Zen Koan Case 18 What is Buddha?

THE CASE

A monk asked Tung-shan, “What is Buddha?”

Tung-shan said, “Three pounds of flax.”

WU-MEN’S COMMENT

Old Man Tung-shan attained something of clam-Zen. He opened the two halves of his shell a bit and exposed his liver and intestines. Be that as it may, tell me: where do you see Tung-shan?

WU-MEN’S VERSE

Thrusting forth “three pounds of flax!”

The words are intimate, mind is more so;

if you argue right and wrong,

you are a person of right and wrong.

Case 18 is from the book:

The Gateless Barrier is generally acknowledged to be the fundamental koan collection in the literature of Zen.

Gathered together by Wu-men (Mumon), a thirteenth-century master of the Lin-chi (Rinzai) school, it is composed of forty-eight koans, or cases, each accompanied by a brief comment and poem by Wu-men.

Robert Aitken, one of the premier American Zen masters, has translated Wu-men’s text, supplementing the original with his own commentary — the first such commentary by a Western master — making the profound truths of Zen Buddhism accessible to serious contemporary students and relevant to current social concerns.

What is a KOAN?

A koan is a surprising or paradoxical word or phrase, taken from an anecdote, that is used as an object of meditation in traditions descended from Chinese Chan Buddhism, like Japanese Zen. Contemplating these words is part of the training given by a teacher to help a Buddhist student to awaken.”  Read more

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