The Gateless Gate, Case 18: Tozan’s Three Pounds of Flax

A monk asked Tonzan, “What is Buddha?”

Tozan replied, “ three pounds of flax.”

Three pounds of flax is the amount of material required to make a monk’s robe. But Tozan didn’t say the Buddha was a monk’s robe, he said, ‘3lbs of flax’.

Three pounds of flax is limitless in its expression and application; it could be a garment for a monk, but equally a garment for a warrior or for a merchant, a shroud for a dead person, and so on.The fourth of the five skandas is translated – usually badly – as ‘will’ or ‘mental fabrication’ but it’s a very important element of the human being; it’s that aspect of us which takes this experience here and now and makes something out of it. We literally fabricate something.

We do this because what we always want to do is to grasp each aspect of the world as it appears and make it something specific. ‘Buddha’ is prior to this fabrication. We can grasp a monk’s robe, but we can’t grasp the fabric of emptiness.

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