Bankei ~ Abide in the Unborn

”Instead of Holding onto things in your mind, Go and Sing!”

Not angry when abused, not happy when praised, a great blockhead of the universe! Going along as circumstances carry me—north, south, east, west, without hiding my ugliness and clumsiness between heaven and earth. ~ Bankei.

[From a letter written in the mid-1670s by Bankei to an old woman:]

At the time of death, there’s no need for any special state of mind. Just meet your end with the ordinary [natural] zazen mind. Everybody’s mind is the Buddha Mind, which is originally enlightened, so it’s not something that is “born” or that “dies”; it neither comes nor goes, but is eternal, unalterable buddhahood [awakeness]. Thus, it’s not a matter of your becoming a buddha now for the first time since you’ve been a buddha right from the start.

Bankei was a Japanese Zen master from the 17th century. His motivation to explore enlightenment was so that he might explain the truth to his Mother before she died (awww, sweet 🙂 ). He tried all the rigorous practices of the ascetics, meditating  often for days and days at a time with no food, enduring all sorts of hardships, before deciding that all he got for his troubles was a sore bottom. In the end he developed his own brand of wisdom after he gained enlightenment experience. He was notable because he saw no difference between men and women aspirants at a time when sexism was quite ingrained. He did not go in for all the formal stuff around Zen training. His main teaching was to ignore the hoopla in the mind and abide in the unborn. By this he means drop all identification as this or that ( a woman, a Buddhist, asleep, awakened, etc and so on) He called this Fu-Sho, our original nature as Unconditioned Spiritual Reality.

Here are some extracts by and about Bankei from  a comprehensive article found here

 “Was I really born?” “Am I really just a finite being?” “What am I prior to all identifications?”

A layman asked: “If you become a Buddha, where do you go?” The Master replied: “If you become a Buddha, there’s no place to go. You fill the vast universe to its very limits. It’s when you become any other sort of being that there are different places to go.”

A certain priest told Bankei, “You teach the same thing over and over again. Wouldn’t it be a good idea, just for the sake of variety, to tell some of those old and interesting stories illustrative of Buddhist life?” Bankei said, “I may be an old dunce, and I suppose it might help some if I did tell stories of that kind, but I’ve a strong hunch that such preaching poisons the mind. No, I would never carry on in so harmful a way. Indeed, I make it a rule not to give even the words of Buddha himself, let alone the Zen patriarchs. To attain the truth today all one needs is self-criticism. There’s no need to talk about Buddhism and Zen. Why, there’s not a single straying person among you: all of you have the Buddha-mind. If one of you thinks himself astray, let him come forward and show me in what way. I repeat: there’s no such one here. However, suppose on returning home you were to see one of your children or a servant doing something offensive, and at once you got yourself [emotionally or mentally] involved, went astray, turning the Buddha’s mind into a demon’s, so to speak. But remember, until that moment you were secure in the birthless Buddha-mind. Only at that moment, only then were you deluded. So: don’t get involved! … Remain in the Buddha-mind. Then you will never stray, then you will be a living Buddha for all time.”

A priest confessed to Bankei, “I was born with a quick temper and, in spite of my master’s constant admonitions, I haven’t been able to rid myself of it. I know it’s a vice, but, as I said, I was born with it. Can you help me?” And Bankei said, “My, what an interesting thing you were born with! Tell me, is your temper quick at this very moment? If so, show me right off, and I’ll cure you of it.” Said the priest: “But I don’t have it at this moment.” Declared Bankei: “Then you weren’t born with it. If you were, you’d have it at all times. You lose your temper as occasion arises…. Your mistake is one of self-love, which makes you concern yourself with others and insists that you have your own way. To say you were born a hothead is to tax your parents with something that is no fault of theirs. From them you received the Buddha-mind, nothing else. This is equally true of other types of illusion. If you don’t fabricate illusions, none will disturb you. Certainly you were born with none. Only your selfishness and deplorable mental habits bring them into being. Yet you think of them as inborn, and in everything you do, you continue to stray. To appreciate the pricelessness of the Buddha-mind and to steer clear of illusion, is the one path to satori and Buddhahood.

”Don’t hate the arising of thoughts or stop the thoughts that do arise; simply realize that our original mind, right from the start, is beyond thought, so that, no matter what, you never [actually] get involved with thoughts…. Thoughts arise temporarily in response to what you see and hear; they haven’t any real existence of their own [like the objects seen and heard]. You must have faith that the original mind that is realized and that which realizes original mind are not different..”

Bankei’s ”Song of Original Mind” can be found here

Notions of what one should do
Never existed from the start
Fighting about what’s right, what’s wrong
That’s the doing of the “I”

When your study
Of Buddhism is through
You find
You haven’t anything new


If you think the mind
That attains enlightenment
Is “mine”
Your thoughts will wrestle, one with the other

These days I’m not bothering about
Getting enlightenment all the time
And the result is
I wake up in the morning feeling fine!


Generally just Being. Nothing in particular, no claims to fame. I like gardening and the sea, nature, art in all forms from poetry to films and everything in between, and being in the company of my family.

Posted in Buddhism, Uncategorized

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