beautiful dialogue between Dighanaka and Gautama the Buddha is the
teaching that Buddhism is neither
or ‘doctrine’
and to think otherwise is to
mistake ‘
the finger pointing at
the moon for the moon itself
This story is retold by Master Thich Nhat Hanh
[1] originally found in the Dighanaka Sutta (MN 74):

asked the Buddha, “
what is your teaching? What are your doctrines? For my part, I
dislike all doctrines and theories. I don’t subscribe to any at

Buddha smiled and asked, “
you subscribe to your doctrine of not following and doctrines? Do you
believe in your doctrine of not-believing?

taken aback, Dighanakha replied, “
whether I believe of don’t believe is no importance

Buddha spoke gently, “
Once a
person is caught by belief in a doctrine, he loses all his freedom.
When one becomes dogmatic, he believes his doctrine is the only truth
and that all other doctrines are heresy. Disputes and conflicts all
arise from narrow views. They can extend endlessly, wasting precious
time and sometimes even leading to war. Attachment to views is the
greatest impediment to the spiritual path. Bound to narrow views, one
becomes so entangled that it is no longer possible to let the door of
truth open.

asked, “
But what of your own
teaching? If someone follows your teaching will he become caught in
narrow views?”

teaching is not a doctrine or a philosophy. It is not the result of
discursive thought or mental conjecture like various philosophies
which contend that the fundamental essence of the universe is fire,
water, earth, wind, or spirit, or that the universe is either finite
or infinite, temporal, or eternal. Mental conjecture and discursive
thought about truth are like ants crawling around the rim of the bowl
— they never get anywhere. The things I say come from my own
experience. You can confirm them all by your own experience
goal is not to explain the universe, but to help guide others to have
a direct experience of reality. Words cannot describe reality. Only
direct experience enables us to see the true face of

exclaimed, “
wonderful Gautama! But what would happen if a person did perceive
your teaching as a dogma?

must state clearly that my teaching is method to experience reality
and not reality itself, just as a finger pointing at the moon is not
the moon itself. An intelligent person makes use of the finger to see
the moon.


[1] Thich
Nhat Hanh (1991).
Old Path
White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha
Berkley, California: Parallax Press.

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