Pai Chang (Hyakujo) and the Fox
Once when Pai-chang gave a series of talks, a certain old man was always there listening together with the monks. When they left, he would leave too. One day, however, he remained behind. Pai-chang asked him, “Who are you, standing here before me?”
The old man replied, “I am not a human being. In the far distant past, in the time of Kāśyapa Buddha, I was head priest at this mountain. One day a monk asked me, ‘Does an enlightened person fall under the law of cause and effect or not?’ I replied, ‘Such a person does not fall under the law of cause and effect.’ With this I was reborn five hundred times as a fox. Please say a turning word for me and release me from the body of a fox.”
He then asked Pai-chang, “Does an enlightened person fall under the law of cause and effect or not?”
Pai-chang said, “Such a person does not evade the law of cause and effect.”
Hearing this, the old man immediately was enlightened. Making his bows he said, “I am released from the body of a fox. The body is on the other side of this mountain. I wish to make a request of you. Please, Abbot, perform my funeral as for a priest.”
Pai-chang had a head monk strike the signal board and inform the assembly that after the noon meal there would be a funeral service for a priest. The monks talked about this in wonder. “All of us are well. There is no one in the morgue. What does the teacher mean?”
Not falling into cause and effect can bring the wild fox to life; not obscuring cause and effect kills him stone dead.
If you still don’t understand why don’t you go to the foot of the north cliff and take a look at him.
After the meal, Pai-chang led the monks to the foot of a rock on the far side of the mountain. And there, with his staff, he poked out the body of a dead fox. He then performed the ceremony of cremation. That evening he took the high seat before his assembly and told the monks the whole story.
Huang-po stepped forward and said, “As you say, the old man missed the turning word and was reborn as a fox five hundred times. What if he had given the right answer each time he was asked a question—what would have happened then?” Pai-chang said, “Just step up here closer, and I’ll tell you.” Huang-po went up to Pai-chang and slapped him in the face. Pai-chang clapped his hands and laughed, saying, “I thought the Barbarian had a red beard, but here is a red-bearded Barbarian.”
Notes and Lineage
Note that the Chinese characters for fox and beard are homonyms, having the same sound in Chinese: 狐 Hú fox ; 鬍 Hú beard/ moustache/whiskers.
Link to Taisho Mumonkan 無門關 The Gateless Gate, or The Gateless Barrier, in Chinese.
Contributors: John Fraser, Mark Ellison, David Graham, Shogen Blair