Bob Schwartz

Tag: Bankei

Crow and heron, goose and crow. And fish.

“Now, about what it means to realize conclusively that what is unborn and marvelously illuminating is truly the Buddha Mind: Suppose ten million people got together and unanimously declared that a crow was a heron. A crow is black, without having to be dyed that way, just as a heron is white—that’s something we always see for ourselves and know for a fact. So even if, not only ten million people, but everyone in the land were to get together and tell you a crow was a heron, you still wouldn’t be fooled, but remain absolutely sure of yourself. That’s what it means to have a conclusive realization. Conclusively realize that what is unborn is the Buddha Mind and that the Buddha Mind is truly unborn and marvelously illuminating, and everything will be perfectly managed with the Unborn, so that, whatever people try to tell you, you won’t let yourself be fooled by them. You won’t accept other people’s delusions.”
Bankei Zen

“You, Sir, if you want to stop everything below Heaven losing its original simplicity, you must travel with the wind and stand firm in Virtue. Why do you exert yourself so much, banging a big drum and hunting for a lost child? The snow goose doesn’t need a daily bath to stay white, nor does the crow need to be stained every day to stay black. Black and white comes from natural simplicity, not from argument. Fame and fortune, though sought after, do not make people greater than they actually are. When the waters dry up and the fish are stranded on the dry land, they huddle together and try to keep each other moist by spitting and wetting each other. But wouldn’t it be even better if they could just forget each other, safe in their lakes and rivers?”
Book of Chuang Tzu

Poem, Joke, Etc.: Confused Birds

Confused Birds

These birds are confused
Not angry
Wondering where
The cold winds are.
Exulting in
Extended summer.
What’s time to a bird
Or me?

The line “What’s time to a bird” is borrowed from a favorite joke with a surprisingly philosophical punch line. It goes something like this:

A guy is driving along a country road. He sees a farmer under an oak tree, holding up a pig so the pig can eat acorns. The guy stops. “You know,” the guy says, “it would be a lot easier and take a lot less time if you just shook the tree and let the acorns fall to the ground.” “Maybe,” says the farmer, “but what’s time to a pig?”

More about birds:

In the sky a bird was heard to cry.
Misty morning whisperings and gentle stirring sounds
Belied a deathly silence that lay all around.
Hear the lark and harken to the barking of the dog fox gone to ground.
See the splashing of the kingfisher flashing to the water.
Grantchester Meadow, Pink Floyd

“Well, then, just what does it mean that everybody has the Buddha Mind?…in the course of listening to my talk, if a dog barks outside the temple, you recognize it as the voice of a dog; if a crow caws, you know it’s a crow…you didn’t come with any preconceived idea that if, while I was talking, there were sounds of dogs and birds, children or grown-ups somewhere outside, you were deliberately going to try to hear them. Yet here in the meeting you recognize the noises of dogs and crows outside and the sounds of people talking… the fact that you recognize these things you didn’t expect to see or hear shows you’re seeing and hearing with the Unborn Buddha Mind.”
From Bankei Zen: Translations from the Record of Bankei

Be Stupid!


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

Bankei New Year


What does it matter, the new year, the old year?
I stretch out my legs and all alone have a quiet sleep
Don’t tell me the monks aren’t getting their instruction
Here and there the nightingale is singing: the highest Zen!

-Zen Master Bankei (1622-1693)

You don’t have be Zenish to appreciate Bankei or his New Year message.

Bankei was mostly forgotten until the 1940s, when he was rescued “from the obscurity of two and a half centuries of near-total neglect.”

This is understandable. While he was trained and respected in traditional Zen disciplines, his iconoclastic conclusion was that the teaching could be reduced to a single concept that didn’t involve those practices. He preached this to thousands of ordinary people who weren’t involved in more rigorous and formal practice:

“Unlike the other masters everywhere, in my teaching I don’t set up any particular object, such as realizing enlightenment or studying koans. Nor do I rely on the words of the buddhas and patriarchs. I just point things out directly, so there’s nothing to hold onto, and that’s why no one will readily accept [what I teach]. To begin with, those who are wise and learned are obstructed by their own cleverness and calculation, so for them it’s impossible to accept. On the other hand, there are lots of ignorant women who can neither read nor write, who haven’t any special ability and can’t be pushed on to become Zen masters, but possess a truly heartfelt realization and don’t engage in intellectualizing.”

Is it any wonder that conventional teachers might be resistant and challenged enough to leave Bankei behind?

We will not leave Bankei behind. This year, he says, stretch your legs out, have a quiet sleep, listen to the nightingale singing. It is the only instruction you need.

Happy New Year.