Last week I discussed the koan The Diamond Cutter Scripture’s Scornful Revilement in connection with the Zen Peacemaker Order’s retreat in the Black Hills. I’d like to return to it this evening. Here is the koan once again from the Blue Cliff Record.
The Diamond Cutter scripture says, “If one is scornfully reviled by others, this person has
done wicked acts in previous ages which should bring him down into evil ways, but
because of the scorn and vilification by others in the present age, the wicked action of
former ages is thereby extinguished.”
We suffer now because of previous harmful deeds, we are scorned and vilified, but it is this very suffering that extinguishes the karma of what was done in the past. And again I ask, as I did last week: How does our suffering or hurt now expiate or resolve the results of what we did formerly?
Tomorrow will be my mother’s 87th birthday. As some of you know, she has been ill and in pain over the past few months. Her early life went something like this: She grew up in an impoverished family, a girl smack in the middle of 11 children. By the time she was 17 she had gone through the Holocaust, hiding in a cellar for months, going outdoors at the risk of her life and posing as an Aryan to find food and bring money to a non-Jewish woman caring for my mother’s baby nephew, getting caught and sent to a concentration camp, and losing her father, two sisters and a brother. By the time she was 18 she had reached Israel by smuggling aboard a ship in Marseilles with her 3 year-old orphaned nephew, giving herself up at the port of Haifa and being escorted by a cavalcade of motorcycles and British army vehicles to a refugee camp. By the time she was 20 she was fighting in Israel’s War of Independence, in which my father was wounded and their kibbutz obliterated. When she was 21 she had me.
I see her influence in me so much, and especially in my preference for independence and my fear of relying too much on others. Her emphasis on being strong and self-contained manifests in my own life even after 65 years, as well as the tendency towards anger and blame. Looking at all these qualities carefully, seeing the family karma that has come down to my own two siblings and myself since World War II, I have tried to change the movement of the compass by a few hairbreadths. How?
Living my life according to the Zen Peacemaker precepts is crucial to me. I don’t wish to generate more negative karma, to lay the seeds for more harm and suffering in the future. My mother lived her early life in survival mode, just one thing after another. She saw things with her own eyes that no one should see, witnessed and experienced pain that for us is unimaginable. Seeing how reactive she became much later, witnessing how patterns of abuse continue across generations, I began my spiritual practice and a commitment to look at a far bigger picture, at the real long run. I consider the Dalai Lama and his concern for what the Chinese are bringing upon themselves, or our own Native Americans and their commitment not to stay in past suffering but to look seven generations ahead. How many of us can think like that? How many of us are ready to put away short-term gains for long-term benefit?
I recall the koan Hyakujo and the Fox. Briefly, it relates the story of Hyakujo, the abbot of a monastery, who noticed that each time he gave a talk an old man came to listen and then left. One day the old man stayed and related to Hyakujo the following: He had once been the abbot of this same monastery, and someone asked him a question: Does an enlightened person fall into causation? Once a person fully awakens, does his/her life still fall within the laws of cause and effect? The old man had replied no, was immediately turned into a fox, and has lived in the shape of a fox for 500 lifetimes. He now begged Hyakujo for an answer to the same question and save him. Hyakujo replied that the enlightened person does not ignore cause and effect. The old man shed the skin of a fox and was buried as a monk.
I feel that I, too, live my life as a fox. I am not living my ideal life. Sometimes I’m bad-mouthed and reproached for not doing things right. Sometimes I feel that I work hard without much to show for it. There have been many times when I’ve felt victimized and blamed. I feel a little like the old man who meets Hyakujo. Someone asked him a question, he gave an answer that wasn’t necessarily right or wrong, it was his opinion, and for that he was changed into a fox. What’s fair about that? What’s fair about my life, or yours? What’s fair or logical about anything?
And still, the old man asks Hyakujo for another answer that might give relief, just as we ask on behalf of our own lives: What’s the right answer? What’s the practice? What do I do to reduce my suffering and the suffering of others? How do I end the life of a fox?
The answer is: live the life of a fox. The fox doesn’t think it’s living a terrible life. It doesn’t think of how to change the moral compass. Each instant is unconditioned and unquestioned. At each instant the fox manifests its foxy essence with no doubt or hesitation.
Live your life of the fox. Live your less-than-ideal life fully and completely. But it’s hard, so instead we perpetrate violence against this life we did not choose, the life that isn’t good or right enough, this fox’s life. We’re afraid that this is all there is and we blame ourselves and strike out against others. Our craving, grasping mind states want things to be different. Any life other than this fox life!
Because of the scorn and vilification by others in the present age, the wicked action of former ages is thereby extinguished. Karma has no place in a fox’s life where each experience is lived fully, with no comparisons or self-reference, a life lived out of not-knowing. The narrow, linear flow of cause and effect has no place where every moment is experienced as essence, where mind is clear, unmoving, unfearful, unattached.
In that state of being, the green of summer is never exhausted; neither is the white of winter. One follows the other, but what has that got to do with anything?