I’ve been on an island for the past five days, and it’s doing something to my mind. The more I relate to the sand and the waves, the birds and the bugs, the fish and the crabs, the wind and the rain, the sun and the clouds, the stars and the full moon and the close approach of Mars, the less I have to say about it all.
No teaching seems more appropriate than the greatest hit from the Shurangama Sutra treasured in Zen Buddhism. To the Buddha of this story, the truth is a finger pointing at the moon. When we’re overthinking it, we look for the truth in the flesh of the pointing finger — more real to us than the luminous and distant moon. Words for what I’m feeling out here on the island seem like tiny fingers pointing pointlessly at the moon. Raising my arm and extending my finger separates me from that heavenly reality.
The teaching is not that the moon is the truth, though; the truth is the relationship between the finger and the moon. The moon has always been up there, as far as we animals are concerned. But every month, we still point that full moon out to one another because it’s awesome to behold. The beholder and the beheld are brought together in the act of beholding. We point out the moon because it is a relief to share an experience with another.
Islands are not alone. They are linked by air, water, light, and life. I don’t need to tell you what happened on this island in words. It’s the difference between pointing at the moon and gazing into your eyes.