Layman Pang Is Corrected: A Zen Encounter

Layman Pang Is Corrected: A Zen Encounter August 10, 2016

old man reading

The Layman was once lying on his couch reading a sutra. A monk saw him and said: “Layman! You must maintain dignity when reading a sutra.”
The Layman raised up one leg.
The monk had nothing to say.

This is an episode from the Ruth Fuller Sasaki, et al translation of the ninth century Zen classic the Record of Layman P’ang (this translation appears, sadly, to be out of print. However, another, which I’ve not read is available). Pangyun (as is the more conventional transliteration of his name today) was a lay Zen master who studied with several of the great teachers of his day, including Great master Ma as well as Shitou Xiqian from whom he received Dharma transmission. Tradition records that both his wife and daughter were accomplished Zen adepts, as well.

I think of the Layman as a particularly appropriate teacher for our time and place. His immediacy is little different than what is found in the stories of the monks (and those few nuns whose records are remembered) but they tend to take place in more recognizable situations.

Here he is lying on a couch and reading sacred scriptures. I like to think perhaps this particular sacred scripture is one of Laurie R King’s murder mysteries. Although I concede it could be a review of the summer movie schedule.

Anyway, there he is, not one, not two. Just lounging on a couch, reading. Just this.
The monk walks by (must be a houseguest…) and decides the old Layman needs some correcting. I mean someone actually gave that old guy Dharma transmission! And not even a priest… What’s the world coming to?

And what is the correction? It’s about decorousness. Now minute attention to one’s behaviors is in fact an authentic spiritual path. But like all spiritual disciplines it has its shadows. One is thinking what one is doing is somehow special.

From that sense of special the monk corrects the old Layman.

Looking up from what I’m pretty sure was an early edition of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Pang lifts his leg. Now this is a Zen story, so he’s not telling the monk to get stuffed or anything rude. Or, at least, the rude is superficial.

Instead he’s meeting the monk on equal ground, inviting him to step beyond the rules, if only for a second, and to experience for himself what is.

The book in hand, a leg shifts upward.

Guanyin reveals her many arms.

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