To practice is hard
“Even among those in the assembly now who acknowledge what I say, there are some who merely teach the Unborn with their mouths and don’t continually abide in the Unborn, people who only know about the Unborn, people of merely intellectual understanding. From the standpoint of the Unborn, intellectual understanding too is empty speculation, so you can’t say such a person has conclusively realized the Unborn. When you come right down to it, this kind of approach is worthless. Even if you teach others about the Unborn, they won’t realize it.
And the reason they won’t is that, to start with, you yourself haven’t left everything to the Buddha Mind’s unborn and marvelously illuminating [activity]; you don’t live by the teaching or function with the Unborn at all times and in all things—you fail to practice it yourself and only teach what you know intellectually, so there’s no way others are going to acknowledge it. If you don’t truly acknowledge my sermon, truly practice it, truly manifest it, but just teach others what you’ve grasped intellectually, they can’t possibly realize it themselves. In the end, this only leads to blaspheming the Dharma. So, although people who’ve experienced some ‘realization’ will turn up from time to time, there hasn’t yet been one who acts according to his realization in all his affairs right here and now. To understand is easy; to practice is hard.”
For some, Bankei’s teaching of the Unborn can be deceptively easy. It remains just on the surface, a thing of the head and not a holistic endeavor. It’s like a present-day Christian knowing about Jesus but never getting to the core of the transfiguring message of the Christ, the Christos Element whose anointment is the very vivifying spark of Illuminative Unborn Light Itself. Just as someone purportedly goes around being assured of salvation simply because they wear Catholic patches on their shoulders, likewise someone enamored with a shallow mystifying sense of the Unborn lacks the necessary Self-realization of the Transcendent-Event in Itself. Let there be no mistake about it, without cultivating Bankei’s teaching through resolute daily Recollection and disciplined practice that results in some kind of manifestation assuring and revealing the Nirvanic-Union with Pure Mind, then it’s all really mind-trash like being stuck in a perpetual and Self-effacing Social Media forum; something that Bankei assures will only lead to blaspheming the Buddhadharma. It’s not about having some kind of one-for-all moment of enlightenment, like someone claiming to be “born-again” in Jesus and then who goes about debasing themselves and Christ in any which way they can. Rather, it’s a Hard-Core Realization of profound significance and it needs to be properly cultivated lest it become just another passing fancy floating around in an endless maze of utilitarian make-me-feel-good and nothing more. Intellectual understanding is easy, says Bankei, but intellectual ascent is insufficient unto itself; to devote oneself to practicing Self-realization through praxis is warrantably an arduous yet infinitely enriching venture.
Considered from a different angle, Bankei’s Zen was singularly his own; anyone who aspired to his teachings and advanced on the path were propitious, yet upon his departure from this mortal world his school was not as fortunate, it dissipated over time due to lack of spiritual-structural support. Some structure is essential for cultivating the Buddhadharma, whether through solitary resiliency (in undivided inner-communion with the Unborn Spirit) or communal reinforcement of the principle. Trying to go-it alone through the turbulent vicissitude’s of samsara is foolhardy at best.
Let it be
“The reason people misunderstand the difference between thoughts and delusions is that everyone imagines thoughts all exist at the bottom and arise from there; but originally there’s no actual substance at the ‘bottom’ from which thoughts arise. Instead, you retain the things you see and hear, and from time to time, in response to circumstances, the impressions created by these experiences are reflected back to you in precise detail. So when they’re reflected, just let them be, and refrain from attaching to them. Even if evil thoughts come up, just let them come up, don’t involve yourself with them, and they can’t help but stop. Isn’t this just the same as if they didn’t arise? That way, there won’t be any evil thoughts for you to drive out forcefully, or any remorse about having had them.
“Because the Buddha Mind is marvelously illuminating, mental impressions from the past are reflected, and you make the mistake of labeling as ‘delusions’ things that aren’t delusions at all. Delusions means the anguish of thought feeding on thought. What foolishness it is to create the anguish of delusion by changing the precious Buddha Mind, pondering over this and that, mulling over things of no worth! If there were anyone who actually succeeded at something by pondering it all the way through, it might be all right to do things that way; but I’ve never heard of anyone who, in the end, was able to accomplish anything like this! So, pondering over things is useless, isn’t it? It’s utterly useless! The main thing is always to be careful not to stir up thoughts and change the Unborn Buddha Mind for a fighting demon, a hell-dweller, a hungry ghost, a beast, and the like. If you do, you won’t have another chance to be born a human, not in ten thousand or even one hundred thousand kalpas!”
The Alaya-receptacle is like a bottomless reservoir housing images of defiled garbha since time immemorial. What is contained there is not only from this present samsaric-cycle, but countless others as numerous as a ten-billion fold galaxy. Yet, as Bankei points out, there is no real “substance” behind them, thus their analogous conjunction with a bottomless pit. They are devoid of Pure-Mind Substance (sūnya) and are like shadows projected on the façade of the swift-moving current of impermanent phenomena. These false impressions project themselves from time to time as circumstances dictate—much like playing over and over again some scene from a movie designed to portray what is occurring at the time, but really just overt shadow-play. Pay no heed to them as if they are somehow self-existent because they are not. Don’t even label them as “delusional” because in naming them you somehow give them power over you. For Bankei delusion means the anguish of “thought feeding upon thought”; in a sense a feeding-frenzy that voraciously devours prey like a school of piranha. They will consume you when you choose to give them recognition. Just let it all be and soon they will dissolve-away into the nefarious nothingness from which they all emanate. Be careful lest you change the Unborn Buddha Mind into “a fighting demon, a hell-dweller, a hungry ghost, a beast and the like.” Bankei ends this section with a dire warning: wake-up soon and Recollect the salvific Light of the Unborn; otherwise you “won’t” have another chance of being born again in a human-vehicle that is best-suited for awakening for endless kalpas to come.