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Chapter 9: Three Pounds of Flax

Adolf Hitler said, “Are you joking? What kind of nonsense are you talking? How can bicycles be responsible for Germany’s failure?”

The chief rabbi said, “I was just saying that - how can Jews be responsible? And if Jews can be responsible then what is wrong in bicycles.?”

This answer of Tozan’s is absurd, but any answer will be absurd. So you have to understand the milieu of Zen. In fact Tozan has not answered, he has simply said to the man, “Don’t ask such stupid questions! But because of my kindness, I cannot call you stupid. And all answers possible will be of the same quality as three pounds of flax, which is at least right now available in my hands. I can show it to you.”

By his answer he is making all answers useless.

Commenting, 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!

Setcho is saying that when the golden crow swoops, or the silver hare bounds; the echo comes back, direct and free. That is the buddha: the echo. Who judges Tozan by his word or phrase is a blind tortoise, lost in a lonely vale.

Don’t judge Tozan by his word; look into his eyes, feel the dance of his heart. Look at the grace and the compassion and the love of the man.

In his comment he reminds me of an incident with Riku Taifu, one of the disciples of great master Nansen.

Nansen died.. Riku Taifu stood in front of his master’s coffin and gave a loud laugh. A priest reproached him, saying, “Wasn’t he your teacher? Why do you laugh when you should lament for him?”

Riku Taifu said, “Say a word, and if it fulfills the Buddha’s teaching I will lament.”

I will repeat: He is saying, “I am ready to lament. Say a single word that fulfills Buddha’s teaching and I am ready to lament.”

But the priest could not utter a word. Deploring this, Riku Taifu said, “Alas, our teacher has long gone! Nansen would not have remained silent; he would have said something - perhaps absolutely absurd, but still indicating like an arrow toward a faraway star.”

And saying this, Riku Taifu wept aloud. Later, Chokei hearing of this, said, “You should not cry, you should laugh!”

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