The Moon’s Reflection


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.

Shankara gives the sun in the water in Chapter 15, and he says there: “The sun shines in the pots of water.”  This is the example, he says, of the Lord projecting Himself into many bodies As in the case of the moon in the water – you can capture the moon in the water.  If you go out to the lake with a dipper you can capture the moon and carry it away if you hold it very steadily – but the moon is still there.  So the many moons, or many suns in water pots as Shankara says – there are many, but in fact there is only one.

In one of the translations that our teacher gave, Shankara said that the sun sent a part of himself into the pot, and it appears as though the sun is deep in the water.  He said the word ancha which means a part, can be translated as a ray, a ray of the sun.  Shankara uses this pot illustration as how the Lord incarnates in the body, limiting Himself to the body, as a reflection.  There are many verses in the Gita which speak of this reflected Self.

Shankara on Chapter 15 verse 7:  “As with the sun, the reflected ray in the water is a ray of the actual sun and goes to the sun itself and does not return when the water, the cause of the reflection is removed, so also even this ray.” (That’s the ray of the Lord going into the body).  Chapter 13, verse 31: “Even abiding in the body.”  Chapter 13, verse 32: “Abiding in every body, the Self is not stained likewise”.  Chapter 2, verse 13: “As to the embodied soul in this body come childhood, youth and old age, so the coming to another body the wise man is not confused herein.”  Chapter 3, verse 40: “With these it confuses the embodied soul obscuring his knowledge”. Chapter 14, verse 5: “The three gunas lying in the body, the immortal embodied soul.”  How can the Lord be confined to a body?  He gave the illustration of the sun seeming to be confined to the water pot, and this is developed later on.  To experience the clarity, when we see the reflection clearly then we can realise that it is a reflection of the universal sun and we don’t think this is confined to the innermost Self of man simply.  But the ripples have to be reduced and this has to be done by actual experiment.

There’s a traditional story on this:  A warrior in the Kshatriya class got to know a merchant and there was a fire.  The warrior saw that it was his duty to rescue the people and he was surprised that the merchant came along with him and with calm and daring helped him to get the people to safety.  Afterwards he said, “That was very surprising.  We have the way of the warrior of course, so I was expected to stake my life to help people, but you’re a merchant.”  The merchant replied, “Oh, we merchants have a way of our own.”  The Kshatriya said, “I suppose you worship Ganesh (the Lord of prosperity, hence worshipped by the merchants).  All you merchants worship Ganesha.”  The merchant said, “Well, I do worship Ganesha, but I’ve never asked for anything.  Never asked him to protect me.  If I asked for anything I would always be wondering whether I was going to get it or not, and that would spoil my worship.”  So the warrior said, “Well, tell me about this way of the merchant” and the merchant said, “It’s a bit difficult to explain, but I’ll try.

“There’s a merchant in the city who has a bowl, which is one of a set.  I’ve got the others of the set and if they were together it would be worth something.  But he’s one of those men who after a great man dies he runs around the place and in the confusion, I suppose, he picks up something quite valuable for very little.  He’s got this bowl and I would like to buy that.”

So they go round, and the merchant looks at things and then picks up the bowl and he says: “How much for this?”  The other man, the shopkeeper, he looks at him and he names a very high price.  So the merchant says, “Oh.  I wouldn’t pay more than a quarter of that.  Even that’s much more than you gave for it.”  So the shopkeeper says:  “Perhaps it one of a set.”  The merchant says, “I’m not buying a set.  Well, keep it. I’ve no concern for it.” And he walked out.  When they got down the street, the shopkeeper came running after them with the bowl wrapped up.  He said, “Sir, I’ve always respected you and I’ve decided to take a loss, and offer you this bowl at the price you suggested.  I hope that you will bear this in mind in the future.”  Without comment, the merchant took it.

They went back and the warrior said, “Well, it just a trick, that’s all. You just pretended you didn’t want it and you tricked him”.  So the merchant said, “You think it was a trick.  Well, let’s see whether it was a trick.  Is there anything in this town that you’d like?”  The young warrior said, “Yes – there’s a sword in the sword shop.  I’m sure he doesn’t know how valuable it is, but it’s one of the old ones.  We Rajputs pride ourselves on our small hands, and this one has a very small hilt.  The enemy can take the weapon from our bodies, but they can’t use them and I’d like that.”  So the merchant said, “Well, go and try the trick.”  So he goes and then he comes back later on, looking crestfallen.  He said, “It didn’t work.  I did just what you did.  I said, ‘How much for this?’  He looked at me, and I could see him thinking, ‘Yes, this warrior, he wants it.’  So he named a high price and I said, ‘I wouldn’t give a quarter of that.  Well, keep it.’ And I walked out – but he didn’t come running after me.”

So the merchant said, “Yes, I told you that the way of the merchant isn’t so easy to understand.  Now sit down, and shut your eyes and give up that sword.  Give it up completely.”  So the warrior sat down, and after a few minutes he said, “I can’t.”  The merchant said, “This is the way of the merchant.”  So the warrior said, “Well what do you do?”  He said, “Every evening I meditate I’m in my warehouse and there’s me and at the other end there’s the image of Ganesha, the Lord as prosperity.  I meditate that everything in the warehouse is burning, catching fire and turning to ashes and finally there’s nothing left but ashes and me and Ganesha.  Perhaps there’s something more that can’t be said.”

It’s said that after some time, one of the warrior’s friends said, “Why do you go around with that merchant.  He’s a good character, but he’s only a merchant after all.”  The warrior said, “Yes.  He certainly acts like one – but I sometimes get the feeling that it’s Ganesha playing at being a merchant.”

In this way, Rama Tirtha says, “You will succeed in all you do, if you can give up completely your desire, your wish, and you can say to the Lord, “This is your work. If you let me be successful, I’m pleased, if you make me fail, I’m pleased.”  When you can give it up completely then you’ll be successful and like the merchant and the warrior.  Rama Tirtha says this attitude has to be cultivated – not just done at a given time. Now our teacher occasionally made a comment about this.  He said, “Two men coming out of a synagogue.  One says triumphantly to the other, “Twenty-three percent!”; or two men coming out of a church saying, “Do mine with onions and apricots.”

One thinks, “Oh yes – we’re not very devout here are we, but you take the Sufi dancers – they dance with one hand turned up to heaven, one hand turned down to earth. One to receive the grace from heaven, the other to distribute it on earth.  Now that really is something – after that dance they must be in a very high state.”  And our teacher remarked that is the case with some of them, but some of them are talking business – “Twenty-three percent!” perhaps, or “My wife always does it with onions and apricots”.  One can feel, “Well I’ve done that.  We’ve done the dance now.”  It’s the same all over the world.  In Japanese shrines there’s a rule of silence in some of the shrines.  Partly it’s the rule of the shrine, and also consideration for other people.  But one priest remarked that two people, a man and a woman – he saw them come outside the gate – were arguing furiously and as they came to the gate they were silent.  They walked up and did their devotions very devoutly, and then they went out solemnly and quietly.  And as they turned out of the gate, one said, “And another thing…!”  All the time they had been going through these movements.  All the time there’s this row bubbling up inside and of course it bursts out immediately they have gone out.

The Karma Yoga experiment was given a little bit in the way of the merchant and this is the Karma Yoga actual experiment.  Rama Tirtha says you’ll have success in whatever you do, if you can give these things up completely.  Not just say, “Oh I’m detached from it.”  No – actually to give them up.

The experiment on the next [step] is to move from being an actor or an agent and an experiencer in this world, to an experience which has to be as vivid as the present bodily experience.  Rama Tirtha says it has to be the experience of Brahman and has to be as strong as the present experience of the body.  The Gita in chapter 9, verse 2 says, “It is pratyaksha”.  Pratyaksha means ‘direct’, like the touch, or something directly in front of the eyes.  It means it has to be – not like an intellectual idea, not a piously held faith – an experience direct.  Again, the Gita chapter 6, verse 28 for instance, says, “When he can enter into meditation and he can maintain it, then he will experience the touch of Brahman”.  This word sansparsha means the actual touch.  It doesn’t mean an idea, it doesn’t mean a thought.  It doesn’t mean a notion.

Rama Tirtha speaks about his actual practice.  “Thus when you sing the sacred mantram OM, let it course through your veins.  Let it pulsate in your bosom.  Let every hair on your body and every drop of your blood tingle with the truth that you are the lights of lights, the sun of suns, the ruler of the universe, the Lord of Lords, the true Self.”  He’ll say here and elsewhere this is not necessarily a verbal recitation, but the verbal recitation is done because the people find it difficult at first to concentrate on the mental repetition.  So by repeating it verbally in this way – not necessarily loudly –  he says you’ll feel an inner vibration – every pore, every hair, every nerve.  By practice you’ll come to feel it, as direct and clear as the body consciousness itself.  He says finally, “Sing it with your acts, and sing it internally.”

One of the experiences he refers to is the experience of a blue sky and the OM resounding, filling the blue sky.  These are actual experimental practices and the experiments are given to us to try.  The illustrations of the moon and the sun in the water are just to illustrate certain points.  There are fuller descriptions.  One of the points made is that the whole of our experience is lit by the reflection of the Self in us. It lights up all our mental movements and all our consciousness and lights up the whole of our life and thought and feeling.   There is the Lord and then there is a reflection in the individual where the Lord enters the individual – and that lights up our whole internal body/mind complex.  The passions and the memories and the various elements of our inner life and our outer life too are all lit.  We would not be active.  They would be inert, unless they were lit and vivified by the rays from this reflected consciousness.

This is illustrated by a drawing we thought we could show you.  In the top left-hand corner there‘s a sort of stylised sun.  It’s got these jagged rays coming from it, showing that it cannot be looked at.  There are rays coming from the sun which hit a man in a robe with a rather oriental head dress holding a great mirror.  In that mirror the image of the sun is reflected, and from that reflection of the sun that he’s holding there are rays coming out.  In the light of those rays, these animals are fighting.  There is a sort of wind-dragon which is holding and devouring a lioness, and a bear is climbing on the back of the dragon and biting and attacking it. There’s another lioness in the lower right-hand corner just preparing to spring.  These represent the passions fighting among themselves.  In the bottom left-hand corner there’s a unicorn and in the Renaissance the unicorn represented sublimated sexual impulse.

This is by Leonardo and of course there’s no text with it, it’s not been explained.  But from the Yogic point of view it’s an illustration of the state of man.  That’s to say, there is the sun of the Lord which is reflected from the clear mirror of the buddhi held by the sage, the Yogi.  In the light of that one can see the animals are fighting. Now in the case of the ordinary man the animals are raging.  In the case of the ordinary man too there is still this calm observing figure, this witness Self.  But he is not conscious of it.  The Yogic process is to take the conscious from the fighting animals, from identity with the passions, which conflict with each other, they fight each other.

For instance the desire for revenge fights against fear, that perhaps one will not be able to pull it off and they will come back more strongly.  The desire for gold, to get rich, conflicts with the desire to stay in bed all morning, to laze.  The passions conflict with each other.  The great dragon of rajas is one of them; the unicorn is perhaps sattwa, also struggling.  But there’s one thing more to notice – there’s something purposeful about this, and as a matter of fact when we look at it, it looks a little bit like a film projection.  Perhaps this is a hint that these great events are a sport of the Lord – that there’s something separate from it and which is perhaps enjoying it.  He seems to be focussing the beams and he seems to be enjoying it.

The hint we’re given is that in this very self that we feel – suffering, furiously acting to try get out of the situation and into what we hope will be a better one, but which doesn’t turn out to be a better one.  Within that there is a reflection of the Lord and there is a witness who is, so to speak, holding the reflection.  Within us, when we are furiously angry, there is something which is not angry.  Leonardo took the fables of animals to illustrate human characteristics and he said of the bear that it’s simply blind rage.  It tries to steal honey and the bees come and sting it and then it goes nearly mad with rage.  It can’t kill the bees so it tries to kill everything else it meets. Mad rage, depression, sorrow, tragedy, loneliness – all these things.

There is something that is not lonely when we are lonely, which is not depressed when we are depressed, which is not raging when we are raging, which is something clear. First of all it’s realised within the nine-gated city of the body – “Giving up all actions by the mind.”  Giving up the sense of action, allowing the prakriti of the Lord to act through us.  “Giving up the actions by the mind”.  Shankara quotes this verse from the Gita four times in his great commentary.  “The Yogi sits in control, the master, happily within the city of the nine gates of the body – neither acting, nor causing to act.”  He is a witness, but above that, as in the picture by Leonardo, the sun is illuminating everything.  It illuminates the whole landscape – the fighting beasts, the witness self, everything is under the illumination of the Lord and then finally he will become one with that.

Well thank you for your kind attention.


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