A metaphor, model, image, or story can be useful for breaking down an old misunderstanding.
But every metaphor, model, image or story will need itself to be broken down when the initial clarity or freedom it brought is outweighed by its inherent limitation.
For example, it’s often said, “A finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.” This represents the idea of not mistaking the teacher (the finger) for the truth being pointed to (the moon). And that can be useful if the words or personality of a teacher have become an intermediary to truth.
Because, of course, it’s never the teacher. However clear they are, however focused they are, however open they are, or however reserved they are. Without a clearly expressed teaching, a community can’t help but get off track. The teacher is important. Yetf it becomes about the teacher, their looks, their behaviour, their charisma, their relationships, this will ultimately detract from the teaching.
So far, so good. But stretching the simple metaphor beyond its limit breeds confusion. You’ve likely heard the anarchic statement, “Nothing can be known.” Which would be logical if truth were indeed a distant object (the moon) beyond the reach of the pointing finger. Introspection, though, brings a clarity of knowing that the metaphor misses.
Here’s a suggestion to move beyond the limitation. Rather than looking outwards towards an apparently distant object, turn around. That doesn’t mean explore the finger (the teacher). It means trace backwards to the source, to what is pointing the finger.
At source, you’ll find that that which points is also that which is being pointed to. There is no distance or separation. Indeed, you’ll find the truth of our own being is what points, is the pointing, and is that which is pointed to.
As Rumi wrote: “I searched for God and found only myself. I searched for myself and found only God.”
The finger pointing to the moon is not a suggestion to stop inquiring, or to embark on a trip into space. It’s an invitation inward. An invitation to self exploration.