The Finger Is Not the Moon

“Intoxicated by youthful dreams,
I wandered far and wide
through marketplaces and countryside,
until at last I met the Buddha!
All compassionate, he shared
the wondrous teachings with me.
My faith was awakened
and I donned the robes of a monk.
Dwelling in awareness,
focusing heart and mind,
I have attained the three knowledges,
thanks to the Awakened One!
Far and wide, the Lord
has sown the seeds of illumination.
Because all beings dwell in darkness,
he has shown the Way —
the Four Noble Truths,
the Noble Eightfold Path,
Tranquility, Joy, and Freedom.
His words so subtle and profound,
his noble life without blame,
skillfully, he leads all beings to liberation.
How deep my gratitude!”

(Poem of Vangisa in Old Path White Clouds)

In answering the question “what if a person did perceive your teaching as a dogma?”asked by an ascetic, the Buddha said, “Dighanakha, that is a very good question. My teaching is not a dogma or a doctrine, but no doubt some people will take it as such. I must state clearly that my teachings is a method to experience reality and not reality itself, just as a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself. An intelligent person makes use of the finger to see the moon. A person who only looks at the finger and mistakes it for the moon will never see the real moon. My teaching is a means of practice, not something to hold onto or worship. My teaching is like a raft used to cross the river. Only a fool would carry the raft around after he had already reached the other shore, the shore of liberation.”

Dighanakha joint his palms. “Please, Lord Buddha, show me how to be liberated from painful feelings.”

The Buddha said, “There are three kinds of feelings — pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. All three have roots in the perceptions of mind and body. Feelings raise and pass away like any other mental or material phenomena. I teach the method of looking deeply in order to illuminate the nature and source of feelings, whether they are pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. When you can see the source of your feelings, you will understand their nature. You will see that feelings are impermanent, and gradually you will remain undisturbed by their arising and passing away. Almost all painful feelings have their source in an incorrect way of looking at reality. When you uproot erroneous views, suffering ceases. Erroneous views cause people to consider the impermanent to be permanent. Ignorance is the source of all suffering. We practice the way of awareness in order to overcome ignorance, One must look deeply into things in order to penetrate their true nature. One cannot overcome ignorance through prayers and offerings.”

(From Old Path White Clouds — Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, published by Parallax Press, 1991)