CASE 2: Hyakujô and the Fox

Whenever master Hyakujô delivered a sermon, an old man was always there listening with the monks. When they left, he left too. One day, however, he remained behind.

The master asked him, “What man are you, standing in front of me?”

The man replied, “Indeed, I am not a man. In the past, in the time of Kashyapa Buddha I lived on this mountain as a priest. On one occasion a monk asked me, ‘Does a perfectly enlightened person fall under the law of cause and effect or not?’ I answered, ‘He does not.’ Because of this answer, I fell into the state of a fox for 500 lives.

Now, I beg you, Master, please say a turning word on my behalf and release me from the body of a fox.”

Then he asked, “Does a perfectly enlightened person fall under the law of cause and effect or not?”

The master answered, “No one can set aside the law of cause and effect.” Upon hearing this, the old man immediately became deeply enlightened.

Making his bow, he said, “I have now been released from the old fox and will be behind the mountain. I dare to make a request of the Master. Please perform my funeral as you would for a deceased priest.”

The master had the deacon strike the anvil with a gavel and announce to the monks that after the meal there would be a funeral service for a deceased priest.

The monks wondered, saying, “All are healthy. No one is sick in the infirmary. What’s this all about?”

After the meal, the master led the monks to the foot of a rock behind the mountain and with his staff poked out the dead body of a fox. He then performed the ceremony of cremation.

That evening the master ascended the rostrum in the hall and told the monks the story. Ôbaku thereupon asked, “The man of old missed the turning word and fell to the state of a fox for 500 lives. Suppose every time he answered he made no mistakes, what would happen then?”

The master said, “Just come nearer and I’ll tell you.” Ôbaku then went up to the master and slapped him. The master clapped his hands and, laughing aloud, said, “I thought the barbarian’s beard was red, but here is a barbarian with a red beard!”

Mumon’s Commentary: 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 Hyakujô enjoyed 500 lives of grace as a fox.