This article explores the ways in which the imagery at work within the poetry of Wang Wei (王維 699–761) expresses Mahāyāna Buddhist notions of emptiness. I initially provide an overview of the Buddhist philosophical heritage from which Wang Wei drew inspiration and then describe the relationship between poetry and Chan Buddhism in Tang dynasty literary circles, thereby introducing the religious and literary milieus from which Wang Wei's poetic impulse sprang. Finally, I offer a reading of Wang Wei's poems, arguing that the Chan emphasis on a transmission outside explicit teachings led Wang Wei to eschew the exposition of doctrine in favor of a poetry that, in its simplicity and silence, embodies the very absence of the poet himself. I address this article not primarily to specialists of Chinese literature but to those interested in the interplay of literature, religion, and philosophy generally, as Wang Wei offers an enthralling instance of the attempt to meld the literary and the religio-philosophical impulses in poetic form. In formulating my argument, I draw upon Western literary and phenomenological theorists in a bid to partially enact an integration of methodologies akin to the fusion of referents so subtly embodied in the imagery of Wang Wei.

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