Friday, February 27, 2009

Radical Zen

I am at work today...slow day. We had a big snowstorm last evening so many of my clients hadn't been plowed out yet and aren't coming in. This gives me some time to write about my favorite historical Zen Master, Bankei Yotaku (1622-1693)

Bankei was a radical and a rascal, which is why I like him so much. He challenged the status quo of Zen practice of his day. He called them out on their overly religious and stiff practices with no substance. But what endeared me to him was his use of everyday language. When he spoke to people he did not use esoteric terms or used quotes, sutras or koans from old masters. He used language the lay person could relate to and infused their lives with calmness and a sense of peace.

To him, Zen was fresh and alive and did not require what he considered 'dead words'. He gave them faith by having them simply trust in their own innate 'Unborn Buddha Nature'. This Unborn was present in each and every activity and simply needed to be pointed to and trusted.

When people would come to his temple for retreats he abandoned the strict formality of Rinzai practice....pissing off the conventional Zen community. Even when his enlightenment was acknowledged by the prevailing Zen community he refused their titles and simply preferred to work in the monastery kitchen. During his retreats he allowed people to come and go as they pleased and did not use koans or the 'stick of awakening'. (The stick was used to slap the shoulders of dozing monks.) He emphasized the simple faith of trusting in the Unborn awakened nature we all have.
I encourage you to read about him. Simply do an internet search and read about his life story. He is very interesting....or if any of my students want to borrow a book or two about him I can loan them to you.
I am thinking that this September's Zen retreat will be conducted in my interpretation of Bankei's teachings...of course he would reprimand me for 'stylizing' his teachings...but what the hell!
Hands palm to palm,

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