Letter from reader

Have posted this letter from one of our readers that may bear great interest to others.

From: M. Martin
Subject: Bankei

Message Body:
I greatly enjoy your blog.

I’m a Rinzai practitioner who lives in Tokyo. I have lived here for almost 25 years, practicing on and off in various lineages,  studying different sects, before settling down under the tutelage of my current Rinzai teacher.

Recently I have been pondering the shift away from the spirit of Bankei as possibly one of the sect’s greatest mistakes. Although I do have the greatest respect for Master Hakuin, who harshly criticized Bankei. I can see how without proper vigor, “Bankei-ism” can degenerate into a kind of limp, practice-less torpor and at worst an empty licensing system devoid of all content. Master Hakuin restored vigor to the Rinzai sect and gave it a new lease on life.

Turning to another tradition, I wonder if you have ever studied the Ji-Shu (時宗) pure land sect of Master Ippen? Ippen took reliance on “other power” beyond Honen and Shinran,  and said that to attain birth in the Western Pure Land, no faith or even belief was necessary — one merely had to call out the Name and Amida-sama would do the rest, in accordance with his vow.

At first glance this seems like the polar opposite of Unborn Mind Zen, but actually it is very “Bankei-esque.” Rather than getting bogged down in issues of whether or not one has “true faith,” (信心 — Shinran’s obsession),  Ippen abandons even faith, and in so doing achieves the purest faith of all in total reliance on the Other Power of Amida-san. Yet this is not Abrahamism…ultimately the self and Amida-sama interpenetrate.

Master Ippen’s faithless, thoughtless nembutsu is similar to unborn mind in that it is called without any cognition or effort, without the generation of faith…yet the very fact of one employing it certifies that faith exists somewhere, on a non-conceptual cognitive level, anterior to discursive thought. Ippen’s nembutsu is uttered with the same reflex action that Bankei’s Unborn Mind exercises when it automatically recognizes a crow calling out in the courtyard as a crow, without giving birth to thoughts that it be be thus and so. A stainless manifestation from a state anterior to cognition in Bankei’s case ; a faith anterior to conscious efforts at faith in Ippen’s case.

In addition to founding his own school of nenbutsu practice, Ippen was also given Inka Shoumei in the Rinzai tradition by one  Hotto Kokushi, the founder of Kokokuji temple.

When Ippen came to demonstrate his Zen attainment to Kokushi, he said:
“I have composed a poem.”
Kokushi said, “Let’s hear it.”
Ippen recited:

“When I chant,
Both Buddha and self
Cease to exist.
There is only the voice that says,
Namu Amida Butsu.”

Kokushi said, “Something is wrong with the last couple of lines, don’t you think?”

Ippen then confined himself in Kumano and meditated for twenty-one days. When he came before Kokushi again, he said,
‘This is how I’ve re-written it’:

“When I chant,
Both Buddha and self
Cease to exist.
Namu Amida Butsu.
Namu Amida Butsu.”

Kokushi nodded his enthusiastic approval and said, “There! You got it!” and certified his awakening.

I reccomend the book “No Abode” on Ippen by Dennis Hirota if you are interested.

Gassho,

An ageing bundle of Five Skandhas known as “Martin”

This entry was posted in Spirituality, Uncategorized, Zen and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Letter from reader

  1. Vajragoni says:

    You sold me with your lines,

    “Ippen’s nembutsu is uttered with the same reflex action that Bankei’s Unborn Mind exercises when it automatically recognizes a crow calling out in the courtyard as a crow, without giving birth to thoughts that it be be thus and so. A stainless manifestation from a state anterior to cognition in Bankei’s case ; a faith anterior to conscious efforts at faith in Ippen’s case.”

    Have ordered the book, “No Abode: The Record of Ippen (Ryukoku-Ibs Studies in Buddhist Thought and Tradition)” from Amazon. Looking forward to reading more on Ippen.

    Would like to learn more why you chose Rinzai over Soto Zen. Thank-you once again for visiting us and sharing your life and insights.

    Vajragoni

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