The Moon Reflected in Water

The moon reflected in water is a common theme in Zen. The first time I learned about this was in Pune, India in 1976. Rajneesh had giving some dharma talks on Zen stories and published a book called No Water, No Moon. I bought the book and read it with great interest. I also acquired the recordings.

The first story was about the nun, Chiyono:

The nun Chiyono studied for years, but was unable to find enlightenment.

One night, she was carrying an old pail filled with water. As she was walking along, she was watching the full moon reflected in the pail of water.

Suddenly, the bamboo strips that held the pail together broke, and the pail fell apart. The water rushed out; the moon’s reflection disappeared – and Chiyono became enlightened.

She wrote this verse:

This way and that way I tried to keep the pail together, hoping the weak bamboo would never break.

Suddenly the bottom fell out. No more water; no more moon in the water – emptiness in my hand.

In his slow and charming voice in the recording, I remember hearing Rajneesh say,

Enlightenment is always sudden. There is no gradual progress towards it, because all gradualness belongs to the mind and enlightenment is not of the mind. All degrees belong to the mind and enlightenment is beyond it. So you cannot grow into enlightenment, you simply jump into it. You cannot move step by step; there are no steps. Enlightenment is just like an abyss, either you jump or you don’t jump.

Dogen Zenji was the founder of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism. He lived during the beginning of the 13th century and brought the teachings of Chan Buddhism back to Japan from China.

The Moon Reflected on the Water | October 10, 2014

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass, or even in one drop of water.

Eihei Dogen, “Genjokoan”
September Full Moon in Oslo, Norway

September Full Moon in Oslo, Norway
by Mala Freedman, © 2014

When my daughter, Jessica – the one who lives in Barcelona – was little, she loved the moon. She especially loved the children’s book, Goodnight Moon. I used to read it to the girls quite often.

Without the moon, there would most likely be no life on Earth as we know it. The tidal forces of the early moon were much stronger than they are today because the moon’s orbit was a lot closer to Earth in the early days of the solar system. These tidal forces stirred up the oceans like a chemist does to study chemical reactions and cause them to take place more quickly.

So every night, when you see the moon, why not say to it, “Hello moon! I’m so happy and grateful that you are there.”?

Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen’s Shobo Genzo

This monumental work is considered to be one of the most profound expressions of Zen wisdom ever put on paper, and also the outstanding literary and philosophical work of Japan. It is a collection of essays by Eihei Dogen (1200–1253), founder of Zen’s Soto school.

Kazuaki Tanahas… [Read More…]

No Water No Moon: Talks on Zen Stories


In this volume, the author brings readers a fresh understanding of Zen and the nature of true enlightenment. Through these Zen teaching stories, he explores the essence of Zen in al its beauty and mystery. Woven throughout are Zen shocks, Zen knocks and great laughter, which can shake readers from t… [Read More…]

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