Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawing of the sun and mirror


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 this drawing.

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.

The drawing 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.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: Follow the teacher’s instructions for the Yoga training

Part 2: Shankara on the sun in the water

Part 3: You will succeed in all you do

Part 4: An illustration of the state of man

Part 5: Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawing of the sun and mirror

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