Author Topic: The enlightened layperson - Layman Pang  (Read 3590 times)

Offline Optimus Prime

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The enlightened layperson - Layman Pang
« on: January 27, 2010, 05:33:22 am »
Nowadays, we get all sorts of people who claim to be enlightened but in reality are just deluded.  But in China, there was a layman who was recognized by the great Buddhist masters to actually have been enlightened.  When someone says they're enlightened, maybe we think, "Well good for you!" (sarcastically!).  On the other hand, when great Patriarchs of Buddhism recognize someone as being enlightened - now that has some substance.

His name was Layman Pang and it looks like his daughter was also enlightened and may have been even more accomplished than him.

The Great Chan Master Hsu Yun relates:

Sometimes ordinary folks get the idea that the meaning of Chan is so profound that only men and women who've been ordained in the Dharma can possibly fathom it. But that s just not so. Actually, we priests often feel that we're in way over our heads. And every now and then, while we splash about, trying to look good treading water in our nice uniforms, along comes a civilian who zips by us, swimming like an Olympic champion. Such a civilian was Layman Pang, He would have won Chan's gold medal. He's been a hero not only to centuries worth of other laymen, but also, I confess, to every priest who's ever studied his winning style.

Layman Pang lived during the latter half of the Eighth Century, a golden age for Chan. He was an educated family man- he had a wife and a son and daughter- and was well enough off financially to be able to devote his time to Buddhist studies.

He got the idea that a person needed solitude in order to meditate and ponder the Dharma, so he built himself a little one-room monastery near his family home. Every day he went there to study and practice.

His wife, son and daughter studied the Dharma, too; but they stayed in the family house, conducting their business and doing their chores, incorporating Buddhism into their daily lives.

Layman Pang had submerged himself in the sutras and one day he found that he, too, was in over his head. He hadn't learned to swim yet. On that day, he stormed out of his monastery-hut and, in abject frustration complained to his wife, "Difficult! Difficult!

Difficult! Trying to grasp so many facts is like trying to store sesame seeds in the leaves of a tree top!"

His wife retorted, "Easy! Easy! Easy! You've been studying words, but I study the grass and find the Buddha Self reflected in every drop of dew."

Now, Layman Pang's daughter, Ling Zhao, was listening to this verbal splashing, so she went swimming by. "Two old people foolishly chattering!" she called.

"Just a minute!" shouted Layman Pang. "If you're so smart, tell us your method."

Ling Zhao returned to her parents and said gently, "It's not difficult, and it's not easy. When I'm hungry, I eat. When I'm tired, I sleep "

Ling Zhao had mastered Natural Chan.

Layman Pang learned a lot that day. He understood so much that he put away his books, locked his little monastery-hut, and decided to visit different Chan masters to test his understanding. He still couldn't compete against his own daughter, but he was getting pretty good.

Eventually he wound up at Nan Yueh Mountain where Master Shi Tou had a monastic retreat. Layman Pang went directly to the master and asked, "Where can I find a man who's unattached to material things?" Master Shi Tou slowly raised his hand and closed Pang's mouth. In that one gesture, Pang's Chan really deepened. He stayed at Nan Yueh for many months.

All the monks there watched him and became quite curious about his Natural Chan, his perfect equanimity. Even Master Shi Tou was moved to ask him what his secret was. "Everyone marvels at your methods," said Shi Tou. "Tell me. Do you have any special powers?"

Layman Pang just smiled and said, "No, no special powers. My day is filled with humble activities and I just keep my mind in harmony with my tasks. I accept what comes without desire or aversion. When encountering other people, I maintain an uncritical attitude, never admiring, never condemning. To me, red is red and not crimson or scarlet. So, what marvelous method do I use? Well, when I chop wood, I chop wood; and when I carry water, I carry water."

Master Shi Tou was understandably impressed by this response. He wanted Pang to join his Sangha. "A fellow like you shouldn't remain a layman," said Shi Tou. "Why don't you shave your head and become a monk?"

The proposition signaled the end of Pang's sojourn with Shi Tou. Clearly, he could learn no more from this master. Pang responded with a simple remark. "I'll do what I'll do," and what he did was leave.

He next showed up at the doorstep of the formidable Master Ma Zu. Again he asked the master, "Where can I find a man who's unattached to material things?" Ma Tzu frowned and replied, "I'll tell you after you've swallowed West River in one gulp "

In grasping that one remark, Pang was able to complete his enlightenment. He saw that Uncritical Mind was not enough. His mind had to become as immense as Buddha Mind; it had to encompass all Samsara and Nirvana, to expand into Infinity's Void. Such a mind could swallow the Pacific.

Layman Pang stayed with Master Ma Zu until he discovered one day that he had no more to learn from him, either. On that particular occasion, Pang approached Ma Zu and, standing over him, said, "An enlightened fellow asks you to look up:' Ma Zu deliberately looked straight down. Layman Pang sighed, "How beautifully you play the stringless lute!"

At this point, Ma Zu had confirmed that there was no difference between human beings, that they were truly one and the same individual. As Pang had looked down, Ma Zu would look down. There was no one else to look up. But then, unaccountably, Ma Zu looked straight up and broke the spell, so to speak. So Layman Pang bowed low and remained in that obeisance of finality as Ma Zu rose and began to walk away. As the Master brushed past him, the Layman whispered, "Bungled it, didn't you... trying to be clever."

Layman Pang had attained mastery and every master he encountered acknowledged this. But what is evident to a master is not always evident to an ordinary monk. One winter day, while Pang was leaving the monastery of Master Yao Shan, some young monks, who were disdainful of his status as a mere layman, accompanied him to the front door. When Pang looked outside, he saw that it was snowing. "Good snow!" he said. "The flakes do not fall elsewhere " A monk named Quan, who was as impudent as he was stupid, completely missed the wit in Pang's remark. He mocked the Layman, asking sarcastically, "Where did you expect the flakes to fall?"

Now, Pang was good naturedly complimenting the snow for not falling in the kitchen or the meditation hall, that is to say, for falling where snow was supposed to fall- in the courtyard and fields, on the trees and roads. Pang knew that he would have to walk a long distance in that bitterly cold snow, and he had accepted that fact without distress.

But Pang not only had the wisdom of a master, he had the temper, too. When he saw the sneer on the young monk's face, he struck him.

"How dare you!" said the monk "And you're an ordained monk?" asked Pang incredulously. "Why, you'd be rejected at Hell's gates!"

"Just what do you mean by that?" demanded the monk.

Pang struck him again. "I mean that though you have eyes, ears and tongue, you're absolutely blind, deaf, and dumb." Then he calmly went out into the snow as if it were just so much sunshine. He had given the monk quite a lesson.

But usually he was extremely kind and patient with those he instructed.

One day, as he listened to a man who was trying to explain the Diamond Sutra, he noticed that the fellow was struggling with the meaning of a line that dealt with the nonexistence of the ego personality "Perhaps I can help you," Pang said. "Do you understand that that which is conditional and changing is not real and that which is unconditional and immutable is real?"

"Yes," replied the commentator.

"Then is it not true that egos are conditional and changing, that no ego is the same from one minute to the next? Is it not true that with each passing minute, depending on circumstances and conditions, we acquire new information and new experiences just as we forget old information and experiences?

"Yes," added the commentator.

"But what is there about us that is unconditional and unchanging? asked Pang.

"Our common Buddha Nature!" replied the commentator, suddenly smiling, suddenly understanding. "That alone is real! The rest is mere illusion!" He was so happy that he inspired Pang to write him a poem:

  Since there is neither ego nor personality
  Who is distant and who is close?
  Take my advice and quit talking about reality.
  Experience it directly, for yourself.
  The nature of the Diamond Wisdom
  Is truth in all its singular purity.
  Fictitious egos can't divide or soil it
  The expressions,
  "I hear," "I believe," "I understand,"
  Are simply expedient expressions
  Tools in the diamond-cutter's hands.
  When the work's done, he puts them down.

Layman Pang and his daughter Ling Zhao traveled around China meeting their expenses by selling bamboo articles they made. They grew old together, becoming legends of enlightenment. Their last residence was a mountain cave.

Pang knew that it was time for him to lay his burden down. He was very tired and could not go on. Inside the cave there was one particular rock that he always sat on when meditating; so he took his seat and, intending to pass away when the sun was directly overhead, he sent Ling Zhao outside to watch for the moment that noon had come. In a few minutes, however, Ling Zhao returned to the cave breathless with excitement "Oh Father," she shouted, "you must come outside and see this! There's been an eclipse of the sun!"

Well, this was an extraordinary occurrence if ever there was one. Pang could not resist having a look at it. So he rose from his meditation rock and went outside. He looked and looked but there was no eclipse. Noon had come, that was all. But where was Ling Zhao?

Pang returned to the cave and found her dead, her body sitting upright on his meditation rock. "Oh, that girl!" cried Pang. "She always was ahead of me:'

He buried her and then, a week later, he, too, entered Nirvana. His body was cremated and the ashes scattered on the waters of a nearby lake.
Empty Cloud, The Teachings of Xu Yun
Chapter 10 - The Story of Layman Pang
As compiled from the notes
and recollections of Jy Din Shakya and Related to Ming Zhen (Chuan Yuan) Shakya and Upasaka Richard Cheung

Offline Rayfield

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Re: The enlightened layperson - Layman Pang
« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2010, 06:34:34 am »
Entertaining/interesting read!

Honestly, I've never really understood the idea that one person can detect enlightenment in another. Half the time, I struggle to figure out what my wife is trying to say, and I've known her for nearly 20 years.  :)

Offline Quiet Heart

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Re: The enlightened layperson - Layman Pang
« Reply #2 on: January 28, 2010, 12:26:19 am »

I like that post... some things to think about in there.
The tradition of the "enlightened layman", the otherwise "uneducated" person whose comment cuts right through all the noise and nonsense and comes right to the point to beautifully illustrate the point of a teaching is used all the time in Zen stories.
As an example in that story I posted above, "The Old Lady Tea Seller and the Monk" about the old lady who sold tea and cakes. The monk in the story spent many years studying a sutra, and made a long involved commentary on it. The old lady's comment that, "I know this sutra. It says that our past minds, our present mind, and all our future minds are but an illusion. Therefore, I ask you: with which mind do you intend to pay me for this tea and cakes?"  is an example of the tradition of the "uneducated layman" making a remark that cuts right through and straight to the heart of the matter.


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