Moon in the Water


As Shankara says, “The reverence of words and bows can always be imitated.” The real reverence is to follow the teacher’s instructions for the Yoga training – and one of our teacher’s instructions was, before the Yoga meeting, to bring the attention between the eyebrows; to touch or pinch this point and then just to sit for half a minute or so, bringing the attention there – away from the outside objects, away from the inner memories and thoughts to the centre.


The moon in the water is a familiar illustration and it is also a Yogic practice. Swami Rama Tirtha, a fellow disciple of our own teacher, used to take a little boat at night on the river Ragi and he would meditate on the reflection of the moon in the water. Our teacher referred to this also. In the Far East, the Atman, the True Self, is often represented by the full moon; in India often it’s the sun. The moon in the water – there is the moon in the sky, and we see, deep in the waters of the lake, the moon. But if we examine the water very carefully, we can’t find the scar of where it entered. In the same way we can examine the body and the mind very carefully, but we can’t find where the reflection of the Self has entered. And yet it is there – the moon in the water. When the water has ripples and disturbances, the moon seems to be broken up into disturbed, confused flashes of light. In the same way with our mind – when we’re disturbed, our self seems to be broken up: “I have been hurt; I have been triumphant; I lost there; why did I do that?” It seems to be broken up. But when the mind is calm, very calm, the image of the moon or the image of the Self becomes clear.

There is an important point from these illustrations. It’s true to say the moon in the lake is the moon in the sky; but it’s not true to say the moon in the sky is just the moon in the lake. In the same way with the familiar rope/snake analogy – in the half-light we see a rope on the ground and we mistake it for a snake and we get a shock. Some friend tells us that it’s not a snake, it’s a rope and we go out and see that it is so. It’s true to say that snake is a rope, but it’s not true to say that rope is a snake. In the same way with the reflection of the moon in the mind; it is true to say the reflection is the Lord, is nothing but the Lord; but it’s not true to say that the Lord is nothing but the innermost Self of man. This is often where these things become misunderstood and then they drop into scepticism and God simply becomes a name for the higher aspirations of man and no more than that.

We have to try to calm the ripples on the water, so that first the reflection will be seen clearly. In the Gita text, Karma Yoga is first clearly referred to in Chapter 3, verse 30. It says there, “Do your duty without fever and with ‘Adhyatma chetas’” – with the consciousness of the mind, the consciousness of the self. Shankara here reads the self as the self which acts and which experiences, that is to say, our ordinary self of practical experience. He says this verse teaches us to do the actions as a servant of God – as a servant. That is the first reference to Adhyatma in the Gita. Later on Adhyatma is understood as the cosmic revelation, and still later as the universal Self. But the first reference is to the self as it is normally experienced and doing the actions as a service to the Lord.

If the actions are done with the self as the motive, or with the feeling: “I’ve done well”, then it is an incomplete action. The Gita in chapter 18, verse 48 says, “All actions are imperfect, so do your actions not for the satisfaction of getting the result, but as a servant of the Lord”. All the actions are imperfect, but they should be done as tradition tells us they should be done. We could say surely to give bread to the hungry, that is sufficient in itself. Not so. When there was a famine in India in 1943 in wartime, the British government imported wheat to feed the farmers who’d lived on rice all their lives. They couldn’t eat the wheat. It’s no use giving bread to a starving man if he can’t eat it. Furthermore all actions have some defects, says the Gita. You feed one starving man, but you don’t feed six others. How do you choose which one to feed? All those actions have some dosha – some defect in them, but if they’re done in the service of the Lord, as they should be done, that dosha, that defect does not affect the one who does it.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: The Moon in the Water

Part 2: Shankara on the sun in the water

Part 3: You will succeed in all you do

Part 4: An illustration of the state of man

Part 5: Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawing of the sun and mirror

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