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The Moon Appears When the Water Is Still: Reflections of the Dhamma

The Moon Appears When the Water Is Still: Reflections of the Dhamma

by Ian McCrorie

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Drawn from the Buddha's teachings, contemporary literature, and the author's own life, this collection of stories, anecdotes, and aphorisms provides inspiration and refreshment for practitioners of meditation. A sympathetic, observant, and compassionate voice drives these narratives, offering practitioners guidance and strength in their pursuit of eternal bliss. The


Drawn from the Buddha's teachings, contemporary literature, and the author's own life, this collection of stories, anecdotes, and aphorisms provides inspiration and refreshment for practitioners of meditation. A sympathetic, observant, and compassionate voice drives these narratives, offering practitioners guidance and strength in their pursuit of eternal bliss. The anecdotes pair lasting truths with contemporary concepts, pointing to Dharma in all things, from a shoe repair shop to the World Wide Web. With one story, poem, or aphorism per page, Buddhism's ancient wisdoms are presented in an easily digestible format.

About the Author:
Ian McCrorie has been practicing meditation for more than 20 years. He has traveled the world to study with renowned teachers, lived as a recluse in meditation, and for more than 10 years has been conducting courses in Vipassana meditation. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

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Pariyatti Publishing
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The Moon Appears When the Water Is Still

Reflections of the Dhamma

By Ian McCrorie

Pariyatti Publishing

Copyright © 2003 Ian McCrorie
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-928706-79-3


Sitting does not create truth,
meditation does not produce insight,
just as smelling a flower
does not make it fragrant.

The perfume of the rose is there.
We slow down to attend the unfolding
and flowering of its nature.
Slowing down and attending
to just this breath allows
the reality of Now to reveal its nature.

Sitting still gives us the opportunity
to witness the revealing of the truth.

The moon appears only when the water is still.

We sit through the storms
of pain and anguish.
We push on into the gale force winds
of our own resistance.
We strive to untangle the Gordian knots
of our karmic inheritance
until we faint from exhaustion
and finally give up.

It is only then,
when we see we can't do it,
that some insight
and some peace arises.
For the more we try,
the stronger become our enemies.
The more we sweat and strive
the deeper we sink
into the quicksand of our own craving.

We must make an effortless effort.
We have all the time in the world
but there is not a minute to lose.
To reach the final goal we must run fast
but never be in a hurry.

We can't do it but it can be done.

I am the cause of my own suffering.

Now 'tis true that the death of a loved one,
poverty, unrequited love, hunger
cause pain.
Pain is woven into the very fabric
of the human condition.
Even the Buddha could not escape pain.

I dislike this pain, I want it to cease,
I feel it is so unfair.
I forever dwell one-problem-removed
from divine bliss!

But still 'tis I and I alone who causes my suffering
for 'tis I and I alone who reacts to the inevitable
pain and malaise and discontent
of human life.

Pain visits all
but suffering comes not
to those who welcome its arrival.

We need not fear the arising of thoughts
only fear being too slow to notice them.
Once we take notice of any thought
the mind is then flooded with awareness
which swallows the thought. It can now be seen
for what it was before we reacted to it:
a harmless, simple verbal synapse.

Our job is not to eradicate thoughts
but to desist from reacting to them.
If the non-arising of thoughts is our goal
then rocks are enlightened.

Follow the leader who seeks not followers.
Heed the advice of one who offers none.
Obey strictly the teachings of he
who speaks highly of other paths.

Respect the guru whose self portrait
is absent from the walls.
Make offerings to one who charges not for any teaching.
Bow to one who asks you to refrain from such displays.

Surrender to the teacher who asks that you question
everything he says and does.
And love the teacher who seeks only
that you show your devotion by walking the path.

"My hut is leaking," said the novice,
"And my stairs are rickety."

"Wonderful!" replied the abbot.
"There is no need to thank me."

"We get the same food every day,
and not enough of it!"

"Excellent! Again no need to thank me"

"My hut is too close to the village
and I can hear their festivals."

"Perfect. No thanks necessary."

"I keep telling you how terrible everything is
and you keep saying it is wonderful."

"And it is wonderful.
The world just as it is
is all we need to achieve liberation.
Misery is the compost for the flowering of Dhamma.
Without imperfection, growth in Dhamma
would not be possible.
In a perfect world we can attain only complacency.
In an imperfect world we can attain enlightenment."

Before the rain ends,
a bird is heard.
Before the snow clears,
crocuses appear.
Before the storm ceases,
a rainbow is seen.
And before enlightenment,
there is sitting still.

There is no end to our meditation,
and no beginning to liberation.

We sit for what else is there to do?
Actions that stem from a clouded, confused mind
can never bring forth good.

Watering the apple tree with coal oil
produces only soot.

On a rainy evening a young monk came
seeking shelter.
"You are welcome to stay," replied the woman,
"But the barn is old and leaky.
Stay here in the house with me."

"I cannot do so for that would break my vow
of chastity."

"Then go next door and tell my neighbor
that my family has arrived
and ask if could I have his chicken
to make them a fine meal."

"I cannot do that for that would break my vow
of truth."

"Then go next door and kill the chicken
and I will cook it for us."

"I cannot do that for that would break my vow
to do no harm"

"Then go next door and bring the chicken to me
and I will kill it and cook it."

"I cannot do that for that would break my vow
to not steal."

"Then have a glass of wine with me
before you take rest."

"I cannot do that for that would break my vow
to avoid all intoxicants."

"But what harm can a small drink do?"
the woman asked.

The monk agreed.
And before the night was over all the vows
had been broken.

To think that you are mad
is sanity itself.
And to believe you are sane
is sheer madness.
Our habitual craziness is greatly enhanced
by the fear of madness.
Fear of the approaching storm
creates more sound and fury
than thunder and lightning ever could.

We remain quite normal
despite the inner turmoil.
Only the very sane can face this madness
with detachment and a smile
of resigned surrender.

The monk came home from the forest one day.
He met his friends, older now, and heard of their lives.
He met his family and shared in their joy and love.
He saw how the village had changed.

And then he met her.

He felt a stirring in his heart he had never known.
His bones and muscles turned to butter when she was near.
His tongue was of lead when he tried to speak to her.

And so he returned to the forest and to his master.
"I am a follower of the Dhamma, the law of nature.
I seek only the truth.
I want only peace.
How can I get involved in the mundane world
of a wife and a job and children?"

And his master said, "You can still follow the Dhamma,
the law of nature.
It is natural to love and to learn to do so without attachment.
You seek the truth.

And what is more honest than a life-long commitment
to another.
You want only peace.
And you can seek peace through this commitment
by developing equanimity."

And the monk returned home from the forest
for the last time.

The crazed one entered the town shouting,
"I have lost my head!
I can't find my head!"

The townsfolk caught hold of the man
and brought him to the elder.
The elder held up a mirror to the man.
"I've found it!" he shouted.

The townsfolk all laughed
as the crazed man
left their village
happy with his mirror.

"Why do you laugh?" the elder asked.
"You too are crazed.
You too look outside yourself
for what you already have!
All you need lies within you.
You search for happiness; it is in your heart.
You search for truth; it is in your mind.
You search for gold; it is in your smile.
You search for beauty; it is in your eyes.
You search for another to fulfill you,
when it is yourself you should seek!"

We think we need to get somewhere,
to reach that place of truth.
We see ourselves as devoid of purity,
and lacking in this or that virtue.
Yet this truth, purity and virtue are within us
momentarily obscured by our greed and hatred.
The sun remains the sun
obscured though it be by dark clouds.

Don't seek,
for there is no thing to grasp.
Don't try to get anywhere
for there is no where to get.
Where we need to be is here.
There is no there, there.
What we must do is find
what we must not look for.
What we seek we have already.

When we sit truly still
we have everything
because we are nowhere to be found.

In seeing the sunrise
just see it.
Do not be busy looking for the dawn.

"The war lord is coming!
Run for your lives!"
To a man the monks fled the monastery.
Only the aged abbott remained.

The war lord entered
the vacated monastery,
pleased that his reputation alone
could induce such fear.

He came upon the abbott
seated still in the meditation sanctuary.
"Do you know I could run this sword through you
without so much as batting an eye?"

"And do you know," replied the abbott
"That you could run that sword through me
and I wouldn't so much as bat an eye?"

The war lord sheathed his sword
and prostrated himself before the abbott.

Buddha and Mara
were out walking one day.

They passed a magnificent forest
wild, free and teeming with life.

"What is that?" asked Mara.

"Why, that's Truth," answered Buddha.

"Give it to me," replied Mara
"And I'll map it, organize it, catalogue it,
publish a book, open a web site,
and teach it at the university!"

No one liked the new chief monk.
He had a grating way about him
that tried everyone's patience.
He seemed argumentative and petty.

When questioned about his choice
The abbot smiled and said,
"Every meditation hall
needs a fly!"

The young man was a spiritual seeker
of serious intensity.
Nothing would stand in his way to enlightenment.

Through jungle, mountain and river
he traveled to obscure retreats, monasteries and hermitages
seeking out renowned masters and sages of high repute.
He sought to know what the truth was.

Many he questioned gave complex, learned answers.
A few remained in stony silence.
Only one, a kindly monk, deflected the question.
"I know nothing," the monk said.
"But in the village next is a simple cobbler.
Go to him. Stay with him. Watch him.
But don't ask him anything spiritual.
He will reveal to you great truths."

And so the young man apprenticed with the cobbler.
He never asked him anything spiritual.
And of such matters the cobbler never spoke.
Shoes came in and shoes went out.
All day they worked.
In the evening they sat outside
and watched the stars.

After many years the cobbler died.
From far and wide mourners came
for all knew him as a truly wise man.
The monk came to pay his respects.
Later he spoke to the seeker,
No longer a young man.
"I know you have found what you were seeking.
You are now the village cobbler.
Shoes come in and shoes go out.
I may send a young man to you one day.
He will be looking for the truth.
Let him work with you.
Do not tell him anything spiritual."

When one drop of rain
into the ocean falls
does it cease to be a drop?
Or is it now a part of a greater scheme?
Since its nature did not change
was it ever not a part of the ocean?

We are part of a greater whole,
linked by our humane-ness,
joined by our compassion,
entwined by our frailty.

When I scrape away the dust of delusion
and escape the individual illusion of I
the pain of the Somali child's hunger
brings an ache to my belly,
the frustration of the Afghani woman
causes a seething anger in me
and the smile of the Thai forest monk
melts my heart.

The problem of our human condition
is like that of a man with a broken finger
who experiences pain everywhere he touches.

Everywhere we touch we feel the pain
of sickness, of sorrow, of old age and death;
the pain of separation from loved ones;
the pain of unrequited expectations.
From these we cannot escape.
From these we need not escape.
We need only to fix the broken finger.

So place it in a splint of Dhamma,
soothe it with the balm of concentration
and wrap it with the bandage of kindness.

"Go find the Dhamma!"
the abbot demanded
of his three senior monks.

The first set off for the city
and returned the next day
with a gold-inlaid set of the Tipitaka,
the entire teachings of the Buddha.

"This is not the Dhamma," declared the abbot.

The second went deep into the forest.
There he found an old log
which he whittled into an exact replica
of the famous Kamakura Buddha.

"This is not the Dhamma," declared the abbot.

The third sat in his hut
unable to decide whether the Dhamma
was to be found in the forest or the city.
After ten days he gave up.

On his way to tell the abbot of his failure
he picked a lovely lotus flower.

"I confess I could not find the Dhamma," he said.
"I picked this beautiful flower to offer as a compensation,
but once out of the water it began to wither
and now it is dead!"
"In seeing this," declared the abbot
"you have found the Dhamma."

I approached her as much to enliven her day
as to make a purchase.
Though she spoke no English
she kindly presented to me her wares.
Carefully, unhurriedly, completely.
I bought a stack of postcards.
She smiled not, unimpressed I guessed
at my Western largesse.

Every day I went by her stall.
Every day I purchased more cards.
Every day I was met by the same placid demeanor.

She appeared neither happy when I engaged her
nor saddened when I left.
I craved a reaction from her
whether it be joy that I interject some life into her boredom
or anger at my persistent presence.

In time I came to understand
it was not indifference she displayed
but a deep peace
and a subdued joyous balance.
Selling or not selling was beyond her.
Her role was to be present to life itself
as it unfolded.
And to be aware of now, this moment,
without wishing or dreading it to be otherwise.

The monks entered the meditation hall
eyes downcast and in silence.
When the abbot entered they bowed as usual.
To their surprise the golden Buddha
that usually resided behind the abbott was missing.

"Find the Buddha!" roared the abbott.

The monks scattered;
all but Sumangala the novice
who worked in the kitchen.
He continued to sit in silence.

To a one, the monks returned
and admitted their failure.
"Do not fret," said the abbot,
smiling at Sumangala
"We have found our Buddha."

"Meditation," said the master,
"Is to quiet the mind.
Return to your hut
and sit until you are no longer
thinking of the white elephant."

The novice did so
sure of the simplicity of the task before him
for up to this point in his life
he had never thought of a white elephant.

For one hour he tried
to get rid of the thought
of the white elephant
but it persisted.
All day, all week, all month he tried
but the image of the white elephant
persisted in an increasing myriad
of confusing and unwanted images.

He returned to the master
and admitted his failure.
"To quiet the mind," the master said,
"Is not to quiet the activities on the mind.
It is to quiet our frustration with those activities.
The harder we try to stop the chatter,
the stronger it becomes.
Trying to stop the activities on the mind
is like putting out a fire
with gasoline."

Only with love can one know silence.
This quiet mind, the lotus flower heart,
at peace with all and sundry,
arises naturally from the pond of loving-kindness.

Let no meal go unshared
nor any gift unthanked.
Cast no one from your heart
for hatred can cease only with love.
My enemy's shadow is dark only because
the light deep inside is so bright.

My intellect deduces that I am nothing
but my loving heart tells me I am everything
and everyone.

We take inspiration from the Buddha
who sat always with a half smile,
bemused perhaps at how we complicate
something as simple as the truth.

Much like a man without hands
trying to make a fist;
don't push, don't strain,
don't even try to sit.
Just sit.

Enlightenment isn't something terribly holy,
just lots of space.

The master was very ill,
some said he was on the way out.
Too aged and fragile to move,
the doctors all said he must eat
to regain some strength
so he could be taken to the nearby hospital.

All manner of food was brought to him
exotic fruits from the islands,
rare rice from the hills,
special cheeses, silver-encrusted eggs,
all prepared by the finest cooks
and brought to him on golden trays
by his numerous and wealthy devotees.

But still he would not eat.
He slipped closer and closer to death.

A young boy from a poor family
came to hear of the plight of the master.
He walked all day to pay his respects.
He arrived and stood in a long queue of devotees
each bearing a special dish to revive the master.

As the poor boy got closer to the head of the line,
he grew ashamed for with him he had
but an old, shriveled apple
that he was saving for the journey home.
The boy had not eaten all day.
Finally he stood before the master.
He paid his respects
and placed the apple on the food altar.
The master's eyes opened just at that moment.
And he reached out his hand.

As his devotees stood in amazed silence,
he took the shriveled apple
and ate.
As he did so, his strength started to return,
enough to whisper these few words:

"A gift to be a true dana must be
freely given without concern for merit.
Only one among you gave all he had.
Only this unconditional love
could convince me
to stay in this world a while longer."

In the jungle hunters place
a banana in a bamboo cage.
There is a hole just large enough
for a monkey's hand.
The monkey reaches in and grabs the banana.
Now he can't extract his hand.
He has trapped himself.
To go free he must simply let go of the banana.
But out of greed and ignorance, he holds tightly to
the very cause of his imprisonment.

Let go, let go, let go.

Meditation is a constant letting go.
Fears of pain, sickness and death,
let them go.
Thoughts of harm, rebuke and guilt,
let them go.
Images of Christ, the Buddha and my Teacher,
let them go.

But we cling.
We hold on to our unhappiness
like an abused puppy
who knows only one master.
The compass points to the true North
but with it we carry the two magnets
of greed and hatred
which skew the arrow.
Misery is our only friend
but we fear loneliness
more than we want peace.

We so want to be free
of our defilements and impurities
without understanding that we are addicted
to the excitement of these miseries.
We are like children who wish to be warm and cozy
but won't stop playing in the rain.


Excerpted from The Moon Appears When the Water Is Still by Ian McCrorie. Copyright © 2003 Ian McCrorie. Excerpted by permission of Pariyatti Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ian McCrorie has been practicing meditation for more than 20 years. He has traveled the world to study with renowned teachers, lived as a recluse in meditation, and for more than 10 years has been conducting courses in Vipassana meditation. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

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