The Unborn – The Life Teachings of Zen Master Bankei – Translated by Norman Waddell

“All the things are resolved in the Unborn” ~~Master Bankei

I am a fan of Buddhism and a bigger fan of Zen Buddhism. Zen Buddhism has helped me connect with myself. In the process, I have evolved and grown as a person. Or rather, I should say that I am evolving each day, each minute and with each breath.

The Unborn – this book introduced me to an entirely new concept of Zen Buddhism. The Zen Master Bankei(1622-1693) preached about the concept of the Unborn. As you can make out, it is connected to the state before the birth. According to him, the human mind is enlightened when it is ‘unborn’. The Unborn is the origin of all the beginning of all. There is no source apart from the Unborn and no beginning that is before the Unborn. So being Unborn means dwelling at the very source of the Buddhas.

He came to this realisation and attained enlightenment when he was at the age of 26 years. He had to undergo great difficulties to attain it. He had put his body and mind through long years of struggle which had weakened him both mentally and physically. He stayed in hermitage for years together to find answers to the questions about life. And after fourteen years of incredible hardship, he had achieved a decisive enlightenment.

He also introduced the concept of ‘the undying’ along with the Unborn. In the words of Master Bankei, ‘there can be no death for what was never born, so if it is unborn, it is obviously undying.’ He urges the people to stay in the Unborn and not add to illusions. When the mind has illusions, it leaves the enlightened state.

A few more teachings of the Zen Master…

‘The Unborn Buddha-mind is where the Buddhas of the past all attained their realization and where future Buddhas will attain theirs.’

‘Not a single one of you people at this meeting is an enlightened. Right now you are all sitting before me as both of us. Each of you received the Buddha mind from your mothers when you were born and nothing else. This inherited Buddha mind is beyond any doubt unborn, with a marvellously bright illuminative wisdom.’

‘Your self-partiality is at the root of all your illusions. There aren’t any illusions when you don’t have this preference for yourself.’

The narration of the book is slow paced and that helps the reader to introspect and contemplate. If the reader chooses to, he/she gets enough time to soak in the teachings.

The translation is rather crude. It could have been better had the writer had in-depth knowledge about the Eastern religions and philosophies. As a result, there are places where the Zen Master comes across as boastful and self-centered. This goes against the essence of Buddhism. I have read many books translated by the people from the west on these topics and do justice to the content. It would have made the teachings far more impactful, had the translation been any better.


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