Falling or Not Falling into Cause and Effect #14

Another of the koans embedded in this text is the famous Fox Koan – Book of Serenity #8 or the Mumonkan #2. This koan continues to explore the question of whether or not an enlightened person is exempt from cause and effect or the rules of society.

Here is the sentence in One Bright Jewel that references the Fox Koan:

Do not worry about falling or not falling into cause and effect within the six realms of samsara. Not being blind to cause and effect is the original rightness from head to tail. The bright jewel is the face. The bright jewel is the eye.

“Blind” has also been translated as “do not ignore cause and effect.” Here is the koan from the Book of Serenity:

When Baizhang lectured in the hall, there was always an old man who listened to the teaching and then dispersed with the crowd. One day he didn’t leave; Baizhang then asked him, “Who is it standing there?”

The old man said, “In antiquity, in the time of the ancient Buddha Kasyapa, I lived on this mountain. A student asked, ‘Does a greatly cultivated man still fall into cause and effect or not?’ I answered him, ‘He does not fall into cause and effect,’ and I fell into a wild fox body for five hundred lives. Now I ask the teacher to turn a word in my behalf.”

Baizhang said, “He is not blind to cause and effect.”

The old man was greatly enlightened at these words.

The commentary adds:

Baizhang (Dazhi) based his logic on actuality; not falling into cause and effect is forced denial, a nihilistic view; not being blind to cause and effect is finding the wondrous along with the flow.

The post story to the koan is: The old man asked Baizhang to please bury him as a priest. The head teacher told everyone to prepare for a priest’s burial in the next day. The whole community wondering, “Who has died?” The next day, they found the fox body dead in the woods and did a priest’s burial for him.

This is a difficult story to understand through the mind’s deciphering. One side or the other side? Do you see the old lady or the young lady in our optical illusion in a previous post. Can are minds avoid plunging into a tangle as the commentary writes. How can we live in the world but not “of it” as the Christian slogan says? Which means to me – how can I rejoice in and totally accept my human life and my karma, and still see it from the Big Mind and the largest perspective. How can I understand the moment’s reality with its deconstruction of time and space, and still abide by the rules of cause and effect? This is the great paradox of practice. One of the hardest things, and what Buddhist sometimes call “void sickness”, is becoming too attached to unconstructed reality or emptiness.  From that point of view, we fall into a nihilistic and annihilistic view of life and forget about the wondrous and precious jewel of our birth.

The Dogen scholar Hee-jin Kim writes:

The ultimate paradox of Zen liberation is said to lie in the fact that one attains enlightenment only in and through delusion itself, never apart from it. Strange as this may sound, enlightenment has no exit from delusion any more than delusion has an exit from enlightenment. The two notions need, are bound by and interact with one another.

I think this is Dogen’s point over and over. Enlightenment and ‘cause and effect’ are never separated. They always, and continually arise together. In this sense, to live a truthful life, we cannot ignore either side. We cannot seek to escape the suffering of human life by abandoning it and going somewhere else – a so-called place of nirvana or state of mind which is enlightenment.

Which brings me to a deep point in my practice. If I can’t avoid cause and effect, how do I accept dukkha, the suffering that is inevitable if we don’t escape? We have to learn to penetrate the pain of cause and effect and find Avaloketeshvara in the bottom of the pit of suffering. Learning to penetrate the pain means learning to be completely in the moment, which in some odd way helps alleviate the pain. Just be it without added stories. Just be the pain of stubbing your toe!

Ryokan has a beautiful poem about facing the pains of our life with acceptance:

When we meet a disaster

just meet the disaster

when you die, just die

that is the way to be released from the disaster.

There have been various sound bites alluding to this type of practice. Reb Anderson Roshi has taught “love the cause of suffering”.  Go to the deepest level of cause and see its beauty; see the one bright jewel. Another ways of putting it is to ‘practice the wounded heart”. It is this willingness to receive the pain of life exactly as it is, that softens my heart and allows me to receive all conditions as the one bright jewel. Pain tenderizes our ego-centricity and stubbornness.  If you cannot receive the pain of life, you cannot follow the admonitions of this fascicle, which is that “everything you encounter is One Bright Jewel.”

Katagiri Roshi wrote:

“Take care of causation. But also be free from causation, which is a mind that is beyond good and bad, right and wrong, time and space. There is a oneness of cause and effect that arises in each moment. One step is practice/enlightenment itself.”