A Blessing or a Curse



“My teaching isn’t concerned with either self-power or other-power: that which transcends both self-power and other-power, that’s what my teaching is about. Let me prove this to you: While everyone is turned this way to hear me saying this, out back there may be sparrows chirping, crows cawing, the voices of men or women, or the sighing of the wind. But, without your deliberately trying to hear every one of those sounds, each of them comes to you clearly recognized and distinguished. It’s not you doing the hearing, so it’s not a matter of self-power. On the other hand, since you can’t very well have someone else do your hearing for you, you couldn’t call it other-power! So, that which isn’t concerned with self-power or other-power but transcends them both is what my teaching is about. Isn’t that right? When you listen this way with the Unborn, you transcend whatever there is. And all the rest of your activities are perfectly managed like this with the Unborn too. For the man who functions with the Unborn, whoever he may be, all things are perfectly managed. So, whoever he is, the man of the Unborn isn’t concerned with either self-power or other-power, but transcends them both.”

The whole gist of this self-power vs. other-power thing had much to do with the Pure Land Buddhism belief and emphasis that man was not capable under his own efforts to affect the spark of enlightenment, but that one’s exclusive hope resides in an “other-power” outside oneself to procure any sense of success, viz. Amitābha Buddha’s saving grace. For Bankei, both self and other “power” had very little to do with affecting one’s own vivifying union with the Salvific Source Itself. There isn’t any kind of intermediary that can act on bringing this Self-realization to fulfillment. He had once tried Amida Buddhism during his earlier spiritual-formative years and it never resonated with him. The greater-inner call was to by-pass any extraneous movement that would interfere with resting in the Primordial Bosom (Unborn Mind). The same could be said for relying exclusively upon one’s own erudite determination and accumulative knowledgeable skill to light the spark of Bodhi. Both are transcended. Deep calls unto Deep; Light from Light; Pure Mind from Pure Mind, there was no other way.


A monk asked: “When I’m sleeping soundly, I have dreams. How is it that we have dreams? I’d like your opinion on this.”

The Master said: “When a person is sound asleep he doesn’t have dreams. When you have dreams, you’re not sleeping soundly.”

The monk was speechless.

A striking example of Bankei’s ability to pierce right on through to the Root of the matter: The dreaming mind is still lost in the vast maze of the Alaya-receptacle; variation after variation of images arise and subside in an endless maze of shifting shapes and irregular meanings that are all devoid of Substance, indeed, most indicative of the unsound and unsettled mind. Hence, one who is sound-asleep, devoid of all that plethoric mind-stuff is a non-dreamer—one who rests Soundly in the Unborn. Much like the bottom of a pool of water that is clear-again after all the debris has settled.

Everybody has the Buddha Mind 

This next section is a grand overview that reiterates Bankei’s own growth in the Unborn; I have chosen only particular passages that bear upon further developed themes:

“As I’ve told you, I finally realized this Buddha Mind after long years of religious practice. But the fact that all of you can easily come to know the Buddha Mind right at this meeting, in perfect comfort, without engaging in religious practice or punishing your bodies, means that your affinity with buddhahood is far deeper than mine was, and makes you lucky people indeed, each and every one! Having discovered that the Unborn Buddha Mind is marvelously illuminating, I’ve taught this everywhere, and many have understood. Of course, this Unborn Buddha Mind isn’t anything I learned from my teacher—this Unborn is something I discovered for myself, and at every one of these meetings I teach according to my own realization. Since if I told it to you only once or twice you probably wouldn’t understand, I tell it to you again and again. So if you’ve got any question about anything, just ask me, and I’ll speak to you some more. . . .

Bankei here reinforces how marvelous it is that one can be blessed with the good news of the Unborn Buddha Mind without first having to go through tortuous ordeals in order to do so. Much like the Christ figure, Bankei has walked the road for you, and has indeed along the way suffered long and arduously.  He wants to spare you the ordeal. You can simply partake in the joy of the Realization. Bankei also reinforced that what he has to impart concerning the Unborn did not come by way of second-hand information. There was no teacher or set of teachings that could ably reveal IT to him; no, IT revealed ITSELF to him. From that point onward he was empowered exclusively through the Unborn Spirit to expound upon this astounding Self-realization.

“What is it I tell everyone? I only talk about the Unborn Buddha Mind you all intrinsically possess. The main thing is to realize this Buddha Mind. Originally, there isn’t anything evil in you; but from just one little slip, you switch the Buddha Mind for thoughts. Take a thief, for example: At first, he pinches a few trifles, and then thinks: ‘I got hold of these things without even having to put up any cash; I’m sure there’s no handier way [to make a living]!’ After that, he becomes a confirmed and reckless thief, is inevitably found out, collared, bound, jailed and [led off to be] crucified. But then, confronted with the punishment for his crimes, he forgets all about the evils he committed and rails against the innocent officials who must carry out his execution, protesting that what he’s done doesn’t deserve such harsh treatment and that it’s heartlessly cruel besides! Terribly mistaken, isn’t it? This is how people switch their precious Buddha Mind for the realms of hungry ghosts and fighting demons—it all begins from one little slip.”

Bankei is pulling no punches here…just one small slip, one forgetful moment can create hell in place of heaven. One becomes one’s own self-executioner so to speak. It’s so easy to fall into the mind-trap of falling victim to one’s own skandhic-whims. There is no lasting form of self-created pleasure. It’s like following a Fata Morgana instead of keeping one’s sight permanently fixed on the apex of the Real Self-Mind Realization, it will soon fade away and oftentimes the consequences can be devastating. In a split second you can transform Mind into a terrible and relentless fighting demon, or consign it to the horrible and bottomless pit of the hungry ghosts. Perpetual Recollection of the Unborn is paramount. Anything less will end in certain failure.

“When your parents gave you life, there wasn’t a trace of selfish desire, bad habits or self-centeredness. But from the age of four or five you picked up the mean things you saw other people do and the bad things you heard them say, so that gradually as you matured, growing up badly, you developed selfish desire, which in turn produced selfcenteredness. Deluded by this self-centeredness, you then proceeded to create every sort of evil. If it weren’t for being centered on yourself, delusions wouldn’t arise. When they don’t arise, that’s none other than abiding in the Unborn Buddha Mind. Apart from this, there’s no buddha, so if there’s anything you people don’t understand, come along and ask me, no matter what it is. There’s no need to feel any hesitation in asking about this. This is different from asking about worldly concerns of the moment—it’s a matter of eternity! So if you’ve got any doubts, better come ask me right now. I can’t be sure of meeting you all again, so take this opportunity to ask me about whatever puzzles you, and when you’ve thoroughly grasped how the Buddha Mind is unborn and marvelously illuminating, each of you will have his reward.”

Avidya is a learned-behavior, marked from an early age when full exposure to the Saha-World becomes unleashed at full-throttle. Every which way one turns, a bad influence is there to create a lasting imprint within the Alaya-receptacle; indeed they are there to make sure that the door to that bottomless and insatiable domain of Mara’s playground remains open—like a growing malignant tumor that circumvents one’s faithful and abiding position in the Unborn. Sometimes one finds oneself enmeshed in a delusional episode completely unaware of how they arrived there. The trick is not to panic but once again Recollect how near the Unborn is and how quickly the situation can shift, provided one places full-trust in the Unborn’s Marvelous Illuminative-Power.

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3 Responses to A Blessing or a Curse

  1. Jure K says:

    It’s interesting to check the “other side” and see how the more profound Pure Land practitioners understood this distinction. I think we see it’s not that far from what Bankei is saying, and the distinction ultimately exists only in names and style:

    “Most people assume that by drawing a distinction between self-power and Other Power and so maintaining the reality of the self, they can lean upon Other Power and in this way attain birth. This is a misapprehension. The distinction of self-power and Other Power is but the first stage. True Other Power means discarding utterly the standpoints of self and other and simply attaining Buddhahood in one thought-moment. ” (No Abode: The Record of Ippen, p. 138)

    • Bodhichild says:

      Interesting fellow, somewhat akin to Bankei in that he did within the context of Pure-Land Buddhism what Bankei succeeded in doing within Zen: they both broke through conventional patterns and marvelously led people to the Source; although the direct-comparison ends there. Ippen was not as direct as Bankei. He was like a Pied-Piper sort of character, prancing-around through the common square while chanting the Nembetsu, enchanting people to follow him to the Source of their being. One of his writings highlights his round-about way to self-realization:

      “Perfect Enlightenment ten kalpas past–pervading the realm of sentient beings;
      Birth in one thought-moment—in Amida’s Land
      When ten and one are nondual, we realize no-birth;
      Where Land and realm are the same, we sit in Amida’s great assembly.”

      Bankei does him one better. You see, there was no “Birth” of any sort for Bankei; one did not have to be enamored with Amidism’s enrapturing one to awaken and be “re-born” in the Pure Land where and “when” the non-dual realization is eventually won. For Bankei one didn’t even have to “pass Go and go directly to the Source”; for him there was simply the spontaneous Recollection of the Unborn In the Unborn As the Unborn—there was no-form of any secondary “outside/other-side” intermediary agencies that needed to be “invoked” in order for Awakening to occur. Either one is attuned to the Un-born (It’s all UN-create, with no secondary qualities whatsoever) or one is still enraptured with those outside/otherside agencies that can lead one down the garden path to a false imitation of Self-Actualized Buddhahood. All is perfectly resolved in the Unborn and No-where else.

  2. Jure K says:

    Thank you for the very thoughtful reply, I would just like to add that there’s a crucial ambiguity in how the Pure Land is understood in the Japanese tradition … Shinran speaks of salvation in the present, and shuns the idea of waiting for death (he claims people who look forward to the Pure Land after death have not attained birth). – This is supreme upaya: that the Pure Land, even though a future thing, is already here for one that “attains birth”. – It’s similar to the ambiguity in Christianity, – sometimes Heaven understood as “after death”, but then as “being within us” and “being already here, but people do not see it”.

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