Don’t beat sleeping monks
On the opening day of rōhatsu, the Master addressed the assembly: “In my place, our normal everyday life is meditation; so it’s not like everywhere else where they announce: ‘From today on, meditation!’ and everyone specially hurls himself into frantic practice.”
The Master then went on to say: “Once, while I was in Dosha’s assembly, a monk was sleeping seated in meditation. Another monk there suddenly struck him, but I scolded him for doing this.
” ‘Why should you hit someone who’s pleasantly sleeping?’ I said. ‘When that monk is sleeping, do you think he’s a different person!’
“I’m not encouraging people to sleep, but to hit them because they do is terribly wrong. Here in my place now, I don’t allow that sort of thing. While I’m not encouraging people to sleep, I don’t hit them or scold them for doing so. I don’t scold or praise sleeping, and I don’t scold or praise not sleeping. Whether people happen to be asleep or awake, just let them be as they are. When they’re asleep, they’re sleeping in the Buddha Mind they were awake in; when they’re awake, they’re awake in the Buddha Mind they were sleeping in. When people are asleep, they’re sleeping in the Buddha Mind; when they’re awake, they’re awake in the Buddha Mind. They’re always abiding in the Buddha Mind, and there’s not a moment when they’re ever abiding in anything else. So it’s mistaken to think that when a person is asleep he turns into something different. If you believe that people abide in the Buddha Mind only when they’re awake and that when they’re asleep they turn into something different, that’s not the ultimate truth, but an endless transformation. “You’re all exerting yourselves trying to realize buddhahood, so if someone is sleeping, it’s wrong to beat him or scold him. What you all have from your parents innately is the Unborn Buddha Mind alone and nothing else, so instead of trying to realize buddhahood, always abide in that Unborn Buddha Mind. Then, when you’re asleep, you’re sleeping in the Buddha Mind, and when you’re awake, you’re awake in the Buddha Mind; you’re always a living buddha, and there’s no time when you don’t remain a buddha. Since you’re a buddha all the time, there’s no other special buddhahood for you to realize. Rather than trying to become a buddha, nothing could be simpler than taking the shortcut of remaining a buddha!”
rōhatsu: Peter Haskel’s footnote describes this as “a week-long period of intensive meditation practice to commemorate the Buddha’s enlightenment; it’s observed in Zen temples beginning on the first day of the twelfth month and culminating at dawn of the eighth day, when the Buddha is said to have experienced awakening on seeing the morning star.” (Haskel, pg. 170) The Zen culture that Bankei’s spirit was exposed to was certainly expressive of a tense, excessively rigid formalism, indeed a type of meditation modus operandi that can only be referenced as being “stiff and board-like.” For a free-spirit like Bankei, this was oftentimes an excruciating experience; his autobiography revealed how damaging and traumatic this was to his health. He carried with him to his last dying breath severe health complications that oftentimes restricted his being physically able to teach. Being sensitive to such matters, Bankei always interceded on behalf of an adept who he felt was being unduly disciplined by some superior. Even more so, Bankei wanted people to be free from all this needless balderdash. He didn’t care if, during time set aside for solemn meditation, someone needed to get up and take a crap. If you need to crap, crap. Was the Unborn somehow “absent” from somebody when they are in the shit-house? Or does it somehow dissolve away when someone is in need of sleep? This was utter nonsense for Bankei. The Unborn is the Unborn under all circumstances. It isn’t any less if someone is not involved in some kind of meditation exercise or posture. Nor is IT somehow more when someone sets their focus exclusively in IT’s direction. The Unborn is directionless. It is everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. It’s there when you’re picking your nose or trimming your toe-nails or wiping your ass. It never differentiates nor discriminates. It’s wake-up call is never “become a Buddha”, but rather “BE a Buddha” forevermore.
Someone asked: “Everybody says your Reverence has the power to read people’s minds. Is it true?”
The Master said: “In my school, we don’t have such extraordinary things. And even if we did, since the Buddha Mind is unborn, we wouldn’t use them. When I’m speaking to you, I deal with your own selves, so you imagine I’ve got the power to read people’s minds. But I haven’t any mind-reading powers. I’m just the same as all of you. When you abide in the Unborn, you’re at the source of the supernatural powers of all the buddhas, and without even having to seek supernatural power, all things are perfectly managed and smoothly dealt with. In the true teaching of the Unborn, you can manage everything by dealing with your own self, without bringing in all sorts of extraneous matters.”
Bankei let it be known that he wasn’t some kind of a soothsayer. In his Unborn Mind School such matters were utter mind trinkets and speculative mind games that it was best to just leave such stuff alone. Don’t trouble yourself over what tomorrow may bring—it will arrive as it always does of its own accord. And what’s the use of focusing on all this “time and speculative” business to begin with? Your business is just to remain centered in the Unborn in “timeless” fashion. Abiding in the Unborn always is living at the source of all powers—either natural or supernatural. Living in the Source, all just unfolds as it should as all is perfectly resolved in the Unborn Buddha Mind. Never fall into the trap by unsettling your seat in the Unborn by troubling yourself with all forms of “extraneous matters.” Like Huang Po taught, just carry on as you need to in all circumstances but don’t get caught-up in those circumstances, thinking that they are somehow complete in themselves. It’s all just passing phenomena across the deathless face of the Unborn.
Moving ahead/sliding back
A certain man asked: “I’ve practiced as hard as I can, trying to advance without slipping back. But no matter what I do, the tendency to backslide is strong, and there are times when I regress. However much I try to advance, I only fall back again. How can I keep from regressing?”
The Master said: “Abide in the Unborn Buddha Mind! When you do, you won’t need to bother about advancing or regressing. In fact, when you abide in the Unborn, trying to advance is to instantly regress from the place of the Unborn. The man of the Unborn has nothing to do with advancing or regressing, but always transcends them both.”
What timeless and indispensable Wisdom. Many times an adept knows what they need to be about when it comes to union with the Unborn, but oftentimes they fall into the trap of trying to “measure” their progress. This is especially difficult for a Western-mind adept. They are forever caught up-in the need for success—to obtain some goal—to overcome the insurmountable so that they can climb that mountain peak and finally feel some sense of accomplishment; to somehow make their own indelible “mark” on it all. Others are just so enraptured with the intellectual-spiritual journey that the journey becomes the end in itself. They intuitively know what’s best, but they somehow get “bored” and wonder—“is this all there is? Isn’t there something more “profound” out-there that I need to find and absorb?” And so, like hungry-ghosts they wander through endless kalpas for the insatiable need to know when the Real Route is an Unknowing One. There used to be a sign in ancient Athens—“to the Unknown God.” The answer to it all is truly Unknowable because there is no answer in the first place. Bankei advises to just abide in the Unborn Buddha Mind without fidgeting yourself over “advancing or regressing.” In the Unborn there’s no place to go because you are already there. Yes, the Unborn transcends both coming and going.
A certain monk said: “For a long time now I’ve been working on the koan ‘Hyakujo and the Wild Fox,’ but in spite of all my efforts, I still haven’t solved it. I suspect this is simply because my practice isn’t pure. I beg your Reverence to instruct me.”
The Master said: “Here in my place we don’t engage in such studies of old wastepaper! Since you haven’t yet realized that what is unborn and marvelously illuminating is the Buddha Mind, let me tell you, and then everything will be straightened out. So listen carefully to what I say.”
The Master then presented his teaching of the Unborn, just as usual. The monk, having listened attentively, profoundly acknowledged it, and thereafter is said to have distinguished himself as an outstanding figure.
Then, a monk who was [seated] nearby asked: “In that case, are the koans of the old masters useless and unnecessary?”
The Master said: “The responses of the old masters were only to shut off questions from individual students by confronting them immediately, face to face; they have no particular usefulness [in themselves]. There’s no way for me to say whether they’re necessary or superfluous, helpful or useless. When people just abide in the Unborn Buddha Mind, that’s all there is to it, and there’s no longer any way they can be sidetracked. So abide in the Unborn! In your case, you’ve been so carried away in sidetracking yourself, it’s made you deluded. So give it up, and since that which is unborn and marvelously illuminating is the Buddha Mind and nothing else, abide in the Unborn Buddha Mind!”
Bankei had no use for koans. For him, they were an antiquated system of old masters just to make FULL STOP to the meandering monkey mind of the adept. What’s happened over the course of the centuries is that the Koan-Method can become the end-all of everything. They become the focus and thereby become a distraction to the great matter at hand…and that is to awaken to the Bodhi-Mind. Many even walk away from Zen because they’ve deluded themselves that not being in the correct koan-frame of mind that they will never get-it. This is regrettable and surely something that can be prevented from the git-go. Just realize that a koan is a proper focusing-tool and no-thing more. They help to focus the mind away from all the clutter. But Koans are not the Holy Grail. Use them, yes, and afterwards discard them like some soiled toilet paper. Don’t make them into the Golden Calf of Zen Buddhism.