Layman Pang’s Beautiful Snowflakes
The koan followed by comments and then a Dharma talk
by James Ishmael Ford
Layman Pang was leaving Yaoshan. Yaoshan ordered ten of his Zen students to see Pang off at the temple gate. Pang pointed to the falling snow in the air and said, “Beautiful snow-flakes! — they don’t fall on any other place.”
At that time there was a student named Zen, who said, “Where then do they fall?”
Pang gave him a slap.
Zen said, “Layman Pang, don’t be so rough.”
Pang said, “If you name yourself Zen student in such a condition, Old En [the fearful judge at the entrance of the realm of the dead] will never release you!”
Zen said, “What then would you say, Layman Pang?”
Pang slapped him again and said, “You look, but you are like a blind man; you speak, but you are like a deaf-mute.”
(Xuedou added his comment, “Why didn’t you, [Student Zen], hit him with a snowball in place of your first question?”)
He talks independently, acts independently; and he trudges through the mire for the sake of others. He talks with others, acts with others; and he stands alone, like silver mountains and iron cliffs. If you doubt and hesitate, you will be a ghost haunting a skull. If you stop to think, you will fall into hell. Don’t you see the bright sun shining in the sky and feel the cool breeze blowing across the face of the earth? Was any of the great ones of ancient times like this? See the case.
Even the best will fail to reply.
Neither heaven nor earth knows what to do;
Eyes and ears are blocked with snow.
Transcendent serenity and purity!
Even the blue-eyed old monk [Bodhidharma] can’t explain.
Librarian Qing’s Comment
“I just would have made a snowball and hit him with it.” The Layman’s mind is like a lightning bolt. If we waited for you to grab a snowball, how long would it take? Only if you hit him while he’s still speaking can you cut him off completely.
“Where do they fall?” It was not that he didn’t know what Pang was getting at. They each had a point to their activity, but their rolling up and rolling out were not the same. Even so, in some respects he didn’t come up to the Layman. That is why he fell into his trap and found it difficult to get out of the Layman’s range.
“Fine snowflakes; they don’t fall elsewhere.” No one can see this saying clearly. “I’d have made a snowball and struck.” This is Xuedou’s fearsome pit of black fire; if you can see fully, you will see through the hearts of Layman Pang and Xuedou both.
“Where do they fall?” This challenge was most appropriate in that situation, but he had nothing beyond convention to follow the layman.
(case & comments compiled by Meredith Garmon)
Delivered at the Empty Sky Sesshin, 13 October, 2018