The richest stories have many layers of meaning and can be interpreted in a wide range of ways… which is also why there is often a shared fascination with them.
Moby Dick is one of those stories, and the story can be filtered in many different ways, yielding many different meanings and insights.
- Later, more mature worldcentric
From a later wordcentric view, we hold both the whales and the animals inside of our circle of care, concern and compassion. We see the struggle between animals and humans as an inevitable outcome of both trying to survive, a story they are both caught up in without much (apparent) choice, almost as a Greek tragedy.
- Early, less mature worldcentric
From an early worldcentric view where our circle of care beings to include all of Earth, we may easily side with and have mainly compassion for the whale. The whale is innocent and only tries to protect itself, the humans evil (or at least blind) killing other species without respect and concern for their life and well-being. (Animal rights perspective.)
- Humans vs nature
Humans try to put themselves above nature and to subdue nature. Since nature always has the last word (it is, after all, the larger holon), this is only successful to a limited degree, and it may have dire consequences for humans. We are part of a larger living system, so when we reduce the health and well-being of the larger system, it impacts us as well. Climate change is one of many examples of this.
- Beliefs perspective
Captain Ahab is caught up in blind beliefs, making it appear to himself that he needs revenge and to settle the score with Moby Dick. It not only creates a split between the two and a great deal of drama and suffering for both, but it also brings the whole ship down.
Then there is the awakening perspective. Moby Dick is God (“if God wanted to be a fish, he would be a whale”, “that is no whale, it is a white god”), and Ahab is single-mindedly pursuing God, relentlessly, at any cost, obsessively (which often goes before an awakening). Captain Ahab and the ship is the small self, or more precisely the appearance of a separate self placed on this human self, and that is what is drawn under in the struggle with God. What is left is just the ocean, nondual awakening.
This is of course an experiential truth, not a literal one. The experience is of a disaster, of dying, of a calamity as U. G. Krishnamurti liked to call it with his flair for the dramatic. It is really just the belief in a separate self that dies, but since that is taken as an “I” the experience is of I dying. The human self goes on just fine, although now without being taken as an I.
I initially heard about Moby Dick as an analogy to awakening from a friend of mine at the Zen center a while ago, and know that it has been used by others as well. It is an interpretation that comes relatively easily to mind when we are aware of the characteristics of the awakening process.
Then there are the reflections of a nondual awakening in the text itself (which doesn’t mean the author needed to have awakened, only intuited it), such as… Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. (Ahab)