Bankei: Empty Heart of the Buddha

Osho on Enlightened Zen Master Bankei

Born in 1622 in Harima province,  Bankei was a Japanese Rinzai Zen Master, and the abbot of the Ryōmon-ji and Nyohō-ji. He is best known for his talks on the Unborn as he called it. According to D. T. Suzuki, Bankei, together with Hakuin and Dogen is one of the most important Japanese Zen masters and his Unborn Zen is one of the most original developments in the entire history of Zen thought. It is known that when Bankei was 15 he trained at a Shingon temple, where he apparently gained some footing in sutra study. However, Bankei was not satisfied with the Shingon approach and left that following year. At 16 he walked from Hamada to Ako to see a Rinzai Zen priest named Umpo Zenzo at  where he started the practice of Zazen.

In 1645, at age 24, Bankei returned to Zuiō-ji no wiser than the day he left. At this time Umpo informs him that the answer which he seeks can only be found within, not through an intermediary. Bankei left shortly after his return and built a hut nearby and lived as a hermit. He would sit for hours practicing zazen. He had given up bodily comfort and had no other goal during this time aside from coming to a complete understanding of things. He practiced this way for many years, but eventually the bodily neglect caused him to contract tuberculosis. It was during this near-death experience that Bankei realized the Unborn, later stating of the experience:

I felt a strange sensation in my throat. I spat against a wall. A mass of black phlegm large as a soapberry rolled down the side…Suddenly, just at that moment…I realized what it was that had escaped me until now: All things are perfectly resolved in the unborn.”

Following this breakthrough his doubt and questioning ceased while his physical condition ameliorated. Once strong enough, he travelled back to Umpo to relay his experience. Umpo confirmed his enlightenment.

Osho, talking about Bankei, says, “The only miracle, the impossible miracle, is to be just ordinary. The longing of the mind is to be extraordinary. The ego thirsts and hungers for the recognition that you are somebody. Somebody achieves that dream through wealth, somebody else achieves that dream through power, politics, somebody else can achieve that dream through miracles, jugglery, but the dream remains the same: I cannot tolerate being nobody. And this is a miracle —  when you accept your nobodiness, when you are just as ordinary as anybody else, when you don’t ask for any recognition, when you can exist as if you are not existing. To be absent is the miracle. This story is beautiful, one of the most beautiful Zen anecdotes, and Bankei is one of the superb masters. But Bankei was an ordinary man.”

I want to make it clear to you that Gautam Buddha is the dividing line from the past — his past, not our past. Now the time has come again; twenty-five centuries are enough. And that is what his calculation was, that after twenty-five centuries a new humanity should start, a new man, a new culture, a new vision, a new consciousness. According to him we are living in a very fortunate time — a time of tremendous crisis, but of great challenges and uncountable possibilities.

I am talking about Zen simply to make the point that all religions are now out of date. Zen has no clingings with the past. It is not a by-product of the past, but rather an opening towards the future. I am not unnecessarily wasting my time and your time. It is not just by chance that I have chosen to speak on Zen. We have come to a point of departure from the society in which we have lived, a moment of tremendous departure for consciousness. The way man has felt up to now has not been healthy. The way societies have structured themselves has been very sick. The whole civilization is almost non-existential.

When H.G. Wells was asked, he said that civilization is a good idea, but somebody has to do it — it has not happened yet. We are still living in the shadows of barbarianism. Gautam Buddha has not been heard, he has not been received around the world. It seems almost as if he is a mythological figure. He is one of the most integrated persons, the most awakened human beings that we have produced. The future can be a discontinuity with our past only if the Buddha is not a difficult and arduous achievement — and he is not. We can create a society where everyone is a Buddha. I don’t say Buddhist, that is an ugly word. The future has not to be dominated by any “ism.” But just the purity and grandeur of the man Buddha is so alluring; he has touched the highest peak possible to man. And he has made it possible now for every man to touch that highest peak. Whenever one man reaches to a certain point in consciousness, that point becomes easily available to anybody who wants to seek it. Gautam Buddha is a pioneer. You don’t have to go through all the difficulties which he moved through. He had to, because there was no precedent. But for you there are a thousand and one precedents.

Zen has produced the finest masters, and they are all proclaiming a discontinuity with the past and bringing a new man — the buddha, the awakened man, a man who lives consciously. We are doing this great experiment. These are not ordinary discourses or talks. I am not interested in any philosophy or any political ideology. I am interested directly in transforming you who have gathered around me. This transformation is a simple phenomenon, once understood. What has been asked by a layman to the master Bankei is significant for you all.

Bankei is in a way a very simple man, not speaking in philosophical jargon but in day-to-day language, making very clear points. Even a little intelligence is enough to understand him. He is a man who has been on the hilltops of consciousness and has returned to the world to convey the message.

A LAYMAN ASKED BANKEI,

“THOUGH I AM GRATEFUL FOR YOUR TEACHING OF BIRTHLESSNESS, THOUGHTS FROM CONSTANTLY APPLIED MENTAL HABITS READILY COME UP, AND I GET LOST IN THEM AND HAVE DIFFICULTY REMAINING CONTINUALLY UNBORN. HOW CAN I APPLY WHOLEHEARTED FAITH?”

Faith is a wrong translation. Unfortunately all these translations have been done by Christian missionaries. There must have been a word which was something like trust, not faith. But to the Christian both seem to be synonymous. Just a few days ago a man from Japan who is translating one of my books on the Dhammapada — Gautam Buddha’s greatest scripture, “the path of religiousness” — wrote to me, “I was surprised: you don’t know Japanese, you don’t know Pali, you don’t know Sanskrit. And in your talks on the Dhammapada, in many places you have changed words which have been put there by the Christian missionaries.” He was simply amazed because he looked in the Japanese translations and he found that I was right every time. He could not believe how a man who does not understand Japanese can say that instead of `faith’, there should be the word `trust’.

I can understand his difficulty, but it is not a difficult matter for me. I am not a commentator. When I speak on anyone, I have no commitment except to my own understanding, to my own illumination. And when I say that something is changed in a wrong way, translated wrongly, it does not mean I understand the Japanese or Chinese from which the translation has been done. It simply means that I know the very heart of Gautam Buddha. I know the emptiness of that heart, it is my own experience. No master who has touched the emptiness of the heart can talk in terms of faith. Faith is only for the blind.

I have told you the story. There was a blind man who was a great logician, in Buddha’s time. There is no difficulty; eyes are not needed to be a logician. And because he was a great logician, nobody could prove to him that light exists. He argued, and argued so clearly, “You are either just befooling yourself, or you want me to be humiliated as a blind man. But I say there is no light.”

And his reasoning was very clear, crystal clear. He said, “I am ready for every experiment. I want to touch it — bring me to where there is light. I want to taste it. I am ready to smell it, I am ready to hear the sound of it.”

Naturally the people were at a loss. What to do with this man? He is blind but he is a great debater. As far as arguments are concerned he is always a winner, because nobody can manage to make the sound of light; nothing like that exists… the taste of light, or the touch of light. Once Gautam Buddha was just on the way towards the capital city of Vaishali, and he passed the village where the blind man lived. People thought, “This is a good opportunity. Perhaps this is the last opportunity — if this man can even defeat Buddha through his argumentation, then we are finished! Perhaps light does not exist. Perhaps we are dreaming about light.”

That’s what he used to say to people, “You are dreaming. Just cool down, be alert: there is no light, all is darkness.”

They brought the man to Buddha. They thought that Buddha would argue with him, but instead of arguing, Buddha said, “You have brought him to a wrong person. He does not need more argumentation, because no argumentation can prove light. He needs a physician, a surgeon.”

Buddha had his own personal physician, the best physician of those days, given to him by the king of Vaishali. The physician followed him continuously for forty-two years, till his last breath, just like a shadow taking care of him. He was fragile.

He said to his physician, “Take this case in your hands. I will be leaving tomorrow morning, but you remain behind until you are finished with this case.”

The physician looked into the man’s eyes and he said, “It will not be much time. I will soon catch up with you. His eyes are only covered with a thin layer which can be removed. Within a few weeks, he will be able to see light.”

And after six weeks the physician came with the man to another village where Buddha had gone. The man came dancing. He fell unto the feet of Gautam Buddha and he said, “Just forgive me. I could not believe something which was not my experience; I am not a man of faith. But now that I can see light, a tremendous trust has arisen in me. In your compassion you did not argue about it but you simply diagnosed the case and handed me over to the physician.”

Faith is for the blind; trust is for one who has tasted something of the ultimate. The faithful are the followers. I don’t want anybody here to believe or to have faith. I want you to trust in yourself; that if Gautam Buddha can become an Everest of consciousness, he has proved the point that every human consciousness has the same potential. Trust in it, trust in yourself.

This distinction has to be remembered. Belief is always in somebody else’s ideology, and faith is in somebody else’s personality. Trust is in your own potentiality.

And because a man brings you to your potentiality, you have a tremendous gratitude towards him, not faith. But unfortunately only Christian missionaries have been doing the work of translating; nobody else is interested in translating. And unconsciously, they bring their own conditioning — which is of faith — into their translations. One can immediately say who is the translator of any passage. Is he a Christian, or a Mohammedan, or a Hindu, or a Jaina? Or is he a man of his own understanding, not belonging to any organized religion? Only a man who knows the truth can give a translation the flavor of truth…

Certainly this phrase “wholehearted faith” is a Christian interpretation. It is not the insight of those who are working on the path which Gautam Buddha traveled. It is not a path of belief or faith. In fact you have to throw away all your beliefs and all your faiths.

You have to be clean, unburdened, because you are going to touch the heights. All these burdens will hamper your progress. You are going to know truth itself, so don’t carry any ideas of truth because those ideas of truth will stand between you and the truth. Be completely clean — that is the meaning of the empty heart of the buddha.

But the question the layman is asking to Bankei is important for you all. Except for that one word, the whole question is important to every meditator. I will repeat it.

A LAYMAN ASKED BANKEI,

“THOUGH I AM GRATEFUL FOR YOUR TEACHING OF BIRTHLESSNESS, THOUGHTS FROM CONSTANTLY APPLIED MENTAL HABITS READILY COME UP, AND I GET LOST IN THEM AND HAVE DIFFICULTY REMAINING CONTINUALLY UNBORN. HOW CAN I APPLY WHOLEHEARTED TRUST?”

This is the difficulty of every meditator. In different names the problem is the same. The problem is that in your meditations, for a split second maybe you have the glimpse, a taste of the eternal ecstasy. But you cannot keep remembering it twenty-four hours. Old habits, the old mind goes on interfering in many ways. It is a strange phenomenon because it is experienced only by meditators. Non-meditators never experience it because they don’t have the context.

A meditator experiences, but when he comes back from those deep layers, back to his ordinary world, to the circumference, the mind starts creating doubt: “You have been dreaming. What nonsense is this eternity? Are you mad, that just by closing your eyes you attain to the ultimate truth?” The mind starts creating doubts. And mind is your old friend — four million years it has taken to develop. Your meditation is very new, very fresh, just a sprouting seed; your mind is a Lebanon cedar, two hundred, three hundred feet tall, almost reaching to the stars.

When you come to the circumference with your experience, suddenly there is a conflict between the new experience and the old, four-million-year-old mind. This mind will be almost like a mountain, and your experience is just a roseflower. So again and again you will get caught by the mind. That’s what the layman is saying to Bankei: “I understand your teaching, I am grateful for it. But it is very difficult to remember that I have never been born, I have never died, that I am immortality itself. As I come back to the ordinary life, it is too heavy on the new experience which is just a bud opening. It crushes it completely.” Most meditators drop the idea after a few days, seeing the situation, that it is of no use. It is just a glimpse and then again you are back to your miserable world. And the miserable world is so powerful that you even start suspecting that you were dreaming. Your own experience becomes a faraway echo, as if you have heard somebody else telling you, and not that you have experienced it. It goes against your whole conditioning. So this question of the layman is the question of all meditators.

BANKEI REPLIED, “IF YOU TRY TO STOP ARISING THOUGHTS, THE STOPPING MIND AND THE STOPPED MIND BECOME SPLIT IN TWO AND YOU NEVER HAVE ANY PEACE OF MIND. JUST TRUST THAT THOUGHTS ARE ORIGINALLY NONEXISTENT BUT TEMPORARILY ARISE AND CEASE, CONDITIONED BY WHAT IS SEEN AND HEARD, AND HAVE NO REAL SUBSTANCE.”

He is saying that every meditator comes to this point: he has known a small space of thoughtlessness, so the natural conclusion seems to be that if he can stop the thought process, then he will have that open sky again. But with what are you going to stop the thought process? Even this idea of stopping the thought process is of the mind. So your mind becomes split in two: the stopper and the stopped. Now you will never have any peace. Your own mind is continuously in struggle: one part is trying to stop it, another part is revolting against stopping. And remember, the part that is trying to stop it is very new and the part that you are trying to stop is very ancient. In this struggle, in this wrestling, you are not going to win. Your defeat can be said to be absolutely certain.

Many people have started meditation and then they stopped because finally they see this and say, “What is the point of having one simple glimpse of joy? It makes life even more terrible in comparison.” If a blind man for one second sees the light and becomes blind again, now his blindness will be intolerable. Now he knows there is light, and he is unable to see it because he has gone blind again.

A meditator has to remember not to struggle with the thoughts. If you want to win, don’t fight. That is a simple rule of thumb. If you want to win, simply don’t fight. The thoughts will be coming as usual. You just watch, hiding behind your blanket; let them come and go. Just don’t get involved with them. The whole question is of not getting involved in any way — appreciation or condemnation, any judgment, bad or good. Don’t say anything, just remain absolutely aloof and allow the mind to move in its routine way.

If you can manage… and this has been managed by thousands of buddhas, so there is not a problem.

And when I say this can be managed, I am saying it on my own authority. I don’t have any other authority. I have fought and have tortured myself with fighting and I have known the whole split that creates a constant misery and tension. Finally seeing the point that victory is impossible, I simply dropped out of the fight. I allowed the thoughts to move as they want; I am no longer interested.

And this is a miracle, that if you are not interested, thoughts start coming less. When you are utterly uninterested, they stop coming. And a state of no-thought, without any fight, is the greatest peace one has ever known. This is what we are calling the empty heart of the buddha.

ANOTHER LAYMAN ASKED, “WHEN I WIPE OUT ARISING THOUGHTS, THEY KEEP COMING UP FROM THE TRACES, NEVER STOPPING. HOW CAN I CONTROL THESE THOUGHTS?”

It seems that Bankei has authentic disciples interested in meditation, because all their questions are the eternal questions of meditators. The questioner is saying, “WHEN I WIPE OUT ARISING THOUGHTS, THEY KEEP COMING UP FROM THE TRACES, NEVER STOPPING. HOW CAN I CONTROL THESE THOUGHTS?”

The very idea of control is of fight. The very idea of control makes you involved. You don’t have to stop them, you don’t have to wipe them out. They will come back! You don’t have to control them, because the very effort of controlling them will keep you engaged in the process of controlling… and a strange fact to be remembered is that the master is as much a slave to his own slave as the slave is a slave to the master. If you manage to control your thoughts, you are stuck with control. You cannot leave that place, you cannot go away for a holiday. You are controlling your thoughts and your thoughts are controlling you. You cannot move into meditation by controlling.

You can move into meditation only by being indifferent, just a watcher. Whether it comes or not makes no difference; just let the thoughts flow on their own accord and you stand aloof, just watching. The word `watching’ simply means being a mirror, reflecting and not making any commentary. No mirror makes any commentary. No mirror says to you, “Aha, how beautiful!” It is not interested in whether you are beautiful or weird, sane or insane, standing on your feet or on your head. It makes no difference to the mirror, the mirror simply reflects. The watcher is a mirror. It simply watches and remains empty. No content is caught by the mirror. Things come and go, the mirror does not cling to anything. The mirror is not in favor of something or against it. It has no notions about what passes before it.

Source:

This is an excerpt from the transcript of a public discourse by Osho in Buddha Hall, Shree Rajneesh Ashram, Pune. 

Discourse Series: The Buddha: The Emptiness of the Heart
Chapter #3
Chapter title: This knowing is a transformation
10 September 1988 pm in Gautam the Buddha Auditorium

References:

Osho has also spoken on other Zen Masters and Mystics Mahakashyap, Bodhidharma, Hyakujo, Ma Tzu, Nansen, Dogen, Isan, Joshu, Kyozan, Basho, Bokuju, Sekito, Yakusan, Bankei, Sosan, Nan-in and many more in His discourses. Some of these can be referred to in the following books/discourses:

  1. Bodhidharma: The Greatest Zen Master
  2. Ancient Music in the Pines
  3. Ah, This!
  4. Dang Dang Doko Dang
  5. Dogen, the Zen Master: A Search and a Fulfillment
  6. Hsin Hsin Ming: The Book of Nothing
  7. God is Dead, Now Zen is the Only Living Truth
  8. Isan: No Footprints in the Blue Sky
  9. Joshu: The Lion’s Roar
  10. Kyozan: A True Man of Zen
  11. The Language of Existence
  12. Ma Tzu: The Empty Mirror
  13. Nansen: The Point of Departure
  14. Hyakujo: The Everest of Zen, with Basho’s Haikus
  15. No Mind: The Flowers of Eternity
  16. No Water, No Moon
  17. Yakusan: Straight to the Point of Enlightenment
  18. Zen: Zest, Zip, Zap and Zing
  19. This Very Body the Buddha

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