Zen lovers: care to debate koans?

Maybe inject a little different kind of religious debate here in GD. I will find a koan, or you are free to, and we will discuss and debate it’s meaning relatiing to Zen. Maybe it is foolish to try and explain them, but I think it may just be worth a try.

I am going to draw mine from The Gateless Gate and Ten Bulls. Cecil already covered one hand clapping, so we won’t go there. Here is my first:

I draw this from here: http://www.ibiblio.org/zen/ . It is called “Tozan’s Three Pounds”, from the Gateless Gate.

I believe that the riddle is that the question is asking the blatantly obvious. Buddha is the enlightened, Buddha is the ‘now’. It is the flax’s weight. Any thoughts, or am I totally wrong?

Note to mods: If you believe this doesn’t fit GD, please be sure to move it to an acceptable forum.


He who says does not know and he who knows does not say.

Wait… but having said shows I don’t know.


But, had I not said, you’d know I’d know in which case I might only have not be saying because I did’t know.


OK, that’s enough koans for me!

Well, how much did the flax actually weigh?

*Originally posted by red_dragon60 *

I believe that the riddle is that the question is asking the blatantly obvious. Buddha is the enlightened, Buddha is the ‘now’. It is the flax’s weight. Any thoughts, or am I totally wrong?

Obvious to whom? It certainly wasn’t obvious to the monk asking the question. I believe Tozan’s response to the monk’s question was to redirect his attention to the here and now. He could easily have said “My ass itches” and convey the same message.

I believe the answer means that Buddha is the accurate
perception of the world around you and the nature of truth.
The flax weighs three pounds. The pound is an invented concept. You could truthfully say “this is flax.” or “It takes 10 coppers to buy this much flax”

Further, Zen teaches the student to seek their true nature. Free from desire, fear and false ego, the flax could be viewed as enlightened.

Zen also teaches that the mind is not seperate from the world. The answer also means ‘When you know that you are the flax and the flax is you, then you shall be enlightened.’ Or 'Buddha is this flax. Buddha is you. When you achieve Buddha consciousness, you shall see Buddha in all things."

( )

That’s what I was trying to say. However, words escaped me. Thanks for putting it so eloquently.

Personally, the only ones I want to debate are the orange ones that blossom on the highways each spring.

Rationally examining Zen koans is chasing butterflies with a hammer. Even if you suceeded, what would you have?

debating zen koans is counter-productive.

it’s like that silly book of zen koans with answers included. kinda takes the point to a koan, and shoots it in the face.

the idea behind a koan comes from the school of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. this sect believes that to achieve enlightenment, you must first, well, “shock your system” a little bit. (these are the monks that tend to hit each other with big sticks during meditation). meditation upon a koan is supposed to envelop your entire mind for several days. if you answer the koan quickly, you probably haven’t stepped much closer to enlightment, since you haven’t really shocked your mental system much. and if you have someone tell you the answer, you’re likely running full sprint AWAY from enlightenment.

so if you want to use a koan to it’s full benefit, pick several random words, and construct a sentence. then, run off to the woods with some rice and don’t eat until you’ve uncovered a deep, spiritual meaning. (of course, the buddha wasn’t a big fan of asceticism, so this might be counter-productive as well. but hey, who really wants enlightenment anyway?)

[tracer doing Spider Robinson imitation]

The Zen master sat zazen on the steaming hot summer day.

His disciple came up to him and said, “It is terribly hot, master. How can you stand to sit zazen in this heat?”

The master sat for a while.

Then he jumped to his feet, screamed out “AI!!” and resumed sitting zazen.

After a time, the disciple asked, “Why did you jump to your feet and scream “AI!” in response to my question?”

The Zen master answered him, “Clearly the heat was bothering you. And to relieve you of the heat, I offered you an Ai scream koan.”

[/tracer doing Spider Robinson imitation]

(There is a serious point to this atrocious pun, as well.)

First off, I’m shocked that any post of mine could be viewed as rational.

I disagree with Thomas and Elucidator. By exchanging viewpoints, we learn to view the world in new ways.

I didn’t arive at an answer rationally. Realising the ideas in my previous post was easy. I simply read the koan. I’m not aware of any logic or reasoning I did to arrive at my answer. Fitting those ideas in to words that expressed them properly was the hard part.

If you give a student a question and they give you an answer, they have learned something. If you give a student both the question and the answer, they have learned something when they understand why that is the answer. Math books that have answers to the odd-numbered problems are an example of this. or
“In Zen, this very mind is Buddha. Is that not so?”

"If I say yes, you will think that you understand without understanding. If I say no, I will be denying a   thing that many know is true."

 Lastly, answering a koan is not difficult if it is a truth you already understand. I'm not claiming to be Enlightened or even more enlightened than anybody else in this thread, but for me the koan expressed things I already knew. I'm sure that I'll continue to find further meanings as I discover knew truths. There are many koans I do not understand, their answer contains wisdom I do not yet have.

friend doccathode,

well stated, my friend. the journey is also the destination. we all pursue that wisdom, and as we obtain wisdom, we realize how much more there is to learn. enlightenment may just be the realization that the learning process is never ending.

People get caught up words, their narratives trip and ensnare them and results mostly in a whole lot of wasted energy.

Trying to answer “what is Buddha?” at a monk in a specific tradition, one is faced with a few options. To “really” answer the question, how do you go about it? The flax-weighing fellow could have devoted his brain to it, pulled up chunks of sutras, stories of Siddhartha and the Patriarchs and statements of enlightenment and what it was to be awake, and what he meant by being awake, and on and on and on in a big web of concepts that simply don’t end as long as you continue talking about them.

So he didn’t do that. He was weighing flax for a reason, it was what he was doing at the time, and there was no need to purposefully enter into a linguistic maze with no exits (which most attempts at trying to “answer” a koan turn to). So he answered the question properly. The flax weighed three pounds. He was getting a practical task done–what the heck was the monk doing wandering around asking idle questions for? Wasn’t there anything better to do with his time?

Drastic, I was with you right up until “idle questions”.
If you’ve devoted you’re life to spiritual advancement, then
asking any question about your faith is hardly an idle thing. If a Christian monk asks another “Is God one or is God three?” it’s a significant question worthy of an answer. Ask a Rabbi “What’s more important praying or performing good deeds?” and no Rabbi worth his kugel will tell you ‘I’m trying to work here.’

  The answer of a koan is indeed given in a way that expresses the most information. "Mu." "This weighs three pounds." Many complex mathematical ideas can be expressed by relatively short equations. Explaining the same idea in words can take pages.

  Was Tozan avoiding a "linguistic maze with no exits." (nice phrase btw)? I agree that he was. But he gave his answer because the question is so important, not because it was trivial.

Questioner: What is Discordianism?
Malcalypse the Younger: A monk asked Tozan when he was weighing some flax: What is Buddha?' Tozan said: This flax weighs three pounds.’
Q: And that is your answer?
MAL-2: Of course not. That is just illustrative. Your answer is: FIVE TONS OF FLAX.

~~[paraphrased from memory from]Principia Discordia, or, How I Found the Goddess and What I Did to Her When I Found Her
as revealed to Malcalypse the Younger and Omar Kayyam Ravenhurst on an absolutely unforgettable night in 68 or 69, they can’t remember.

good evening friends

from my zen calendar, monday february 26:

fa-yen was walking with a disciple, and asked about the wind bells suspended from the temple roof. he said, “what is ringing, the bells or the wind?”

the astute disciple answered, “the wind is not ringing, the bells are not ringing, the mind is ringing.”

Idleness not in the intent, but in the inevitable result of answering it in any way other than a proper koanish way. When a “normal” answer to those Big Important Questions leads inevitably into that mazing state (lacking the a- out of), it’s idle. Time spent wandering around a pretty web of words that don’t actually help the monk’s quest is precious time wasted, not moving, not progressing.

Idle and trivial aren’t synonymous. (Nor are the necessarily opposed.) But whether someone’s idling over a Spiritually Important thing, or a Mundanely Trivial thing (if such a thing exists), don’t much matter–still a matter of effectively going nowhere.

Are you kidding?