The pointer continues, “It’s not that the order is strict in India, it’s just that the ignoramus’s karma is heavy.” The depth of our attachments is so profound that our spiritual training must be vigorous. It requires great faith, doubt and unending perseverance to cut through our illusory mind and beliefs.

The commentary says, “If you have eyes to see through this falling into causation”—not ignoring, not being blind to causation—“then you will know that the former head of the monastery did in fact enjoy his five hundred, happy, blessed lives as a fox.” That’s a key part of the koan. We think, “Oh, he’s being punished.” It’s not punishment. In fact, Master Wumen, commenting on this koan, says the old man enjoyed his five hundred happy lives as a fox. So what is that? If it’s not the wrong answer, then why did he fall into a fox body? If it is the wrong answer, than how is it wrong?

There is good and evil but we shouldn’t use good and evil to give rise to a sense of separateness between ourselves and others. This does not mean that everything is relativistic; “Whatever you think is good, is truly good.” It’s a very clearly articulated moral teaching, based in an enlightened view of the real nature of the universe in which there is good and bad, and this very good and bad have no fixed form.

The old man said, “Please, help release me from this fox body.” Baizhang said, “Ask me the question.” He asked, “Does an enlightened being fall into causation?” Baizhang replied, “He is not blind to cause and effect.” At this the old man was enlightened. He is not blind to causation. What is Baizhang pointing to? The footnote says, “Fox drool is still there.” Why is the drool still there even after he is enlightened? Enlightenment is not created and delusion is never extinguished. If delusion were extinguished, where would it go? It has no self-existence, how can it be extinguished? From the beginning, neither delusion nor enlightenment have ever existed. And yet, within this delusion, we can lay the earth and each other to waste. An enlightened being “is not blind to cause and effect,” Baizhang said. Don’t say you’re not subject to karma. The moment you do there’s a fox tail sticking out of your pants.

But then how can we ever be free of causation? What kind of freedom is this? Is an enlightened being free of causation or not? If the old man did not give the wrong answer, then why was he made to live as a fox? Huangbo asks, “What if the old man had given the right answer?” Baizhang says, “Come here and I’ll tell you.” As soon as Huangbo gets up to him, Huangbo slaps Baizhang. Is this falling into causation or ignoring causation? Is Huangbo being approved or disapproved? There is a path beyond the confinement of the dualities that permeates our lives. Then Baizhang laughs out loud and says, “I knew foxes’ beards were red—here’s another red-bearded fox.” Are these the same or different? Are you and I the same or different?

A foot of water, a fathom of wave, for five hundred lives he couldn’t do a thing. That water is the ocean into which all the streams return—the one reality to which the ten thousand things return. It’s also samsara, the turbid streams of consciousness, within which we become lost to ourselves. The footnote says, “Luckily, the rivers are naturally clear and the ocean is naturally calm.” Even when water is turbid, and we can’t see through it, that’s not the nature of the water. It’s just been stirred up. It’s never anything but naturally clear. And yet for five hundred years he couldn’t do a thing.