Moon on the Water

Zen Mater, Dōgen (1200-1253) once said:

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.

Dōgen (道元)

It is one of the well-known koans (公案) that we could reflect on in our meditation. Sitting nearby a lake in the middle of the night under the moonlight, we can experience the best meditative environment.

In the dark sky, we can see the moon. On the water surface, we can see another. And if we get a cup of water, there is still another. The real moon is far away from us and yet influencing our life intimately like the ebb and flow of the tide.

What about the moon on the water?

At a glance, she looks so real and close to us. She even multiplies herself as the number of cups of water increases. There is one moon in this cup. There is another in that cup. Still, there is a moon on this lake in front of us.

Which is the real moon? Perhaps none of them. Nevertheless, we endlessly argue one another to find the real moon. We use our languages to prove the truthfulness of one moon that we believe she is. We even kill one another over such theological pursuit.

We pray hard to influence and control the moon on the water in our cup. As the water surface moves, we believe the shape of the moon changes as well. Is it prayer? No, it is our manipulation. The moon never gets wet. We can know that. But unconsciously and superstitiously, we think the moon can get wet.

How about water?

We tend to think water is controllable. Can we control it? Let me cite the words of Lao Tzu.

Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.

Lao Tzu (老子)

Water is soft, therefore, strong, beyond our control. Nevertheless, we feel like it could be controllable. The truth is, however, as Dōgen said, water is never broken.

It seems our life is such a false struggle over the moon on the water. We think the moon on the water in our cup is real. Our pursuit of happiness looks like chopping the water in our bowl to seek after the real moon that we believe that she is.

It is so deceitful as seeking God outside.

Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

Luke 17:21

We can never distort the real moon. It’s been far away from us; nevertheless, intimate with life, not on the water of our cup, but the part of the universe where we do exist. God is within.

The real water is never broken, as well. It can never change the shape of the moon, either. Beyond our control, it is also part of the universe. Our ego thinks we can catch the moon on the water and control her by chopping the water. Can we do that? God forbid.

The truth is, as Dōgen said, the moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.

Image by ChadoNihi 

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