What is most remarkable about Layman Pangyun is not just his own life and practice, but also that of his entire family. Early on in his life, Pang used to spend time studying and sitting in a little meditation shack next to his house. But at one point, the family took all of their belongings and sank them in the river, donated their house for use as a temple, and together began living a life of poverty, making their living by weaving baskets and selling them in a marketplace.
Both Layman Pang’s daughter and his wife were deeply realized—apparently he also had a son who perhaps was not too clear with regard to the dharma, so there’s not much written about him in the records. From an early age, Layman Pang’s daughter Lingzhou seemed particularly clear. Many of the dialogues that you’ll find in the Recorded Sayings of Layman Pang involve the layman engaged in dharma encounter with his daughter, or sometimes with the entire family.
One of these dialogues describes a time when they were all sitting in their thatched cottage, and the layman exclaimed, “Difficult, difficult, difficult! Like trying to scatter ten measures of sesame seed all over a tree.” “Easy, easy, easy!” responded Mrs. Pang. “Just like touching your feet to the ground when you get out of bed.” “Neither difficult nor easy,” said Lingzhou. “On the hundred grass-tips, the ancestors’ meaning.” Even in the records of Buddhism it is quite rare to have an entire family of practitioners engaged in the dharma together like this, with their practice an integral part of their daily existence.
Layman Pang had an incredible relationship with his daughter, right up until the time he died. When he was getting ready to die, he said to Lingzhou, “See how high the sun is in the sky, and let me know when it’s noon.” Lingzhou went to the window and quickly reported to him, “The sun has already reached the zenith, and there’s an eclipse.” So the Layman jumped up and went to the door to look out. Lingzhou seated herself in her father’s chair, and, putting her palms together, passed away. The Layman smiled and said, “My daughter has anticipated me.” For seven days he postponed his own passing, and then he had a visitor. One of the emperor’s assistants, a Mr. Tu, who was a very close friend of his, came by to inquire about Pang’s illness. The Layman said to him, “I beg you to disregard as empty all that is existent, and to beware of taking as real all that is not existent. Fare you well in the world. All is like shadows and echoes.” Then he put his head down on Mr. Yu’s knee and died. So, as you can see, this was no ordinary family.
The koan that we’re dealing with appears in a slightly different translation of Dogen’s Three Hundred Koans by Nishijima. The way it reads is:
When Layman Hoon (Pangyun) was sitting in zazen, he asked Master Reisho (Lingzhou), “An ancient master said that all things are like grass, like grass are very transparent. The ancestors’ intention is also transparent, like grass. What do you think of these words?” Master Reisho said, “You speak these words as if you were very experienced, and great in action.” The layman said, “What’s your situation?” Master Reisho said, “All things, like grass, are very transparent. The ancestors’ intention is also transparent, like grass.” The layman laughed.
Reisho is the Japanese name for Lingzhou, but there’s no reference here at all to explain that this was Pangyun’s daughter, or that, in fact, Master Reisho is a woman. It’s just Master Reisho. This must have happened often in the history of Zen, and in the translations that have come down to us. Sometimes it’s just not known from the name whether it’s a man or a woman speaking. In this case, it may just have been difficult for the translator to understand this koan in terms of a father and a young daughter entering into a dialogue, and the daughter seeming to come out ahead.