Mumonkan Case 2 – Hyakujo’s Fox

When Hyakujo Osho delivered a certain series of sermons, an old man always followed the monks to the main hall and listened to him. When the monks left the hall, the old man would also leave. One day, however, he remained behind, and Hyakujo asked him, “Who are you, standing here before me?” The old man replied, “I am not a human being. In the old days of Kasyapa Buddha, I was a head monk, living here on this mountain. One day, a student asked me, ‘Does a man of enlightenment fall under the yoke of causation or not?’ I answered, ‘No, he does not.’ Since then, I have been doomed to undergo five hundred lives as a fox. I beg you now to give the turning word to release me from my life as a fox. Tell me, does a man of enlightenment fall under the yoke of causation or not?” Hyakujo answered, “He does not ignore causation.” No sooner had the old man heard these words than he was enlightened. Making his bows, he said, “I am emancipated from my life as a fox. I shall remain on this mountain. I have a favor to ask of you: would you please bury my body as that of a dead monk?”
Hyakujo had the director of the monks strike with the gavel and inform everyone that after the midday meal there would be a funeral service for a dead monk. The monks wondered at this, saying, “Everyone is in good health; nobody is in the sick ward. What does this mean?” After the meal, Hyakujo led the monks to the foot of a rock on the far side of the mountain and with his staff poked out the body of a fox and performed the ceremony of cremation. That evening he ascended the rostrum and told the monks the whole story. Obaku thereupon asked him, “The old man gave the wrong answer and was doomed to be a fox for five hundred rebirths. Now, suppose he had give the right answer, what would have happened then?” Hyakujo said, “Come up here to me and I will tell you.” Obaku went up to Hyakujo and hit him. Hyakujo clapped his hands with a laugh and exclaimed, “I was thinking that the barbarian had a red beard, but now I see before me the red-bearded barbarian himself.”

Mumon’s Comment
Not falling under causation: how could this make the monk a fox? Not ignoring causation: how could this make the old man emancipated. If you come to understand this, you will realize how old Hyakujo would have enjoyed five hundred rebirths as a fox.

Mumon’s Verse
Not falling, not ignoring:
Two faces of one die.
Not ignoring, not falling:
A thousand errors, a million mistakes.

This koan has been popping up in my mind for some time now. I’m not sure why, but the line about not ignoring causation in particular seems to grab my attention. A friend recently gave a talk about a different story involving th monk Huang Po, Obaku in this story, reminding me of this koan yet again.
With a smile and a gleam in the The old Worthies offer us a dilema. With which horn will you choose to be gored?