BANKEI ZEN : Translations from the Record of Bankei by Peter Haskel. Edited by Yoshito Hakeda. 196 pp. New York : Grove Press, 1984.
If Dogen Zenji (1200-1253) is Zen's supersonic jet, Bankei (1622-1693) is its horse-and-buggy. But when it's simply a matter of getting from point A to point A, since what we are looking for is no further than the end of our nose, either type of conveyance will suffice.
Dogen transports us to the stratospheric heights of Zen. His thought is totally brilliant and hyper-sophisticated, and once you get a taste of him you may find yourself completely captivated. Those who may be interested might care to take a look at Kazuaki Tanahashi's fine anthology, 'Moon in a Dewdrop : Writings of Zen Master Dogen.'
Bankei, in contrast, is a very different kettle of fish. For him the sutras, the koans, and the works of the great Chinese Masters were so much waste paper we needn't be bothering our heads about. Very much a man of the people, and immensely popular in his day, his following, as Haskel tells us, "embraced nearly every segment of Japanese society : samurai with their families and retainers, merchants, artisans, farmers, servants, even gamblers and gangsters, as well as monks and nuns of all the Buddhist sects" (page xvii). All of them, in crowds that could number over a thousand, would flock from all parts of Japan to listen to his unusual teaching.
What was the teaching that held such a powerful appeal for so many different kinds of people? Basically Bankei's Zen of the Unborn is simplicity itself, and can, as Haskel points out, be reduced to just three points: "What we have from our parents innately is the Unborn Buddha Mind and nothing else"; "The Buddha Mind is Unborn and marvelously illuminating, and with the Unborn everything is perfectly managed"; "Abide in the Unborn Buddha Mind!" (page xxxii).
Enlightenment, for Bankei, in other words, is not the prerogative of some sort of spiritual elite but is everyone's birthright. We don't need to undergo some sort of extensive training or arduous discipline to realize it because it's always been there. What gets in the way of the free and unobstructed flow of the Buddha Mind which we all possess is our selfishness, our habit of judging things as good or bad. All we need to do to return to our original nature is to LET GO NOW!
For the rest I'll have to refer you to Peter Haskel's fine Introduction to Bankei's life and thought, and to his selections from Bankei's sermons, instructions, poems, and letters. Haskel spent ten years working on this book, and he has succeeded brilliantly in bringing maverick straight-talking Bankei, and his times and the people who flocked to hear him, vividly before us. One can hear the authentic tones of a loving and concerned and no-nonsense Bankei as he urges his flock to set aside all preconceptions and just let the marvelously illuminating Unborn Mind manage all things perfectly for them:
"Everyone, do exactly as I'm telling you, and, following my instructions, start by trying to abide in the Unborn for thirty days. Learn to abide in the Unborn for thirty days, and from there on, even if you don't want to - whether you like it or not - you'll just naturally HAVE to abide in the Unborn. You'll be a success at abiding in the Unborn! Since that which is Unborn is the Buddha Mind, you'll be functioning with the Buddha Mind at all times. That way you'll be living buddhas here today, won't you? So listen to my teaching just as if today you were all born anew and starting afresh. . . ." (page 19, my caps for italics in original).
For the famous Zen scholar, D. T. Suzuki - who himself compiled an early edition of Bankei - Dogen, Hakuin, and Bankei were Japan's three greatest Zen Masters. If you have never read Bankei, I can assure you that you're in for a treat. But read him in Haskel's translation as it's never been bettered.
Going against the wishes of the Almighty, Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil - and Man has been in a state of confusion ever since. But what came before knowledge and thinking and talking? The Unborn Buddha Mind which we all possess, but which is drowned out by thought. This book is a series of simple lectures in simple language by the Zen master Bankei talking to monks and common people about their problems. An easy to understand book with real answers for Man who is mired at the level of Hungry Ghosts and Fighting Demons.