Intermediate I

The Moon Cannot be Stolen

Zen Storytelling adapted in ASL (American Sign Language), December 2003.

Translation Text

In a valley surrounded by the majestic rocky mountains, there was a small house where a Zen master lived in. He left his house for a long walk.

On the other side, a thief walked long from sunrise till sunset. In the distance, he spotted a tiny house. With great excitment, he broke in the house. However, he found there was nothing to steal in the empty house. He stood there helpless.

The Zen master arrived home and was surprised to see the thief, "My guest, you have come all long way to see me. Unfortunately, there is nothing in here that I cannot let you go without something to bring with you... Oh, perhaps you may have my clothes what I'm wearing." The awkward thief thought for a moment. He greedily took his clothes and ran away.

The naked Zen master shrugged and sat down. He gazed at the beautiful moon and thought, "Too bad, I cannot take the moon and give it to the poor thief." He gazed long at the moon. So beautiful.

Grammar and structure

The following discussion below describes some examples of the cinematic vocabulary and grammatical structure in the story (Zen parable), Moon Cannot be Stolen.

ASL indicating GONE
Classifier: The index finger (classifier like a "pronoun") represents a person (eg. Zen master or thief).

Zoom Out

scenic (mountains)
(size of an object); tiny house (classifier in size) from a eagle's view
house zoomed out
this (inside) house

The storyteller opens with the bird's eye, viewing a gigantic mountain. A listener might follow the eye from the mountain toward the valley. As her hands move downward the valley towards the little house, she zooms out the little house, using the "roof" word which is being zoomed out (by widening and moving backward).

Indexing Inside


The signer points towards the house, which is equivalent to "where" in English. Eg. Notice the signer points her right-handed index finger under the established, left-handed "roof", not above the roof. Then she says, "Zen master lives..." This indexing literally indicates that inside the house is where the master lives, or in interpretation there is a house where the Zen master lives.

Body and Eye Shifting

For a preview about the body and eye shifting in sign-language storytelling, see the article in the section Grammar if you have not seen.

In this story, you can see abundant examples of body indexing between the Zen master and the thief. The storyteller also shows her body shifting where the house and the moon are.

Notice that the signer stays in the frontal pose in the beginning till the Zen master left the house. As soon as the master left the house, the signer establishes the body shifting in reference to the Zen master. On the other hand, she establishes the other side for the thief who came from the other side. She also later establishes the location and body-indexing for the moon.

Related posts

Also see Moon in my Bedroom: ASL poetry.

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Stories, poems, performance arts, etc. in sign language.

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