Small Talk: Painting the Moon

Small Talk: Painting the Moon

Inky Moon

I think of painting as a matter of placing pigments of various kinds on paper or fabric.  Depending on the nature of the pigment, it reflects more or less light.  To paint a picture of the moon with black ink, you could paint a disk, but your picture would not look like the full moon; it would look like the new moon or the eclipsed moon, reflecting very little light.  So painting the moon with ink is really a matter of not painting it at all.  You paint the whole sky instead, except for one, small disk-shaped or crescent-shaped space.  To give over so much space to ink, is actually what makes the moon appear with such clarity to the viewer.  It is the moon, and not the sky, that becomes the object of attention.

Painting the moon with ink can be thought of as a metaphor for the core practice of zazen.  Whether sitting with koans or sitting shikantaza, your job is to seclude the mind from distracting, self-centered thoughts.  But just as you can’t reveal the moon without ink, you can’t reveal the secluded mind of realization without using the monkey-mind of samsara.  You could say that meditation is therefore an act of accepting your screeching, swinging monkey-mind in the same way that an artist accepts masses of black ink in order to reveal the bright, pure light of the moon.

In zazen, therefore, just notice, with perfect equipoise, the places where you stick—your wishful thinking, your regrets, your worries about the future, and so on.  If, as they arise, you give them all the space they want, then, even if they want the whole sky, your mind will no longer feel crowded—and all the demands that those thoughts have been making for your attention will disappear at once.  At the same time, the most beautiful and precious jewel of Mind will shine forth, and this light, like the real moon in the night sky, will guide you.

If you penetrate deeply into this, then you should be able to answer this question: With the ink of your life and the brush of Zen, how do you paint the moon on black paper?

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