Friday, July 16, 2010

Baizhang Was A Very Bad Man

That Baizhang was a very bad man.

Since I met his wild fox

My eyes are open day and night,

Fixed on the wheel

That follows the foot

Of the ox that draws the cart.

If you're fond of sleepy dreaming, beware!

One look at this red-tailed devil

And the Age of Miracles

Is at an end.

"Cause and effect are very clear, and not a personal matter."

"Baizhang's Fox" is Case #2 in the seminal koan collection Mumonkan. It has been widely studied and commented on by many Zenists through the ages, but no more thoroughly or cogently, I think, than by Master Dogen. In addition to the famous essay in his Shobogenzo, he spoke in reference to it on six occasions in the chronicle of his dharma talks, Eihei Koroku. This poem was born while reading one of these, Dharma Hall Discourse #94 (pg. 135, Dogen's Extensive Record, trans. Leighton & Okumura.) Cause and effect are indeed not a personal matter, the Universe plays no favorites. If this were not so, gods and demons would crowd the landscape, leaving nowhere to even put one's foot down!

The wheel that follows the foot of the ox that draws the famous cart is from the opening passage of the Dhammapada, the Pali text that was the very first Buddhist text I ever laid eyes on, an image that has stayed with me all my life.

This fine looking fox comes from the Flicker Hive Mind site. To see more of their great photo selection, check 'em out at: