Lesson
8

Vimalakirti

8 of 13

Wang Wei

Vimalakirti became a celebrated figure in China and a model for Chinese lay practitioners. One example is the early eighth-century official Wang Wei, generally regarded as one of the greatest of Chinese poets, although he was also much appreciated as a painter and musician. Noted for the direct imagery and the deceptive simplicity of his nature verses, reminiscent of landscape paintings, Wang Wei was a dedicated Buddhist practitioner, and much of his poetry is deeply impregnated with Taoist and Buddhist metaphysical and spiritual overtones. Wang Wei explicitly identified himself with Vimalakirti, taking the spiritual name Mojie, which, together with his family name Wei, becomes Weimojie, the Chinese transliteration of the name Vimalakirti. Like Vimalakirti, Wang Wei served in the government, his career as an official alternating between major cabinet ministry positions, periods of political exile, and voluntary seclusions in meditative hermitages.

Now in old age, I know the value of silence,
The world's affairs no longer stir my heart.
Turning to myself, I have no greater plan,
All I can do is return to the forest of old.

Layman Pang

Vimalakirti's model of the enlightened layman was matched in China by the famed Chan practitioner known as Layman Pang. Layman Pang especially treasured the Vimalakirti Sutra. After Pang's awakening, his teacher asked if he wanted to don black robes and become a monk, but Pang chose to remain a layman, emulating Vimalakirti. Layman Pang is described as wearing white householder or layman's robes, like Vimalakirti.

When his teacher asked Layman Pang about his daily activity, Pang responded that he did nothing special but was naturally harmonious, neither grasping nor rejecting anything. Then Layman Pang uttered the famous line that his wondrous activities were simply carrying water and chopping firewood. Layman Pang thus became the Chan/Zen model for seeing all the miraculous activity of Vimalakirti as incorporated nondualistically into common, everyday activities.

My daily activities are not unusual,
I'm just naturally in harmony with them.
Grasping nothing, discarding nothing.
Supernatural power and marvelous activity -
Drawing water and carrying firewood.