Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Bankei Zen

Translations from The Record of Bankei

by Peter Haskel Edited by Yoshito Hakeda Foreword by Mary Farkas
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 240
  • Publication Date June 01, 1984
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-3184-3
  • Dimensions 5.38" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00

About The Book

The eccentric Bankei (1622-1693) has long been an underground hero in the world of Zen. 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. This volume presents his teachings–as refreshing and iconoclastic today as they were three hundred years ago–in a fluent translation by Peter Haskel, accompanied by a vivid account of Bankei’s life and times, illustrations, and extensive notes for the scholar.



My first encounter with Bankei was in the fall of 1972. 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. Although I had never actually read Bankei, I had a vague impression of him as a kind of subversive in the world of Zen, a heretical figure who didn’t believe in rules, dispensed with koans and tried to popularize and simplify the deadly serious business of enlightenment.

I was hoping to deal with a Zen master closer to the “orthodox” tradition, I tried to explain, perhaps one of the great teachers of the Middle Ages. “Take a look at Bankei’s sermons if you have a chance,” Professor Hakeda urged, “you may find them interesting.” My skepticism remained, however, and I did nothing further about Bankei, determined to find a more ‘respectable” topic of my own choosing.

The following year, Professor Hakeda raised the subject of Bankei again, and, in spite of my obvious reluctance, pressed on me a small volume of Bankei’s sermons. “Try reading a few,” he said.

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. Bankei’s approach to Zen was unlike anything I had ever imagined. 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. He told them about his own life as well–the mistakes he’d made, the troubles he’d had, the people whom he’d met. There was something refreshingly original and direct about Bankei’s fush” zen, his teaching of the “Unborn.” “Here it is,” Bankei seemed to say, “it really works! I did it, and you can too.”
The further I read, the more entranced I became. The next three nights, I could barely sleep. When I returned to Professor Hakeda’s office, I told him about my experience. “You see,” he said, laughing, “I knew that Bankei was for you!”

On my next visit, I arrived with a partial translation of the first sermon and began to read through the text, with Professor Hakeda making comments and corrections as I proceeded. 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. I am also deeply grateful to Professor Philip Yampolsky and the staff of Columbia’s East Asian Library for their expert assistance over the years, and to my colleague Ry”ichi Ab”, who participated in many of the translation sessions. 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. Permission to use photographs included in the illustrations was graciously extended by the Tokyo publishing firms Daiz” shuppan and Shunj’sha and by Mrs. 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.

I have tried to offer Western readers a glimpse into Bankei’s singular world, using his own words and those of his disciples and descendants. The translations focus particularly on selections from the Sermons and the H”go (Instruction), for, although a certain amount of repetition occurs in these works, they are our most vivid and authentic records of Bankei’s teaching. Also included are a series of Bankei’s letters, examples of his poetry, and a sampling of materials from various anthologies composed in Chinese after his death. The criteria that guided my selection in each area were purely subjective: I chose those items that seemed to me most interesting and colorful, those that illumined certain aspects of Bankei’s character and times or were otherwise simply charming in themselves. Responsibility for any oversight or errors, here and elsewhere in the book, is wholly my own.

The earliest modern collection of Bankei’s teachings, the Bankei zenji goroku (Tokyo, 1942), edited by D. T. Suzuki in the Iwanami bunk” series, has been largely superseded by two more recent editions that serve as the basis for the present translations. These are the Bankei zenji zensh” (Daiz” shuppan, Tokyo, 1970), edited by the Japanese scholar Akao Ry”ji, and the Bankei zenji h”gosh” (Shunj’sha, Tokyo, 1971), edited by Fujimoto Tsuchishige. Fujimoto, a native of Bankei’s hometown of Aboshi, devoted a lifetime to collecting and publishing materials related to the Master and his teachings. 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.
New York City
September 1983

Opening of the Sermons

When the Zen Master Bankei Butchi K’sai,1 founder of the Ry’monji2 at Aboshi in Bansh”, was at the Great Training Period3 [held] at the Ry’monji in the winter of the third year of Genroku,4 there were 1,683 monks listed in the temple register.5 Those who attended included not only s’t” and Rinzai6 followers but members of the Ritsu, Shingon, Tendai, Pure Land, True Pure Land and Nichiren Schools,7 with laymen and monks mingled together, thronging round the lecture seat.8 One sensed the Master was truly the Teacher of Men and Devas9 for the present age.

At that time, the Master mounted the lecture seat and addressed the assembly of monks and laymen, saying: “We’ve got a big crowd of both monks and laymen here at this meeting, and I thought I’d tell you about how, when I was young, I struck on the realization that the mind is unborn. This part about “the mind,” [though,] is something secondary. You monks, when you abide only in the Unborn, [will find that] in the Unborn, there’s nothing anyone needs to tell you, nothing you need to hear. Because the Buddha Mind is unborn and marvelously illuminating, it gets easily turned into whatever comes along. So, as long as I’m telling the lay people here not to change themselves into these different things that come their way and trade their Buddha Mind for thoughts, you monks may as well listen too!”

Listen carefully

The Master addressed the assembly: “Among all you people here today there’s not a single one who’s an unenlightened being. Everyone here is a buddha. So listen carefully! What you all have from your parents innately is the Unborn Buddha Mind alone. There’s nothing else you have innately. This Buddha Mind you have from your parents innately is truly unborn and marvelously illuminating. That which is unborn is the Buddha Mind; the Buddha Mind is unborn and marvelously illuminating, and, what’s more, with this Unborn, everything is perfectly managed. The actual proof of this Unborn which perfectly manages [everything] is that, as you’re all turned this way listening to me talk, if out back there’s the cawing of crows, the chirping of sparrows or the rustling of the wind, even though you’re not deliberately trying to hear each of these sounds, you recognize and distinguish each one. The voices of the crows and sparrows, the rustling of the wind–you hear them without making any mistake about them, and that’s what’s called hearing with the Unborn. In this way, all things are perfectly managed with the Unborn. This is the actual proof of the Unborn. Conclusively realize that what’s unborn and marvelously illuminating is truly the Buddha Mind, straightaway abiding in the Unborn Buddha Mind just as it is, and you’re a living tathagata10 from today forever after. 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.11
“Well, then, while you’re all turned this way listening to me talk, you don’t mistake the chirp of a sparrow out back for the caw of a crow, the sound of a gong for that of a drum, a man’s voice for a woman’s, an adult’s voice for a child’s–you clearly recognize and distinguish each sound you hear without making any mistake. That’s the marvelously illuminating dynamic function. It’s none other than the Buddha Mind, unborn and marvelously illuminating, the actual proof of the marvelously illuminating [nature of the Buddha Mind].
“I doubt there’s anyone among the people here now who’d say: “I heard [what I did] because I was deliberately trying to hear it.” If anyone says he did, he’s a liar. Wondering, “What’s Bankei telling us?” all of you are turned this way, intent only on hearing what I’m saying; no one’s deliberately trying to hear the various sounds coming from out back. That’s why, when all of a sudden these sounds appear and you recognize and distinguish them, hearing them without any mistake, you’re hearing with the Unborn Buddha Mind. Nobody here can claim he heard these sounds because he’d made up his mind beforehand to listen for them when they were made. So, in fact, you’re listening with the Unborn.

“Everyone who conclusively realizes that what is unborn and marvelously illuminating is truly the Buddha Mind, abiding in the Unborn Buddha Mind, is a living tathagata from today forever after. Even “buddha” is just a name given to traces that have arisen,12 so, from the standpoint of the Unborn, it’s only a secondary matter, a peripheral concern. 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. There’s nothing more original than the Unborn, nothing prior to it. That’s why, when you abide in the Unborn, you abide at the source of all buddhas; so it’s something wonderfully precious. There’s no question of “perishing” here, so when you abide in the Unborn, it’s superfluous to speak about the Imperishable13 too. That’s the reason I only talk about the Unborn and don’t mention the Imperishable. What isn’t created can’t be destroyed, so since it’s unborn, it’s obvious it’s imperishable without having to mention it. Isn’t that so?

“Of course, the expression “unborn and imperishable”14 has appeared here and there in the sutras and records from times of old–but not the actual proof of the Unborn. Everyone just learns the expression “unborn and imperishable” and goes about repeating it; but when it comes to realizing conclusively and actually getting right to the heart of the matter, they haven’t any idea of what the Unborn is.

“When I was twenty-six, I first hit on the realization that all things are perfectly managed with the Unborn, and, in the forty years since, I’ve taught everyone with the actual proof of the Unborn: that what you have from your parents innately is the Unborn Buddha Mind–the Buddha Mind which is truly unborn and marvelously illuminating. I was the first to teach this. I’m sure that even among you monks in the assembly now, and everyone else too, nobody’s heard of anyone before me who taught people with the actual proof of the Unborn–that the Buddha Mind is truly Unborn and marvelously illuminating. I was the first to teach this. If anyone claims he’s heard of somebody before me who taught people with the actual proof of the Unborn, he’s a liar!

“When you abide in the Unborn, you’re abiding at the source of all things. 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. We today are living in the Degenerate Age of Buddhism,15 yet when there’s even one man who abides in the Unborn, the true teaching16 has been restored to the world. All of you, isn’t it so? It certainly is! When you’ve conclusively realized this, then and there you’ll open the eye that sees into men’s minds, and that’s why my school is called the Clear-Eyed School.17 When the eye that sees into men is manifested, whenever it happens to be,18 that moment is the complete realization of the Dharma.19 I want you to know this. Whoever you may be, at that moment, you are my heir!”

Copyright ” 1984 by Peter Haskel and Yoshito Hakeda.  Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic Inc.  All rights reserved.