Zen Koan 9: “The Moon Cannot Be Stolen”

2 min


Zen Koans seem like paradoxes at first. The reason is that Koans are not meant to be understood by the intellect, but by intuition. Pondering over these riddles can help us unravel greater truths about our world and ourselves. This breakdown isn’t meant to substitute the insight the Koans are meant to invoke, but merely aid in getting there.

From “101 Zen Stories”:

“” 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.” “”

The Breakdown

In short, people often give value to the wrong things.

If you know what someone places value on, you can come close to predicticing their actions and desires. If someone is poor and wants more material possessions, they could do several things:

  • They could steal, sacrificing the moral of “do not steal”, or, they would steal if it’s more convenient than working because the moral of “do not steal” isn’t a rule in their heads.
  • They would put a lot of effort to finding ways to purchase material goods by working, trading inventing or creating something to sell … or whatever else they could think of.
  • They would be bitter and complain and hate on those who have material wealth. This comes from a lack of desire to work hard for something or believing they can’t achieve anything. If you’re interested in learning about how to overcome this flaw, check out this article.

These are just several examples of being able to foresee someone’s actions when you know what their values are.

The Zen master Ryokan lives a simple life in a hut with no belongings, or so it seems. In many ways, Ryokan has more than he could ever want, like the moon, for example. With or without his clothes, the moon is there for him. Ryokan seems to value the beauty of the moon (or nature) more than clothing.

Had Ryokan been too fixated on material wealth, he probably wouldn’t have let the theif escape. However, if Ryokan had valued material wealth over nature’s beauty, he wouldn’t live in a hut at the foot of a mountain.

This shows that we can determine someone’s values from observing the way they live. If you don’t believe in your abilities, you will most likely avoid taking chances and risks, or even turn down oppurtunities that you might actually be able to take advantage of.

If you take a close look at the way you live, the way you think and the way you act, you can determine what your core values are. If you’re happy with the conclusion, then no work is needed. However, if you find values that are holding you back, maybe you need to find values that better serve you.

Make sure to check out Scott Jeffrey’s article, 7 Steps to Discover Your Personal Core Values.

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