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Bankei and the Unborn Buddha Mind by Wayne Gatfield

The Japanese Zen Master Bankei (1622-1693) had an unorthodox way of putting across his message.  He didn’t quote from scriptures, or even mention Zen- but spoke directly to the heart of the people and applied his teachings to individual problems that arose.  This made him unpopular to many other Buddhist sects, but also popular with the ‘man and woman in the street’ as he was able to address many issues that concerned them in a practical way.

The gist of these teachings is that we all have the Buddha nature and that it smoothly manages our lives if we allow it to.  He says that if we are listening to a lecture and outside a crow calls or someone speaks, we immediately know what it is without having to think.  We know if the voice is a man, woman or child instinctively.  This, he says, is the Unborn Buddha mind working smoothly, and we can apply this insight on many different levels.

In Theosophy we might say the Unborn Buddha nature is our Higher Self and, as WQ Judge says, this Higher Self is always our friend if we but accept that friendship.  It will guide us and help us in all situations of life.  Of course, it is not something separate that aids us, but our own inner Self. 

Buddhism teaches six states of consciousness that we can be born into.  These are the realm of the gods, the realm of asuras (fighting demons), the realm of pretas (hungry ghosts), Hellish realms, Animal realms and human realms.

All these represent states of mind that obscure the Unborn Buddha mind.  Bankei states that when we fall into any of these, we are swapping this Unborn Buddha mind for a lesser one.  When we become angry, we are fighting demons for a while, when we allow ourselves to be depressed, we are in hell or when we crave material possessions, we become hungry ghosts, never satisfied-always wanting more. The animal mind is concerned only with the basics of a material life.  The realm of the gods is one of self-satisfaction.  It is taught that the human state is the most balanced but still a limitation. 

So when we become angry or fall victim to any of these minds we should be aware that we are losing sight of our Original mind, that is never born and never dies and does not change as our other states of mind do.  This Original mind is our natural one, all the others are false.  Bankei states that what we have from our parents, when we are born is this Unborn Buddha mind; the lesser ones are learned later through outside influences.

Another interesting point of Bankei’s teaching, at a time when Buddhism was largely patriarchal, is that he championed the cause of women.  Using the teaching that when you hear a crow call or voices from outside that both men and women hear exactly the same, is proof that the Buddha nature transcends any designation of sex. What we appear to be on the surface makes no difference to what we are within.

Therefore, we just have to be what we are naturally, whether we call it the Buddha Nature, Christ Consciousness, Krishna Consciousness or whatever!  When we let ourselves just ‘Be’ we return to innocence, we become our true Self.  This is not weird or mystical, it is the false minds that create an artificial version of ourselves that we uphold in a counterfeit society.  We really need to return to sanity.  The last year has shown how these false minds can influence the majority of people, who are caught up in the illusions of the personal self and why it is so important to become aware of what we truly are.  People fear death which, as HP Blavatsky tells us, is “ever a friend and deliverer.”  People have traded their Unborn Buddha mind for a mind of fear.  The kind of lower minds that I mentioned earlier do not exist in our true Nature- it is eternally calm and serene, no matter what happens on the surface.  Compare it to the turbulence on the surface of the ocean and the calmness of its depths.  These waves of emotion and thought come and go and we should not attach to them or follow them, but try to remain in the depths of our True Self. 

Taoism has the teaching of Wu Wei, which means ‘effortless action’.  It is to act spontaneously from a calm centre.  So, to act in accord with the Unborn Buddha Mind, I would suggest. 

Bankei’s teaching is deceptively simple but it is simplicity that we find it so difficult to come to terms with in the modern world.  We think things need to be complex to have real meaning and so we don’t see the ‘wood for the trees’.  To be as ‘simple souled as cosmos itself’ is far from the thoughts of most people, even many of those on some kind of Spiritual path.  Yet nature is effortless in her workings, only the human intellect has added complications to life.  If we were to get rid of those things that prevent us from seeing clearly, then life would become more meaningful and we would realise that Bankei’s teachings are as valid now as they ever were. 

Further reading: “Bankei Zen – Translations from the Record of Bankei (edited by Yoshito Hakeda)   Peter Haskel.

Wayne Gatfield is the President of the Bolton Lodge of the Theosophical Society, Editor of the North Western Federation Journal, National Speaker, he also writes poetry and stories which can be found at his YouTube channel

Theosophical & spiritual talks:


Published by hermesrisen

writer, theologian and broadcaster, my work can be found at Colyn Boyce is co-editor for Hermes Risen and is a writer, photographer and all round good guy.

4 thoughts on “Bankei and the Unborn Buddha Mind by Wayne Gatfield

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