The master Bankei’s talks were attended not only by Zen students but by persons of all ranks and sects. He never quoted sutras nor indulged in scholastic dissertations. Instead, his words were spoken directly from his heart to the hearts of his listeners.
His large audiences angered a priest of the Nichiren sect because the adherents had left to hear about Zen. The self-centered Nichiren priest came to the temple, determined to debate with Bankei.
“Hey, Zen teacher!” he called out. “Wait a minute. Whoever respects you will obey what you say, but a man like myself does not respect you. Can you make me obey you?”
“Come up beside me and I will show you, “ said Bankei.
Proudly the priest pushed his way through the crowd to the teacher.
Bankei smiled. “Come over to my left side.”
The priest obeyed.
“No,” said Bankei, “we may talk better if you are on the right side. Step over here.”
The priest stepped proudly over to the right.
“You see,” observed Bankei, “you are obeying me and I think you are a very gentle person. Now sit down and listen.”
An ancient parable…
Once upon a time an angel was going back to heaven after fulfilling the errand for which he had been sent to the earth. It was a dark night, no moon in the skies, not even stars. The earth was enveloped by dark clouds. But the moment the angel was just entering into those dark clouds, he saw a miracle happening just beneath him. He saw a forest full of light. He was puzzled. He had been to this part many times, he was well-acquainted with the earth. He had never seen such a thing before. And the light was no ordinary light. It had the quality of bliss, blessing in it.
Just seeing that light, the angel felt more blissful than he had ever felt before, trot even in the company of the gods, not even in heaven had he seen such a luminous phenomenon.
The light was arising out of a small mango grove and was spreading all over the forest. And it was so powerful that he could see the foliage of the trees, the flowers of the trees, and the small lake just by the side of the grove. He became intrigued. He descended back to the earth.
As he was descending he was surprised even more. There was a soundless sound permeating the whole atmosphere – the soundless sound that is known in the East as pranava omkar – as if the whole forest was chanting “om.”
It was such a benediction. And not only that; more surprises were waiting for him. The moment he descended near the grove, he felt a fragrance absolutely unknown, unheard-of, even in heaven. This was nothing earthly. It was not even heavenly. It was beyond.
He entered the grove. He could not figure it out – what is happening there? Another surprise: a man was just sitting there under an ancient old tree, meditating. Then things were not so difficult to understand.
So he thought, “This man has become a Buddha. This man has come home…the light, the fragrance, the sound, are coming out of this man.” As he came closer to this man, more and more he was filled by his presence. The whole forest was agog – a new vibe, a new life. He could see trees blooming out of season. And there was such silence, absolute silence. And in that absolute silence there was that soundless sound. The whole forest – the trees and the lake and the mountains – all chanting. He fell into the feet of this man, opened his third eye – this angel – and tried to see what he was doing inside.