive if you throw in some stories about the Zen masters of the past.”

Dull-witted as I am, I think if I put my mind to it, I could probably remember a couple of anecdotes to tell people. But that would be like feeding them poison. I don’t want to do that.

I never cite the Buddha’s words or the words of Zen patriarchs when I teach. All I do is comment directly on people themselves. That takes care of everything. I don’t have to quote other people. So you won’t find me saying anything about either the “Buddha Dharma” or the “Zen Dharma.”

I don’t have to, when I can clear everything up for you by commenting directly on you and your personal concerns right here and now. I’ve no reason to preach about “Buddhism” or “Zen.”

You’re all intelligent people here. It’s only your ignorance of the Buddha-mind that makes you go on transforming it into a hungry ghost, fighting spirit, or animal. You turn it into this and into that, into all manner of things, and then you become those things.

Once you have, once you’ve become an animal, for example, then even when the truth is spoken to you, it doesn’t get through to you. Or, supposing it does; since you didn’t retain it even when you were a human being, you certainly won’t have the intelligence as an animal to keep it in your mind.

This happens to everyone when, through a single thought, they let the Buddha-mind slip away from them. So you can see that it’s a very serious matter indeed. Therefore, you must thoroughly understand about not transforming the Buddha-mind into other things. As I told you before, not a single one of you in attendance here today is an unenlightened person. You’re a gathering of unborn Buddha-minds. If anyone thinks, “No, I’m not. I’m not enlightened,” I want him to step forward. Tell me: What is it that makes a person unenlightened?

In fact, there are no unenlightened people here. Nonetheless, when you get up and begin to file out of the hall, you might bump into someone in front of you as you cross over the threshold. When you go home, your husband, son, daughter-in-law or someone else may say or do something that displeases you.

If something like that happens, and you grasp onto it and begin to fret over it, sending the blood to your head, raising up your horns, and falling into illusion because of your self-partiality, the Buddha-mind turns willy-nilly into a fighting spirit. Until you transform it, you live just as you are in the unborn Buddha-mind; you aren’t deluded or unenlightened.

The moment you do turn it into something else, you become an ignorant, deluded person. All illusions work the same way. By getting upset and favoring yourself you turn your Buddha-mind into a fighting spirit—and fall into a deluded existence of your own making.

So whatever anyone else may do or say, whatever happens, leave things as they are. Don’t worry yourself over them and don’t side with yourself. Just stay as you are, right in the Buddha-mind, and don’t change it into anything else. If you do that, illusions don’t occur and you live constantly in the unborn mind. You’re a living, breathing, firmly established Buddha. Don’t you see? You have an incalculable treasure right at hand.

Bankei Yotaku (1622-1693)

excerpted from The Unborn – The Life and Teaching of Zen Master Bankei by Norman Waddell 1984

Here is a refreshing and direct expression of something many of us make into a very complicated and abstruse issue. Bankei brought Zen to ordinary, everyday people along with the monks and nuns that he taught.

While he did not commit any of his teachings to writing and discouraged his students from recording the talks, many could not let his teachings go unrecorded. Thanks to them we have this most unique teaching.

Now, though, is this simple and direct teaching something we can relate to? For many of us we have spent years listening to the Dharma, reading commentaries, and getting tangled up in dogma and techniques of meditation.

Here is someone who assures us we were born with what we seek and also does not tell us “too much.” However, there is definitely enough to get a sense of this teaching. Perhaps we’ve been “overthinking” practice!

In each encounter, he helps his listeners to realize in the here and now what being unborn feels like and how this awareness gets transformed by our attachments. It is so close we don’t recognize it; perhaps, since there is no big enlightenment experience attached to it or years of effort, it seems all too easy.

“Just stay as you are, right in the Buddha-mind, and don’t change it into anything else. If you do that, illusions don’t occur and you live constantly in the unborn mind.”

Feeling the winds of change,

Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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