Lesson
31

Bankei

5 of 6

Bankei's appeal: Bankei

Self-portrait

In Bankei's time Zen was thought of as much too difficult for ordinary people. Studying the "inner teachings" was for qualified monks and members of the upper classes and intelligentsia who could follow to some extent the difficult Chinese of the imported Zen texts.

Bankei, on the other hand, taught that the truth of the Unborn is so simple, so straightforward, that anyone can grasp it. Scholarly pursuits and classical Chinese only get in the way. The essence of Zen, Bankei maintained, was perfectly plain and direct. All that is needed is an open mind. The Unborn could best be explained using simple, everyday language. Any other approach was just deceptive. To teach Zen, Bankei insisted, one had to go right to the core, to divest oneself of everything extraneous—all the gimmicks, the technical jargon, the exotic foreign usages.

But Bankei's Zen—which taught no devices, no methods for achieving enlightenment—was entirely dependent on the force of Bankei's teaching and exhortation. Without Bankei, this Zen of no effort quickly disappeared, forgotten in a Zen world where the great effort that Bankei himself had had to make was assumed necessary.

In fact Bankei's Zen was essentially forgotten until the twentieth century when it was rediscovered and found to have great appeal.

"[The Unborn] is truly one of the most original developments in the entire history of Zen thought."

D. T. Suzuki

There is something contemporary in much of what Bankei taught — his sense of freedom, his humanity, his intimate approach to the ultimate problems in terms of people's daily lives. Bankei stressed meditation in action, in day to day living. His general guideline was beautifully simple:

Only sit up with the Buddha-heart, be only with the Buddha-heart, sleep and arise only with the Buddha-heart, and live only with the Buddha-heart.