In Tuesday night's dharma talk, we discussed the koan of Haykujo and the Fox, Case No. 2 from "The Gateless Gate."
The story is that whenever Master Hyakujo delivered a sermon, an old man was always there listening. Finally, he approached him, and asked who he was. The old man said he used to be a priest on that same mountain, also known as Master Hyakujo. But when a monk asked him, "Does a perfectly enlightened person fall under the law of cause and effect?" this man answered, "No." And then he was condemned to live as a fox for 500 lives.
The man asked Hyakujo to "say a turning word" on his behalf and release him from the body of the fox. The man again asked the question, and Hyakujo said, "The law of cause and effect cannot be obscured." And the man was deeply enlightened. He asked Hyakujo to perform priest's burial rituals for him - and Hyakujo took his monks behind the mountain, where they found the body of a fox, and performed priest's rituals for it.
The sense here is that those lives as a fox were a curse, a punishment, something which the old man was very ready to be rid of. And yet, when you read on in the accompanying text, you find these words. (All of the "Gateless Gate" koans have a "Mumon's Commentary" section following the actual "case.")
Not falling under the law of cause and effect - for what reason had he fallen into the state of a fox? The law of cause and effect cannot be obscured - for what reason has he been released from a fox's body? If in regard to this you have the one eye, then you will understand that the former Hyakujo enjoyed 500 lives of grace as a fox.
So what I came away with, hearing and reading this koan and these words, was that we, all of us, at whatever degree of enlightenment we may find ourselves, are subject to the laws of karma, of cause and effect. There is no place of rest. I cannot hope to attain a level of equanimity in this realm that will put me beyond pain, fear, desire, hope, suffering. Some might throw up their hands in despair, and say that we are all condemned to live the lives of foxes.
But then I read that final line: If in regard to this you have the one eye, then you will understand that the former Hyakujo enjoyed 500 lives of grace as a fox.
Five hundred lives of grace. Despite the hardship, the worry, the challenges. If I choose, this day, each day, I can live in grace. Even as a fox.