The Moon Cannot Be Stolen

Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing to steal.

Ryokan returned and caught him. “You have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.”

 The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.

Ryoken sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he mused, “I wish I could have given him this beautiful moon.”

Similar incidents have happened at many places.  Once in India, a thief tried to rob a saint.  When he came near the saint he realized that the saint had nothing more than a begging bowl inside his wrapped cloth (kambal).  So he started to go away from saint.

The saint on understanding the problem of thief went behind the thief.  The thief thought that he was being chased so that he can be caught.  So he started running.  The saint too ran behind him.  The saint was more of an athlete.  He soon caught hold of thief.  The thief panicked. He thought now his bones would be broken.  But to his wonder the saint offered him his begging bowl saying,

“Forgive me.  This is the only thing I can give.  Please take this.”  The thief was still bewildered, unable to understand or say anything.  So the saint almost begged him to accept his begging bowl!

Coming to our Zen anecdote, the moon is the real happiness that we all are looking for everywhere, every moment.  We try to find happiness in the objects and in the pleasures those objects offer.  The pleasure that we derive from anything in the world is merely like the reflection of the moon. 

By giving his clothes and through his being, Ryokan is pointing finger towards the real moon.  But humanity has always got attached to fingers that point to moon than to moon. 

One may feel that the possessions of the world need to be forcibly taken.  There is competition for owning them.  Those possessions are merely like the reflection of that real moon that we are looking for.  That real moon need not be forcibly taken, it is already there.  That moon is shining clearly, giving its cool rays so that we enjoy it; it is waiting to be enjoyed.  Unknowingly we look for moon in every activity, every moment and invariably we console ourselves with the reflection of the moon. 

People come to saints for wrong reasons.  They visit saints for those things which saint does not want to give.  Thus they are thieves.  Compassionate saints still give whatever one is looking for, but lament the state of their visitors. 

The saint’s doors were open, always remain open – for entry as well as exit.  It is for people to decide whether they want to enter; after entering whether they want to stay or exit.  Not only is this, for what purpose to enter is also up to people. 

One should go to a saint only for experiencing the moon.  A saint is continuously experiencing the moon.  The average man cannot.  So people should go to saint only to be part of that flame of awareness of moon.  If one goes to a saint to satisfy one’s petty needs, rather than one’s primal need, then one will never be able to satisfy one’s primal need.  It is not that saints do not care for the other needs of man.  Those needs are sometimes taken care of in order to see that one remains available for the need of soul. 

To an ordinary person the person who entered the saint’s hermitage is a thief.  For the saint he is just another person in need.  There is no judgment, only compassion.  Out of compassion the saint laments.

The lamenting of a saint is different from that of an ordinary person.  An ordinary person cannot remain without the possession he is lamenting for.  For a saint this whole creation is like a wonder; his lamenting is more like a wonder within this wonder.  The saint gives a taste of his joyful wonderment when he offers to thief his clothes.

An ordinary person considers saints without any possessions as poor.  A possession less saint laments about others as being poor.  Which one is correct?  Either one of them is horribly wrong in their assessment; is poor in matter of understanding. 

Just eulogizing saints as great is like giving them lip service only.  People need to find out really whether their assessment is correct or that of the saints.  If people’s understanding is correct then saints are fools, definitely unworthy of respect they command in society.  If saints have the real wealth then people should go for that wealth.

Saint Nagarjuna had nothing in his possession except for a golden begging bowl which to given to him by the kind who was his disciple. 

One night this bowl invited a thief.  When Nagarjuna saw the thief, he immediately understood the purpose of his coming and told, “Take this away.  Thereafter do not disturb my sleep.”

The surprised thief happily took away the bowl.  But while taking, his eyes incidentally met for a split second with the eyes of Nagarajuna.  On that day Nagarajuna slept peacefully. But thief could not sleep for a second.

Next day he came to Nagarajuna with the begging bowl, “Take this back.  You cannot cheat me with these petty things.  Now teach me that by which I can also become as rich as you; so much rich that without a wink I can generously give a golden bowl.”

The real saints would not want mere superficial respect.  They would like to see the development of understanding.

Ryokan gives himself the title ‘Taigu’, which means a fool.  He enjoyed people calling him Taigu.  By doing so he was forcing people to see what was foolish in him.  If anyone ever looked closely then one would find how foolish one is; as one is not enjoying the real blossoming moon.  By calling himself a fool he was making people to delve a little deeper and shockingly find that they themselves are fools to miss the beauty of ever existent moon.

Ryokan has written a haiku for this incident:

The thief left it behind:

the moon

at my window. 

If we can look deeply into the hearts of saints; then that heart becomes the window through which we can see this moon.

More precious than gold is this golden globe called moon.  The thief looks for petty pebbles and gets thrilled if he finds them.  The real wealth of saint remained out of reach from thief because he came as a thief.  If he came as student then he would have got something which he did not knew to even ask for. 

Just being with the saint can make one have wealth of wealth.  This is wealth of love.  This wealth cannot be hidden.  One cannot hide love.  And there is no need also. For this wealth cannot be stolen.  This wealth is for sharing; effortlessly sharing. 

Why would a saint share this beauty of moon?  There cannot be any explanation to it.  One cannot ask why moon is so beautiful, why moon is giving such soothing rays.  The moon is the way it is; sharing its beauty is part of its being.  We cannot explain why this wonderful creation.  It just is. 

For a real saint there is no waning and waxing of moon, this moon stays forever full for the saint.  Moon is the devata, deity of mind.  The state of saint’s mind, the state of his being, remained out of grasp of thief. 

This moon is the ‘somras’ referred in Vedas.  Som means moon.  Mind keeps on looking for this somras everywhere in the outside world.  When mind gives up this wondering then only it can find the real moon, real somras already there.  The saints who have tasted it have got intoxicated and want no other intoxication.  Ryokan wonders how come this visitor missed even seeing this wonderful moon, this intoxicated state of his being!

Moon cannot be given.  Moon cannot be stolen.  Moon is already there.  One needs to be first shown the existence of such a moon; not very far off; not to be obtained through strenuous efforts.  But right there, the need is just to look.  Looking at it is to know its existence, feel its existence, and enjoy its existence. 

The thief may feel that the saint is trying to divert his attention towards something conceptual; the saint is making a fool of him to protect his begging possession.  He will question the objective of saint, because for a thief has only seen personal objectives.  A thief can only see thieves around.  He justifies his actions to himself by believing that all are thieves.  So if he is not going to rob someone, someone is definitely going to rob him.

Albert Einstein was once travelling by train.  At some station he got down to purchase newspaper.  When he went to read newspaper he realized that he forgot glasses in the train.  So he asked a vendor to read the headlines to him.  The vendor replied, “I also can’t read.  I am also like you, an illiterate!”

So it’s natural that thief would not believe in saint.  If the saint tries to show the moon then the thief may see in this the objective of saint to protect his possession by showing something that cannot be possessed.  Moon cannot satisfy the hunger felt in stomach; though moon can satisfy his that hunger which will quench his all thirst forever.  But the thief only knows of physical hunger, not the hunger of soul. 

That’s why even though it is so near, it being the only possession of saint, it being the only thing that saint wants to give, the saint cannot give to thief because thief do not see its need. 

The thief need to be first shown the moon.  He may initially consider this moon as just something which gives light helping him to carry out his holy acts! He may consider that as something utilitarian and nothing more. 

One need to be first shown the moon; make to feel its beauty; get absorbed in that beauty.  And that absorption will make him forget all his petty hunger.  Then he no longer would be able to rob anyone of anything.  The robber would be robbed of his robber-ness; robbed of nothing less than himself!  He would become impotent to do such a thing.  That is the hypnotic power of a saint, but thieves are hypnotized by only their petty needs, not knowing the real need behind all these needs.

So Ryokan says:

The thief left it behind:

the moon

at my window.

Hope Ryokan is not talking about you, but is talking to you.