Illness and the Buddha Mind
“With my only thought to find the Buddha Mind, I struggled fruitlessly, floundering desperately and dashing all over. But what happened was that I got myself ill and was laid up in bed for a long time, so that I’ve come to know a lot about sickness too. Being born into this world and having a body, we must expect to meet with illness. But when you conclusively realize the Unborn Buddha Mind, you don’t distress yourself over the sufferings of illness: you clearly distinguish illness as illness, suffering as suffering. This is because the Buddha Mind, being originally unborn, has nothing to do with joy or suffering, the reason being that that which is unborn transcends thought.
It’s when thoughts arise that you experience suffering and joy. The Buddha Mind doesn’t attach to illness, it remains in the Unborn just as it is, so it doesn’t create suffering. If thoughts did arise from the place of the Unborn, there would be no way you could help creating suffering, attaching to your illness and changing the Buddha Mind. [But that’s hardly the case.] Even the successive sufferings of beings in hell, so far as the suffering itself is concerned, aren’t any different.
“Caught up in the suffering of attaching to your illness, you start thinking one thing and another: ‘I ought to be well by now. Maybe the medicine’s not right; perhaps the doctor’s no good . . .’ and so on. Clinging to the [hope of] recovery, you switch the Buddha Mind for anguished thoughts so that the illness besetting your mind becomes worse than the original sickness. It’s as if you’re chasing after something that’s running away. Even as you gradually do recover your [physical] health, the mental sickness of chasing after [it] is gaining the upper hand. That’s what’s meant by attaching to things and making yourself suffer.
“All the same, if there’s anyone who tells you he can undergo not only illness but every kind of suffering without feeling any pain, that fellow is a liar who still hasn’t realized the marvelously illuminating dynamic function of the Buddha Mind. If there’s anyone who tells you he feels absolutely no pain at all, I doubt he knows the difference between feeling pain and not feeling it. There’s simply no such thing as not feeling pain. Since the Buddha Mind is endowed with a marvelously illuminating dynamic function, not only illness but everything there is can be clearly recognized and distinguished. That’s why, when you’re faced with the sufferings of illness, if you simply don’t get involved with them or attach to them, there’s nothing you won’t be able to endure. So just go with the illness, and, if you’re in pain, go ahead and groan! But, whether you’re sick or you’re not, always abide in the Unborn Buddha Mind.
“However, you ought to realize that when, in response to the sufferings of illness, you become involved with thoughts, in addition to your illness, you suffer from changing the Buddha Mind for thoughts. That which is originally without thought is the Unborn Buddha Mind. Failing to realize the unborn [nature] of the Buddha Mind, you suffer and exchange it for thoughts. Then, no matter how much you claim you’re not feeling pain, it’s just talking about your idea of being without pain, it’s merely a notion based on thought. So you aren’t free from suffering after all. The fact that such thoughts even arise shows that, having failed to realize conclusively the Buddha Mind that transcends birth and death, you’re suffering from birth and death.”
Being no stranger to the ravages of illness, Bankei was well-equipped to rise above the “Woe is me” syndrome. Being part of the skandhic-landscape one can expect to experience the pangs of sickness from time to time since it is a main syndrome of the disease of sentient mortality. Bankei advises to take it all as it comes but not to become morbidly attached to the symptoms that naturally must run their course. If one chooses to frequently mull over their maladies, then the effects will become only more compounded. Even after recovery occurs, says Bankei, the “mental sickness” can linger on and on, only further exacerbating the pain when the next cycle kicks-in. Abiding in the Unborn is analogous to keeping the ol’ marriage vows, “In Sickness and in Health”; whatever the kettle of fish may be remember to remain faithful and Undivided in Spirit thus assuring perseverance no matter what may transpire. Divorced from the Unborn one can expect discouragement and suffering to win the upper-hand, in effect, remaining forever cursed with the Samsaric-stain. Perpetually Recollecting the Dharma of the Unborn Buddha Mind effectively procures the Mind of Emptiness (śūnyatācitta) That transcends both health and sickness as one’s spirit remains quiescent in the face of all dichotomous elements. Bankei is a bona fide Mind-Physician whose remedy for all afflictions—whether in Mind, Body or Spirit—is a panacea quite unmatched in its inconspicuous simplicity.