BOOK OF EQUANIMITY - Case 8
Case 7 never ends, yet now comes ...
CASE 8 - Hyakujo's (Pai-chang's) Fox
A Zen Teacher claims that, in Great Enlightenment, one is free of Karmic effects, life and death, rebirth. In return, upon his death, he find himself trapped in a fox's body for 500 rebirths. Payback!
The trapped fox (in the guise of an old man) then hears from another Teacher that, in Great Enlightenment, one does -not- evade and cannot ignore Karmic effects, life and death, rebirth.
Upon so hearing, the fox attains Great Enlightenment, is freed from further rebirth as a fox, perhaps from all rebirths, Karmic effects, life and death!
The fellow denying Karma and rebirth is thus trapped in Karma and Rebirth, while upon hearing that even an enlightenment master -cannot- escape Karma and rebirth, he seems to escape Karma and rebirth. Sure sounds like a "not-damned-damned if you do, damned-not-damned if you don't" situation! [scared]
Or (I suggest to you) this is another case of Zen Masters speaking out of "both sides of the no sided mouth". Perhaps, despite seeming quite opposite, both ways are True at once depending on the perspective (and dropping of perspectives).
For example ...
Imagine a painting on canvas ... an imaginary painted scene depicting your life, just oils or water colors spread on a blank, white canvas. All that is shown in a painting is not really there, much like an illusion or a dream. In a Buddha's eye, our lives are also a kind of dream, constantly being painted and repainted on a changing canvas surface. To the viewer, taken in by the illusion, all may appear so real, a constantly evolving image changing over time. It may appear as if lives come and go, people are born and grow old, time passes ... but all is an illusory scene painted on a pristine, underlying "ready for anything" canvas of open possibilities. The canvas never comes and goes ... is beyond birth and death ... no matter the changing scene reflected on its surface.
Furthermore, the hands of the painter are our own hands, painting a scene of our own lives. A dream it might be, but a dream we must live in! And it is up to the painter whether he will paint skillfully or unskillfully, whether a picture of harmony and beauty, or violence and ugliness. The canvas and paints will host it all, our choice. The content continues from the past, but is also constantly renewed and REBORN ... new scenes appearing as effects of all before, and the old fading away.
Oh, for sure, in this complex world painted by countless factors and painters, life is a group effort! It is actually not one painter, but endless painters and mother nature too holding countless brushes, each joining in to create this huge work of art we call "our world". Unfortunately, we often find ourself placed in a scene or situation that nature or others around us have created. We do not have total control over what life will become ... yet, to a degree we often fail to realize, the life we paint for our self is truly up to ourself. How will you wield that brush? Will you leave this world more beautiful for your presence, or leave it covered with ugly scars and scenes that may take generations to erase? It is up to your choices. Your choices add or subtract from the picture, cause lasting effects.
Most folks in life get suckered into the dream painting, not knowing that it is a pure, white, timeless canvas of possibilities just below the surface appearances ... also not knowing that there is a brush in their hands. It is important to know life from all such perspectives. In fact, how pitiful and lifeless would be a blank campus without its painters and painting ... for an empty canvas is cold and vacant. But how pitiful too if we then waste this life in ugly grafitti, bloody images of violence and pornographic greed ... losing sight of the potential for beauty rising from the open, boundless cloth that holds all the world without rejection. In fact, the beauty of "Emptyness" does not mean simply discovering an empty virgin canvas and leaving it empty and unused. Rather, the real beauty of Emptiness is the constant interplay of canvas and our always emptying colorful paint cans, in constant moments of life creation ... painting a gorgeous living work with a master's hand!
To rephrase our Koan today, don't be an unenlightened prisoner in one's life picture, framed in and fooled by the scene no matter how "realistic" it looks to the untrained eye. On the other hand, even a so-called "enlightened" master who has an "opening" and discovers the canvas and fiction of the paints should not stop there, just letting the canvas sit empty, content in the blankness, thinking perhaps that since all is a "fiction" then nothing more matters, that he is done with his work. That is also an ignorant view, and does not realize how real life is. A painter who paints a scene should not forget the flow of the canvas and endless possibilities, nor that all is just for creative fun and imaginative self-expression! However, he must paint his real-fiction ... live his dream-creation ... and do so well, reaping what he sows.
And that is how life, death, Karma, rebirth is just a dream ... and that is how we make each real, and our actions matter.
Dogen was such a speaker out of "both sides of his no sided mouth". In his writings on the Fox Koan, he often cautioned against seeing things from only one side or the other, and reminded us to experience each brushstroke of each moment of life as the "pivot point" where paint meets canvas in our hands. Don't get trapped (as so many Zen students do) in thinking that this practice is to simply find the blank canvas, emptying the head of thoughts as if grabbing turpentine to strip away all the surface paint that covers the whiteness up, thinking that by doing so one is finding one's "Original Nature". The canvas is always here, brought to life in the very things that you think covers it. He wrote (in Daishugyo) ...
The Great Canvas is always right here, despite our ignorance. It is not a place to get to by leaving the painting. Our Great Practice now is the pivot point, where brush meets canvas and the rubber meets the road, the place where Cause and Effect are fully realized. It is not enough to have merely an intellectual understanding of this, or just to pay it lip service. Rather, we must bring it to life in our training, practice, lives ... active brushstroke by active brushstroke:
As a rule, those who have never truly encountered or heard about the Buddha Dharma say, “After he had completely rid himself of the wild fox, he returned to the ocean of his Original Nature. Even though he was reduced to being a wild fox for a while due to his delusion, after he had had a great awakening, he shed being a wild fox and returned to his Original Nature.” They mean by this that he returned to some innate, unchanging self which non-Buddhists speak of. [But] this is not the Buddha Dharma. If they were to say that a wild fox is devoid of Original Nature or that a wild fox has no innate enlightenment, such [also] would not be the Buddha Dharma.
He wrote a few years later (in Jinshin inga), critical of those who believe that ... since all is as a dream, how we act has no ramifications ...
Further, there are many old [teachers] who have contended that saying ‘not being subject to’ and ‘not being blind to’ [not evading, ignoring cause and effect] are essentially the same, but they have not yet directly experienced how ‘not being subject to’ and ‘not being blind to’ are related. Consequently, they have not explored through their training the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow of falling into the body of a wild fox, nor have they explored through their training the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow of dropping off the mind of a wild fox.
Our Preface to today's Koan reminds us neither to fall into the Oneness of the canvas, nor become a prisoner of life trapped in a painted fox body. The Wise leap free of both!
In present-day Sung China, among those doing the practice of seated meditation, the folks who are the most in the dark are those who do not know that the teaching of "not being subject to cause and effect" is a false view. Sad to say ... heretical gangs have formed who deny cause and effect. Those who are exploring the Matter through training with their Master should by all means hasten to make clear the fundamental principle of cause and effect. The later Hyakujō’s principle of not being blind to cause and effect means not ignoring the presence of causality. Hence, the underlying principle is clear: we feel the effects of the causes that we put into action.
... To summarize, the principle of cause and effect is quite clear, and it is totally impersonal [in its workings]: those who fabricate evil will fall into a lower state, whereas those who practice good will rise to a higher state, and without the slightest disparity. If cause and effect had become null and void, Buddhas would never have appeared in the world and our Ancestral Master [Bodhidharma] would not have come from the West.
If you put this One in mind, you’ll enter hell like a flying arrow. If you swallow a drop of wild fox’s drool, you can’t vomit it for thirty years.
We are also reminded that the Buddhist Teachings and Precepts were created as guideposts for folks who have a tendency to mess up life bigtime ...
It is not that the decree of the western Heaven (the Buddha-dharma of India) is strict, just that rascals’ karma is heavy. Are there any such offenders here?
How are you painting your life now, and how would you like to paint it? Is Zen Practice helping to make you a better painter?
Bonus questions ...
Most folks in life get suckered into the dream painting, trapped in a frame, painted into a corner. It is important in our Practice to experience the open, pristine "canvas" where life is constantly realized like a work of art. Why is it important neither to be "trapped in life's illusions" nor "fall into the blank, pristine canvas, becoming trapped there"? Does our Zen Practice help us learn to jump from one to the other, and to see the interplay of both? Are you getting better at doing so?
Our talk during the Zazenkai this week was also on all this, and I ask everyone to have a listen if they have time. The talk is a little long today (about 35 minutes ... though maybe seeming more like several lifetimes!). It begins near the 1:49:00 mark):