18 Tozan's three pound of Flax

A monk asked Tozan, "What is the Buddha?"
Tozan "Masagin!" (Three pounds of flax.)
What does that mean?

(The Koan-answer is the picture's caption!)


Shout: Masagin!

An explanation of the Koan answer

A simple Koan. If somebody asks something like: What is Zen, the Buddha, the Way etc. the master will answer "mystically". Just repeat the master's words. He is supposed to be enlightened. Repeat the master's words, to express that he (or she) is your role model.

What next?

The background story of this Koan

There is no background story for this Koan.
Despite the student expecting a theoretical explanation the master answers like a mystic to confuse the student's mind.
"Mystification" of reality to show enlightenment is quite common in Japanese Zen.

In this case a sinologist (McRhae) discovered a Chinese explanation for this Koan, which shows how misleading the Japanese mystification is.
In medieval China the Chan (Zen) monks were called "little Buddhas". Every year the emperor provided a certain amount of flax for each monk.

That's what Tozan satirically refers to, when he was asked what is Buddha: Those monks who get their robes provided by the emperor!
The remark was critical as well, for monks were supposed to stay away from the authorities. This was already a teaching of Taoism.

What next?

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The original Chinese Goang

Venerable Dongshan: Because a monk asked, "To what is Buddha comparable?"
Shan said, “Three pounds of flax.”

What next?

Traditional Commentaries and .... Poems (Gata)

Mumon's comment: Old Tozan's Zen is like a clam. The minute the shell opens you see the whole inside.
However, I want to ask you: Do you see the real Tozan?

Wumen says: Old man Dongshan was able to interview with some clam Ch’an.
He only opened a little bit but revealed and put forth his liver and intestines.
So, although you indeed listen, just say what place do you face to see Dongshan?

What next?

The Gata

Three pounds of flax in front of your nose,
Close enough, and mind is still closer.
Whoever talks about affirmation and negation
Lives in the right and wrong region.

"Three pounds of flax” suddenly issued.
The words are intimate; the meaning is more intimate.
Those who arrive at theories of right and wrong,
Are thus people of right and wrong.

What next?