Be Stupid!

by Bob Schwartz


You may think of yourself as clever. Or half-clever. Other people may think so too.

Be stupid!

That’s the advice from Bankei (1622-1693), a Zen master I’ve written about before.

Thousands of people came from all over Japan to hear Bankei speak. Ordinary people who came to hear really extraordinary messages from a very wise man. Such as: Be stupid!

“I tell my students and those of you coming regularly here to the temple: ‘Be stupid!’ Because you’ve got the dynamic function of the marvelously illuminating Buddha Mind, even if you get rid of discriminative understanding, you won’t be foolish. So, all of you, from here on, be stupid! Even if you’re stupid, when you’re hungry, you’ll ask for something to eat, when you’re thirsty, you’ll ask for some tea; when it gets warm, you’ll put on thin, light clothes, and when it’s cold, you’ll put on more clothes. As far as your activities of today are concerned, you’re not lacking a thing!

“With people who are clever, there are sure to be a great many shortcomings. To have transcended those clever people whom all the world holds in great esteem is what’s meant by ‘stupidity.’ There’s really nothing wrong with being a blockhead!

“When people say that someone is a clever fellow, I ask to meet him, and when I do and we have a chance to talk, it looks to me as if people in the world are praising an awful lot of foolishness. The fact is that those clever people acclaimed by the world are, from the start, deluded by their own cleverness. . .The true man’s ideal is to show kindness to those who are foolish and help those who are evil. To be recognized as a good man by the people of the world is precisely what makes being born a human being worthwhile. How can it be any good to earn yourself the reputation of a wicked person?

“So when you go back to your homes and meet your old acquaintances, you should have them wondering about you all: ‘How did Bankei teach them Buddhism, anyway? Why, they’ve come back even more stupid than before they left!’

“What I’m talking about isn’t the stupidity of stupidity and understanding. That which transcends stupidity and understanding is what I mean by stupidity!

From Bankei Zen: Translations from the Record of Bankei, Peter Haskel


Unborn: The Life and Teachings of Zen Master Bankei, Norman Waddell