Book Study: Comments by Jack Duffy Roshi on “Mind of Clover,” Chapter 2

Although the following is a koan with many points which we take up in the dokusan room, at this time I am most interested in 2 non-koan points. This translation of Case 2 from the Gateless Gate and Case 8 from the Book of Equanimity is translated by W. S. Merwin and is in his book The Vixen. It is part iii of the poem “Fox Sleep”:

Baizhang’s Fox

Every time they assembled and he (Young Baizhang) spoke to them
about waking there was an old man (Old Baizhang) who stood listening
and left before the others until one day the old man stayed
and Who are you he asked the old man
and the old man answered I am not a man
many lives ago I stood where you are standing
and they assembled in front of me and I spoke to them
about waking until one day one of them asked me
When someone has wakened to what is really here
is that person free of the chain of consequences
and I answered yes and with that I turned into a fox
and I have been a fox for five hundred lives
and now I have come to ask you to say what will
free me from the body of a fox please tell me
when someone has wakened to what is really here
is that person free of the chain of consequences
and this time the answer was That person sees it as it is
then the old man said Thank you for waking me
you have set me free of the body of the fox
which you will find on the other side of the mountain
I ask you to bury it please as one of your own
that evening he announced a funeral service
for one of them but they said nobody has died
then he led them to the other side of the mountain
and a cave where they found a fox’s body
and he told them the story and they buried the fox
as one of them….

I enjoy the truth of circularity in this tall-tale. Old Baizhang, Young Baizhang. How, besides the subtle difference in the responses, do we distinguish between them? And their responses, though different, are like the back and front of my hand. Different but necessary to the other. The responses together create a circle and with one response the circle is filled with the many beings and with the other, it contains (or encircles) not one thing.

Each morning and evening in the zendo, we have an opening and/or closing ceremony as we walk the stick around the room following the arc of the sun and moon as they move from east to west. The sun itself is circular as is the moon. So is a drop of water, a spinning wheel and the twirling earth.

It is said that in the old days, maybe in the ancient days of the old Baizhang, a hunter would go into the forest and sing a song to attract whatever animal he was hunting. An animal would hear her/his song and respond to it by letting herself be killed. The hunter, in return for this great and brave gift, would give part of the animal to the temple keeper of the tribe to offer to the animal spirits in thanks for such a beneficent sacrifice. In this way, a beautiful circle was created and, in a sense, nothing and no one died. The giving of life was a gift and the giving of death was a gift. Also the hunter and temple keeper took in the dead animal as one of their own and the animal, with her/his response to the song of invitation, accepted the mutually-binding covenant. Dogen wrote, ” If you study giving closely, you see that to accept a body and to give up the body are both giving.”

This brings me to the 2nd point in the told-tale. The old Baizhang, after being released from the fox body said, “Please bury the fox-body as one of your own.” Please take care of it! When we inhabit this attitude, this attitude of uprightness, of straightforwardness, of humility we are fulfilled by the first grave precept: “I take up the Way of Not Killing.” We do not fulfill the vow…because we can never succeed in such a venture… but the vow, when we give ourselves to it, does fill us.

When we carry “Please, as one of your own” through our daily activities, that mind, that vow, that sutra will guide us even when the night is without stars or moon and is dark dark, the bridge broken down and the river swollen. When we carry, “Please, as one of our own”, we can do nothing other than treat this great earth and her many beings, sentient and insentient, with love and respect. Again, it does not mean we won’t stumble. It doesn’t mean we won’t fall. And it certainly does not mean we won’t fail, because we will again and again, but it does mean we will be pulled, we will be held and we can take refuge in the absolute fact that we are all kin. We are all in this together and there is no way across (out) until every single other crosses first….which means: each is known as one of our own.

So please enjoy your impossible vow: to not kill even one thing: sentient or insentient; thought, word, or deed; memory, fantasy or dream, and continue to let it fill you until you see it as it is.