A Monk's Funeral for a Fox

Once Hyakujo noticed that whenever he lectured on Zen, an old man, unnoticed by the monks, attended the talks. at the end of each talk the old man left. But one day he remained after the audience had gone. Hyakujo asked him, "Who are you?" The old man replied, "I am not a human being. But I once was. I was a Zen Master and lived on this mountain thousands of years ago. At that time, one of my students asked me whether or not the enlightened man is subject to the law of causation. I answered him, 'The enlightened man is not subject to the law of causation.' For this answer, evidencing a clinging to absoluteness, I became a fox for fix hundred rebirths, and I am still a fox. Will you save me from this condition with your Zen words and let me get out of a fox's body? No I ask you, is the enlightened man subject to the law of causation?"

Hyakujo said, "The enlightened man is one with the law of causation." At these words of Hyakujo, the old man was enlightened. He said, with a deep bow, "I am no longer a fox, but I have to leave my body in my dwelling place behind this mountain. Please perform my funeral as you would for a monk." Then he disappeared.

The next day Hyakujo ordered his monks to prepare to attend the funeral of a monk. "What does our teacher mean?" the monks wondered, for no one was even ill. After dinner Hyakujo lead the monks out of the monastery and around the mountain. In a cave he unearthed the corpse of an old fox and performed the ceremony of cremation. Then Hyakujo told his monks the story of the old man.

One of the monks, Obaku, said to the Master, "I understand that a long time ago because a certain Zen Master gave a wrong Zen answer he became a fox for five hundred rebirths. Now I want to ask: if some modern Zen Master is asked many questions and he always gives the right answer, what will become of him?" Hyakujo answered, "Come close and I will tell you." Obaku approached Hyakujo and suddenly slapped his teacher's face, which was exactly the answer Hyakujo had prepared for him! Hyakujo clapped his hands and laughed in approval.

This koan indicates the pitfall of attachment by using a mondo (question and answer) based on karma (the law of cause and effect). An ancient Master was asked if an enlightened man is subject to karma. He answered "no," showing that he was attached to the idea of absolute freedom. So he was doomed to be reborn as a fox for the next five hundred lives. When this old man asked Hyakujo if the enlightened man really is free from akarma, Hyakujo answered that the enlightened man is one with karma. At these words, the old man was finally freed (enlightened). The absolute, if attached to, becomes bondage. Right, if attached to, becomes wrong.


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