Before his death in 1693, Japanese Zen master Bankei Yotaku left strict instructions that his unusual teachings on "unborn Zen" not be recorded for posterity. Today we should count ourselves fortunate that he had such disobedient students, for these teachings are historically and spiritually important. They were passed over for centuries until Zen master Daisetz Suzuki rediscovered them in the mid-20th century.

In the introduction to this revised and expanded edition of Bankei's teachings, translator Waddell demonstrates that Bankei was a precocious child. As an 11-year-old, he felt dissatisfied when a schoolteacher could not adequately explain the meaning of "bright virtue"; he set out to learn its meaning for himself. He spent his teen years cloistered in a small hut, or "practice hermitage," though he also had some exposure to the local Shingon temple. He sought wisdom, mostly unsuccessfully, from many teachers, but felt great disappointment in the incompleteness of their enlightenment. At 23, he isolated himself entirely, embracing severe asceticism by sitting "zazen" until his thighs and buttocks became swollen and infected from so much contact with a stone floor. When his health failed completely and he faced imminent death, Bankei had an epiphany, realizing the truth that "All things are perfectly resolves in the Unborn." He willed himself to health and spent the next half-century teaching thousands of students, both male and female.

His teachings (first published in 1984) are challenging, even bracing, asking readers to understand the reality of their Buddha-mind.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad