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Wild Fox Gong'an(Koan)

Zen Master Baizhang Huaihai was a Dharma heir of Zen Master Mazu Daoyi. His contribution to Zen can be seen from the saying that “Mazu built the jungle and Baizhang established the rules.”

One day, the entire crowd left after Zen Master Baizhang had finished his exposition of Dharma except an aged man. The Zen master asked, “Who are you?”

The aged man answered, “I am not human. I am actually a fox. In the old times of Buddha, I used to practice on this Baizhang Rock. Later a Buddhist monk asked me whether a man of enlightenment would escape from the yoke of causation or not and my answer was “He would not escape from the yoke of causation”. Because of this reply, I have been punished to incarnate in the body of a fox for five-hundred generations. Now can I ask you for some word of illumination to help me get rid of this fox body? ”

After listening to the aged man, Zen Master Baizhang said mercifully, “Of course you can.”

The aged man put his palms together and asked, “Would a man of enlightenment escape the yoke of causation?”

Zen Master Baizhang answered, “He would not be baffled by the yoke of causation.”

The aged was suddenly enlightened. He then bowed to the Zen master and left. The next day Zen Master Baizhang led the monks of the temple to the back of the rock and used his wand to pick out a dead body of a fox inside the cave underneath. He requested it to be cremated in the way a dead monk was cremated.

This is a famous documented motto. Why should the aged man be punished to incarnate in the body of a fox for five-hundred generations just because his answer was “He would not escape from the yoke of causation”? Why could he get rid of the body of a fox simply because of one illuminating sentence from Zen Master Baizhang that “He would not be baffled by the yoke of causation.”? The very minute difference in the wording between two answers caused a huge difference in the fate of the aged man. The aged man’s answer suggested that a man of enlightenment could get away with the yoke of causation. It was a careless and wrong comment because no one could ever get away with the yoke of causation. But Zen Master Baizhang’s answer was telling the truth that a man of enlightenment would not be baffled with the yoke of causation.

That is why Zen Master Wumen used to say that “Would a man of enlightenment escape the yoke of causation or would a man of enlightenment not be baffled by the yoke of causation? Are both correct expressions? No, the former is completely wrong while the latter is correctly true.

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