Fetch Me a Cup of Water

Sep 5th, 2017 | By | Category: Articles, Extract, Psyche Books, Psychology, Spirituality

Extract from Bedtime Stories for Elders by John C. Robinson

Fetch Me a Cup of Water – The Power of Enchantment

Despite its profundity, our discovery of the ultimate significance of consciousness can be lost and forgotten in a heartbeat. This next oft-told tale from the Eastern spiritual traditions illustrates how easily fantasy and illusion repossess the awareness of even the most determined seeker. Its popularity is evident in the fact that sometimes the teacher in this story is Krishna, other times, Buddha.

Narada, whose name means wisdom giver, was a famous devotee of the god Vishnu. He journeyed to visit Lord Krishna to ask him to explain maya, the cause of the world’s illusions.

Narada and Krishna went out for a walk. Narada said, “The great sages tell of maya, the power by which you make the whole universe appear to be what it is not, deluding us into ideas of you and me, this and that, now and then, and the multiplicity of things, when all is one unity. What is this power of maya? Will you reveal its secrets to me?”

“I will happily fulfill your desire,” Krishna replied as Narada and Krishna continued their stroll. After walking a very long distance, Krishna became quite thirsty, and said, “Narada, I am thirsty. We cannot return home to quench my thirst. Can you get me a cup of water from the village up ahead? I will sit here until you return.”

“Your wish is my command, Lord Krishna.”

Filled with the desire to be of service to this incarnation of Vishnu, Narada hurried on to the village. He reached the first house and knocked on the door, which was opened by a young girl whose radiant beauty immediately enchanted him. Instantly he forgot all about Krishna and his request for water and instead fell head over heels in love. Narada asked,“Who are you and who is your father? I would be most fortunate and blessed if I might marry you.”

“My father is inside. Come in,” she said, whereupon Narada met and discussed marriage with the young woman’s father.

“Sir, my name is Narada. I am Krishna’s devoted servant. I have fallen in love with your daughter and wish to marry her. It would be the grace of Brahman if you consented.” Her father readily accepted Narada’s proposal.

The wedding took place in a matter of days. Over the next twelve years, Narada’s wife bore him several children and great happiness filled his family life.

One day, however, the sky grew unusually dark, rain clouds mounted, the winds howled furiously and thunderclaps shook the landscape. Soon the village was flooded and many ran to escape the rising waters. Narada collected his most precious belongings, held hands with his wife and children, carried the youngest children on his shoulders, and waded into the swift current. The swirling waters soon took all his belongings and he cried out for his lost wealth. The waters then took his beloved oldest son and then, one by one, the rest of his children. Narada’s suffering grew nearly unbearable. He clung desperately to his wife and cried out, “Why have you forsaken me, Krishna? Why do you not protect your faithful servant?” Suddenly a huge wave tore his wife from him. In that moment, life became hopeless and meaningless.

As if in response to Narada’s final anguished cry, an immense flash of lightning lit up the dark sky momentarily blinding his eyes. When he opened them again, he was stunned by what lay before him. Or more correctly, what didn’t. The storm, the devastation, his family, and the village were utterly and completely gone, replaced by the visage of Krishna, sitting quietly beneath a tree, looking at him.

“Narada, I have been awaiting your return for almost half an hour. Have you brought me the water I requested?” A mischievous smile began to play on Krishna’s face.

Suddenly Narada understood everything. He rushed to Krishna, bowed low, and wept like a child. “Today,” Narada said, “you showed me the power of maya and I was completely deluded. The maya of self, family and everyday life made me confuse the impermanent world of desire with the joy and release of transcendence. Pursuing illusions, I lost you and wandered instead in a delirium of fantasy. Please, Krishna, may I never be so affected again.”

Without hesitation, and filled with love, Krishna granted Narada’s wish and touched him gently, whereupon Narada found himself in the highest realms of Heaven.



Maya, a Sanskrit word, is a central idea in Eastern religious traditions. The root ma means “not” and ya translates loosely to “that.” This definition is meant to imply that things are not what they seem. Rather, the mind, with its constant thought, imagination, and fantasy, colors and distorts all we see, projecting itself on reality like a movie film. This is maya and it creates all the illusions that drive our busy and often distressing world.

Narada asks Krishna how maya functions, and his request is granted sooner and more powerfully than he ever expected. He was shown how quickly and easily his consciousness could be completely hijacked by the illusions of fantasy – literally instantly! – illusions that held him in a dream-like state for years. All it takes is a pretty girl, new ambition, careless driver, nasty comment, worried thought or screaming child, and our thoughtfree conscious is taken over by an imagined emotional drama. Indeed, the simple idea of self seems to generate endless scenarios to worry about. This is the path of pleasure and pain that Yama described to Natchiketas. It’s not that events don’t happen, it’s not that love, marriage, children and career are wrong, it’s that we project so much additional meaning onto them – fantasies of fulfillment, feelings of inferiority, fears of failure or dreams of fame.


I watch this process of maya arise in myself all the time. One moment I am present and happily dwelling in consciousness, letting things be as they are, and then, without even noticing, my consciousness is taken over by a worry or concern: “Do we have enough money to pay this bill?” “Is so-and-so mad at me?” “I miss my children and grandchildren.” Then, I am no longer “here and now,” I am “there and then,” lost in fantasy. The good news is that I wake up sooner now, for I more quickly recognize when I have fallen back into daydreaming again. How? The most immediate reminder is the presence of emotional distress. In consciousness, there is freedom, wonder, joy and love; when consciousness is clouded by the mind’s beliefs and fantasies, I find myself feeling upset, anxious, excited, angry or sad.

One of the great boons of aging for me has been the recognition that I am the source of my distress. Years ago I went on a vision quest in the desert – three days of preparation with a small group of seekers, three days alone in the wilderness with only water, and three days to share our experience and prepare to re-enter the world. Though virtually nothing of significance changed around me each day I was alone, I watched myself cycle through countless feelings and fantasies. They all came from me. So it is with everyday life. Age and experience have taught me that distress means maya; it is a great motivator to wake up.


Bedtime Stories for Elders – What Fairy Tales Can Teach Us About the New Aging

by John C. Robinson

Stories of meaning, magic, healing and transformation for enlightened elders – wisdom tales for  a new vision of aging.

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