Chapter 6: The Miracle of Ordinariness
Bankei was preaching quietly to his followers one day when his talking was interrupted by a priest from another sect.
This sect believed in the power of miracles,
and thought that salvation came from repeating holy words. Bankei stopped talking, and asked the priest what he wanted to say.
The priest boasted that the founder of his religion could stand on one bank of the river with a brush in his hand and write a holy name on a piece of paper held
by an assistant on the opposite bank of the river.
The priest asked, “What miracles can you do?” Bankei replied, ”Only one. When I am hungry I eat,
and when I am thirsty I drink.”
The only miracle, the impossible miracle, is to be just ordinary. The longing of the mind is to be extraordinary. The ego thirsts and hungers for recognition. The ego feeds on the recognition that you are somebody. Somebody achieves that dream through wealth, somebody else achieves that dream through power, politics; somebody else can achieve that dream through miracles, jugglery, but the dream remains the same: I cannot tolerate myself being nobody. And this is the miracle: when you accept your nobodiness, when you are just as ordinary as anybody else, when you don’t ask for any recognition, when you can exist as if you are not existing. To be absent is the miracle.
This story is beautiful, one of the most beautiful Zen anecdotes, and Bankei is one of the superb masters. But Bankei was really an ordinary man.
Once it happened that Bankei was working in his garden. Somebody came, a seeker, a man in search of a master, and he asked Bankei, “Gardener, where is the master?”
Bankei laughed and said, “Wait. Come to that door - inside you will find the master.”
So the man went round and came inside. He saw Bankei sitting on a throne, the same man who was the gardener outside. The man said, “Are you kidding? Get down from this throne. This is sacrilegious, you don’t pay any respect to the master.”
Bankei got down, sat on the ground, and said, “Now then, it is difficult. Now you will not find the master here - because I am the master.”
It was difficult for that man to see that a great master can work in the garden, can be just ordinary. He left. He couldn’t believe that this man was the master; he missed.
We are all in search of the extraordinary. But why are you in search of the extraordinary? It is because you also long to be extraordinary. With an ordinary master, how can you become extraordinary, exceptional?
Bankei was talking, lecturing, and one man stood and asked.. He belonged to some other sect, a sect which worked through mantras, holy names. Remember that a mantra is a secret technique to achieve more power. A mantra is not spiritual, it is political, but the politics are of the inner space, not of the outer.
The mind can become powerful if you narrow it down; narrowing is the method. The more narrow the mind, the more powerful it becomes. It is just like the sun’s rays falling to the ground. If you focus those rays through a lens, fire can be created. Those rays were falling all spread out but now they have been narrowed down through the lens. They have become one-pointed, concentrated; now fire is possible.