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.


An ageing bundle of Five Skandhas known as “Martin”

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11 Responses 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.


  2. Jure says:

    Check comments under this post 7 years ago: https://unbornmind.com/2013/02/12/a-blessing-or-a-curse-2/

    : )

    • Vajragoni says:

      Hello Jure,

      Good to see you again. How’s it goin?

      • Jure says:

        Hello, compadre. I stumbled upon blog and I saw that Ippen comment and it triggered a flashback: didn’t I have this same comment exchange on Ippen with Vajragoni like almost a decade ago? So I thought it would be fun to revisit it, perhaps with some nostalgia.

        Things are good. Ironically, COVID has been a positive for me. This isn’t nice to say, and I almost feel guilty for saying it, because I know many have suffered terribly. How are you and your loved ones? I hope everyone is safe? – You know how it is with this world, the good and the bad are always intertwined. There’s always a possible dialectical reversal of the good into the bad and vice versa.

        It’s really inspiring to see you persevere with the blog for so many years!

        Is neti-neti still around? What about Tozen?

        Sri Matre Namaha

        • Vajragoni says:


          You have a very good memory for a post so long ago. neti neti stops by every once in awhile. Haven’t heard from Tozen in a dogs age. Stumbled upon Ken Wheeler’s videos–he now has thousands of them; he has a positive transformed image these days–I enjoy watching him–he’s put on a lot of weight and resembles one of those happy Buddhas!
          If memory serves me right, you’re approaching 40 now, yes? Still recollect you as that youthful guy of 29 visiting Japan and the like. I’ll be 64 in August.

          • Jure says:

            I’ll be 38 in August, seems we share birth-month. – Yes, you know once my older brother, who is into photography, told me: “I follow a crazy but brilliant guy on YouTube.” And he shows me a picture on his smartphone, and – I couldn’t believe it! – what a coincidence, it’s him! –

            Yes, he seems much more contented now.

            So many people have been relying on your blog for spiritual inspiration! You have benefitted many people in these years, planted many seeds, with your blog.

          • Vajragoni says:

            Many thanks, Jure. Hard to believe that ten years have already gone by.

        • n. yeti says:


          I’m still around, my dharma-brother. You shouldn’t feel guilty about Covid, which is a result of karma. If you’ve been careful and diligent as I know you have, your experience of this collective karma will be very different. This is not just a material pandemic, it is a spiritual one, and just a hint of the dark times to come. With your keen mind and natural compassion I am certain you have been of benefit to many around you. And I think you and Vajragoni both know that not even a single second has gone by!

          In dharma
          n yeti

          • n. yeti says:

            Ah…just once for old times sake, Jure, I feel obliged to remind you that was a highly dualistic comment.

          • Jure says:

            Hey, nice to see you again!

            My favorite ‘object’ to apply the ‘neti neti’ logic is (non)dualism itself:

            Neither dualism, nor non-dualism.

            iirc we all like Nisargadatta here, here’s a nice one from him in this spirit:


            Sri Matre Namaha

          • n. yeti says:


            I’m not sure I fully agree, but I see what you are saying. Generally, I would say that to enter into wisdom is to enter into non-duality. To sort of try to “zero out” non duality along with duality isn’t really anything but a conceptual exercise. The realization of non-duality is the non-arising of false perceptions/discriminations, such that with the perfection of wisdom there is no duality to eradicate. The mind is simply free from obstructions which is its original Buddha nature –there was never actually anything to purify to begin with. It might be argued in the same gist as the Virmalakirti Sutra, where the Buddha teaches there is no separate Pure Land. But that is not the same as sort of putting duality and non-duality on the same football field to see who wins. There is really just non-duality. Actually there isn’t just non-duality but because of this, we say there is non-duality.

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