The master Baizhang Huaihai gave a series of talks on the Dharma. Among those who attended was an old man who sat near the back of the hall. One day he lingered after the talk and the master approached him, asking, “Who are you?”
The old man replied “Many aeons ago I was the master of a Zen temple on this spot. One day a sincere student of the way asked me whether someone who had awakened was bound by the laws of cause and effect, or not. I replied ‘No, such a person is not tangled in the strands of causality.’ Ever since that time I’ve been reincarnating as a fox. Perhaps five hundred times now. I’m desperately hoping you can say that turning word and free me from this horrible fate.”
He then made formal bows before the master and asked the question. “Is someone who has experienced awakening bound by the laws of cause and effect, or not?”
The master replied, “Such a person is one with the laws of cause and effect.”
Hearing this, the old man responded, “Thank you, those words have liberated me. I am released from the fox body. I have just one more request. My body is around the other side of the mountain. Can you retrieve it and give it a monk’s burial?”
Baizhang agreed and when the spirit vanished he called the head monk and announced that after the noon meal there would be a funeral. This information passed like wildfire through the assembly. Everyone knew there was no one in the infirmary, so they were very curious. After the meal the monks made their way around the mountain, retrieved the fox’s body, returned to the monastery, and gave it a priest’s funeral.
Later that evening the master told the assembly what had happened.
His student Huangbo stepped forward and asked, “Master, what if when asked about awakening and causality he had given the right answer? What then?”
Baizhang smiled and said, “Come here and I’ll tell you.”
Baizhang was a very small man, but his teacher’s stick was sitting in his lap, and the wise avoided his reach. Huangbo was said to be seven feet tall so as he walked up to his teacher he came within his very long arm’s reach while still well short of his teacher’s; he reached out and slapped the master.
Baizhang laughed, and laughed, and said to the assembly, “I thought the founder of our way, Bodhidharma, the barbarian from the West, had a red beard. But right here with us is a red-bearded barbarian!”
Thanks, Dosho, for the reminder!