Four short pieces on the sun/moon reflected in the water

1. The merchant quoted the illustration of the sun in the water and said that he had used it to develop the Way of the Merchant

There is a story that illustrates several of the points. A high official in a traditional Indian State government came to know a merchant, and was impressed by his character. He said to him: “When we have big changes in the government it is an anxious time for everyone. If things go one way some will be promoted and others disgraced; but if they go the other way it will be the reverse. It does not depend on simply whether one has done a good job or not because luck can play a big part. We all get harassed at these times of crisis. But I have watched you in similar situations in your line – when markets were going up and down and nobody knew what would happen. You worked hard: I saw that. But you never seemed disturbed: when the news was good, you weren’t excited; when it was bad, you sometimes moved quickly but you never seemed nervous. Will you tell me how you got to be like that?”

The merchant quoted to him the illustration of the sun in the water and said that he had used it to develop the Way of the Merchant. “When I am doing business I am seeing the sun of the Lord deep in the waters of the world. I practice calmness so that I can see the Lord more clearly there: when I see him without many ripples I know what to do, and I do it without making more ripples. But every evening in my room I sit alone and take my inner gaze away from the whole world with its ripples and even the reflection. Throwing it all away I close my eyes and mentally look up to meditate on the sun-Lord in the sky. This has set me free from the world and its fears.”

Rama Tirtha says you will succeed in all you do if you can give up completely your personal desire and wish and you can say to the Lord, “This is your work, and therefore I think it to be mine. If you let me be successful, I am pleased. If you make me fail, I am pleased.” When you can give up dependence on the results, your action will no longer be clogged with like and dislike, hope and fear, and it will be efficient.

© Trevor Leggett

2. In Chapter 15 of the Gita, Shri Shankara describes multiple reflections in jars of water

In Chapter 15 of the Gita, Shankara makes it the sun instead of the moon and he describes multiple reflections in jars of water; the sun shines from each pot of water. Now this is an illustration of the Lord projecting himself into many bodies: the pots can be carried about, and it seems that the reflected sun is carried about too.

In some of the far eastern poems about the moon in the water it is said in a similar way that you can capture the moon in the water if you go up to the lake with a dipper; you can catch the moon and carry it away if you hold it very steadily. You have carried the moon away and yet it is still there in the lake and more than that, it is there in the sky. These are themes for meditation, and one of the great Zen meditations is called Moon in the Water.

To return to Shankara and the sun reflected in the pots. Shankara uses this pot illustration to show how how the Lord incarnates in a body, limiting himself to the body as a reflection. He says in one place that the ray of the sun is so to speak like the projection of a part of the sun deep into the water, and if the water is dried up that ray returns to its source in the sun. That is to say the illusory reflected sun is as deep in the water as the real sun is high above. When the water is dried up that illusory depth along with the illusory reflection returns to the sun.

There are many verses in the Gita which speak of this reflected self.

13.31: The Supreme Self, abiding in the body.

13.32: Abiding in the body the self is not stained.

2.13: As to the embodied soul in this body come childhood, youth, old age so they come into another body. The wise man is not confused herein.

3.40: With these it confuses the embodied soul obscuring his knowledge.

13.15: Without and within all beings. (Sankara says “Within refers to the inmost self, pratyag-atman, inside the envelope of the skin”)

How can the Lord be confined to a body? He has given the illustration of the sun seeming to be confined to the water pot and this is developed. We experience this clearly when we see the reflection undisturbed; then by a jump we can realise that it is a reflection of the great sun and we don’t think that sun is confined to the innermost self of man simply. But the ripples have to be reduced by actual practice and experiment.

© Trevor Leggett

3. The moon in the water is a familiar illustration and it is also a yoga practice

The moon in the water is a familiar illustration and it is also a yoga practice.

Swami Rama Tirtha, a fellow disciple of my teacher Hari Prasad Shastri, used to take a little boat on the river Ravi at night and meditate on the reflection of the moon in the water. And our teacher referred to this also.

In the far east the true Self is often represented by the full moon, in India it is usually the sun.

There is a Chinese poem:

The shadow of the bamboo sweeps the steps,
But the dust does not stir;
The moons disc bores deep into the lake,
But on the water’s surface there is no scar.

The moon is in the sky and we see it also deep in the waters of the lake, but if we examine the water very carefully we cannot 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. Now as to the moon in the water when the water has ripples and disturbances the moon seems to be broken up into confused flashes of light. In the same way our mind when we are ourselves disturbed seems to be broken up: I have been hurt, I have been triumphant, I lost there, why did they do that? The reflected Self seems to be broken up, but when the mind calms down the image of the moon or the image of the self becomes clear.

© Trevor Leggett

4. Moon in the Lake and Moon in the Sky

Then there is an important point from these illustrations. It is true to say the moon in the lake is the moon in the sky; but it is not true to say the moon in the sky is just the moon in the lake.

Let us look at the equally 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, but some friend tells us that is not a snake, it is a rope, and we go up and see it is. In this case it is true to say that the snake was a rope, but not true to say the rope was a snake. In the same way with the reflection of the Lord in the mind: it is true to say the reflection, the inmost self, is nothing but the Lord, but it is not true to say the Lord is nothing but the inmost self of man. The point is often missed and there is a drop into scepticism  where God becomes simply a name for the higher aspirations of man and no more than that. But Yoga training means to bring a living realisation of the Supreme Self onto the main track of life; it is not a question of some dry intellectual house of cards kept on a siding. To do this we have to calm the ripples on the water so that the reflection is seen clearly.

© Trevor Leggett

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