The Finger and the Moon

This story takes many forms – some more entertaining than others.  I do not remember any of the really exciting ones, but I do remember the framework and the overall point (or at least one of them).

Imagine a woman, an ascetic, returned to the village after months in the forest seeking truth, meaning, and enlightenment.

She begins preaching and teaching.  Sometimes she may speak at the well.  Other times crowds may gather around her as she meditates under the tress, and she will teach them.

Her words move the people and they begin to follow her and quote her and treat her differently – as if she was better or even more sacred than other people.

Seeing this happen and being unable to stop it – she gathers the village together for a final lesson.

She tells the villagers that this will be the last time she will speak with them and the last time they will see her.  She is going back to the forest.  There she found peace and some truth.  It was a simple and beautiful truth.

She came back to the village to try and share the truth – and more importantly to share some thoughts on the path to the truth so that everyone there could learn how to experience it for themselves.

But the people did not want to learn or seek, they wanted to be handed the truth.  They could sense something of the truth in her words, but without the desire to search for themselves, they associated her with the truth.  They confused the messenger and the message.

She said to them – the truth is like the moon, shining brightly in the sky for all to see.  I am like a fisherman on the shore of a lake on a clear night pointing at the moon and saying to you all – Come and look at the moon.  See how beautiful it is.  You cannot be bothered.  Instead of lifting your heads to look at the moon, you fall on your knees and worship my finger!

– – That is the essence of the Finger and the Moon parable.  I had been thinking of this yesterday as I wrote the piece on meditation techniques and even more after some comments came in from another meditator and seeker who shared some of his methods.

Moon over Desert - Doha, Qatar - 2004

Hebbe pointed out a really obvious flaw that I had totally overlooked when considering sharing information on meditation to an audience with various levels of experience from ‘none’ to ‘a great deal’.  I tried to focus on the flexibility of these methods and seeking a method that worked and felt comfortable for you.  But I stayed a little hung up on a specific time window.  In my tale, time is the finger and I was bowing down.  I probably made other similar mistakes that I have not even found yet.

That prompted me to want to share the finger and the moon parable.

Be quiet – listen to music.

Say the words in your head – say the words out loud.

Close your eyes – open your eyes.

10-15 minutes – 3 or 4 minutes.

Alone – kids and dogs and cats.

It does not matter.

It matters that you start.  It matters that you try.

As Hebbe says – “break the rules”.  I can’t believe I did not say this either (thanks Chris).

Through “breaking the rules” you may learn that they are important, or you may learn that they are not important at all.  You may be able to see why there are recommendations for one thing that may work for many people but does not work for you.

Anyway, I hope that helps.  I hope you will try a little meditation.  And, I hope I will do more of it as well.

I will not get back on the soapbox (not yet anyway), but when I was talking about all of this with my dad and the initial reasons for me writing about meditation to try to present a method to relieve anxiety to one of my friends he suggested that I mention exercise.

Regular readers know that I am working at getting back into better shape and that running is one of the main methods that I am pursuing (though I have been super slack since it turned cold).  Vance is right.  Exercise is a fantastic method to relieve stress and anxiety and to fight depression.

That’s it for now.  I am going to take down my gigantic finger and go look for the moon…

Moon over Desert - Doha, Qatar - 2004

2 thoughts on “The Finger and the Moon”

  1. Oh Nick, this might be my favorite post you’ve written. The story was new to me, but the self awareness concerning what this whole meditation-as-a-tool-toward-personal-enlightenment thing is really all about it amazing. And might I say, as a novice to the whole game, I thought your instructions were careful, accessible, and thoughtful. Nothing is perfect and that’s OK, too. I’m grateful for the starting point you’ve provided.

    • Thanks Karen, for the kind words and the good feedback. Sometimes it is hard to know if you are communicating unless someone takes the time to say “you are communicating”. I am really glad you enjoyed the story and i wish you luck on the next phase of your path.

      I have two more traditional stories cued up in my brain that i just need to find time to write down. I think you will enjoy both of them. As with ‘The Finger and the Moon’ these are by no means ‘my stories’ – i am just re-creating them from many sources and through the fog of memory.

      The Old Man and the River – i learned this one studying Taoism, but it is common to many Eastern traditions.

      Washing Dishes – same as above, learned it studying Taoism, but many traditions follow and espouse the same principles, and use ‘the same’ story.


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