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Finger Pointing at the Moon & the Truth Machine That Is Bitcoin

There’s an illuminating story of a Zen monk approaching her master with a question. “Master I’ve been studying the Nirvana Sutra for years and there are some passages that I just don’t understand. Do you think you could explain them to me?” The master replied. “I’m sorry but I can’t read, however if you’ll read them to me, I’ll see if I can help you understand them.” Surprised, the monk exclaimed “If you can’t read the words then how can you understand the truth behind them”?

The master’s reply holds a valuable lesson:

“The truth and the words are unrelated. The truth can be compared with the moon, and words can be compared to a finger. I can use my finger to point out the moon, but my finger is not the moon, and you don’t need my finger to see the moon do you?”

“Language is merely a tool for pointing out the truth, a means to help us attain enlightenment. To mistake words for the truth is almost as ridiculous as mistaking a finger for the moon.”1

Reading those words reminded me of pointing at things for my dog to see. All he would look at was my finger. The harder I wagged my finger saying “no over there there..there”, the more intently he’d look at my finger hoping to win my approval. Not a hunting dog I guess.

Sometimes, our experience in trying to describe the values of Bitcoin to others is similar. They’re hearing the words but not perceiving what those words are pointing at. Much like a cartoon from “ The Far Side”, we’re saying “Bitcoin is a peer to peer……decentralized…………. secure……….”and all that the listener is hearing is blah…. blah….Bitcoin…..blah..blah…blah..Bitcoin….blah…blah…. We simply have to stay patient and accept that some ears are not ready for this information. In my many years as a health care professional, I’ve been exposed to this phenomenon thousands of times. Blessedly, on occasion, patience and openness wins out, and someone says “a while ago you mentioned…”? This is a signal that all was not lost, and they’re ready to accept new information. Our job now is to commend them for being receptive, fill in a few blanks (not too many) and invite them to question further when they’re ready.

On our path to understanding Bitcoin, there are many voices and writings to follow. At times those words (fingers) can lead to valuable revelations and knowledge, taking us as they say, “further down the rabbit hole”. Sometimes however, the words just don’t seem to ring true and may betray an attempt to lead us on a different path. It’s up to each of us to put in the work to discern the truth for ourselves. That work involves quietly listening to the heart as well as carefully weighing the words of others before accepting or rejecting. In doing so, we’re less likely to be misinformed.

Uniquely, Bitcoin at its base, has a locked in protocol of pure mathematics; there is only yes or no, never maybe. In that respect it is a brilliant truth machine. That machine is growing through the efforts of many individuals, foibles and all, working to improve value, usage, and adoption by pointing their fingers at the moon for us to appreciate.

So there you have it, Bitcoin, the big orange moon sitting out there for all of us to look at and think about. There are many fingers pointing at it for us, each from a slightly different vantage point, an experience akin to many hundreds of people gazing at the same moon on the same night. Each from a different location, each having a slightly different perspective of the same thing. They will interpret what they see through the lens of their prior knowledge and their position on the path of understanding as to what Bitcoin is and what it means personally, as well as for humanity.


1Taken with some changes for brevity from “Zen Speaks” by Tsai Chih Chung, Translated by Brian Bruya
Image- Plum Blossoms by Moonlight by Ma Yuan c. 1160-1225 (moon modified by author)

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