Pointing at the Moon

Recommended Posts

Pointing at the moon - how often we hear this phrase used, we use it ourselves.


I guess I've always thought that 'the moon' was a metaphor for that which can not be put into words; as though a master could take the student no further than a certain point with words; that the student had to do his own inner journey past that point.


But I just had a thought two nights ago when that incredible large full moon came up over the horizons of the hills of Appalachia. First of all, my heart about stopped, it was so beautiful.


And then I was sort of cosmically zoomed to China, a place I was lucky to go to about 15 years ago. But I remember seeing the full moon somewhere in China, and feeling suddenly AT HOME because I was looking at the very same face on the moon that I saw back at home in the U.S. I can't tell you how that changed the moment for me; how just seeing something familiar from back home, even if it's on the other side of the earth. It was a spiritual moment for me.


What I'm getting at, is maybe that's what 'pointing at the moon' means? That the face is All One, regardless of where we stand on the planet, or with our point of view when it comes to various religions, practices, or philosophies.


I'd love to hear your ideas.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

I recall a buddhist story about the reflection of the moon in a pail of water, until the bottom fell out of it.


Here it is, from a Zen Koan.



Zen Story: Chiyono

Jan 24, 2011 Connie Delaney



Buddha Statue - Ananta Bhadra LamichhaneNo more moon in the water: a Zen story from ancient tradition that teaches us about enlightenment.


A Zen story is different from a Zen koan. A Zen story takes the practitioner through an event in the life of a Zen Master that teaches a lesson. This is a very unusual Zen story because it is about a woman teacher. Chiyono was a nun in Japan in the 13th century. This is what is brought down through the years to us.


The Story

The nun Chiyono studied for years but was unable to find enlightenment. One night, she was carrying an old pail filled with water. As she was walking along, she was watching the full moon reflected in the pail of water. Suddenly, the bamboo strips that held the pail together broke, and the pail fell apart. The water rushed out; the moons reflection disappeared and Chiyono became enlightened. She wrote this verse:


This way and that way I tried to keep the pail together, hoping the weak bamboo would never break.


Suddenly the bottom fell out.


No more water, no more moon in the water emptiness in my hand.


This is one of my favorite Zen stories. It is about a woman, in ancient times, who was searching for enlightenment. That was an unusual thing in itself. A woman searching for enlightenment.


Chiyono had to really work at it. None of the monasteries would let her in: her beauty, her female body, would have disturbed all the rest of the monks. So Chiyono burnt and scarred her whole face and body so that you couldnt tell if she was a man or a woman. Then, the monastery let her in.


Chiyono was total in her search - but she still could not find enlightenment. She studied for years and self realization eluded her. Then one night she was carrying an old pail filled with water. She must have been in meditation. In a Zen monastery meditation is not a thing done only with the eyes closed. The monks practice walking meditation, working meditation. The whole day is spent in meditation. The monk remains as aware as possible the whole day.


Chiyono was aware as she was walking along. The pail was filled with water and she was watching the reflection of the moon. I can just imagine the water rippling with little waves as she moved, causing the reflection to shimmer and dance. It was very beautiful, but it was not the moon itself, it was the reflection of the moon. The beauty of it must have captivated Chiyono so that she did not notice the actual moon, up in the sky.


Suddenly! The strips holding the wooden pail broke and the pail fell apart. Instantly the water was gone, the reflection of the moon disappeared and Chiyono became enlightened. She wrote the poem printed above telling of her experience.


This is a strange and beautiful thing. This story has come down to us through the centuries because Chiyonos experience is so symbolic of enlightenment itself. It can be told a thousand times.


The pail of water is like our minds. We carry it with us wherever we go. It is always filled and brimming over with thoughts. Most of us are not in a Zen monastery doing walking meditation. Most of the time we are probably not aware of our thoughts. Our minds are like a weight we have been carrying our whole lives. We dont realize our minds are simply a reflection of life, not life itself. It is like Chiyono carrying the bucket and watching the moon, forgetting that the real moon is up in the sky.


Because of our minds we see the whole world like the reflection of the moon in the water. We dont see reality; we see only the reflection as it is filtered through the mind. Strangely we think we are seeing the real moon. The reflection of the mind, like the moons reflection shimmering in the water, is often distorted.


Chiyono was walking along and her mind was walking along with her, interpreting everything she saw - just like the reflection in the water. But she was aware because of her practices with meditation.


Suddenly, the pail broke. The water rushed out, the moons reflection disappeared - there was nothing.


Within her, within her awareness, the straps holding her mind broke - just like the bamboo holding the bucket. Without the straps the mind was gone and the reflection was gone . There was nothing. This was Chiyonos enlightenment.


Enlightenment is always sudden. It does not come in degrees and stages. It comes, suddenly, all at once as it came to the nun Chiyono. Even if it appears gradual, with a practitioner growing in wisdom over decades, the actual breaking of the mind happens in an instant. When enlightenment is realized, it is complete, total.


And it comes all at once, completely. When the water is out of the bucket the reflection is gone at the same time. Without the straps to hold it together, it is all gone. There is no such thing as partial enlightenment, or just about there.


She wrote, This way and that, I tried to keep the pail together.


Chiyono's poem is quite beautiful. She is saying something that is very true about an experience common to all people. The straps holding the bucket are under great tension from the weight of all the water. Just like the straps on the bucket, it takes great effort to hold the mind, to hold the ego together. We work constantly with this-misery and that-misery: we create this-problem and that-problem: we search here and there for help: we fuel our minds constantly and spend all our energy justifying our effort and holding it together. Carrying all this water is a tremendous work that we must be constantly engaged in: always under tension, like the straps holding the bamboo pail together.


Suddenly - just for a second - the mind stops. The straps break. The justifications shatter. The misery drops: and it is all gone.


No more water. No more moon in the water. No more mind, no more reflections in the mind.


Emptiness in my hand.


If this happens to a person, suddenly he knows as an experience that he is not the mind. If, in this moment, he takes a step back, and notices who is having this experience, the discovery is the entire universe. The mind dissolves, the universe is there. Its self realization. The emptiness is the fullness of being: the joy of experiencing the real moon.


Although I don't like that it say's "The emptiness is the fullness of being: the joy of experiencing the real moon."


I would say that existence is the fullness of being.


Although not the illusion of the existence.

Edited by Dagon
  • Like 1

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

I like that story, Dagon. It can be expanded in a slightly different way too.


The fact that she tried so hard for such a long time is also a point here. At some point on the journey we need to stop filling our minds with left brain information and just let go and let the right brain take over. Even self-awareness eluded her until the pail broke. She had been looking at the moon in the pail, contemplating it in a sense. When it all broke, she realized that wasn't the moon at all! She was free to look up and see the real moon, to Experience it.


The experiencing of the moon is the metaphor for suddenly internalizing all she had studied; when the bucket broke she bacame enlightened both from the weight of the bucket, and also from the structure of everything she'd learned. She suddenly Saw and felt the Essence.

Edited by manitou

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites