Being A Fox- The Tangles In Our LivesA Zen Koan For You: Baizhang's Fox
As many of you know I am involved with the practice of Zen koan meditation.
I've been haunted by the koan we kept company with this past week and I want to share it with you. It's considered to be one of the more difficult koans to pass through but one of the beauties of koans is that it doesn't matter. There is something there for each of us.
This is a compelling story. Our conversation about it touched on the places we encounter in our lives that we experience as difficulties. The ones we want to get away from, have stop so we can go on living. Thing is, life is already here. This is it.
The koan invites reflection [and conversation] about what it's like to be stuck in the tangles of living that we find ourselves in, the difficulties and trials of being human. Life as a fox. Meeting life where we are, not turning from it in the effort to make the hard things go away, waiting for them to vanish before we think we can start living. We are living now. With whatever is happening.
In ancient China, foxes were reviled creatures and so to be stuck in the body and existence of a fox would be a terrible thing.Baizhang's Fox
Whenever Baizhang gave a talk, an old man was there listening. He would stand at the back of the hall, quietly keeping himself apart from the assembly. When the people left he left too. One day he stayed behind.
“Who are you?” asked the teacher.
The old man said, “It's true I'm not a human being. In a previous universe, in the time of a different Buddha, I was the abbot on this mountain. A student asked me, 'Does an enlightened person fall under the law of cause and effect?' 'No,' I said, someone like that doesn't fall under the law of cause and effect.' Because of this, I've been reborn 500 times as a fox. Please will you say a turning word for me?”
Baizahang said, “You don't cut the chains of cause and effect.”
At these words the old man had a great awakening.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~+John Tarrant
, Roshi and Founder of The Pacific Zen Institute, wrote a beautiful short piece about this koan. I hope he won't mind my putting it here:”Once in the Australian alps, I did surgery on a red fox using a Swiss army knife. The fox was in a dingo trap, her front paw cut almost through below the elbow. I threw my shirt over her and opened the trap but it was clear that the leg couldn't be saved, and the fox waited while I cut it off. The fox had such an air of desperation, anguish and loss, her fur was stuck to itself, she smelt of fear and brokenness. She had little likelihood of survival and was anyway an alien, a non-native creature, considered a pest by biologists. Nonetheless this was a true meeting, she is someone I really met. She is certainly gone now, the people in my life then are gone, the snow at the tree line, and even the climate of that time is gone.""The mind is built on brokenness and mutilation, and the way I see it the whole thing is a continuous flow. Each moment is also full of reasons and brightness. The fox's shaking, matted beauty touched me, an enlightenment inside the life we both have. It wasn't a trick of the light, the brokenness itself is complete, there are whole worlds inside the brokenness.""When I keep company with a koan, whatever comes to me, is the koan, it doesn't have to be the tame version, have four whole legs or even belong to the same universe. It's alive.”
John Tarrant, http://www.pacificzen.org/The Painting
Our dear longtime friend, Allison Atwill, who has, during the course of our long friendship, founded our local Sangha (Zen koan meditation group), become a sensei (teacher) and recently, a Roshi (full teacher, leader) having received transmission from her teacher (mine as well), founder of the Pacific Zen Institute), guides us in our experience of Zen koan meditation each week when we meet.
Allison is also a very gifted artist and this is a video of her discussing her koan paintings and the photo of the one I've included below. https://vimeo.com/25840066