Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing in it to steal.
Ryokan returned and caught him. "You may 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. He took the clothes and slunk away.
Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon. "Poor fellow," he mused, "I wish I could give him this beautiful moon."
Last Monday, a wallet was stolen from inside a handbag left in a locked car in my neighborhood.
That evening, a neighbor returned home after being gone for the weekend to find the home had been broken into from a side window. Most rooms had been gone through, but nothing was taken.
This morning, I went on line to check my overnight emails, and on a whim went to my bank's website to check the balance of my account. I noticed that a fraudulent check had been cashed in my name.
The check number was about 50 digits higher than anything in my checkbook, and I realized that the check must have been from an order I placed last month but not yet received. I had noticed on my statement that the printing charges had been deducted from my balance, but was still willing to wait a day or two before I complained to the bank that they had never arrived.
The check had obviously been stolen from my mailbox. It was made out in typewritten letters to the Silver Star Hotel and Casino, a 24-hour gambling establishment on the Choctaw Indian reservation in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The signature was poorly forged, nowhere even close to mine.
The amount was for slightly under $1,000.
It doesn't appear that any real harm has been done. I went to the bank as soon as it opened, and they completely agreed that the check was fraudulent (in fact, they had flagged it on their system as being "out of sequence," which begs the question why they charged it to my account without asking). They agreed to credit my account for the amount of the check, cancelled the entire range of checks in the box, restated my order for the checks I never received, and agreed to have them shipped to the bank instead of my home. At one point, they wanted to completely shut down my account, but I protested as I still had several outstanding checks that I did not want returned, and they agreed. All told, I spent about 45 minutes at the bank, not a major interruption of my life.
It feels a little creepy to know that a criminal cruised down our street looking in mailboxes; that said criminal snagged my box of checks and drove with them on I-20 two states over to a casino on an Indian reservation; that he or she somehow checked the balance of my account (the amount of the check was within $5 of my balance - a direct deposit was credited to my account the next day and would have resulted in a much larger theft had the thief waited until then); and that the Casino typed their name and the amount onto one of my stolen checks.
I have no idea where the other 149 now-cancelled checks from the box are.
My compassion for the criminal is not as great as Ryokan's, but it is of the same nature. I would not have given the shirt off my back had we met, but I wish I could have given the thief the moon.
Ryokan's story sounded hopelessly naive when I first heard it. It's one thing not to hate the thief, I first thought, but one shouldn't encourage such behavior by giving him one's clothes as well. And wishing he could have given him the moon, as well.
But "the moon" is one of those Zen clue words that there's something deeper afoot here. "The moon" in this story is the same moon to which the finger points directly in other stories - it is direct realization, nothing short of enlightenment itself. Ryokan is not sympathizing with his robber, he is wishing that the thief was enlightened enough to see the karmic consequence of his actions, and that, since there is no separation of self and other, there really was no separate "other" for "him" to steal from.
Ryokan gave the thief the clothes he was wearing to attempt to teach him that they were his clothes as much as Ryokan's, since there was no absolute difference between the two of them. The thief, still stuck in the world of the relative, did not understand and left bewildered, and Ryokan wished that he understood ("that I could give him this beautiful moon"), so that he would stop his harmful actions.
I wish that my thief understood the error of his ways, and that I would have had the skill and the opportunity to show him.
But I still am not free from clinging to the relative. I was angry, I felt violated, and although I was not overly inconvenienced, I built up this "victim" fantasy role for myself.
I also notice how differently I react to the story of what happened to me and what had happened to my neighbors. My mailbox is no more important then their car and house, and yet my feelings are different as I considered one and the others.
And it will probably always be like this. Enlightenment is not losing one's feelings and being an emotionless automaton, it is only seeing and recognizing the feelings as they arise, and knowing "these thoughts are not me; I am not these feelings."
I wonder how much less equivocal I would be if the bank hadn't agreed to credit my account. Hmmmmm. . . .