Shankara on the sun in the water
Shankara gives the sun in the water in Chapter 15, and he says there: “The sun shines in the pots of water.” This is the example, he says, of the Lord projecting Himself into many bodies As in the case of the moon in the water – you can capture the moon in the water. If you go out to the lake with a dipper you can capture the moon and carry it away if you hold it very steadily – but the moon is still there. So the many moons, or many suns in water pots as Shankara says – there are many, but in fact there is only one.
In one of the translations that our teacher gave, Shankara said that the sun sent a part of himself into the pot, and it appears as though the sun is deep in the water. He said the word ancha which means a part, can be translated as a ray, a ray of the sun. Shankara uses this pot illustration as how the Lord incarnates in the body, limiting Himself to the body, as a reflection. There are many verses in the Gita which speak of this reflected Self.
Shankara on Chapter 15 verse 7: “As with the sun, the reflected ray in the water is a ray of the actual sun and goes to the sun itself and does not return when the water, the cause of the reflection is removed, so also even this ray.” (That’s the ray of the Lord going into the body).
Chapter 13, verse 31: “Even abiding in the body.”
Chapter 13, verse 32: “Abiding in every body, the Self is not stained likewise”.
Chapter 2, verse 13: “As to the embodied soul in this body come childhood, youth and old age, so the coming to another body the wise man is not confused herein.”
Chapter 3, verse 40: “With these it confuses the embodied soul obscuring his knowledge”.
Chapter 14, verse 5: “The three gunas lying in the body, the immortal embodied soul.”
How can the Lord be confined to a body? He gave the illustration of the sun seeming to be confined to the water pot, and this is developed later on. To experience the clarity, when we see the reflection clearly then we can realise that it is a reflection of the universal sun and we don’t think this is confined to the innermost Self of man simply. But the ripples have to be reduced and this has to be done by actual experiment.
There’s a traditional story: A warrior in the Kshatriya class got to know a merchant and there was a fire. The warrior saw that it was his duty to rescue the people and he was surprised that the merchant came along with him and with calm and daring helped him to get the people to safety. Afterwards he said, “That was very surprising. We have the way of the warrior of course, so I was expected to stake my life to help people, but you’re a merchant.” The merchant replied, “Oh, we merchants have a way of our own.” The Kshatriya said, “I suppose you worship Ganesh (the Lord of prosperity, hence worshipped by the merchants). All you merchants worship Ganesha.” The merchant said, “Well, I do worship Ganesha, but I’ve never asked for anything. Never asked him to protect me. If I asked for anything I would always be wondering whether I was going to get it or not, and that would spoil my worship.” So the warrior said, “Well, tell me about this way of the merchant” and the merchant said, “It’s a bit difficult to explain, but I’ll try.
“There’s a merchant in the city who has a bowl, which is one of a set. I’ve got the others of the set and if they were together it would be worth something. But he’s one of those men who after a great man dies he runs around the place and in the confusion, I suppose, he picks up something quite valuable for very little. He’s got this bowl and I would like to buy that.”
So they go round, and the merchant looks at things and then picks up the bowl and he says: “How much for this?” The other man, the shopkeeper, he looks at him and he names a very high price. So the merchant says, “Oh. I wouldn’t pay more than a quarter of that. Even that’s much more than you gave for it.” So the shopkeeper says: “Perhaps it one of a set.” The merchant says, “I’m not buying a set. Well, keep it. I’ve no concern for it.” And he walked out. When they got down the street, the shopkeeper came running after them with the bowl wrapped up. He said, “Sir, I’ve always respected you and I’ve decided to take a loss, and offer you this bowl at the price you suggested. I hope that you will bear this in mind in the future.” Without comment, the merchant took it.
They went back and the warrior said, “Well, it just a trick, that’s all. You just pretended you didn’t want it and you tricked him”. So the merchant said, “You think it was a trick. Well, let’s see whether it was a trick. Is there anything in this town that you’d like?” The young warrior said, “Yes – there’s a sword in the sword shop. I’m sure he doesn’t know how valuable it is, but it’s one of the old ones. We Rajputs pride ourselves on our small hands, and this one has a very small hilt. The enemy can take the weapon from our bodies, but they can’t use them and I’d like that.” So the merchant said, “Well, go and try the trick.” So he goes and then he comes back later on, looking crestfallen. He said, “It didn’t work. I did just what you did. I said, ‘How much for this?’ He looked at me, and I could see him thinking, ‘Yes, this warrior, he wants it.’ So he named a high price and I said, ‘I wouldn’t give a quarter of that. Well, keep it.’ And I walked out – but he didn’t come running after me.”
So the merchant said, “Yes, I told you that the way of the merchant isn’t so easy to understand. Now sit down, and shut your eyes and give up that sword. Give it up completely.” So the warrior sat down, and after a few minutes he said, “I can’t.” The merchant said, “This is the way of the merchant.” So the warrior said, “Well what do you do?” He said, “Every evening I meditate I’m in my warehouse and there’s me and at the other end there’s the image of Ganesha, the Lord as prosperity. I meditate that everything in the warehouse is burning, catching fire and turning to ashes and finally there’s nothing left but ashes and me and Ganesha. Perhaps there’s something more that can’t be said.”
It’s said that after some time, one of the warrior’s friends said, “Why do you go around with that merchant. He’s a good character, but he’s only a merchant after all.” The warrior said, “Yes. He certainly acts like one – but I sometimes get the feeling that it’s Ganesha playing at being a merchant.”
© 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