Hell-dwellers, Beasts and Hungry Ghosts: Do We Become What We Behold? Do We Become What We Oppose?

by Bob Schwartz


There is an ancient theme that says you must become a criminal to fight crime, you must become insane to stop the insanity. It is the basis for many profound stories.

I remain uneasy about allowing myself to be pulled into the miasma of current events. The analysis and criticism and predictions may be cogent and justified. But still, if we think we are untouched by that process because of our good intentions, we are mistaken.

I was reading Bankei (1622-1693), who is unique among Zen masters for his simple explanation of buddhahood. His is not a shortcut to becoming a buddha; there is no shortcut because there is no path. Each of us already has the marvelously illuminating Unborn Buddha Mind. Some will become aware just by hearing Bankei explain it.

But there is a catch. After realization, you may go back to your old ways. And that, says Bankei, would be worse:

But at our meeting today when you thoroughly grasp that each of you has the Unborn Buddha Mind right within himself, from today on you’ll live in the Buddha Mind and be living buddhas forever after. What I’m telling you all is simply to make you realize that the Unborn Buddha Mind is marvelously illuminating. When you’ve thoroughly realized this, from then on forever after you’ll possess a buddhas body no different from Shaka’s73 and never again fall into the Three Evil Realms. However, even if you grasp the Unborn Buddha Mind when I explain it to you here like this, once you go back home, things you see and hear may start up your angry mind again. And then, even if it’s only a tiny bit of anger, your sin will be a million times worse than it was before you’d heard me tell you about the Unborn Buddha Mind! You’ll switch the Unborn Buddha Mind you learned about now for hell-dwellers, beasts and hungry ghosts, transmigrating forever.

That is why thinking and writing about extreme and troubling current events does make me uneasy. Like it or not, to some degree we do become what we behold, we do become what we oppose. It may be worth it, even imperative, but we do pay a price.