It is conceivable that someone perusing this node on this site might not know the historical context of gate’s excellent and thought-provoking writeup above. So allow me to be Mistress of the Obvious for a moment and give context.

The title of this writeup is a point of Buddhist doctrine, framed as if it were a quote from Shakyamuni Buddha. It is a very old image and basically part of Buddhist scripture in the same way that Jesus’s parables are scripture of Christianity.

The “finger” in question is the teachings of the Buddha (the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the Three Marks of Existence, impermanence, groundlessness, conditioned arising, Indra’s Net etc.) and the “moon” in question is the experience of enlightenment.

Anyone (who is not vision-impaired) can see the moon, without a finger pointing to it, which is why Buddhism might be considered a primitive precursor of liberation theology (though perhaps “theology” is a bad word choice, since Buddhism is a nontheistic religion), much as First Nations society was labeled by Engels as primitive Communism. But for some people, a pointing finger does help.

A similar metaphor used in Buddhist scripture is that Samsara, the world of illusion in which we all dwell, is like a rushing river between us and Nirvana, and the teachings of the Buddha are like a raft to carry us to the other side. When you get to the other side, you are supposed to be able to leave the teachings behind, because no one carries a raft around with them on their journeys on dry land.

Brevity Quest 2019 entry, 263 words

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