Leonardo Da Vinci an Adhyatma Yogi4 min read

The metaphor of the reflected moon and sun illustrates a further truth of the Yoga psychology.

The whole of our experience is lit by the reflection of the self in us.

It lights up all our inner operations of thought, feelings, will, memory, imagination and intuition, the whole mental apparatus.

So there is the Lord, and the reflection of him in the individual which lights up the 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 and energised; they would not be active, they would be inert, unless they were vivified and lit by the rays from this reflected consciousness.

Interestingly this is illustrated in an allegorical drawing by Leonardo De Vinci.

In the top left hand corner there is a stylised sun, the jagged rays coming from it represent the impossibility of looking directly at it. The actual sun rays fall on a mirror held by a seated man wearing a robe and a vaguely oriental head-dress. The reflected image of the sun in the mirror sends out its own rays to illumine a cave in which various mythological animals are fighting. There is a winged dragon devouring a lioness, and a bear on the back of the dragon biting and attacking it. Another lioness in the foreground is crouched to spring. At the far left a boar is coming round the corner to join in. These represent the passions fighting among themselves. In the bottom left hand corner is a unicorn, poised to attack the dragon. In the renaissance the unicorn represented the sublimated sexual impulse.

This picture is by Leonardo and there is no text with it. It has never been explained, but from the yoga point of view it is an illustration of the state of man. That is to say the Lord is the Sun, reflected from the clear mirror of the buddhi held by the sage. By the light of that, the animals are seen fighting.

In the case of the ordinary man, the animals are raging. In that ordinary man there is also this calm observing figure, this witnessing Self, but he is not conscious of it. The yoga process is to take the conscious identity away from the fighting animals, from identity with the passions which conflict with each other. They fight: for instance, the desire for revenge fights against fear – perhaps I will not be able to pull it off and they will hit back at me more strongly than ever. The desire to get rich conflicts with the desire for comfort and ease. It is a battle of the passions: the great dragon of Rajas is eating a lioness, and itself is being eaten by a bear. Leonardo took fables of animals to illustrate human characteristics and he said of the bear, that it stands for blind rage. It steals the honey and the bees sting it; it goes nearly mad with fury. It can’t kill the bees, so it tries to kill everything else it meets. From the side, the unicorn, perhaps Sattva, looks set to pierce the dragon. What an arena is the human heart!

But there is one thing more to notice, namely that there is something purposeful here. It is a bit like a film projection and perhaps this is a hint that these great events are a sport of the Lord, that there is something which is separate from it and which is perhaps enjoying it. The calm witness seems to be focusing the beams and enjoying it all.

The scene is not absolutely real, as is clear from the mythological dragon-form, and thus can be enjoyed so long as it is not entered into. Beyond this struggling and suffering self, is a reflection of the Lord, held so to speak by a witness-self. When we are furiously angry, there is within us something that is not angry; when we are frightened there is something within us which is not frightened at all. Sorrow, tragedy, depression, loneliness – there is something within us calm and untouched by any of them. It is like a serene blue sky. First of all it is to be realised in the nine-gated city of the body. “Giving up all actions by the mind”, giving up the sense of action, allowing the power of the Lord to act through us. Shankara quotes this line from the Gita four times in his commentary. This is the witness-self, but above the witness, 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 radiance of the Lord and then finally the witness is one with the Lord.

This drawing by a great genius of the West has no explanation with it. It is catalogued simply as an Allegory, but no meaning has been suggested. However, with the background of Yoga, it can be understood.

As the original may not be perfectly clear a tracing of the main lines is given here to bring out the chief points.

© 2000 Trevor Leggett