A student asked the teacher, ‘What is the sharpest possible sword?’

The teacher replied, ‘Each branch of coral holds up the moon.’

~Blue Cliff Record, Case 100

This is a beautifully evocative figure: each branch of coral, each thing in this vast universe, not only reflects the moon, which of course is a metaphor for our true nature, but actually supports that subtle light. The moon and the coral, the nature and the ten-thousand things, enjoy the deepest of relationships.

One great thing about practicing Zen for a while is we get a chance to work on the same koan a number of times. Sometimes, if you are a bit dull at koans, which at times has been my true nature, we may get many chances. And then they make you a teacher, so you get even more chances. The first time I presented this koan to my teacher, in Japan, I don’t recall him losing his breath and then exclaiming before the community that some day I would go to a lofty peak and found a great monastery. That was then. But with time, our understanding deepens, and it deepens again.

A few weeks ago, I woke in the middle of the night and looked out the window at the full Hunter moon illuminating my garden in early morning hours. That same full moon had made an impression on me the previous month, as well. And for some reason I felt a deep sense of relief that the moon would continue to shine for many months and years to come. And that it would shine even after I had passed. At that moment, I asked myself, ‘Who am I?’ ‘I am who,’ I responded, “and the moon never dies.”

Susan Sarandon narrates the children’s classic (good for folks of all ages) here: