Small Talk: Fishing With the Moon

Small Talk: Fishing With the Moon

A sliver of moon is brighter than the full moon. Do you understand what I mean by that?

Most people go out of their way to gaze at the full moon and think it’s the most beautiful. But the full moon doesn’t last long, and, most of the time, if you look very carefully, you’ll see that it’s not perfectly round. It’s always a little lop-sided, a little bit off.

If you’re clever, and you quit looking for the full moon, if you really let go of that futile search for purity and perfection, then you will realize that the moon is really only balanced when it is the new moon. It is a very wonderful and freeing feeling. Master Wanshi called this “the thousand-year darkness of the new moon.” He meant it is an easy place to get stuck for a long time, failing to see the moon as it really is.

Just before he died, master Rakuho sought an heir.   On his deathbed, he used the moon as a hook and clouds for bait.  The head monk tried to bite, but he just bit on a reflection in the pool. The attendant Genju was better: he licked the bait, and Rakuho thought he might pull in a trophy fish with golden scales. But Genju was afraid to be himself in his master’s presence. It’s like that sometimes because we don’t want to bring disappointment to ourselves or to those we love with our failings. Though he had licked the bait, he couldn’t swallow hook. In the vast darkness, he did not know where to swim.

How does one seek the perfect understanding? Biting the hook is certain death; not biting is a thousand years of going hungry in the dark. I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m saying that, like a goldfish in a bowl, one must grow to fill the ocean of moonlight.


PS: Let me see what you think of this. Leave a comment below!



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        1. Now you can’t hear anything. (But I like this comment better than your last one.)

          There is a lot more here than meets the eye. The heart of it is in the fifth paragraph above, which comes from Case 41 of The Book of Equanimity. Your answer is sort of like the head monk’s answer in the sense that you’re trying to “let go” of things. This is generally the right idea, of course, but if you’re stuck to it, then you’re not engaging with “things as they are” (which would include the functioning of your own mind).

          This suggests that one might need to let go of letting go. That’s basically what Attendant Genju was trying to do, but it still wasn’t clear enough to receive transmission from Rakuho. Poor Genju! He was so close! And poor Rakuho! He had to die without transmitting the Dharma to his attendant. I can’t think of anything more miserable and sad.

    1. OK, I think I’ve played this fish long enough. 😉

      If Myoyu Roshi had heard you say “embracing a grieving parent, a bite is taken,” she probably would have said, “Those are just ‘dead words’.” (I heard that a lot.)

      Staying true to both our practice insight and our lives just as they are is really easy to talk about, but, in my experience, really hard to actually do.

      Kudos for digging in on this one, Todd.

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