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Chapter 9: Three Pounds of Flax

Tozan’s Three Pounds of Flax
A monk asked Tozan, “What is Buddha?”
Tozan said, “Three pounds of flax.”

Setcho says:

The golden crow swoops, the silver hare bounds;
The echo comes back, direct and free.
Who judges Tozan by his word or phrase
Is a blind tortoise, lost in a lonely vale.

The abundant blossoms, the luxuriant flowers,
The southern bamboo, the northern trees.
One recalls Riku Taifu and Chokei:
“You should not cry, but laugh!” Eh!


Maneesha, not finding any expression for truth, Zen has developed a language of its own; hence, to ordinary logic it looks absurd. But those who have experienced their own being, their consciousness, will find that although the language is absurd it is absolutely relevant.

Zen’s case is very special, for example Tozan’s “Three Pounds of Flax.”

It is impossible to say what the experience is of being a buddha, of being awakened. Even in your common life you wake up every morning, you go to sleep every night; thousands of nights you must have slept and thousands of mornings you must have awakened - but can you describe what sleep is? You cannot say, you don’t know it. Can you give any explanation to the experience of waking up in the morning? You have known it many times; it is not something unknown to you. But still, when it comes to expressing it you come up against a very adamant wall: the language that we use for communication simply fails. But something has to be done. The question has been asked, an answer has to be given and the language does not allow any answer.

In such a situation Zen developed its own language. It can be easily criticized, condemned, described as absurd and irrational, but that is not very intelligent. Intelligence needs to find a way to understand the irrational language of Zen.

A monk asked Tozan.

Tozan is one of the most significant masters who lived fourteen hundred years ago. He is being asked,

“What is Buddha?”

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