Fox Zen and Hound Zen

by Richard Collins
One law for the lion and the ox is oppression. — William Blake
If you have ever played Fox and Hounds, you know what I mean. All you need to play is a checkerboard and five checkers, four black for the Hounds and one red for the Fox. The Fox can move diagonally in any direction, while the Hounds can move only diagonally forward. For the Hounds, the object is to corner the Fox. To win, the Hounds must be methodical and stick to their patterned behavior. They run in packs, so any variation can trip up their coordinated effort. Any slipup will be capitalized upon by the Fox whose sole object is to evade the methodical Hounds and break through to the other side.

This game is a good parable for two types of Zen. Hound Zen moves in one direction, bound strictly by the rules of the game. It follows the precepts straightforwardly. Hounds shave their heads, eat no meat, abstain from all alcohol and sex, etc. Often they bark at others who don’t follow their regimen, such as the Fox. In Fox Zen there is no path that’s straight and narrow. Fox Zen moves backward and forward and sideways, bound by a single precept: get to the other side. Fox Zen lays low and often outside the kennels where Hound Zen is penned. Foxes are invisible to the naked eye and nose. Their musky odor cloaks them; they don’t stink of Zen. You might glimpse Foxes in public, but they don’t heel to the command of hunters as Hounds do. They are ghosts.

Fox Zen and Hound Zen are not two, though. Fox Zen and Hound Zen are in each of us. While the drama between the two can sometimes play out between different individuals in a sangha or between sanghas, the real game is played by two sides of the same person. We all have a Fox and many Hounds within us. The Fox roams freely and sometimes fearfully. The Hounds gravitate to groups and find a nervous solace there. Our Hound nature sees the Fox as dangerous and disruptive to the greater order. The Fox sees the Hounds as lickspittles and slaves. But it is not the iconoclastic practitioner or teacher who is the threat to the Hounds; it is the Hounds’ own inner Fox that they fear and that they hope to subdue by sticking strictly to ritual, precepts, and institutional structures. The more the Fox bobs and weaves, the more the Hounds will howl to box him in, demanding that he too must play by their rules and limitations. The more the Hounds slaver and drool with their noses to the ground in pursuit of the invisible Fox at the sound of the hunter’s horn, the more the Fox will leap and dance to music only the Fox can hear.

Observe, though, the Fox and Hounds in their original state. At the beginning of the game there is no Fox and there are no Hounds. There are only checkers sitting on their black squares. There is no Fox Zen and no Hound Zen. There is only Zazen.

Richard Collins


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