The Moon in the Water

Truth is presented variously, because the aim is to stimulate a pupil to realize something in himself, not to parrot phrases like a man in a snowstorm desperately mumbling to himself “fire”. Teaching in an India where logical exposition was prized, Shankara explains the classic analogy of the sun reflected in water: “As in water reflections of the sun arise, so reflected in the limiting adjuncts of body and mind, the Self appears as an individualized entity.” Children think there is a sun in the water, deep down and moving with it; but one day they see the reflection in calm water and realize the real sun above, ever undisturbed and one only.

In China and Japan, the pure essence of mind (what Shankara calls the Self) was often represented by the full moon. The samurai of feudal Japan were impressed by the fearlessness of Zen priests, and meditated under them to learn the secret. Samurai did not have too much confidence in the capacity of intellect to grasp reality entire, but had immense respect for the insights of poetry, so their teachers often gave meditations in the form of verses. Schools of fencing or archery or ju jutsu had secrets of technique, passed on to pupils who graduated, as an oral tradition, and accompanied with a “secret scroll” which reminded them of the technical points by means of certain key words unintelligible to an outsider.

There was also generally a section on “mind training” with verses, and here are a few about the moon in the water, taken from different schools

The water does not think of giving it lodging,
Nor the moon of lodging there

How clear the reflection!
The moon’s reflection is deep in the lake,
Yet you can carry it away in a dipper
If your hand is steady.

The water does not think of giving it lodging,
Nor the moon of lodging there

How calm the lake of Hirosawa!

The last line, different from that of the verse. first quoted, marks a different kind of meditation.

Over Sarusawa lake when the mist is thick,
The rising and setting of the moon,

No man knows.
The shadow of the bamboo sweeps the steps
But in the dust, no movement;

The moon-disc has bored deep into the lake
But on the water, no scar.

It is said that this last line has profound significance for meditation.

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