Koans are a Zen Buddhist word-play teaching technique to achieve enlightenment. Some people are confused or annoyed by their absurd or contradictory statements. Of course, that’s part of the intent – creating some cognitive dissonance in the mind of the pupil goes back a long time before anyone would have used a term like cognitive dissonance.

If you follow this blog and come across these weekend koan posts, don’t be too concerned with the actual content or structure of them. Better to focus on the mental state which they induce.

This classic Zen Buddhist koan with is from the anthology Zen Flesh, Zen Bones:


A monk asked Tozan while he was weighing some flax, “What is Buddha?”

Tozan said, “This flax weighs three pounds.”




Now, what does that mean?

The book has commentary by Mumon which may – or may not – help you with the koan. Mumon says that old Tozan’s Zen is like a clam. The minute the shell opens you see the whole inside.

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.