Unborn: The Life and Teachings of Zen Master Bankei #5
12:30AM Jun 23, 2023
This is the fifth day of this June 2023, seven days machine. And yesterday we finished reading from Zen Master Bankei is public talk given at Ryumonji, one of two talks that were translated by Norman Waddell in the book, the Unborn, the life and teachings of Zen master Bankei. This book also includes dialogues, questions that bunkie responded to, raised by various participants in the training periods that he conducted at the temple. So today, we're going to dig into those. And since we can't cover all of them, I'm going to skip around in an attempt to cover an array of different different people and different types of questions.
The first question comes from a monk. This monk said to Bankai, I was born with a short temper, it's always flaring up. My master has remonstrated me time and again, but that hasn't done any good. I know I should do something about it. But as I was born with a bad temper, and I'm unable to rid myself of it, no matter how hard I try, is there anything I can do to correct it? This time, I'm hoping that with your teaching, I'll be able to cure myself. Then when I go back home, I'll be able to face my master again. And of course, I will benefit by it for the rest of my life. Please tell me what to do.
We can all relate to the feeling of being stuck in our habits. Whether it's a tendency to indulge in anger, which can manifest in thought speech and action, or some other default mode, such as dwelling in self pity, or blaming others for our problems.
And bunk a response to this monk by saying, that's an interesting inheritance you have is your temper here now? Bring it out. I'll cure it for you. Of course bound gay knows there's nothing that needs to be cured. And then the monk answers. I'm not angry now. My temper comes on unexpectedly, when something provokes me. And then Bungay says, you weren't born with it, then you create it yourself, when some pretext or other happens to appear. Where would your temper be at such times if you didn't cause it? You work yourself into a temper because of your partiality for yourself opposing others in order to have your own way. Then you unjustly accuse your parents of having burdened you with a short temper. What an extremely unfair filial son you are. And calling him an unphysical son is actually quite a, quite a dig in the cultural context of Confucianism, which was a major social social force in Japan at that time. And it included filial piety, respecting one's parents and elders, bringing a good name to the household.
Of course, indulging in anger is one of the three poisons, along with greed and delusion, it clouds the mind it creates separation. And it could have different dimensions, different layers to it. Anger can be driven by a need for self protection. Seeing other people as a threat of some kind, perhaps to one's self esteem such that it can also be related to feelings of pride, self importance and it can be a response to something we see as unjust, unfair, inappropriate. And affront to how we think the world should be.
At the root of it is fear. Fear of not being in control
it's not that anger is never warranted. Sometimes it is. But even then, whether or not it's productive, depends on how it's expressed. There's a difference between having the presence of mind to communicate what when is feeling from a calm center instead of say, lashing out, getting defensive or passive aggressive.
But in responding to this short tempered monk, as the monk himself described, himself, bonk a frames the anger as a matter of clinging to preferences, or reactionary response when things don't go the way he wants them to, which is related to the desire to be in control.
Guessing we've all experienced this ourselves, either in our looking at our own reactions, or in the people around us. An example might be in the workplace. Let's say your boss assigns you a project with specific instructions on how to carry it out. And of course, being in a management role. The boss bears the responsibility for the project's success. And so their instructions are intended to achieve it. But you decide that you know a better way and so you go ahead and you do it your way. It's clearly the right way. After all, you tell yourself you might even resent being given any instruction at all. And this can create quite a bit of friction in in our workplace relationships. And in this example, we can see maybe this this employee is indulging in pride. And this kind of interplay happens in all Different contexts, family dynamics, marriages, among friends.
And in the, in the training program at the Zen Center, which is like a family
but what happens if you just let go of that pride and just follow the instructions? Well happens then what do you have to lose?
All is resolved in the unborn
we don't have to live our lives this way, creating unnecessary conflict and suffering for ourselves and for others. It does poison the mind. But Zen practice equips us to see into it.
Then Bonnke says to this monk, that his anger is of his own making. He says, It's foolish to think that your temper is inherent. When you don't produce your temper, where is it? All illusions are the same. As long as you don't produce them, they cease to exist. That's what everyone fails to realize. There you are, creating from your own selfish desires, and deluded mental habits, something that isn't inherent, but thinking that it is. You create your outbursts of temper when the Oregon's of your six senses. That is vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and mind. You create your outbursts of temper, when the origins of your six senses are stimulated by some external condition, and incite you to oppose other people, because you desire to assert your own preciously held ideas. When you have no attachment to self, there are no illusions have that perfectly clear?
When you have no attachment to self, there are no illusions. No, I'm this, you're that. Instead just this.
Bonnke goes on, he says to this monk. But also this dialogue is sort of happening in this open setting so other people are listening in. He says, You should all listen to my words, as if you were newly born this very day. If something's on your mind, if you have any preconception, you can't really take in what I say. But if you listen as if you were a newborn child, a newborn child. It'll be like hearing me for the first time. Since then, there's nothing in your mind. You can take it in. You can't take it in, grasp it, even even a single word. You'll fully realize the Buddha's Dharma
Practice as if you were a newborn baby a newborn has no preconceptions. No expectations. No assumptions. No mental filter to imagine the future no past even even no present. There's no concepts at all. Nothing abstract no sense of good or bad or should or shouldn't know words or language
just smelling, tasting, hearing seeing feel feeling
in the Blue Cliff Record, there's a koan called Joe shoes, newborn baby. It's case number 80. And it goes like this. Among monk asked Josue does a newborn possess the six senses or not? Josue said, it is like a ball bobbing along on Swift flowing water, a ball bobbing along on Swift flowing water. And Joe shoes response must have struck a chord because later the monk went to another master named Tosu. And asked him what is the meaning of a ball bobbing along on Swift flowing water.
And Tosu said, moment, by moment, it flows on without stopping. Moment by moment, it flows on without stopping.
Our true nature is the essence of life of being in a body, a body that Bob's long it's not static. It's constantly changing from one moment to the next. We know this because we see how conditions constantly change everything we experience passes. And in the midst of all that change, including when it's chaotic, or turbulent. That's our true nature and never goes away
it's that which lies beneath beneath our thoughts beneath that turbulence of the thinking mind
and it's like a newborn experiencing the world.
new eyes And
then there's another question on the subject of anger. And it's asked by a farmer. The farmer says, since I was born with a short temper, angry thoughts come into my mind very easily. This distracts me from my work, I find it extremely difficult to remain in the unborn. What can I do so that my mind will be in harmony with the unborn mind. And then Bonnke replies, since the unborn buddha mind is something you and everyone else are born with, there's no way you can go about attaining it now for the first time. Just attend to your farm work, and don't engage with other thoughts. That's the working of the unborn mind. You can swing your home while you're angry too, for that matter. But in that case, since anger is an evil that links you to hell, your work becomes hard and onerous. In other words, anger, poisons the clarity of our mind.
And then Vontae says, when you hope with a mind, unclouded by anger and other such things, the work is easy and pleasant. It's the practice of the buddha mind itself. So it's unborn and Undying.
So when when we
are one with whatever we're doing, everything flows with ease, no resistance, no hesitation just giving ourselves completely to the task. No matter how easy or challenging it may be, bobbing along.
The next exchange is about working with sticky thoughts. A layman asks, every time I clear a thought from my mind, another appears right away. Well, that's never happened to me. Every time I clear a thought from my mind, another appears right away. thoughts keep appearing like that without end. What can I do about them?
This is a trap. One that I fell into for years, thinking that you have to get rid of your thoughts. It's not just beginners who struggle with this. So do more experienced practitioners
were aware of all the thoughts traveling through our mind because of the sitting that we're doing. And if we make the thoughts into a thing into an object a problem, we get frustrated and we convince ourselves that we have to eliminate them.
But that's a form of aversion. We don't need to reject our thoughts any more than we need to reject having brown eyes or straight, straight hair
let them be
there then bunkie continues, he says, clearing thoughts from the mind as they arise is like washing away blood in blood. You may succeed in washing away the original blood, but you're still polluted by the blood you washed in. No matter how long you keep washing, the bloodstains never disappear. Since you don't know that your mind is originally unborn and Undying, and free of illusion, you think that your thoughts really exist? So you trans migrate in the wheel of existence. You have to realize that your thoughts are ephemeral and unreal and without either clutching at them or rejecting them just let them come and go of themselves
if we're actively trying to rid our mind of thoughts, our attentions not on our practice
we need to keep it simple just return to the practice return to Mu who this it whatever you're working on the moment we notice we've drifted off turn the mind back right then in there
you know if you're driving a car, and it's a two lane road and you notice that you're car is drifting into the oncoming lane, you've crossed the yellow painted line down the middle of the road if you notice that what do you do just turn the wheel you just make the adjustment just that you don't think oh Hmm. If I keep driving this way I might get hit by oncoming traffic. Yeah, maybe I better turn the wheel. No, you just do it. You notice and you make the correction. No complications
The next question is about the purpose of practice. A monk asks you're always teaching people that they should live in the unworn. To me that seems like telling them to live purpose Leslie without any aim.
So it kind of sounds like this monk may be thinking that practice has no purpose no use in in, in the real world. As if upon experiencing our true self, which is no self our mind becomes blank detached unresponsive to life. So for him awakening is As a concept, an idea he has in his head. And that's the vantage point from which he's judging it. Because he hasn't experienced it. He's locked in dualistic thinking about enlightened and unenlightened.
Not realizing that the more our awareness grows through Zen, the more responsive we are to others and to life. And so bunkie replies, you call dwelling in the unborn buddha mind, being without purpose. You don't stay in the unborn Buddha, Mind yourself. Instead, you're always working enthusiastically at other things, doing this, doing that spending all your time making your buddha mind into something else. What could be more purposeless than that
it's true when our mind is, is divided because we've latched on to thoughts
that right there is purposelessness, and pain.
True Nature is not a bunch of concepts and ideas. It's not an identity that's defined by any labels, treats names words. We can assign to it
There's that famous line by Dogan. You think that your mind is thoughts and concepts, but it is really trees and grasses and pebbles and tiles
it's also birds the hum of traffic in the distance, teacups and spoons, toothbrushes. SOCKS
another monk came forth with a similar question. This monk says, you tell people to dwell in the unborn. But it seems to me that would mean remaining totally indifferent to things. Bankai said, while you face me, they're listening innocently, to what I say. Suppose someone should come up behind you and touch a firebrand to your back. Would it feel hot? And a firebrand is some kind of poker, perhaps made of wood or metal that you stick into a fire. If I put a firebrand fire. If I put a fire brand to your back, would it feel hot? The monk says, of course it would. Then Bungay says in that case, you aren't indifferent. How could someone who feels heat be indifferent? You feel it because you aren't indifferent? You have no difficulty telling what is hot and what is cold, without having to give rise to a thought to make such a distinction. The very fact that you asked that question about being indifferent or not shows that you're not indifferent. So you see, the buddha mind with its illuminating wisdom is capable of discriminating things with a miraculous efficiency. It's anything but indifferent. How could any human being who is able to think, be indifferent? A person who was really indifferent, wouldn't be engaged in thinking. I can assure you that you are not indifferent, and that you never have been
we don't need to deny who we are. Nor try to become someone or something else
why why, why try to reject or become anyone other than who we are?
If we stub our toe, we feel pain. Ouch. Ah just that we don't need the drama of so clumsy or why me? Everything we do all all the sensations that we experience, wherever we are, that's our true nature. We're it breathing, walking, sleeping, eating? How could we be indifferent to life?
The next question comes from a lay woman who had traveled from afar to want to go to one of bunkies retreats and have having heard of him and his teaching, she asked, according to what you say, all we have to do is simply remain effortlessly in the buddha mind. Don't you think that teaching is too lightweight? Nope. Now we don't know if she's trying to challenge him or if she's just asking an innocent question. But the practice is very simple. Just relax and keep your attention on your practice. It's that simple. And yet we convince ourselves that there's got to be more to it. There's something we're not doing right. We need to exert ourselves. Work harder, push harder. For what?
And in responding to her question about the teaching, being too lightweight Bungay says lightweight you, you give vent to selfish desires and change it into a hungry ghost or do something foolish and convert it into an animal. You deliberately turn the buddha mind into all sorts of different things. That's lightweight, not my teaching. So he's telling her that she's grasping she she's trying to get something or somewhere thinking that has to be hard and painful and this is something many people struggle with insists sheen. The Buddha taught the middle way. We're not helping ourselves or anyone by getting all tense and wound up. Feeling like we got to make something happen
doesn't matter. How many days have gone by where we are in such sheen. Everything always comes down to just this one moment. committing to it just this one.
bunkie then says nothing is of more gravity and nothing more praiseworthy than living in the buddha mind. So you may think when I tell you to live in the buddha mind that it's lightweight, but believe me, it's just because it has such weight that you are unable to do it. In other words, your thoughts are holding you down. This might give you the idea that living in the buddha mind is a very difficult business. But it isn't true. It isn't true that if you listen carefully to my teaching, simply and easily, without doing any hard work. You are living Buddha this very day. Or we can say this very moment.
Thoughts are not an obstacle. They're not a thing and or an object that's in our way. They're not an enemy that we have to take down.
There's an old Zen story about the pitfall of overexertion. And it comes from the book, stories of the Spirit stories of the heart compiled by Jack Kornfield. And this is the story. One of the devotees of a temple was well known for his zealousness and effort, day and night, he would sit in meditation, not stopping even to eat or asleep. As time passed, he grew thinner and more exhausted. The master of the temple advised him to slow down to take more care of himself. But the devotee refused to heed his advice Why are you rushing? So what is your hurry? Asked the master. I'm after enlightenment. Said the devotee there's no time to waste. The Master then asked and how do you know that enlightenment is running on before you so that you have to rush after it. Perhaps it is behind you and all you need to encounter it is to stand still.
Stand still walk still sit still
ever everything you need is right here. Everything is resolved