PZI Teacher Archives
When Baizhang gave a talk, an old man was always there listening with the others. When they left, he left too. One day he stayed behind. Baizhang asked, “Who are you, standing here in front of me?”
The old man said, “It’s true, I am not a human being. Eons ago, in the time of Kashyapa Buddha, I was a priest living on this mountain. A student asked, ‘Is an enlightened person subject to cause and effect or not?’ I replied, ‘Someone like that doesn’t fall into cause and effect.’ Because of this, I have been reborn as a fox for five hundred lives. Now I beg you to say a turning word and release me from this wild fox’s body.”
Then he asked, “Is an enlightened person subject to cause and effect or not?”
Baizhang said, “You don’t cut the chains of cause and effect.”
At these words, the old man was deeply enlightened. He bowed and said, “I’ve been released from my fox’s body. The body is on the other side of this mountain. I implore you, perform for me the funeral for a priest.”
Baizhang had the duty monk strike the white gavel and announce to the community that after the meal there would be a funeral for a priest. Everyone wondered about this because they were all healthy and no one was sick in the infirmary.
After the meal, Baizhang led the assembly to the foot of a cliff on other side of the mountain. He used his staff to poke out a dead fox. Then he cremated the body according to the rules.
When Baizhang went to teach that evening, he explained the whole story. Huangbo asked him, “The man from ancient times gave a mistaken answer, he was reborn as a fox for five hundred lives. If at each turn he makes no mistake, what would have happened then?
Baizhang said, “Come up close and I’ll tell you.” Huangbo went up and slapped Baizhang. Baizhang clapped his hands, laughed and said, “I thought I was a red bearded barbarian, but here’s a guy who is even more of a red bearded barbarian.“
Not subject, not cutting the chains—
two faces of the same die.
Not cutting the chains, not subject—
a thousand regrets, ten thousand regrets.
—Gateless Gate Case 2
What makes the old man in the koan stay and talk to Baizhang? What is that ‘turning’ in practice, in life? Allison Atwill explores questions of time and karma, forms of suffering, and more during Summer Sesshin.