Bankei Yotaku (盤珪永琢)
Bankei Yotaku (April 18, 1622 - October 2, 1693) was a Buddhist priest of the Rinzai sect during the early Edo period. He advocated unborn-zen and preached Buddhism in simple terms to a broad range of people, from common people to the feudal lord. As many as 1300 priests and laity had been enlightened.
Extreme search after truth
He was born as the third son of SUGAWARA no Dosetsu who was a Confucian and a physician. His imina (personal name) was Yotaku. His azana (popular name) was Bankei. 仏智弘済禅師 and Daiho shogen kokushi were his posthumous names. He was born in Hamada-mura, Aboshi-go, Issai-gun, Harima Province (Hamada, Aboshi, Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture at present). The following is described based upon his preaching (phrases in brackets show general meaning).
In 1632, at the age of ten, he lost his father; then his mother and elder brother raised him.
He studied 'Daigaku' (a book describing educational philosophy of Daigaku) from a local Confucian scholar, and faltered at one sentence, 'the way of Daigaku is to clarify the virtue.'
When he asked masters what 'virtue' meant, which he did not understand, he did not get a convincing answer.
One Confucian scholar told him;
Such a difficult thing is what Zen priests know; go to place of the Zen priests and ask.
(The Zen priests know well about such difficult things.
Go to the place of the Zen priests and learn about it.)
So he tackled Zen. At the age of 17, he learned Zen from Unpo Osho at Zuio-ji Temple, (which was is in Ako) the Myoshin-ji Temple school of the Rinzai sect. At the temple, he was given the Buddhist name Yotaku and became a priest. He practiced extreme asceticism.
I went to the mountain there and had not eaten for seven days. I went to the crag here, took off my clothes and sat directly on the edge of a rock on which I put down all my clothes. Once I sat down, I kept sitting, not caring about losing my life, until I fell spontaneous. Since no one brought any food, I often did not eat for days and days.
(In the mountain there, I took off my clothes and practiced Zen meditation sitting cross-legged on a rock on which I put down all my clothes, not caring about losing my life, for seven days without eating until I fell spontaneously. Since someone did not necessarily bring any food, I often did not have a meal for days and days.)
Nevertheless, he did not have a persuadable answer. So he spent his days of nenbutsu-zammai (mental absorption in the nenbutsu). He sat on the oratory of a shrine and practiced sleepless fasting for seven days. He also spent several months standing up in a river.
Because he practiced Zen meditation sitting cross-legged so eagerly, he got hemorrhoids and was affected by tuberculosis.
And the illness was getting serious, and my body gradually weakened. Then when I spit, it was bloody, stiffen and round as large as the head of a thumb. One time I spit bloody sputum on a wall and watched as it ran down.
(The illness became more serious, my body became weak, and I started to spit phlegm. The bloody phlegm was the size of the head of his thumb, was stiffened and round.
One time when I spit bloody sputum on a wall, it ran down the wall.)
In this way, Bankei prepared for death, and he obtained the answer at the last moment.
So I thought I was dying. Then I suddenly realized that I was making a vain effort because I had not known that everything was unborn or fusho (to not live in the world of hesitation). At last, I realized I was wrong.
(Since it was in such a situation, I kept thinking, "Oh, I am dying." However, then I suddenly realized that my ascetic practices were vain efforts since I did not know "all things were unborn."
I got to know what I had done was wrong.)
In this way, Bankei awakened to 'the Buddha mind of living in the world without hesitation.'
He lived at Sanyu-ji Temple, Bizen Province, in 1654, enlightened feudal retainers of Okayama Domain and embraced territorial lords, such as Shigenobu (Tensho) MATSUURA of Hirado, Hizen Province. He became kaisan (founder of temple as the first chief priest) of Ryumon-ji Temple (Himeji City) in Himeji, Harima Province, Edo Tensho-ji Temple, etc. He became the chief priest of Myoshin-ji Temple in Kyoto in 1672. From Ryumon-ji Temple, he went on pilgrimages to various districts. He preached Buddhism in friendly tone with dialect, as described above, to broad range of people including common people. He interpreted Hannya Shingyo (Heart Sutra), which was previously explained only in kanbun (Sino-Japanese), colloquially in plain language. It was later evaluated highly from Hajime NAKAMURA.
He died at the age of 71 in 1693. After his death, he was given the title of Daiho shogen kokushi in 1740.
There was a priest who was struggled with a short-tempered personality. He said that he was short-tempered by nature and could not control it even if he was advised. So, he went to Bankei for help.
Bankei said, "You were born with an interesting thing." If there is short temper now, show it to me here now. I'll correct it.
The priest said, "There isn't any right now." Short temper happens abruptly when something triggers it.
Bankei said, "Then you are not short-tempered by nature." It comes out when something happens. (snip) We all were born only with a Buddha mind when our parents had given birth to us, but nothing else.
It was reported that this was how he answered.