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A Zen Koan and Commentary

Updated: May 8, 2020



Originally written September 18, 2017

Re-edited on May 6, 2020

Part 1. The set-up


There is a wonderful koan in the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate by Zen Master Mumon).

The wind was flapping a temple flag. Two monks were arguing about it. One said the flag was moving; the other said the wind was moving. Arguing back and forth they could come to no agreement. The Sixth Patriarch said, “It is neither the wind nor the flag that is moving. It is your mind that is moving.”


I like this koan.


When we engage in some type of mindfulness or inquiry practice, such as zazen (sitting meditation), or focusing attention on attention, or the sense of being, or finding the source of the “I thought”, it becomes clear that thoughts arise constantly; sometimes slowly; sometimes quickly. But, for the most part, incessantly. That’s what thoughts do.


But thoughts by themselves don’t create separation. They are just thoughts happening. It is only when we identify with or otherwise attach to those tho