Lesson
18

Layman Pang and Hanshan

2 of 6

Pang: Meeting the masters

Pang seems to have visited every major Chan figure in China. The first master he visited was the famous Shitou, sometime rival of Mazu  When Pang appeared at the retreat of Shitou he greeted Shitou by asking him one of the standard Chan questions, which Shitou answered by quietly placing a hand over Pang's mouth—causing the Layman's first enlightenment experience. Pang studied under Shitou —although probably in a non-monastic capacity—for some time, until one day Shitou decided to test him.

Shitou: "Tell me, how have you practiced Chan after coming here to this mountain?"

Pang: "There is really nothing words can reveal about my daily life."

Shitou continued, "It is just because I know words cannot that
I ask you now."

At this, Pang was moved to offer a verse:

My daily activities are not unusual,
I'm just naturally in harmony with them.
Grasping nothing, discarding nothing,
In every place there's no hindrance, no conflict.

[My] supernatural power and marvelous activity:
Drawing water and carrying firewood.

The declaration that drawing water and carrying firewood were miraculous acts demonstrated Pang's understanding of "every-day-mindedness"—the teaching of no-teaching, the approach of no-approach.

Apparently concluding that he had absorbed all of Shitou's teaching, Pang headed for the master Mazu. Pang's adventures with Mazu are not particularly well recorded, given the two years he reportedly studied under the master. However, the account of their meeting has become a Chan standard—puzzling, with its subtle wordplay that weaves in and out between realism and symbolism:

Pang to Mazu: "What kind of man is he who has no companion among all things?"

Mazu : "After you swallow all the water in the West River in one gulp, I will tell you."

It is said that when Pang heard this, he was suddenly aware of the essence of Chan.

Although the Layman declined monastic orders, he apparently could hold his own with the best of Mazu's followers, as well as with other Chan monks he encountered in his travels.

Another time Pang is reminiscent of Zhaozhou in demonstrating that it is possible to hold one's own without the use of words.

Layman Pang was lying on his couch reading a sutra. A monk saw him: "Layman! You must maintain dignity when reading a sutra."

The Layman raised up one leg.

The monk had nothing to say.