Opening of the Sermons



When the Zen Master Bankei Butchi Kosai, founder of the Ryomonji at Aboshi in Banshu, was at the Great Training Period [held] at the Ryomonji in the winter of the third year of Genroku, there were 1,683 monks listed in the temple register. Those who attended included not only Soto and Rinzai followers but members of the Ritsu, Shingon, Tendai, Pure Land, True Pure Land and Nichiren Schools, with laymen and monks mingled together, thronging round the lecture seat. One sensed the Master was truly the Teacher of Men and Devas for the present age.

At that time, the Master mounted the lecture seat and addressed the assembly of monks and laymen, saying: “We’ve got a big crowd of both monks and laymen here at this meeting, and I thought I’d tell you about how, when I was young, I struck on the realization that the mind is unborn. This part about ‘the mind,’ [though,] is something secondary. You monks, when you abide only in the Unborn, [will find that] in the Unborn, there’s nothing anyone needs to tell you, nothing you need to hear. Because the Buddha Mind is unborn and marvelously illuminating, it gets easily turned into whatever comes along. So, as long as I’m telling the lay people here not to change themselves into these different things that come their way and trade their Buddha Mind for thoughts, you monks may as well listen too!”

These opening passages are much akin to the structure of a sutra. Bankei resembles the Buddha expounding the Buddhadharma to a large and diverse audience: vast throngs of monks and laymen; members of both the Sōtō and Rinzai Zen sects; followers of the esoteric schools like Shingon and Tendai, as well as a wide variety of Pure Land Schools. It is evident that the compilers of these teachings wanted to make the impression that Bankei’s influence extended across the vast spectrum of Buddhism within Japan. It’s interesting to note how on the contemporary scene his teachings would just not be influential within Buddhist circles, but also encompassing a wide pluralistic religious spectrum; yea, his Unborn Buddha Mind can be likened unto the “Christ Mind” found within Pauline Literature. An example of a homily composed from this correlational perspective runs as follows:

“Most of the trouble begins when we become trapped inside our own heads…forgetting that when we were baptized we put on the Mind of Christ. Think about that for a moment. When we were baptized we received the Mind of Christ. We HAVE the mind of Christ right now! But, what have we done with the Christ-mind?  From a very early age we have changed it into something else. Anger, selfishness, hopelessness…we have turned away from the Christ-mind and have relied upon the self-conscious mind…a mind turned inward upon itself…a mind that’s filled with all that worry and useless thoughts that clog-up our relationship with the Lord and each other. When everything you do is done according to the Christ-mind, the eye that sees others AS THEY ARE opens up in you…and you begin to see others as God sees them…as a child of God. That’s the reason why once you live-out your baptismal calling you will never fall back into your own selfish ways again.

Many times we think that we have to become like Christ to achieve any merit with the ways of God. But all we’re doing is creating a lot of excess and needless work for ourselves. Instead of trying to become like Christ, a much shorter and easier way is to continue to be mindful of your own baptism by constantly putting on the Mind of Christ. Just be at peace with your Christ-mind. Sit in the Christ-mind; stand in the Christ-mind; go to sleep in the Christ-mind; wake-up in the Christ-mind; do everything in the Christ-mind—then you’ll be living the truth and the truth will set you free! Can there be any better “self-discipline” than this??? True and lasting freedom will only happen when we put on the very Mind of Christ!”

While I prefer much of Haskel’s translation for this sequence, Waddell perhaps has chosen a better striking representation pertaining to Bankei’s youthful self-realization of the Unborn:

“I was still a young man when I came to discover the principle of the Unborn and its relation to thought.”

This is in reference to the Dark Principle that is behind the utter Dynamic-Nature of the Unborn. We will be exploring more on this in depth in the next blog, but at this juncture it has to do with that “marvelously illuminating” quality that oftentimes can get-caught-up-in and overly identify with the phenomena that It is Illuminating. Bankei also empathizes that all one need do is to remain centered in the vivifying nature of the Unborn AS IT IS; if one does so, then any further points of discussion would be rendered ineffectual.

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