Monday, May 26, 2008

Dogen and the Wild Fox Koan...

Shobogenzo Dai-Shugyo

Jordan said to have some fun so I decided to take a look Shobogenzo, Dai-Shugyo; One of Dogen’s evolutionary, unique, and inspirational treatments of the classic koan Hyakujo and the Wild Fox. (Based on the translation of Nishijima & Cross)

Dogen begins in the traditional manner of quoting the koan in full:

When Zen Master Daichi of Hyakujo-zan mountain in Koshu gives informal instruction, an old man is generally present. He always listens to the Dharma along with the monks, and when the assembly retires, the old man also retires. Then unexpectedly one day he does not leave. The Master eventually asks him, "What person is this, standing before me?"

The old man answers, "I am not a person. In the past age of Kasyapa Buddha, used to live [as master] on this mountain. Once a practitioner asked me, ‘Do even people in the state of great practice fall into cause and effect, or not?’ I answered, ‘They do not fall into cause and effect." Since then I have fallen into the body of a wild fox for five hundred lives. Now I beg you, Master, to say for me a word of transformation. I long to be rid of the body of a wild fox." Then he asks, "Do even people in the state of great practice fall into cause and effect, or not?"

The Master says, "Do not be unclear about cause and effect." At these words the old man immediately realizes the great realization. He does prostrations and says, "I am already rid of the body of a wild fox, and would like to remain on the mountain behind this temple. Dare I ask the Master to perform for me a monk’s funeral ceremony."

The Master orders the supervising monk to strike the block and to tell the assembly, "After the meal, we will see off a deceased monk."

All the monks discuss this among themselves, saying, "The whole community is at ease and there is no sick person in the Nirvana Hall. What is the reason for this?" After the meal, the Master is seen leading the monks to the foot of a rock on the mountain behind the temple, and picking out a dead fox with a stick. They cremate it according to the formal method. In the evening the Master gives formal preaching in the Dharma Hall and discusses the preceding episode.

Obaku then asks, "The man in the past gave a mistaken answer as a word of transformation, and fell into the body of a wild fox for five hundred lives. If he had not made any mistake at any moment, what would he have become?"

The Master says, "Step up here. I will tell you."

Obaku finally steps up and gives the Master a slap. The Master claps his hands and laughs, and says, ‘"You have just expressed that a foreigner’s beard is red, but it is also a fact that a red-beard is a foreigner."

The central question of this koan asks if enlightenment liberates one from the realm of causation. It is the same question that forms the dichotomy between determinism and freewill. Are we free to choose, or is our course determined by causes and conditions beyond our control? Do enlightened beings act freely, or are they bound by the iron law of karma?

Buddhist doctrine declares that with enlightenment we transcend cause and effect (karma). At the same time, the law of cause and effect is held as absolutely unbending; all actions—good or bad—result in exacting effects. Zen has dealt with this question in a number of ways, most decisively with one of the highest achievement of koan literature: this story of Hyakujo and the wild fox. Dogen refers to this koan perhaps more than any other throughout his works.

Dogen begins his commentary on it in this chapter with: "The koan realized just now is great practice itself."

Dogen is realizing (making real) the wild fox koan right now. This, he says, is great practice itself!

Dogen continues: As the old man says, Hyakujo mountain in Koshu exists in the past age of Kasyapa Buddha, and Hyakujo mountain in Koshu exists in the present age of Sakyamuni Buddha.

"Hyakujo mountain" is the name of the mountain where Hyakujo (the teacher) teaches. The Zen ancestors usually took the name of the place where they taught; hence, there would often be a succession teachers with the same name. "Kasyapa Buddha" is one of the seven ancient Buddhas of the past age, that is the mythological age before the present age of the historical "Sakyamuni Buddha." Kasyapa Buddha is known as the disciple that received the transmission of the Buddha-Dharma, and he is also known as the teacher that transmitted the Buddha-Dharma to Shakyamuni Buddha. Hmmmm... Interesting... Could there be any resemblance to the "Hyakujo" of the past, and the "Hyakujo" of the present in this koan?

Dogen goes on to say: "This is a real word of transformation."

A "word of transformation" (usually referred to as a "turning word") is a word or action by a Zen teacher, which provokes insight in a student. Dogen is saying that the phrase used by "the old man" in the previous line, i.e. "Hyakujo mountain in Koshu exists in the past age of Kasyapa Buddha, and Hyakujo mountain in Koshu exists in the present age of Sakyamuni Buddha" is a "real word of transformation." Is Dogen is affirming there is wisdom expressed by the words of the old man? Is he inviting his listeners to recognize that wisdom too?

Dogen goes on to say: "Even so, the Hyakujo mountain of the past age of Kasyapa Buddha and the Hyakujo mountain of the present age of Sakyamuni Buddha are not one."

Dogen seems to be pointing out that yesterday’s Hyakujo mountain, is not today’s Hyakujo mountain, reminding us that each abides in its own unique "dharma-position" like the "ash" and "firewood" in Genjokoan.

Dogen says: "Neither are they different."

Dogen seems to be saying that the Hyakujo mountain of the "past" age has a "past" and a "future." Does he mean that in "its future" is the "present" Hyakujo mountain. If we go along with Dogen's teaching of "being-time" (uji), we know that the Hyakujo mountain of the present age has a past and a future; in its past is the Hyakujo mountain of the past. Each contains and is contained by the other. In the words of the Genjokoan, "When one side (one mountain) is illumined, the other side (the other mountain) is darkened."

Now Dogen says: "They are not three and three before, and not three and three after."

Here Dogen employs his commin method using one koan to clarify a point in another koan (this is one reason that koan study is so important for understanding Dogen's writings). The koan he uses here is familiar to us as Case 35 of The Blue Cliff Record, which reads:

Manjusri asked Wu Cho, "Where have you just come from?"
Wu Cho said, "The South."
Manjusri said, "How is the Buddhist Teaching being carried on in the South?"
Wu Cho said, "Monks of the Last Age have little regard for the rules of discipline."
Manjusri said, "How numerous are the congregations?"
Wu Cho said, "Some three hundred, some five hundred."
Wu Cho asked Manusri, "How is it being carried on hereabouts?"
Manjusri said, "Ordinary people and sages dwell together; dragons and snakes intermingle."
Wu Cho said, "How numerous are the congregations?"
Manjusri said, "In front, three three; in back, three three."

Though there are layers of subtle wisdom here, the main point that Dogen seems to emphasize in his abbreviated usage is the futility of utilizing any number (concept) to enumerate or define the ineffable nature of ultimate reality. In other words, he seems to be point out that the Hyakujo mountain of the past and present ages are not two, not one. In fact they do not correspond to any conceptual formulation or non-formulation, hence, "In front, three three; in back, three three."

As Dogen says next: "The Hyakujo mountain of the past has not become the Hyakujo mountain of the present. The present Hyakujo mountain was not formerly the Hyakujo mountain of Kasyapa Buddha’s time."

Let's see what happens if we can re-phrase this in the terms of the "ash" and "firewood" of Genjokoan: "The Hyakujo mountain of the past becomes the Hyakujo mountain of the present; it can never go back to being the Hyakujo mountain of the past. Nevertheless, we should not take the view that the present Hyakujo mountain is its future and the past Hyakujo mountain is its past. Remember, the Hyakujo mountain of the past abides in the place of the past Hyakujo mountain in the Dharma. It has a past and it has a future. Although it has a past and a future, the past and the future are cut off. The Hyakujo mountain of the present exists in the place of the present Hyakujo mountain in the Dharma. It has a past and it has a future. The Hyakujo mountain of the past, after becoming the Hyakujo mountain of the present, does not again become the Hyakujo mountain of the past. This is why we speak of no appearance. This is why we speak of no disappearance. The Hyakujo mountain of the past is an instantaneous situation, and the present Hyakujo mountain is also an instantaneous situation. It is the same, for example, with winter and spring. We do not think that winter becomes spring, and we do not say that spring becomes summer."

How does that work? Sounds interesting, no?

Okay.... I will stop and see if there is any reason to continue...

Comments are most welcome!

Thanks for your time!

Take care,
Ted


Copyright Ted Biringer 2008

6 comments:

Jordan said...

Ted,
Not at all what I had in mind. What is the Whatcom Children's Museum like?

Take care,
Jordan

Jordan said...

This looks pretty cool too:
Take the time to walk across the steel bridge which arches gracefully across the narrow gorge separating Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands. Look down upon the treacherous waters of the channel named Deception Pass by Captain George Vancouver, in commemoration of his initial mistaken belief that the Pass was a narrow bay and he had charted part of the Whidbey "peninsula", rather than an island. Hiking trails overlooking the gorge are to be found in the tiny state park which occupies the rocky, forested headlands on either side of the Pass.

Take care,
Jordan

Anonymous said...

Rather than die as the result of no further comments on Dogen, it would be better that I tell you to stop before you are strangled by the seaweed of Deception Pass.

Do you understand? If not, be gentle in your reproof. I'm just a weak beginner.

~Dui

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Dui,

Thank you for your comment.

I do not understand, but that is okay...

Thanks again.

Peace,
Ted

Anonymous said...

That was good. I didn't expect an answer because the thread was over a year old. If I may explain, I felt bad because no one had responded to your great comment about Dogen. Rather than let the thread die, I decided to say something. The unrelated (?) comment about Whidbey Island Made me think about the recurring idea in zen of the master coming down from his samadhi and tromping in the weeds to teach his students, getting mud all over his robes. Only, this time it seems it was seaweed in "Deception Pass". If Gutei raised a finger to test his disciples, I put a toe in to test the water in Deception Pass. Not too cold. I could get my toe cut off for mimicking other's actions, don't you think? But, it's worth the risk to meet another mind in this lotus-land. Thank you for your kind words and peace to you as well.

Dui

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Dui,

Thank you for your comments.

You wrote, "I could get my toe cut off for mimicking other's actions, don't you think?"

Haha! Yes.

Perhaps, the dangers inherent in "mimicking other's" would be resolved if we truly realized that "the other is no other than myself..."

Maybe?

Thanks again!

Peace,
Ted