On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

March 17, 2020

No Such Thing as Enlightenment

Bankei (1622-1693)

A monk who had come from Sendai in Oshu said, “Somewhere I seem to recall there being the expression, ‘The mind enslaved to physical form.’ I’m anxious to accord with original mind at all times, but how should I practice in order to do this? Please instruct me.”

The Master replied, “In my school, there’s no special form of instruction; and as for religious practice, there’s no particular way for doing that either. People fail to realize that right within themselves they’re fully endowed with the Buddha Mind they have from their parents innately, so they lose their freedom and talk about wanting to ‘accord with original mind.’

“When you’ve realized that the Buddha Mind you have from your parents is unborn and marvelously illuminating, your hands and feet will function freely, and that’s the working of the marvelously illuminating Buddha Mind which is unborn.

“As proof that your Buddha Mind is unborn and freely functioning: When you came from Sendai having heard about Bankei, you traveled a long way; but as you stopped for the night here and there along the road, you weren’t thinking consciously about me. In the daytime, you looked around at all the sights, and if you had traveling companions, you talked to them.

“But even though you didn’t walk along thinking about our meeting and deliberately keeping it in mind at every step of the way, in the end you arrived here at my place. This is what’s meant by the Buddha Mind being unborn and perfectly managing things.

“Now the herons you see in Sendai are white, without having to be dyed that way; and the crows, without being dyed, are black. And right here too, even though when you see them you’re not deliberately trying to distinguish between the two, as soon as they appear before you, you know the white one’s a heron and the black one’s a crow. Without rousing a single thought, it’s all smoothly managed isn’t it?…”

Then the monk asked, “I find it impossible to control all my passions and delusions. What should I do? It’s simply proved too much for me, and I wish to receive your instruction.”

The Master replied, “Your idea of wanting to control your passions and delusions is itself delusion, changing the Buddha Mind for delusion! Delusions don’t have any actual substance when they arise. In fact, they’re nothing but shadow figures, things you’ve seen and heard that pop up sporadically in response to circumstances.”

Again, the monk questioned the Master: “What is enlightenment?”

The Master replied, “There’s no such thing as enlightenment. It’s a completely extraneous pursuit. To realize conclusively that the Buddha Mind you have from your parents innately is unborn and marvelously illuminating—that’s enlightenment. Not realizing this makes you deluded. Since the Original Buddha Mind is unborn, it functions without thoughts of delusion or thoughts of wanting to be enlightened.

“As soon as you think of wanting to be enlightened, you leave the place of the Unborn and go counter to it. Because the Buddha Mind is unborn, it has no thoughts at all. Thoughts are the source of delusion. When thoughts are gone, delusion vanishes too. And once you’ve stopped being deluded, talking about wanting to attain ‘enlightenment’ certainly is useless, don’t you agree?”

Bankei (1622-1693)

Excerpted from Bankei Zen: Translations from the Record of Bankei – Peter Haskel 1984

Seeing what is truly right before our eyes, whether it is the blooming crocus and primrose in the backyard, or the call to action, or inaction that is arising in our societies right now, can be the difference between a true living enlightenment versus the kind that is just in your head.

We are truly living in a Present Unfolding that is like no other we have ever witnessed. How is it we know what to do here? There is no guidebook or teacher that can advise us now; we must pay attention to what is “known” and what is “unknown” in a visceral way.

Bankei's explanation of the Unborn Mind that is ever present before thoughts arise, before we read anything about Buddhism or even ever sat, is the clear sight that will show us the way through this looking glass of illusion that is all too real.

We are now walking a tightrope between clear vision and fancy that would lead us astray. That place before thoughts and feelings arise speaks clearly without filters or preferences or how we'd really like things to be.

Now is the time for action….and inaction; both are necessary and always have been in this ever-changing reality. Truly, now, each day we enter new territory where, whether you like it or not, “the downfall of a martial artist is an unguarded moment.” Except that, in reality, this has always applied to us all no matter what our practice consists of.

Ready to adapt with you all,

Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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