Three pounds of flax
A MONK ASKED TOZAN, "WHAT IS BUDDHA?"
TOZAN SAID, "THREE POUNDS OF FLAX."
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?"
The word 'buddha' is from Sanskrit, but now it has been taken over by the Chinese, by the Japanese, for the simple reason that they could not find anything equivalent. The word 'buddha' means a consciousness at its peak. What does it mean - a consciousness at its peak?
TOZAN SAID... You must be expecting some philosophical answer, some theological answer, some rational explanation, but what Tozan said is, "THREE POUNDS OF FLAX."
At that moment he was carrying three pounds of flax. In that moment he could not indicate anything else; there was nothing else available other than three pounds of flax. In fact he is saying that the question is wrong and if you ask a wrong question you will get a wrong answer. But he is compassionate and polite. Rather than saying, "You idiot! A question about buddha is not to be asked - it is an experience without any explanation, an experience beyond mind." Being of a very kind nature, rather than saying that you are asking a wrong question, he simply gives an absolutely absurd answer:
"THREE POUNDS OF FLAX."
In that moment it must have come to the inquirer as a shock and also as an insult - not only to himself but to Gautam Buddha - but he knows that Tozan cannot be insulting or derogatory in any sense towards Gautam Buddha, because for Tozan to insult Gautam Buddha will be to insult himself.
His answer is indicative that it is not possible for language to contain the experience. It is almost like, "Whatever I say will not be much more valuable than three pounds of flax."
Try to see the point.
I will give you an example, perhaps that may help you....
Adolf Hitler convinced one of the most civilized, cultured, courageous nations that the defeat of Germany in the first world war and all the problems of Germany were because of the Jews. At first people laughed: "This is absurd! Jews have nothing to do with it; on the contrary, they had given more money to the fight than anybody else, and to make them responsible..." But when somebody continuously repeats a thing it becomes a truth. Every lie can become almost true; it just needs to be repeated with dogmatic, authoritative force.
That was the whole strategy of Adolf Hitler. He was not a man of great intelligence, but he made the whole nation convinced that he was right: "If Jews are removed all problems will be solved."
One day as he was coming from his morning walk he met the chief rabbi of Berlin - a strange coincidence. Adolf Hitler asked the rabbi, "What do you think... what is the cause of Germany's failure, all its problems?"
The chief rabbi said: "It is very simple: the bicycles. Unless you destroy all the bicycles there is no chance for Germany to attain to its glory."
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 towards a faraway star."
And saying this, Riku Taifu wept aloud. Later, Chokei hearing of this, said, "You should not cry, you should laugh!"
Another Zen master, when he heard this said, "There is no reason to cry: Nansen has fulfilled his destiny. It is a time to celebrate. He has not gone anywhere, he has simply become free from the form of body and mind; he has become just pure consciousness like the air surrounding you. He was confined into the body, now he is unconfined. This is not the time for crying. You should not cry; you should laugh."
That's why poor Maneesha has to shout, "Yaa-Hoo!" That is perfectly good: three pounds of flax or Yaa-Hoo - both weigh three pounds.
There is a strange story that developed in the name of Zen.... A small group of people, beginning with Mahakashyapa, at the time of Gautam Buddha... Although it is called Zen Buddhism, Zen should not be attached with Buddhism - it has nothing to do with any -ism. It is a pure experience without any theology. Its purity is such that no word can catch it, every word is going to pollute it.
Mahakashyapa is the founder, not in the sense that Mohammed is the founder of Mohammedanism, or Mahavira is the founder of Jainism, or Karl Marx is the founder of communism....
From the very beginning it takes a strange turn that has never happened anywhere else. It is simply unique; there is nothing else with which it can be compared.
One morning discourse Gautam Buddha came with a flower, a rose, in his hand. It was very strange.
Even people who had been with him for twenty years had never seen him bringing anything in his hand. What happened... why had he brought this roseflower? But things became more mysterious as time passed.
Buddha sat in his place, and rather than speaking started looking at the roseflower... and continued....
People's waiting became deeper and deeper - and he went on continuously looking at the flower.
There was immense silence.... It must have been similar to the silence that is here, but it became heavy. A moment comes - you can only have a certain amount of silence; otherwise it will crush you. It has a weight.
It became too much of a burden. Nobody was saying anything, Buddha was looking at the flower and nobody had the courage or the guts to ask him, "What is the matter? What has happened?
Where is the morning discourse?"
Only one man, Mahakashyapa understood. This was the morning discourse: watching silently, saying nothing, just being aware. It may be a roseflower or it may be anything. Watching without being attached - that was the discourse. But seeing that nobody was understanding, Mahakashyapa laughed loudly.
That was even more mysterious because Mahakashyapa was an absolutely silent man. He was never mentioned before in Buddhist scriptures. He has never said a single word to anybody. He was not a talkative person. He used to sit under a certain tree when Buddha was speaking; for so many years he had been sitting under that tree, that the tree had almost become monopolized. Without anybody saying anything, nobody sat there; everybody knew that Mahakashyapa would be coming and that place was reserved.
This was the first time that this silent man laughed - so loudly that he would have defeated Sardar Gurudayal Singh!
(FROM THE BACK OF THE HALL, A TREMENDOUS BELLY LAUGH FROM SARDAR.) Only here we have Sardar Gurudayal Singh. Perhaps Gurudayal Singh may have defeated Mahakashyapa, because being a sardar, he cannot accept any defeat - Mahakashyapa or no Mahakashyapa - but unfortunately he was not present in that assembly. He is our joy.
But this laughter of Mahakashyapa is the beginning of Zen - because nobody else understood.
Buddha said nothing and simply gestured towards Mahakashyapa to come close for the first time in twenty years! - and gave the roseflower to him. This giving of the roseflower to Mahakashyapa is the beginning of Zen.
Now, language is no longer relevant; now, communication has to find some other way. Buddha's giving the rose to Mahakashyapa is called the Seal of Zen. Buddha confirmed Mahakashyapa's understanding that in that vast assembly of monks only Mahakashyapa had understood the silent watchfulness of Gautam Buddha, that only he could hear the unsaid, that only he could feel when others had simply wondered what was the matter.
And even now it is being asked in Zen monasteries, "Why did Gautam Buddha give the roseflower to Mahakashyapa?"
It is just an indication, that "you have understood."
Here begins a new language - mysterious, irrational, absurd, but tremendously meaningful.
There is a great need to see Zen not as a religion, but as a language, a method of communion which is totally different from any other communication method.
Zen began in laughter. It will be good to have a few laughters...
Paddy and Sean are sitting in the pub having a discussion about their wives.
"What do you mean," asks Sean, "when you say you have to think twice before you leave your wife alone at night?"
"First," replies Paddy, "I have to think up a reason for going out. And second, I have to think up a reason why she can't go with me!"
Mrs. Zambini goes to visit a medium. "Can you talk with the dead?" she asks.
"I can do everything!" replies the medium, "card reading, fortune telling, astrology, crystal ball, seances, pendulum... What do you want?"
"I want to speak with my grandmother who died in Budapest," explains Mrs. Zambini.
The medium sits her down and turns out the lights. There is silence and then the sound of the wind and the medium goes into a trance. Suddenly there is a voice: "This is your grandmother, darling!"
"Oh, Granny," cries Mrs. Zambini, "How is everything with you?"
"It is beautiful here," replies Granny.
"How is Grandad?" asks Mrs. Zambini.
"He is very happy," replies Granny.
There is the noise of wind and then Granny speaks again, "I must go now, darling."
"Oh, Granny," cries Mrs. Zambini, "I just have one more question."
"Yes, darling, ask it," replies Granny.
"Tell me," asks Mrs. Zambini, "where the hell did you learn English?"
Father Murphy, Reverend Philpot and Rabbi Nussbaum are playing cards together and gambling in the back room of the pub. All of a sudden a policeman comes in and they are arrested.
In court the magistrate asks Father Murphy, "You are accused of gambling. What do you have to say?"
The old priest looks up to heaven, winks and prays silently, "Oh, God! Just one little white lie! I'll never do it again. Okay?"
He then announces to the magistrate, "Not guilty."
"Okay," says the magistrate, "you can go. And what about you, Reverend? What do you have to say?"
The clergyman looks piously to heaven and then bows his head in prayer, "Oh, God! Just one little white lie! I will never do it again," and then says out loud, "Not guilty."
"Very well," says the magistrate, "you can go. Rabbi Nussbaum is next. You are accused of gambling," says the magistrate. "What do you have to say?"
"Gambling?" asks the rabbi. "With whom?"
Newly-wed Barbara wants to make sure that she is doing everything properly. She goes to church and into the confession box, where Father Sullivan is sitting.
"Father," asks Barbara, "is it alright to have intercourse just before communion?"
"Of course, my child," replies the priest, "as long as we don't make too much noise."
Now, two minutes of silence... no movement. Let the body be absolutely still, like a statue, frozen...
Now, come back.