John Suler's Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors

The Moon Cannot be Stolen


A Zen Master lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, while he was away, a thief sneaked into the hut only to find there was nothing in it to steal. The Zen Master returned and found 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, but he took the clothes and ran away. The Master sat naked, watching the moon. "Poor fellow," he mused, " I wish I could give him this beautiful moon."

zen story

People's reactions to this story:

"First, be grateful to everyone: perhaps because the Master was before distracted by his material belongings, he never noticed the beauty around him. The thief in fact gave to the Master through his theft and maybe lost the sight of the Moon. Also, the beauty of nature is available to all - free and forever, and we forget this when we get caught up in the dazzle of our commercial society. "

"The Zen master was not attached to any material possessions. He could even give away his clothes without thinking twice. What he would have liked to give the thief was not anything material, but his appreciation of nature or enlightenment."

"The thief is poor because he does not understand what is of value in this life and what is not. The Zen Master is wealthy because he is content. The moon, I think, is a symbol of that contentment and peace."

"This reminds me of the vicar in Les Miserables who tells the thief that giving him what the thief has tried to steal means that the thief now belongs to God. The clothing is only a thing, which means nothing to the Zen master, so he removes the dishonor of the thief's act by giving him something. I think the moon represents the master's internal spiritual connection, which is something he cannot give away; it is there for all who seek it. The Zen master realizes that he cannot just give spirituality away, as the vicar attempted in Les Miserables. In Judaism, there is the evil impulse and the good impulse in all men, and resisting the evil impulse requires active participation in seeking through prayer and study, so that the difference between good and evil impulses becomes obvious. The Zen Master was acting with loving kindness, which is an element of all major religions (unfortunately, it is not always practiced)."

"Material things mean nothing.... that is not wisdom that can be stolen, nor can it be easily given."

"Its a nice story. My interpretations are thus: (1) Maybe the Zen master wants to give the moon since if the thief had the moon, he could make use of it while he was at job in night. So it would imply that we should try to give to other people things after a thought of what may be useful for them, and not just for sake of giving, unless (as in this case) we do not have a choice or chance, (2) Second interpretation could be that when you give, you should give with all your heart, the best of what you can. the moon in this case, (3) Maybe the Zen master is talking of enlightening the thief, and the giving of moon signifies the bringing of light into his black nights... maybe you choose :))

"The master gives unto the thief the most that he can give materially. The one thing he can not give to the thief is that which he needs most; his own true nature. The moon represents our own true nature. The master's gesture represents his attitude towards those not-enlightened. He does not look down on them, he does not hate enemies; he is beyond animosity brought from attachments and materialism. The gesture is also an example of this."

"Material things are nice but fleeting, the understanding of matrial things is forever."

"The Master and the thief walked beneath the same moon but the thief could not know the peace that the master held inside him. So their moons were, in fact, different. He was only giving to the poor."

"I look at this story in the way that the Zen Master acknowledges that the thief came into to steal something, the Zen Master is enlightened in not only can he forgive the thief for breaking in and invading his personal space but does a greater act by giving him his cloth. Like the feeling of fulfillment that the Zen Master gets from the moon, there is nothing like the emotional fulfillment of acts of kindness to another and having the strength to forgive others for wrongs done against you."

"Most of these stories depict a wiser master who knows what is truly important. Here, the master feels sorry for the thief, it is painful to the master that the thief cannot appreciate what is freely provided by all things. Painful enough for the master to give the poor soul his clothes."

"This is a story not of the power of possession, but the power to posses. The Zen master has the ability to give away something to one who does not have the ability to acquire what he has. If the Zen master could acquire the moon to give it away it would further his power to posses. This would connote a hierarchy distinguishing who has the ability to posses, but if the Zen master could give the moon away then his power to posses would dissolve any hierarchy. Ultimately the power to posses is the downfall of humankind because it lends to the false belief that there is power in possession."

"The Zen master feels sorry for the thief whose contentment lies only in material possessions and not in appreciating priceless possessions he already has ... like the moon."

"When sitting and watching the moon the Zen master came to realize something about himself, that He did what gave him most happiness- giving the thief something that gave HIM happiness. So he mused, I wish I could give him the moon, for that which gives me so much happiness will surely give me more happiness when i give it to the one who craves others' possessions."

"The Zen master sits naked enjoying life in the moonlight; he has no concern for tomorrow when the sun might burn his skin or when other people might be nonplussed by his nakedness. Does he have no concern for self because he has no self. He seemed to be concerned for the thief's self. Has he perhaps 'one-upped' the thief with his superior magnanimity? Why does he assume that the thief cannot enjoy the moon? Is his Zen correct-attitude Zen or is it truly no mind?"

"The Zen master has nothing and yet there is nothing he does not have."

"The Zen master has found a way of life that keeps him content, it is a simple life but he is happy. There are people who are still looking. The Zen master wishes he could pass on this enlightenment that he has found to others. On a personal note - I am jealous of the Zen master and am still trying to find my way of life."

zen story || Cliffhanger || Nature's Beauty || Present Moment ||

~ Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors ~