Tonight’s New Moon begins the month of Phālguna. And, because it occurs only a few days after one of the most intense and auspicious days of the year, there actually isn’t a designated practice for it outside of the usual New Moon practices of turning inwards, meditating, and cultivating stillness.
However, this particular New Moon is accompanied by a solar eclipse (grahaṇa). According to traditional dharma, everything is sacred and everything is interconnected with everything else and has an impact. This includes the planets, which have a particularly forceful impact because of their size and primordial nature.
The energetic impact of an eclipse lasts for a few days. Eclipses are considered inauspicious and even potentially harmful. This is because the sun and moon are not behaving as per their essential nature. Instead of shining its golden light, the sun goes dark; instead of reflecting and beautifying the light of the sun, the moon blocks it entirely. Instead of protecting and enhancing vision, the sun during an eclipse can cause lasting blindness.
The essential nature of all things has been described for example as sacchidānanda (truth, consciousness, and deep joy); or as satyam shivam sundaram (truth, auspiciousness, and beauty). No matter how you describe essential nature, it’s understood that harm – to self or others – occurs when we act out of alignment with our essential nature.
This underlying principle is something you encounter throughout the tradition. In fact, one way to understand dharma is that it is alignment with our essential nature. When something is not behaving as it is designed, there is harm: a dog who attacks its owner; a lawyer who protects injustice; a mother who hurts her children. At the deepest level, forgetting the truth of our wholeness is the cause of all the fear and pain we experience.
When something adharmic (not in alignment with dharma) occurs, we need a place of safety and refuge. Otherwise, if we are scared or injured, there’s a natural tendency to either attack, or to run and hide. By doing this, we forget our true nature and lose our way, which only creates more harm.
The tradition teaches that the safest place of all is the dharma itself. If we remain true to our essential nature, we remain true to the supreme power of the entire universe. So instead of seeking safety by acting from fear or trying to control everything, we find safety by surrendering completely to the biggest and strongest thing we can find – the Supreme Essence itself.
You might be wondering how and where this supreme power can be found. The tradition says that it is everywhere, but that our access point is inside each of us. To understand this more, let’s look at a traditional representation of the dharma (and of a yogi); the tortoise. You can almost always find a tortoise icon in a temple of Lord Śiva, the deity of yoga.
This is because like the yogis, the tortoise moves slowly and steadily. It always stays close to the ground (i.e. to reality, and therefore what is true). And most importantly, when it’s in danger or in need of rest, the tortoise withdraws all of itself inwards.
Instead of running around figuring out how to escape or conquer whatever we think is about to get us, the tortoise teaches us the fundamental lesson that the safest place is the quiet space inside ourselves. It doesn’t fight, nor does it run away. The tortoise just turns inwards and rests.
Practice: Take Refuge Inwards
The traditional suggested practices during an eclipse are centered around turning inwards, and resting in silence and stillness. This includes, for example:
-Avoid travel or excess activity or movement where possible. Traditionally people stay in their homes or inside during peak eclipse hours.
-Eat lightly to give the digestive system a break, since most of our internal organ activity revolves around digestion. This includes limiting other forms of consumption such as media, conversation, etc.
-Avoid starting new things or making major decisions and commitments.
-Practice silence and enjoy solitude as much as possible.
-Make time for prayer and meditation. Prayer is the inner dialogue with the divine, and meditation is experiencing and uniting with divine presence. These are the most auspicious and beneficial practices during eclipses, and generally whenever things are not behaving as per their normal alignment.
-Align with dharma. Be impeccable in your word and deed; cultivate virtue and integrity, let go of fear and pride. Take care of your every day life and tasks and relationships with love, courage, and patience. This is the safest place of all.