The Koan:

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 the 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 someone who is even more of a red bearded barbarian.“

*****

There is a fine line between the observing meditative consciousness of the self—observing the self—and selfing the self through dissociation. Basically, dissociation means a lack of connection, and therein lies the difference. The observing meditative consciousness enhances connection; it does not sever it. It is a common mistake in meditation to imagine that meditation leads to more equanimity. What meditation leads to is us being more who we really are, and there is a certain equanimity that comes with that.

In this koan the old man is suffering from the belief that it is possible to sever the chains of karma, that it is possible to move through life with equanimity at all times, unaffected by the world around him. Upon closer observation over a long time—five hundred lifetimes, the story tells us—he comes to notice the cost of his belief and instead of leaving, as he has done so many times before, he stays. He stays after the talk and he stays in his life, just as it is, just as he is, and he discovers freedom.

What do you notice when you stay and don’t leave? What do you notice when you leave?

—David Weinstein, May 7th, 2024


David Weinstein Roshi

 

 

David Weinstein Roshi, Director of Rockridge Meditation Community

 

 

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