He was also original and somewhat iconoclastic in his approach to the teaching of Zen. Perhaps this latter trait has denied him the fame and acclaim that other Zen masters have received both in the east and the west. Bankei deserves or attention as much as any other of the better-known Zen masters, and in this book Peter Haskel presents us with the means to do so. Bankei Zen contains a superb mixture of translations from the original Japanese, containing sermons, poems and letters by the 17th century master. And the occasion when he realized it is…bizarre! Rather devoting ourselves to complex rituals and philosophical studies, Bankei encourages us to "Abide in the Unborn!
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At a time when Zen was becoming overly formalized in Japan, he stressed its relevance to everyday life, insisting on the importance of naturalness and spontaneity. I had arrived at Columbia University two years earlier, hoping to study the history of Japanese Rinzai Zen, but my general coursework and the extreme difficulties of mastering written Japanese had left me time for little else. Now that I was finally to begin my own research, all that remained was to choose a suitable topic.
Brimming with confidence and armed with a list of high-sounding proposals, I went to see my advisor, Professor Yoshito Hakeda. He listened patiently, nodded his head, and then, ignoring all my carefully prepared suggestions, asked me if I had considered working on the seventeenth-century Zen master Bankei.
My disappointment must have shown. Courtesy required that I at least glance over the text, and late that evening I turned to the first sermon and slowly began to read it through. What I found took me completely by surprise. Here was a living person addressing an audience of actual men and women, speaking to them in plain language about the most intimate, ordinary and persistent human problems.
He answered their questions, listened to their stories, offered the most surprising advice. I did it, and you can too. The next three nights, I could barely sleep. This was the first of many such meetings which continued for nearly ten years and of which this book is the result. The work is, in a real sense, a tribute to Professor Hakeda.
Without his assistance, his unfailing patience, wisdom and encouragement, it would never have come into being. Among the others who contributed to the present work, Mary Farkas, Director of the First Zen Institute of America, deserves particular mention. She has generously given her time and attention to reviewing the manuscript at every stage, offering countless valuable suggestions. Special thanks are due to Maria Collora, who kindly helped me in editing the English translation, and to Sandy Hackney and John Storm, who read through the completed text.
Hiroko Akao of Aboshi, Japan. Finally, I would like to express my appreciation to Hannelore Rosset, my editor at Grove, for the extraordinary care she has lavished on the manuscript. Responsibility for any oversight or errors, here and elsewhere in the book, is wholly my own. All modern students of Bankei owe him a great debt. Shortly before this book was to go to press, Professor Hakeda passed away after a long and courageous bout with cancer.
It was his lifelong desire to revive the true teaching of Buddhism in both East and West, and his entire career was a selfless testament to that endeavor. All of us who knew him will miss him sorely and will always treasure his memory. Because the Buddha Mind is unborn and marvelously illuminating, it gets easily turned into whatever comes along.
Everyone here is a buddha. So listen carefully! What you all have from your parents innately is the Unborn Buddha Mind alone. This Buddha Mind you have from your parents innately is truly unborn and marvelously illuminating. In this way, all things are perfectly managed with the Unborn. This is the actual proof of the Unborn.
Since, when you realize conclusively, you abide like this in the Buddha Mind from today on, my school is called the School of Buddha Mind. The man of the Unborn abides at the source of all buddhas. That which is unborn is the source of all things, the starting point of all things. I was the first to teach this. What the buddhas of the past realized was the Unborn Buddha Mind; and what buddhas in the future will realize is the Unborn Buddha Mind too. It certainly is! Whoever you may be, at that moment, you are my heir!
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April 2019 Sesshin, Day 1: Bankei Zen (trans. by Peter Haskel)
At a time when Zen was becoming overly formalized in Japan, he stressed its relevance to everyday life, insisting on the importance of naturalness and spontaneity. I had arrived at Columbia University two years earlier, hoping to study the history of Japanese Rinzai Zen, but my general coursework and the extreme difficulties of mastering written Japanese had left me time for little else. Now that I was finally to begin my own research, all that remained was to choose a suitable topic. Brimming with confidence and armed with a list of high-sounding proposals, I went to see my advisor, Professor Yoshito Hakeda.