The Awakening of Bankei  


I fashioned a small hut and shut myself up in it. There I would meditate day and night and go long periods without sleep. I tried everything I could think of, but still I got nowhere.

As I pushed myself past the bounds of physical endurance with this complete lack of regard for my health, the skin of my buttocks became lacerated, making it extremely painful for me to sit. But I must have had a constitution of iron in those days, because I was able to go right on without spending even a single day lying down to recuperate. To lessen the pain from my buttocks, I placed several layers of soft paper over the ground and sat on them, changing them frequently. Unless I did, there was considerable bleeding from the torn skin, and that, together with the pain would have made sitting impossible. I also tried used cotton wadding to sit on. Despite these difficulties, never once, day or night, did I lie down to rest.

But the adverse effects of the long years of physical punishment built up and led to serious illness. And I still hadn’t clarified the meaning of “bright virtue”, in spite of all the time and effort I had spent wrestling with it. My illness steadily worsened. I grew weaker and weaker. Whenever I spat, gouts of bloody sputum as big as thumb heads appeared. Once, I spat against a wall and the globule stuck and slid to the ground in bright red beads.

The kindly people who lived nearby said that I should recuperate my health in the hut. They arranged for someone to look after me. But the illness now reached a critical stage. For a whole week, I couldn’t swallow anything except some thin rice broth. I became resigned to the idea to the fact that I was going to die. I viewed it as inevitable and felt no great regret. The only thing that really bothered me was having to die without discovering the meaning of bright virtue, which had had the sole possession of my thought for so long. Then I felt a strange sensation in my throat. I spat against a wall. A mass of black phlegm large as a soapberry rolled down the side. Suddenly, just at that moment, it came to me. I realized what it was that had escaped me until now: All things are perfectly resolved in the Unborn.




I realized too that what I had been doing all this time had been mistaken. I knew that all my efforts had been in vain.

At the same time, my illness showed definite signs of improvement. Overjoyed, I found that my appetite had returned. 



From: The unborn: the life and teachings of zen master bankei 1622-1693