How a Buddhist Story Ended Up on a Pickleball Website


I stumbled upon an intriguing paragraph on the internet when I searched for “finger pointing to the moon.” This phrase led me to a profound Zen Buddhist story that offers valuable insights, even for the game of pickleball.

The Zen Buddhist Story

There is a story told among Zen Buddhists about a nun who one day approached a great patriarch to ask if he had any insight into the Nirvana Sutra she had been reading. “I am illiterate,” the man replied, “but perhaps if you could read the words to me, I could understand the truth that lies behind them.” Incredulous, the nun responded, “If you do not know even the characters as they are written in the text, then how can you expect to know the truth to which they point?” Patiently, the patriarch offered his answer, which has become a spiritual maxim for the ages: “Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?”

Relevance to Pickleball

You might wonder how this profound story finds its place on a pickleball website. The connection lies in the deeper understanding of the game’s strategies and the importance of not getting fixated on one particular method.

The 3rd Shot Dilemma

Last week, a friend shared an experience where his pickleball partner complained every time he hit a 3rd shot drive instead of a drop. For his partner, there was only one way to play the 3rd shot: a soft shot that drops the ball into the kitchen. Ironically, this same player would often play out most rallies in the transition zone.

Many players, as they progress beyond the initial stages of the game, learn to play the 3rd shot drop as a strategy to move up to the net. However, some become so fixated on this shot that they forget its primary purpose: to advance to the NVZ (Non-Volley Zone) line, neutralize the receiving team’s positional advantage, and ultimately win the point. They mistake the finger for the moon.

Multiple Paths to Success

Just as there are various fingers that can point to the same moon, there are multiple ways to play the 3rd shot in pickleball. You can play a drop, hit a hard drive, or even execute a defensive lob, depending on what the situation demands. A hard 3rd shot drive might win the point outright or elicit a weak response from your opponent, setting you up for a winning shot or a well-placed drop.


The Zen Buddhist story reminds us not to get overly fixated on one method or strategy. In pickleball, as in life, it’s essential to look beyond the finger and see the moon. By understanding the purpose behind each shot and adapting to the situation, you can elevate your game and enjoy all the “heavenly glory” that pickleball has to offer.

Don’t concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all the heavenly glory.

What do you think?

Written by Billy Pickles

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