Moon Fish Ocean: A Zen Conversion of Rock Paper Scissors

About the Author:
Craig Conley

Special thanks to:
Jonathan Caws-Elwitt

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Moon * Fish * Ocean is a Zen hand game for one, two, or three players.  In the strictest Zen interpretation, the game is played by only one person, with one hand, as a koan (a paradoxical puzzle to trigger enlightenment).

Easy to learn and highly rewarding, every game communicates a Zen poem through sign language.  That’s because in Buddhism, moonlight symbolizes enlightenment, water symbolizes self-nature, and fish symbolize living beings (K’uan Yü Lu, Ch’an and Zen Teaching, 1960).

A less poetic, secular version of Moon * Fish * Ocean is popularly known as “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”

Zen disciples play Moon * Fish * Ocean as a form of mindful meditation, or to determine who will chop wood and who will carry water.  Disciples typically sit in either the full or half lotus position, upon round cushions atop square mats.

Zen Masters use the game as a test of a disciple’s reflexes and non-attachment to outcomes.  The Master holds a pebble in his palm.  The pebble remains hidden when the Master plays “Moon” or “Fish.”  It is revealed only when the Master plays “Ocean.”  If the disciple can snatch the pebble quickly enough, he automatically wins the round.