[16] Record Of Foolish-Headed Wáng’s Rebirth 王痴头往生记 A Classic Case Of How Mindfulness Of Buddha Attains Wisdom 念佛开智慧之著名公案


Qīng Dynasty’s Foolish-Headed ‘Taoist’:


Foolish-Headed ‘Taoist’, Surname of Wáng, Zhílì person, extremely foolish.

[Note 1: He was also known as Wáng the Dull-Minded (王呆头) One. Although he was trained by a Taoist priest, as he did not learn any actual Taoist teachings from him, while learning to be mindful of Buddha instead, he was in effect a Buddhist, not a ‘Taoist’ at all.]


With parents deceased and lacking food, stranded with sleeping in a shabby hut, he was without that needed for survival.

[Note 2: Foolish-Headed was so foolish, that he did not have skill for any livelihood, not knowing how to fend for himself.]


Perhaps when given of money, he was also not able to differentiate and count their amounts.

[Note 3: Even when offered donations for buying necessities, he was so dull-minded that he could not keep track of them.]

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The capital city’s Taoist priest Chén received him as a disciple, enabling him in the day to sweep the ground and gather firewood, and at night thus with the homework of reciting Āmítuófó’s name several hundred times, with prostrations done, during a stick of burning incense as the measure for time.

[Note 4: As Foolish-Headed was simple-minded, he was tasked menial tasks for work. Probably for the same reason, the priest saw him to be capable of only practising the ‘simple’ (yet actually profound) practice of mindfulness of Buddha.]


Foolish-Headed’s recitation of Buddha’s name was not accomplished rhythmically.

[Note 5: As Foolish-Headed was not sharp enough, even with the short name of the Buddha, he could not carry it in tune. A calming tune can help to calm the mind. However, recitation with a tune is optional, as it mainly assists in pacing, which is more important for harmony during group cultivation practice.]


Every time he became drowsy with desire to sleep, the Taoist priest with his long bamboo pole would strike him, and say, ‘You are already as ignorant as this, yet still not knowing to be diligent!’

[Note 6: Such strict disciplining and scolding proved useful as we shall see, to counter his negative habitual forces, to guide him to practise seriously. We too should reflect on how we are also already as ignorant as we are, to still be trapped in this Dharma-Ending Age (末法时期), yet still not being more diligent to learn and practise to reach Pure Land, where it is the Right Dharma Age (正法时期).]


Thus, with that, passing by for three years.

[Note 7: Unless one was already well-practised in past lives, and able to reconnect to recollect past practice, which is not easy, time is needed for practice to mature in this life here.]


One evening, when he chuckled and laughed heartily, the Taoist priest again struck him.

[Note 8: Not at all foolish laughter, this was confident laughter with surprised realisation of how he was so foolish in the past, and with clear delight of how he is no longer foolish now. It expressed his spiritual breakthrough. Although seemingly sudden, it took three years of gradual daily practice, for the bright light of his newfound wisdom to penetrate through his especially thick and dark clouds of delusion.]


Foolish-Headed said, ‘Today, beating me must not be done.’

[Note 9: He did not deserve any more punishment as his practice has now bore fruit. Also, he was about to be the teacher to his ‘teacher’ instead.]


The priest questioned him on why this was so.

[Note 10: This asking shows how the teacher has now fallen behind his student spiritually.]


Foolish-Headed said, ‘Teacher, you had withered with sitting in meditation for 18 years, not knowing how to cultivate the path.

[Note 11: The teacher had spent as much as 6 times longer than his student in practice, that still proved futile, while he did not understand the essence of the path that he ironically taught his student, which the latter realised via sincere personal practice.]


If able to be like me, earnestly prostrating and reciting, you would had earlier be born in the Western Pure Land to meet the Buddha!’

[Note 12: The teacher was probably not practising Buddhism, and was probably practising to attain ‘heavenly immortality’. However, the Buddha taught that even the gods in the highest heavens with long lives do not have eternal life, and will eventually fall to lower rebirths when their positive karma exhausts, while still being trapped in the cycle of rebirth. The true way to attain immeasurable life, and be liberated from the cycle of rebirth, even before becoming a Buddha, is to reach Āmítuófó’s Pure Land, where his blessings enables this to be possible, while offering the swiftest path to Buddhahood.]


The Taoist priest felt this was strange, yet was not able to fathom that said.

[Note 13: The teacher still could not understand the meaning of his student’s verbal teaching, although by the next day, he probably did, when his student taught by example, on the ultimate fruit of his practice.]

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The next day, Foolish-Headed ascended a steep cliff, towards the West joined his palms, stood straight and departed.

[Note 14: This demonstrated his proficiency of practice, to be able to be reborn in Pure Land with great ease, even before ageing, sickness and dying. His readiness and swiftness of departure emphasized the power of his practice. Being at first simple-minded and now clear-minded, it was easy for him to part for Pure Land quickly as he had no worldly attachments.

Note 15: How was he able to give rise to all Three Provisions (of Faith, Aspiration and Practice) for rebirth in Pure Land, seemingly ‘without’ adequate instruction? One with Practice of mindfulness of Āmítuófó’s name sincerely already has Faith, while deepened Practice, which connects to Āmítuófó’s blessings, will give rise to wisdom with the Aspiration to seek birth in Pure Land. Of course, if one is not too dull-minded, teachings on these provisions should be learned directly for swifter mastery.]


After cremation, two ‘grains’ of śarīra [i.e. sacred relics] were attained. (Collection On Being Perfumed By Fragrance)

[Note 16: This further proves the efficacy of his practice, with physical evidence to inspire later generations.]


In comment speaking, those having Foolish-Headed ‘Taoist’s kind of rebirth, from ancient transmissions, are rarely heard.

[Note 17: The extremely contrasting pre and post circumstances of this case are seldom repeated in recorded history. However, the very fact that there are such dramatic cases shows the remarkable power of Pure Land practice.]


Now, Foolish-Headed, as the ‘son’ of foolishness, for throughout the ages, will be regarded as an outstanding person.

[Note 18: There are three main kinds of spiritual practitioners – those with higher (or sharper) roots (上根/利根), those with medium (or average) roots (中根) and those with lower (or duller) roots (下根/钝根). This case exemplifies how even one with low or dull roots can, with sincere Pure Land practice, become one with high or sharp roots within one lifetime, before reaching Pure Land. Those who claim themselves to be ‘too’ dull-minded thus have no excuse not to sharpen their minds with similar practice. Thus is it said that the Pure Land path has the three roots universally received (三根普被), with the sharp and dull all gathered (利钝全收). Paradoxically, the simple-minded, who do not have convoluted minds, might find it easier to give rise to the sincere mind to practise well – even though the beginning phase might be more challenging.]  


Yet, those with yellow crowns [i.e. priests] spread this, thus saying that, ‘I learn the heavenly path [to be an] immortal, while mindfulness of Buddha is then by foolish men that is done.’ How is this not in reverse by ‘cleverness’ mistaken?

[Note 19: This case clearly corrects the misconception. Those foolish are those who assume Pure Land practice to only be for the foolish, who assume they have a more efficient path for spiritual betterment and perfection, when it is already the swiftest path to Buddhahood for all beings. If even the greatest Bodhisattvas, with the highest and sharpest roots, including the wisest Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī (文殊菩萨) expressed personal aspiration to reach Āmítuófó’s Pure Land to perfect his already great wisdom, how can they be imagined to be foolish? Truly foolish are those who imagine so.

Note 20: When we practise mindfulness of Buddha sincerely, this is tuning our Buddha-nature’s light to the Buddha’s light. Within our Buddha-nature is our natural innate wisdom, that is not unlike the Buddha’s, ‘awaiting’ to be awakened. With the Buddha’s blessings in terms of his light of wisdom (智慧光), it helps our inner light of wisdom to shone forth, by cutting through the Three Poisons (of attachment, aversion and delusion) that shroud our Buddha-nature. Mindfulness of Buddha is with Self and Other-Power, to shatter the darkness of delusion, to see the Buddha and Buddha-nature. This is how mindfulness of Buddha ‘opens’ wisdom (念佛开智慧). As delusion is the root of the Three Poisons, when it is reduced, attachment and aversion reduce too. The Buddha’s blessings also help to eradicate karmic obstacles (念佛消业障) that prevent wisdom from surfacing. Āmítuófó’s name is thus truly the inconceivable Great Name Of Ten Thousand Virtues (万德洪名).

Note 21: When we attempt to ‘gain’ wisdom from learning, it is not actually gained from outside – but using what is outside to awaken what is already within. When we attempt to ‘gain’ wisdom from contemplative meditation, actual wisdom is also realised in the same way. Mindfulness of Buddha is already supreme meditation, due to its supreme effects above. Thus, all who are dull-minded, and those who suffer from mental illnesses should be patiently guided to practise mindfulness of Buddha sincerely and diligently – for even they can gain the wisdom for reaching Pure Land.] 

Record Of Pure Land’s Noble Sages:
卷三 • 往生杂流第五
Scroll Three: Fifth Section On Rebirths Of Those With Mixed Occupations
Compiled by Péng Xīsù

Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an

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Mindfulness Of Buddha Is Supreme Meditation

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