Transmission of the Lamp

21. Bashubanzu

One day Shayata said to Bashubanzu, “Even though I may not seek after enlightenment, I do not act contrary to it; even though I may not be doing prostrations before the Buddha, I am not spiritually negligent; even though I may not be sitting in meditation, I am not lazy; even though I may not eat just one meal a day, I am not gluttonous; even though I may not know what is enough, I am not covetous. In my heart there is nothing that I seek; I call this the Way.” When Bashubanzu heard this, he realized the WISDOM that is free from all defilements and desires.


Bashubanzu was from the city of Rajagriha; his family name was Bishagi (S. Vaishakha, ‘of the clan of Vishakha,’ Shakyamuni’s leading female lay disciple). His father was Kágai which means ‘A Canopy of Light’ and his mother was Gon’ichi which means ‘Foremost in Spiritual Adornments.’ Although rich, they had no children, so his parents prayed at the Buddha’s stupa for an heir. One night his mother dreamt that she had swallowed two pearls—one bright, one dark—and, when she awoke, she was pregnant. Seven days later an arhant named Kenshu, which means ‘The Assembly of the Wise’, arrived at their home. When Kágai greeted him with ceremonial courtesy, Kenshu accepted this without moving from his seat but, when Gon’ichi entered and bowed to him, Kenshu arose saying, “I return the bow to the Splendid One of the Dharma-body.” Kágai could not fathom the significance of this behaviour. He then chose a valuable pearl and offered it to Kenshu on bended knees. After examining its genuineness, Kenshu took it but without any outward display of humble gratitude. Kágai, unable to tolerate this, remarked, “I am the husband here, yet, when I proffered you respect, you took no notice of my bow. What virtue does my wife have that the Arhant shuns me?” Kenshu replied, “I received your show of courtesy and accepted the pearl simply out of respect for the fact that you have been blessed with good fortune; your wife, however, is carrying a great master within her. When he is born he will be the sun of wisdom who is a lamp unto the world, therefore I have kept aloof from you but not out of greater esteem for women.” Kenshu then added, “Your wife will give birth to two children. The first is to be called Bashubanzu (S. Vasubandhu, which means ‘Excellent Friend’) and it is to him that I have paid honour. The second is to be called Sâni, that is, ‘The Child of the Jackdaw.’ Long ago, when the Tathagata was once training on a mountain in the Himalayas, a jackdaw was nesting on the peak. As the Buddha had already realized enlightenment, your son Sâni will receive some karmic recompense from that encounter; he will become king of the land of Nadi. The Buddha prophesied that, when the second five-hundred-year period arrived, Sâni would be born into the Bishagi family in Rajagriha in the same womb with a sage.” There was no mistake; one month later she gave birth to two sons.

Upon reaching his fifteenth year Bashubanzu was ordained as a monk by the Arhant Kádo (‘Bright Emancipation’); several Bodhisattvas gave him the Precepts. When Shayata arrived at Rajagriha, whilst on a preaching tour to spread the doctrine of sudden enlightenment, he found there a group of scholarly students who concentrated solely on debating; foremost among them was Bashubanzu. He took only one meal a day and never lay down; six times a day he made prostrations to the Buddha. He was imputed by the group to be chaste and without desires. Shayata, preparing to lead him to the Other Shore, began by questioning the group, “This busy ascetic is able to practise morality but is he capable of finding the Buddha’s Path to enlightenment?” The crowd replied, “Our teacher is diligence itself. Why could he not?” Shayata then said, “Your teacher is far from the Path. Even if he were to practise his asceticism for endless kalpas, it would be nothing but a source of vain delusion.” The crowd asked, “And what virtuous practices have you piled up that you should so disparage our teacher?” As stated above, Shayata answered, “Even though I may not seek after enlightenment….” until Bashubanzu realized the wisdom that is free from all defilements and desires. With great joy he praised Shayata. Once again Shayata addressed the crowd, “Did you not comprehend what I was saying? I said it because his mind was too eager in its search for enlightenment just as a sitar string is wont to snap when tightened too quickly or tautly. That is why I did not praise him but had him abide in a peaceful state so that he might enter the WISDOM OF THE BUDDHAS.”

What is happening here is indeed a key to the path of learning for, when you think “I must achieve Buddhahood, I must find enlightenment” or “I am piling up all this merit and virtue by observing dietary rules, keeping to morally pure actions, meditating for long periods without resting, performing rituals to worship the Buddha and reciting Scriptures in order to find enlightenment,” all you are doing is raining down flowers in a flowerless sky or making holes where there are none. Even if you were to spend infinite kalpas upon kalpas doing such things, you would not comprehend emancipation. Beyond question, to have no desire in your heart for anything whatsoever is what enlightenment is. So, even if contentment is what you desire, this still amounts to a greed. If you are habitually partial to long meditations this is being attached to body. Trying to get along on only one meal a day is still discrimination in what you view as food; also, making efforts to do rituals or read the Scriptures is creating flowers in your eyes. Because of this, each and every one of these thoughts, words and actions is above all a source of the unreal and false and is in no way something arising from your true ORIGINAL NATURE .

If you think sitting for long periods is enlightenment, sitting for ten months in the womb would be enlightenment; why would you seek to do it a second time? If regulating your diet were enlightenment, were you to become ill and be unable to set your meal times, would you then cease to be an enlightened person during that period? Indeed, such thought is enough to make someone burst out laughing. It is like a disciple of the Buddha setting up various standards of preceptual purity for his daily life based on the chaste conduct of the Buddhas and Ancestors; were he to form attachments to these standards, and become one-sided, they would all change into afflictions. Furthermore, were you to seek ever harder to realize enlightenment because you had become weary of birth and death, coming and going, you would not be able to sever the beginningless cycle of dying in one place and being born in another for you would still be cherishing the hope that somehow the opportunity to realize enlightenment would arise. Similarly, you may feel that you want to pursue enlightenment because you are all entangled in your day-to-day affairs. Know that such approaches are a complete mistake.

Again, what Buddhahood do you think can be found? What sentient being can be deluded? There is not one person who is deluded; there is not one teaching that can be awakened to. Although we say that, upon their conversion, delusion becomes enlightenment and the ordinary becomes sanctified, this is all talk for people who are not yet awakened. What is unconverted that needs to be converted? What is deluded that needs to be enlightened? Because of this the reverend monk Raizan (C. Chia-shan) said in verse,

“Quite clearly there is no awakening to TRUTH ;
‘Awakening to TRUTH’ is a phrase that only misleads others all the more.
If I always just stretch out both legs and sleep,
There will be no false and no true.”

(from The DENKOROKU: The Record of the Transmission of the Light by Zen Master Keizan Jokin. Translated by Reverend Hubert Nearman, Shasta Abbey Press, 2001.)