Monday, December 08, 2014


                                DRAWING WATER, CHOPPING WOOD

                                                        P’ang Yun                                                       

P’ang Yun was a Chinese Confucian Buddhist, born in the year 740. Because he was not affiliated with any temple or organizations, but was dedicated to his family and his personal beliefs, he was commonly referred to as “Layman P’ang.”

That is, he was an ordinary guy who thought for himself.

          At an early age P’ang became disillusioned with China’s politics, the military comings and goings of the T’ang dynasty, and the routine teachings of so-called holy places. Though he was the privileged son of a minor official, he had no desire to pursue an organizational career. Instead of joining a temple, he, his wife, daughter, and son practiced Buddhism on their own terms in a thatched hut they added to their home.

          One day P’ang casually mentioned that living was difficult and that his studies were boring. His wife responded by saying living was merely touching one’s feet to the ground when getting out of bed, and that she found the teaching in the blossoms of flowering plants. His daughter said, “When I am hungry I eat. When I am tired I rest.”

Those views caused P’ang to reexamine himself

          P’ang’s son was content with life as a farmer He had nothing to say about life.

          As an experiment, P’ang spent a year at a Chán monastery where he meditated not as a monk but as a common student. One day the master asked him what he did at the monastery. P’ang wrote the following:

          “My daily activities are not unusual,

          “I’m just in harmony with them.

          “Grasping nothing, discarding nothing.

          “In every place there is no hindrance, no conflict.

          “My supernatural power and marvelous activity are

          “Drawing water and chopping wood.”


          The master was impressed by such a candid answer, and he suggested that P’ang become a monk. P’ang shook his head and said, “Thanks but no thanks. I prefer doing what I like.”

          One day P’ang was stretched out on a couch amusing himself by reading sutras. A monk passing by stopped and said, “Good sir, you must maintain dignity when reading the words of the Buddha.”

          Without removing his gaze from the printed words, Layman raised one leg.

          The monk was puzzled, and he shut up.

          One day Mrs. P’ang went to a local temple to present some food as a donation. The temple priest thanked her and asked the purpose of her offering so he could assign the merit and complete the transfer. Mrs. P’ang thought such a suggestion was complete nonsense and had nothing to do with anything. Sticking her comb in her hair she said, “The transfer is done,” And she left the temple.

          The priest was baffled.

          When P’ang was around fifty years old he loaded a boat with all of his material possessions and sunk everything in a river. Then he and his daughter, Ling-chao, left home to look for individuals who were reputed to be learned in the ways of Buddhism and Chán. Their journey turned out to be frustrating rather than satisfying.

          To support themselves they made and sold bamboo utensils in villages and market places.

          One writer mentions that the biographical record about the P’ang family is limited. With no other information to go on, the best guess is that the father and the daughter continued their travels and discourses while the mother and the son continued as farmers. Even with their separation, the family continued to practice Confucian Buddhism on their own terms. 

          The P’angs may have been Confucians, and they respected the Confucian ideals, but they identified themselves as Buddhists. Still, they refused to “take the cloth.” That is, they avoided becoming monks or priests and they sidestepped any particular temple. One writer says Layman did not carry the jingling-bell staff of the Buddhist pilgrim but preferred the unadorned bamboo stick of the ordinary traveler. Instead of a black monk’s robe, he wore a plain white wrap that he called his robe of emptiness.

          In one of his poems, Layman wrote:

           “I have a boy who has no bride,

          “I have a girl who has no groom,

          “It’s a happy family circle,

          “We speak about the unborn.”


          A Korean history titled The Chodang Chip (which translates as Patriarch’s Hall Collection) is the first existing collection of texts that portrays Chán as a distinct tradition of Buddhism. Created about 950, the history is mostly biographic in nature, though it also contains "encounter dialogues" and other typical Chán texts. It portrays Layman P’ang as “Confucian in appearance, his feelings unrestrained, and his behavior as easy everywhere.”

          There are many stories about P’ang.

          One day the Layman saw a young boy herding oxen and asked him, “Where does this path we are following lead?”

          The boy said, “I don't know where it goes.”

          The Layman said, “Aren’t you herding the oxen?”

          The boy said, “They live in these fields.”

          The Layman said, “What time of day is it anyway?”

          The boy said, “It’s time for the oxen to pasture.”

          The Layman laughed because he knew that the oxen knew what time it was and where they were going. And the boy’s answer was better than any that came out of a so-called master.

          Another story tells of the time the Layman visited the Yueh-shan monastery. When the Layman departed, the master sent a group of monks to see him off at the gate. It happened to be snowing. The Layman pointed at the falling snow and exclaimed, “What wondrous snow, each flake falls in the right place.”

          Think about that.    

          P’ang may have been free from prejudice or bigotry, but he did not belittle anyone who practiced Buddhism or taught Buddhism in the standard manner. Instead he liked to engage one educated individual after another with interchanges that more often than not flabbergasted masters and caused them to reconsider their teachings.

          Much like Vimalakīrti, a historic figure who is thought of as a contemporary of Guatama Buddha, P’ang is considered a model of the non-monastic Buddhist follower who lives an exemplary Buddhist life.

          As the Layman wrote:

          “My daily activities are not unusual,

          “I’m just in harmony with them.


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