The references to “The Moon”, “Reflection of the Moon” and “Finger pointing to the Moon” are very common in Zen teachings. I really like these symbols, in my opinion, they pretty much describe the very core of our existence as people in the society and the source of our constant and pervasive dissatisfaction.
“The Moon” – is the reality, things as they are. What actually happens around us and within us, the dance of forms and shapes, constant appearing and disappearing of various phenomena, sounds, sights, smells…
But things are never “just as they are” for us, we live in the world of “meanings”, constantly translating the barrage of sensory information into what it all MEANS for us, whether it is beneficial, non-beneficial, hostile, dangerous, interesting, boring, good, bad, etc.
It can be compared to the reflection of the moonlight on water, the light is real but it is not the original one, it is just a reflection, distorted by waves. In other words, what we perceive as reality is just a distorted flickering reflection of the reality. This conceptual “virtual” reality is “The Reflected Moon”.
“The Reflected Moon” – is the world we live in. It is just like the whole our society is sitting around a tiny pond with the Moon reflected in it and endlessly mulling on “this sparkle” or “that flicker” on the surface of the water, and how that tiny wave is more important than another one, never looking at the Moon itself.
And all those “sparkles and waves” are pretty much about the same old things – survival, reproduction, pleasure. The same conceptual base with all sort of sophisticated expressions! And of course, the beloved ME and how everything around ME translates in terms of good and bad for ME.
This is actually very limiting and stifling for both mind and soul, that is why many of us who don’t have to experience the pressures of a real fight for survival, start to feel pervasive dissatisfaction.
The mainstream conceptuality of our society is still very much in a tribal mode, in times where it was important to fit in and stay with a group for protection, hoard goodies to get through harsh winter and be physically appealing to attract a mate to leave a progeny (to take care of you when you become old or sick).
Living in “the reflection of the Moon” is full of dangers, because in the tribal subconscious of our society there are still sabre-toothed tigers roaming around, and you need a protection of your tribe. No wonder belonging and fitting in is so important for us, even when there is no practical reason, no real need for it.
“The tribe” and all the dangers of being alone are still very much part of our conceptual world and constantly reinforced by our mainstream culture (remember all those gory movies about fight and survival).
“The finger pointing to the Moon” – methods of disengaging yourself from obsessive staring at the reflection. Interestingly, they were available from the very old times (Buddha’s teachings for example). It is almost like the door has opened and became available very early in the human history. Not many walked through, yet amazingly, it remained open, and the many “fingers” became also more sophisticated and more in tune with the current world.
“The circle of stillness” – prints available here
Zen Buddhism is one of these “pointing fingers”. It employs two main methods – meditation (zazen) and contemplation on koans (illogical puzzles). Zazen is needed to prepare the mind, so it is capable of perceiving the reality, see The Moon itself. Koan work is used to break down habitual logical pathways, “commonly accepted” firm believes and ideas propagated in our society.
To my experience (but I am not a Zen teacher), self-inquiry or very deep penetrating “Is it true?” can be used instead of Koan, and will work as well.
Why do we need to come back to “the real Moon”? No practical reason, simply, the reflection will never be enough, it is very limiting. We need to grow, to develop, as persons and as a society.
Every concept is only a reflection, can be more realistic or less, but never the real Moon. The surface of the pond will always distort; people’s Ego, attachments to being right, need for belonging, fear of the new, or, in contrast, the grasping on to the perceived “new” for whatever reason – they can distort anything.
If we really want to see the real Moon we need to be willing to question all reflections and CHOOSE the reality over habitual, comfortable ways of thinking and being. The reflections lose their appeal when we stop believing in them, but, of course, it is not an easy task.
The process of “liberating the Moon” within the human mind is not simply returning back to the boring factual world of appearing and disappearing phenomena, devoid of intellectual drama and conflict.
The real process of unfolding was keeping the mystics of all spiritual brands raving for centuries, and nowdays, the term “spiritual awakening” is becoming more and more common, thanks to the authors like Eckart Tolle.
“The Liberated Moon” within us shines in many colours, sometimes totally unexpected!