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Buddhadharma : Spri 2007
buddhadharma| 53 |spring 2007 the case once when Pai chang gave a series of talks, a certain old man was always there listening together with the monks. When they left, he would leave too. one day, however, he remained behind. Pai chang asked him, “Who are you, standing here before me?” the old man replied, “i am not a human being. in the distant past, in the time of kasyapa Buddha, i was head priest at this mountain. one day a monk asked me, ‘Does an enlightened person fall under the law of cause and effect or not?’ i replied, ‘such a person does not fall under the law of cause and effect.’ With this i was reborn five hundred times as a fox. Please say a turning word for me and release me from the body of a fox.” he then asked Pai chang, “Does an enlightened person fall under the law of cause and effect or not?” Pai chang said, “such a person does not evade the law of cause and effect.” hearing this, the old man immediately was enlightened. making bows he said, “i am released from the body of a fox. the body is on the other side of this mountain. i wish to make a request of you. Please, abbot, perform my funeral as for a priest.” Pai chang had a head monk strike the signal board and inform the assembly that after the noon meal there would be a funeral service for a priest. the monks talked about this in wonder. “all of us are well. there is no one in the morgue. What does the teacher mean?” after the meal, Pai chang led the monks to the foot of a rock on the far side of the mountain. and there, with his staff, he poked out the body of a dead fox. he then performed the ceremony of cremation. that evening he took the high seat before his assem- bly and told the monks the whole story. huang-po stepped forward and said, “as you say, the old man missed the turning word and was reborn as a fox five hundred times. What if he had given the right answer each time he was asked a question – what would have happened then?” Pai chang said, “Just step up here closer, and i’ll tell you.” huang-po went up to Pai chang and slapped him in the face. Pai chang clapped his hands and laughed, say- ing, “i thought the Barbarian had a red beard, but here is a red-bearded Barbarian.” 1 commentary this matter of rebirth poses difficulty for Western- ers. rebirth has been a heresy in christianity since at least the fourth century, and the idea of a human becoming a fox is thus likely to seem quite weird. But if you are preoccupied with heresies or any other kind of concept, you cannot see the intent of this koan. in effect, the monk in mythological times was ask- ing the old Pai chang about the two worlds of karma and essential nature. is the person who has fully real- ized essential nature free from the laws that govern phenomena? yamada roshi always insisted that the two worlds are the same – “not even one,” he would say. But there are no absolutes here. i remember fifteen years or more ago when kalu rinpoche came to maui and gave a public talk before two hundred people. in the question period, a young man stood up and asked, “Does the person of complete realization fall under the law of cause and effect or not?” kalu rinpoche said, “no, such a person does not fall under the law of cause and effect.” there in a row we Zen students were nudging each other, enjoy- ing a family joke. the rinpoche’s response, and that of Pai chang the elder, can be construed in two ways: the literal and the essential. the literal view is the belief that there really can be Buddhas who are harmonized perfectly with essential nature. then there is the essential view: the integral purity of all beings from the very beginning. as the Buddha himself said, “all beings are the tathagata.” But he added, “their delu- sions and preoccupations keep them from testifying to that fact.” all this bears directly on the problem faced by the two Pai changs and the way they ulti- mately handled it. it seems that Pai chang the elder was now ready. his successor remarks, “such a person does not evade the law of cause and effect.” What is he say- ing here? on the one hand, buddhanature is steady and serene; it does not come or go, it is always at rest. on the other hand, everything depends upon everything else. karma and no karma are inextricably mixed. life and death, no-life and no-death – these only seem to be separate. 1“Barbarian” refers to Bodhidharma. The Chinese, like others in other times, called foreigners barbarians. Chinese Buddhists revere Bodhidharma but maintain the disparaging nickname to keep him human. from The Gateless Barrier, translated and with commentary by robert aitken. Published by north Point Press. Pai Chang’s FOx robert aitken comments on this famous koan from The Gateless Barrier (Mumonkan), in which the abbot Pai chang helps a former abbot-turned-fox (also called Pai chang) to answer the question, Does an enlightened person fall under the law of cause and effect?