Saturday, May 3, 2014

What is Buddha?

Here is another Koan Study. It is a very old Koan and goes something like this:
Zen Master Dongshan was asked by a monk, "What is Buddha?" to which he replied "Three Pounds of Flax.
Sometime before Zen Master Yunmen had been asked by another monk, "What is Buddha?" to which he replied "Dry shit on stick."
Question 1: What is Buddha?
Question 2: What does three pounds of flax mean?
Question 3: What does dry shit on stick mean?
Question 4: Three pounds of flax, dry shit on stick, which is the best answer?
Let's look at question 1 - What is Buddha? How can we answer this? The story has two answers already presented. Is one of those the right answer? Are they both correct? Or is neither one correct? What does correct mean anyway?

Easy to get off track! So return to the question - it is asking What is Buddha? The story is a hook and could possibly lead us off track. Digging deeper, there are actually some hints in the answers. For Dongshan, we can assume three pounds of flax was something present in that very moment. Was the monk's clothing, perhaps, made from flax? For Yunmen, what could dry shit on stick mean? There are several stories about sticks and shit from the pre-toilet paper days. Perhaps within his vision was the bathroom area?

These were respected Zen Masters answering students questions. They could have been messing with their students to confuse them. Or they could have been providing true, in the moment answers. I tend to favor the latter.

If you are sitting across from a person posing this question, in person or on-line, how can you answer? Please think about this for a moment. What is the truth of this very moment? Just seeing, hearing, etc. So there are many answers that will work for this question. They have to be in the moment answers, not speculation, philosophy or even things out of sight. What do you see right now.

Here are two similar answers, one is acceptable and one is not (which do you think is correct?):
  1. I am Buddha sitting here talking to you
  2. Buddha is sitting here talking to you
In number 1, there is the concept of "I". I immediately invokes opposites, you, them, not-I, so it cannot be correct. If you want to debate that point, maybe by saying that Buddha instantly makes not-Buddha - another acceptable answer is "Buddha is here talking to me!" So all truth is Buddha. All things have Buddha-nature. Wonderful!

If you want the answers to 2,3,4 feel free to email me your answers to Koan teachers are also available at the Five Mountain Zen Order. Question 4 is the most interesting of the remaining questions. Based on the discussion above, how can you answer it?