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Bankei Yotaku - Letters

Bankei Yotaku - Letters

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Published by Frederic Lecut
Letters from and anecdotes about the life of Japanese Zen Master Bankei Yotaku (1622 - 1693)
Letters from and anecdotes about the life of Japanese Zen Master Bankei Yotaku (1622 - 1693)

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Published by: Frederic Lecut on Jan 01, 2012
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(1622-1693)Letters & Miscellaneous Materials
From the book“Bankei Zen: Translations from the Record of Bankei”by Peter Haskel
en Master Bankei Yōtaku (
, 1622-1693), the son of a RoninSamurai turned Doctor, was a very popular and influential teacher whospoke directly, avoiding sutras, koans and rituals.
He talked to huge crowds of ordinary people and advanced Zen studentsall the same, about what he had personally discovered through his ownexperience—"the Unborn" or "the Birthless Buddha-mind".Expressed in a plain, simple and direct language that anyone canunderstand, Bankei's Zen is quite simple and refreshingly clear. You don't haveto be learned, live in a monastery or even necessarily consider yourself aBuddhist to effectively practice it.
he following letter from Bankei's original teacher Umpo (1572-1653), together withBankei's reply, was reportedly written while Bankei was studying under Umpo's heir Bokuo at the Sanyuji in Bizen.
Having the opportunity to send a message, I am writing you this note. I trust you are keepingwell. I myself am the same as ever, while the good people of Kariya and Nakamura are untiringin their Zen study. As you know, this old monk stands alone on the summit of a solitary peak,and never quotes even a word of the buddhas or patriarchs. However, since you and Akashihave shown an earnest desire, I cannot do other than extend a helping hand and offer yousome words of teaching, muddying things up with useless talk.Now that I have twenty or thirty people coming to the temple to practice zazen, I leavethem on their own, and that way everyone feels at ease. If those who use "patriarchal Zen" andforcibly discipline their students were to hear what I'm doing, I'm sure they would consider methe enemy of all the buddhas in the three worlds.People may say the bright moon is falling into murky water, but if I can save one studentor even half a student, shouldn't I count myself fortunate? I hope you will be able to returnsoon.With sincere regards,Umpo(Bankei replies:) Thank you for your letter. Nothing makes me happier than to learn that all iswell with you. Everyone here in the temple, from the senior priests to the regular practitioners,is fine, so fortunately there is no need to concern yourself over us. As I learn from your letter,you have lately come down to work shoulder to shoulder with the people of the world in orderto save them. This is truly wonderful and praiseworthy.I plan shortly to come and pay my respects to you.With sincere regards,Bankei
(zenshu, pp. 319-320.)ddressed to Bankei's childhood friend Sasaki Nobutsugu, this letter appears to be the product of a stay in Kyoto circa 1642. School seems to have remained a sore point withthe young Bankei, who here professes little enthusiasm for his "academic studies" whichmay well have included both Buddhist and non-Buddhist classics.
 Twenty second day of the fifth month (equivalent to late June in the present calendar)Lately my time has been completely taken up with work, but allow me to address you this brief message. I trust that all is well with you. I myself am fine. I thought this spring I might travel toEdo or perhaps even retire to the mountains; and although I'd already made up my mind to quitmy academic studies, everyone said it would be a mistake for me to abandon them now andthat at all costs I should go on with my work for another year or so—for the sake of theDharma, they told me. So, in one way or another, they held me back, and I was obliged to stayon here and keep at my work. I'm doing fine and making good progress, so set your mind atease. Since I'm already committed to this situation and can't avoid spending another year ortwo at my studies, I'd appreciate your putting together some funds to carry me through thisperiod. Next month I'll have to make my usual journey to Akō to visit Umpo, so I hope you'llgive this matter your immediate attention. Nothing else in particular to add for now. Your servant, Yotaku
(zenshu, p. 527.)
ankei's disciple Yosen, to whom this letter is addressed, was a sister-in-law of SasakiNobutsugu. She would have been about twenty years old in 1656, when the letter was probably composed, and remained a supporter of Bankei throughout his career.
Allow me to address you this brief message. Concerning your religious practice: as yourthoughts haven't yet stopped, you must make every effort to rouse your faith, completelyforgetting all thoughts, of every sort—thoughts of cherishing good and loathing evil, of lovingor hating, of worldly affairs, of cherishing buddhahood, of loathing delusion or cherishingenlightenment. If nothing at all remains in your mind, then your religious practice is complete,so if you can come to this quickly, I'll be able to give you my acknowledgment. By assiduouslyrousing your faith, you'll quickly escape these delusions. When you have escaped them, I'llknow it, and at that time I'll be able to give my acknowledgment to that one who has escaped.Respectfully,Bankei
(zenshu, pp. 527-528.)etter from Bankei to his disciple Rintei (1630-1702), addressed by her earlier religious nameRitei. Like Yosen, Rintei was a sister-in-law of Bankei's patron Sasaki Nobutsugu. She becamea nun in 1679, settling in a hermitage within the compound of her husband's home. Bankei'sletter was composed sometime before 1691, when she assumed the name Ritei, and Akao hassuggested a date in the early to mid—1660s.
Having received your letter, allow me to address you this brief message. I hope you areall well. I myself am fine, so please rest assured. You are, I imagine, applying yourself diligentlyin your religious practice. Your constant strong desire to attain enlightenment right away,however, will make you deluded, so it's essential that you give up this attitude and just remainwithout any sort of discrimination or understanding. Don't hate the arising of thoughts or stopthe thoughts that do arise; simply realize-that our original mind, right from the start, is beyondthought, so that, no matter what, you never get involved with thoughts. Illuminate originalmind, and no other understanding is necessary. However,.if you become [attached to] thedesire for illumination, then it will-become a source of delusion. Only realize that, from thebeginning, original mind is beyond thought, and don't attach to your rising thoughts at all,whether they're about-good or evil, Buddhism or worldly matters, your own affairs or otherpeople's—whatever they are, just let them arise or cease as they will, and that way you'llnaturally accord with original mind. Thoughts arise temporarily in response to what you see and hear; they haven't any realexistence of their own. You must have faith that the original mind that is realized and thatwhich realizes original mind are not different. Should you have any further questions, don'thesitate to ask.Respectfully,Bankei
(zenshu, pp. 530-531.)his letter, probably dating from the mid-l670s, is addressed to Lady Naga, daughter of Bankei's samurai patron Kato Yasuoki and wife of Lord Kato's chief retainer OhashiShigeyoshi. Rikyo, who seems to have been an elderly lady in-waiting in the Ohashifamily, had apparently sought to meet with Bankei to receive his guidance on how to confront her approaching death. Bankei, unable to see Rikyo, passed on this message to her via Lady Naga. (The first part of the letter deals with unrelated material and has been omitted.
. . . On my way back this time, I won't have a chance to see anyone, so please convey myheartfelt regrets to Rikyo. Even for one who is young, life is uncertain at best, so for someonelike Rikyo who is well-advanced in years it is all the more understandable to feel regret. Since Itoo am not only old, but ailing as well, it is very unlikely that I will be able to see her again.Nevertheless, since she is sincerely committed to the Dharma and is practicing wholeheartedly,I'm sure she will illuminate the principle of original buddhahood and become the sort of personwho does not rely on the power of others. So my leaving for the capital is in no way a cause for

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