My teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) is a very wise man. One year the monks and nuns had opened a new monastery in New Hampshire. It was the first monastery in the United States. New Hampshire gets very cold in the winter, especially compared to the Plum Village Monastery in France they had moved from. Most of the monks and nuns were from Vietnam. They had never seen snow. Nobody expected it to be so cold. They were unprepared. They didn’t have warm clothes.
Sister Annabel, the senior nun, was concerned they might not have enough money to pay for heat and food. She called Thay in a bit of a panic. He listened to her concerns and also the fear in her voice. Then he said simply, “Sister Annabel, put down the phone right now and go out and look at the moon.”
This is wisdom. Zen Masters have wisdom. They know what is real and what is not real. That is why they can always help us very much. Sister Annabel had fallen into the trap of believing her thoughts were real. Thoughts are never real. The moon is real.
Because Sister Annabel was a Zen nun, she could understand this simple and direct instruction. She knew how to look at the moon. Most of us when we look at the moon are only seeing our thought perceptions of the moon. We are really only looking at our thoughts. But Sister Annabel had been a Zen nun for many years. She knew how to really look at the moon. She knew how to be free of thoughts so she could really see the moon. It is only that in that moment she had forgotten. In that moment she believed her thoughts about the new monastery were real. That is why she was so worried. Thay simply reminded her of what is real and what is not. That was enough.
We also have many worries when we believe our thoughts are true. We may not always have a Zen Master around to remind us of what is real and what is not. But perhaps we don’t need one. Perhaps we can remind ourself. Perhaps we can be our own Zen Master. That’s all a true Zen Master ever wants for us. And there’s always the moon.