Unborn: The Life and Teachings of Zen Master Bankei #2
12:25AM Jun 23, 2023
This is the second day of this June 2023, seven day sesshin. And today we'll continue reading from the book, the Unborn, the life and teachings of Zen master Bankei translated by Norman Waddell. Yesterday we started with the story of Bankei is remarkable life, beginning with his childhood. It seems he was quite the troublemaker. He was competitive and strong willed, always trying to skip out of school getting into quarrels with his oldest brother, who had stepped into the role of head of the house when their father passed away. And we left off yesterday, at the point where Bankei had been thrown out of the house at the age of 11. He became just so consumed by trying to understand the nature of bright virtue. Bright virtue being a Confucian ideal that he was taught in school. And again we can see this term right virtue as another word for our true nature. That which is beyond right and wrong. Beyond duality.
Eventually, bonk, a landed at a temple run by Master Oh, and he trained there for about four years, and then he decided to leave. And at this juncture, Bunk a was still a teenager. And he set out on pilgrimage, visiting various temples. But Waddell says, more often than not, he lived a solitary life in rude, self made huts, or frequently to judge from his own records. He merely slept out in the open. He was reported to live among beggars for several years, in various places where he slept with nothing but reads for a covering. He even sat for a week without eating. And then here's an excerpt from the historical records of Bank A, and this is his personal account, in his words, translated from Japanese Bank A said, I pressed myself without mercy, draining myself mentally and physically. At times, I practiced deep in the mountains, in places completely cut off from human contact. I fashioned primitive shelters out of paper, pulled them over me, and did sighs Zen seated inside. Sometimes I would make a small lean two, by putting up two walls of thick paper boards, and sit in solitary darkness inside, doings Zen, never laying down to rest, even for a moment. Whenever I heard of some teacher, whom I thought might be able to give me advice, I went immediately to visit him. I lived that way for several years. There were few places in the country, I did not set foot again, we see that determination but he was still looking outside himself, grasping in the dark. Looking for an answer to Mmm through words through the instruction of a teacher or other people
but really, there's nothing that a Zen teacher can give other than encouragement and guidance in navigating what is sometimes a difficult terrain
there was nothing a teacher can give and there's nothing a student can receive. And now as for the difficult spots, it doesn't have to be difficult. If we expect practice to be difficult and painful, a struggle between me and my thoughts, then that's exactly what it will be. Because we're caught up in our expectations
bonk a return to umbo after four years of practicing independently, wandering around the country, at times on his own and other times, seeking advice from others, and then wattles waddle says or Waddell I think is the correct pronunciation. He says he was 23 years old, and still no closer to resolving the doubt and incertitude pressing in upon him. He is said to have been weeping and discouragement, as he told UNPO how he had been unable to find a single person in all his travels, who could give him the kind of help he wanted. unposed reply was it's your desire to find someone that keeps you from your goal. It's your desire to find someone that keeps you from your goal. He was telling Bankei that he would never be able to achieve enlightenment, as long as he persisted in searching for an answer outside himself. The word seemed to have had their intended effect. banca a promptly left again. This time, he stayed nearby, building a hermitage in the countryside. he isolated himself completed from complete from contact with the outside, walling himself up within a tiny, tiny dwelling. He sat constantly, day and night, dedicating himself with even greater urgency to Zen resolved, just as the Buddha before him had been not to get up until he had found the way through. He gave up eating for weeks at a time, he threw cold water over himself whenever he felt the slightest approach of the demons of sleep. But the long years of struggle had weakened him, both physically and mentally. He contracted tuberculosis
and then, in bunkie, his own words, he said, the adverse effects of the long years of fineness of physical punishment, built up and finally led to a serious illness. My illness steadily worsened. I grew weaker and weaker whenever I spat guilts of bloody sputum, as big as thumb heads appeared. It's quite graphic. Once I spat against a wall, and the globules stuck and slid to the ground, in bright red beads. So he resorted to extreme measures not unlike the aesthetics of the Buddha's lifetime and he became gravely ill. But remember, the Buddha came to see the middle way. Not denying oneself, but also not indulging in it. As the most effective way to practice. Waddell says that when bunkies Health failed to to this rather extreme degree, the physician who examined him was reported to have thrown aside his medicine spoon, because he was past the point where such remedies could be of help. So Bankai basically got to the point where he had resigned himself to dying. His body was failing. There were no medical interventions that could help him. It seemed like there was no turning back.
And it was at this darkest moment. When bunkie surrendered, to dying, that everything changed. In his own words, I felt a strange sensation in my throat. I spat against the wall, a mass of black phlegm, large as a Soapberry roll down the side. Suddenly, just had that moment, I realized what it was that had escaped me until now. All things are perfectly resolved in the unborn
all things are perfectly resolved. Right here everything clarified when we go beyond, beyond thoughts and words. So it was after 14 years of hardship and unbending determination that bonk, he had his first Kensho experience. And we only have the words to go by on the page. But it seems that this opening happened at the moment that he had given up looking outside himself.
He saw that what he had been searching out for all along, was right there all alone. Not to he was no longer grasping for an answer. And he, he had resigned himself to being one with the conditions he was in. And at that moment, it was just dying. That was his condition. Just dying.
There's a verse in the moon con, that's says, You must climb a mountain of swords with bare feet. You must climb a mountain of swords with bare feet. Of course, this isn't to be taken literally. But we do need to put in the effort. And that effort is a simple one. Shifting our attention back to our practice. Each time we notice, we've drifted off. That's what the effort comes down to attention. And during that in the midst of any and all conditions that we experience, including discomfort and pain, physical, mental, emotional, all of the above. But also feeling buoyant and light, and energetic, and everything in between. Bored, tired, unmotivated, blah. But for many of us, due to deeply ingrained habits of mine, we seem to get caught up in the expectations of, of pain. Even Even thinking that sesshin has to be painful. Or else you're not trying hard enough. And as a consequence, we we miss out on a lot. We're not showing up for the moment as it is. And we miss out on joy as a consequence. So, to climb a mountain of swords, is really just giving ourselves to our practice, no matter the conditions, whatever we happen to be experiencing.
It's a big, big mistake, to think that we need to resort to extreme measures to self mortification denying our body of its basic needs of food and sleep. And this is something bunkie came to realize, just as the historical Buddha did, and it became the central point of bunkies teaching. We don't need to resort to such measures let alone beyond the brink of death. To realize that there's nothing we need to change, no special place we need to get to.
A all things are just as they are perfectly resolved.
Well after this transformative experience, Bunky strength did gradually return along with his appetite and his health. And Waddell notes that he had a second Ken show not long after his first one, as he described it, when the fragrant smell of plum blossoms was born to him on the morning breeze as he was washing his face in a nearby stream. In other words, in the most ordinary moment, just washing his face
so important to bring our practice into activity to keep it continuous. Wherever, wherever we are, whatever we're doing. Taking a bite of food, putting on a robe, chopping vegetables wiping up a spill right there. That's our true nature.
Eventually, when bunkie was strong enough to travel, he made his way back to see Master umbo. His first teacher, to tell him what had happened. unko was overjoyed and said, that is the marrow of Bodie, dharmas bones. And yet master UNPO the story goes, recommended to Bankai that he seek verification of his of his enlightenment from other masters. So then Bonnke went off again. The Biography goes on to describe how he visited different teachers, but for the most part, he was unsatisfied with their responses. Waddell says what he discovered to his disappointment, and a little to his disgust as well was that none of the teachers he visited was in a position to give him the confirmation he was after. One of them even admitted to not yet having an enlightenment experience.
And then, in time, at around the age of 26, Bunk a came upon news of a priest who had arrived from China, and was staying at a temple near Nagasaki and OBO encouraged Bombay to make the week long trip to visit this master. This masters name in Chinese is Tao SHA, Xiao Yuan. In Japanese, it's translated as dosha. During their first meeting, the Chinese master confirmed bunkies Enlightenment, but also said that it was incomplete. He said, You have penetrated through to the matter of self, but you still have to clarify the matter beyond
there was still further to go not there yet.
Word all rights to ban gay who was brimming with self confidence. This was inconceivable. So at first, he refused to accept this master's evaluation. But he stayed at the temple and eventually came to see the merit of this teaching. After observing how Tao Xiao Xiao Yan conducted himself, and how he gave instruction at the temple. So bunk he took his place in the assembly, lived in the monks Hall, with the rest of the students. And then it's noted here that the, this Chinese master did not know Japanese and Bombay could not speak Chinese, although Bungay could read and write it. So they had to communicate by means of written notes. And in the process of working closely with this, this master Bonnke had another Kensho experience. So the Master then decided to appoint him to the position of senior monk, but bunk a declined. Waddell notes that he wanted to work in the same old place near the kitchen. And so he continued doing his chores, just as before, stoking the fire in the kitchen with fuel and serving the other monks their meals.
And Waddell says
some members of the assembly seem to have resented bunkies presence almost from the start. And that undercurrent of resentment erupted into Strong feelings of jealousy. As soon as the master got wind of this, he met with Bonnke and asked him to leave the temple for a while until things quieted down
so we can only imagine all the rumors and gossip that was circulating
so bunkie leaves and he travels to another place called Yoshino and this is a it says a sparsely populated area that was popular among mountain ascetics.
Waddell says, while practicing in a solitary hut, among the high hills and valleys, bunkie composed a group of simple Buddhist songs for the instruction of the peasants with whom he had contact. In them occurs, the first recorded instance of his using the word unborn in his teaching.
Eventually, during an especially severe winter, though, Bonnke decided to return to Seamaster UNPO. To return to his first teacher again. It says he somehow knew through a kind of second sight, that his old teacher UNPO was gravely ill, but he did not reach him in time. On both passed away the night before, bonk a arrived just before he died, the 85 year old oboe gave his successor named beaucoup beaucoup Oh, so, so you the following instructions. So this is compose successors speaking. He said, I am certain that bunk A is the one person who is capable of raising aloft the Dharma banner and sustaining the fortunes of Zen in the future. I want you in my place to push him out into the world. By no means should he be allowed to hide his talents. Actually, that was imposed speaking, talking to boo boo Kuo so beaucoup Oh, so cute. I want you in my place to push them out into the world.
While Dan says the story of bunkies life From this time on may be told rather simply, in 1657 Four years after imposed death bokuto in accordance with his masters dying wish, made Bank A his official air. And it's also noted that he received Dharma transmission from the Chinese master as well. So Bungay had direct links to both Chinese and Japanese branch of Zen.
For the next 36 years, Vaughn Kay devoted his life to teaching at a number of monasteries and temples around Japan. And he delivered public talks to large crowds, often organized around the traditional three month training period, held in the summer in winter, the Congo and from his late 50s Onward, he worked on making daily practice and training periods accessible to all people from all ranks and walks of life, and denominations.
And so to bring this biographical account to a close it was a few years later, in 1693 that bunk a died after a period of illness. While Adele says several months prior to his death Bonnke had stopped taking food. He had refused all medicines, decide, a disciple asked if he would compose a death verse, traditional in the Zen school
and Bombay replied I've lived for 72 years I've been teaching people for 45 what I've been telling you and others every day during that time is all my death verse I'm not going to make another one now before I die just because everyone else does it what I've been telling you and others every day is my death verse
what you saw our words
is death verse was simply being alive being in a body
each moment we all die nothing static nothing's fixed
the song of birds and then it's gone
and then another gun
so just as we die, each moment Grace also reborn each moment is a new one
such that we can't distinguish between birth and death arising and disappearing, coming and going
so after speaking those words about living his death verse. He passed away. He was reportedly in a seated position lying on his right side, like a Buddha according to another.
So that's all the biographical material on Bank A. Now, we'll turn to reading from one of his public talks. And we won't have time to get very far but we'll at least dip our toes in
The preface to his talk says that in 1690, at the time of a winter training period at real mon G, there were nearly 1700 people from all different Buddhist sects in attendance, masters and novices alike, and priests of every kind and rank gathered in a great assembly around the Dharma seat.
So his his talk begins I was still a young man, when I came to discover the principle of the unborn and its relation to thought, I began to tell others about it. What we call thought is something that has already fallen, one or more removes from the living reality of the unborn. If you priests would just live in the unborn, there wouldn't be anything for me to tell you about it. And you wouldn't be here listening to me. But because of the unborn newness and marvelous illuminative power inherent in the buddha mind, it readily reflects all things that come along and transforms itself into them thus turning the buddha mind into thought. I'm going to tell those in the lay audience all about this now. And as I do I want the priests to listen along to
So right from the start he says thoughts are removed to one or one or more degrees from reality from this it's not what you think. That phrase, it's not what you think is one of the translations of the word Mu it's not ideas. It's not words.
Just this pure mind, unfiltered free of mental constructs pure that's it
the teaching is finished. It's just this.
Bonnke didn't say that we need to try to obtain the unborn simply to abide in it. Be in it. Be in your body. It's not a mind state to get to. It's not a condition that we have to create. It's already where we are.
Then he continues. Not a single one of you people at this meeting is unenlightened. In other words, you lack nothing. Right now, you're sitting before Me as Buddhas. Each of you received the buddha mind from your mother's when you were born and nothing else. This inherited buddha mind is beyond any doubt unborn with a marvelously bright illuminative wisdom and then he says in the unborn, all things are perfectly be resolved. I can give you proof that they are while you're facing me, listening to me speak like this. If a crow card or a sparrow shirt or some other sound occurred somewhere behind you, you would have no difficulty knowing it was a crow or a sparrow or whatever even without giving a thought to listening to it because you are listening by means of the unborn
as long as we're not dwelling in thoughts we're listening by means of the unborn