Sunday, June 19, 2016

Finger pointing at the moon

Anyone even slightly familiar with Zen knows this metaphor of a finger pointing at the moon. And of course the meaning of the metaphor is there’s a difference between a teaching and the meaning of what’s being taught. So what’s being taught? To answer that question leads us to Nagarjuna and his “Two Truth Doctrine.” What he taught is the difference between two truths—the conventional and the ultimate. He said that we must, by necessity, use the finger of conventional truth to fathom the moon of ultimate truth. Conventional means are words and other communication methods and the ultimate can’t be framed because it is beyond form of any kind. Nevertheless without words (which are admittedly abstract reflections), there is no way of communicating about sublime truths beyond words.

The second part of his teaching (the most important part) is that while we must discern these two truths conventionally, unless we experience the ultimate we will never be free. Instead we will remain lost in the sea of conventional abstraction yet firmly persuaded the reflection IS the moon. In The Sutra of Complete Enlightenment, Ch’an Master Sheng-yen says that we must use illusion to destroy illusion, which is just a different way of speaking about Nagarjuna’s two truths. The enlightenment of the moon is ever-present and we become aware through reflections.

The entirety of all of my posts are mere fingers pointing to a moon beyond words. They are reflections shimmering on the surface of a rippling pool of water.
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