Still Water, Bright Mirror3 min read

When we look into a pool of clear water and it is agitated into little waves, of course we can’t see through to the bottom. In human terms, this corresponds to the mind agitated by desires and thoughts that prevent us from seeing through to what is at, and beyond, the basis of the mind. But if the water is perfectly still, then it is like a bright mirror. As the Chinese phrase says: ‘We don’t see through to the bottom of the pool – we see instead reflections of ourselves and the surroundings.’ So, someone like David Hume, while claiming to look within the self, said: ‘I see nothing but my ordinary mental activities and mental states.’ But he was seeing a reflection of himself; he was not seeing through to the bottom – to the depths of the pool.

It is just so in the lake. If you see the reflection in the still, clear water of the surface, you don’t even see the fishes, let alone the bottom, but you are wrong to suppose they don’t exist. In the past, people have looked at what they thought were the depths, but they have seen only themselves. Sometimes the illusion of depth was so clear they thought they saw a god, and they then made a god in their own image. Therefore it was not that God made man in His image, but that man made God in his own image, and this has led, as we know, to disastrous results.

There is a means to see the bottom. We go out in a boat with what is like a small bucket, and at the bottom of the bucket is a circular sheet of glass. We push that through the surface of the water, and now we can see the little fish swimming about, and we can see down to the bottom of the pool.

In a similar way, meditation techniques seek first to calm the desires and thoughts so the surface of the mind becomes calm and serene. Then, however, the meditation technique can break through that surface and penetrate through what one might call the skin of the mind’s habitual attitudes, convictions and concerns. It can begin to see the depths and we can then, perhaps, find a valuable ring which has been dropped by accident from the boat and is lying at the bottom of the pool. This corresponds to the Atman supreme self, the pearl of great price in the parable of Jesus.

In an account of one of his pilgrimages in the high mountains of India, a teacher relates that there was a storm or avalanche which barred the way. He says they waited to see, in His own words, what the Absolute meant by this, and after a while they found a way round. So, when we are faced with difficulty, obstruction, obstacles and illness, we can remember the question: ‘What does the Absolute mean by this?’ And, if we meditate on it, we can find a constructive means by which we can go forward in accordance with the cosmic purpose.

In the case of the yogis they are not to think this is a mindless meaningless obstacle, but they are to find in it a purpose and then a way. It does not mean that when illness comes we are not to struggle with illness in pursuit of health, but it means that the recovery can never be complete. We can never have perfect health; we have to try to be calm and retain an evenness of mind, whether in illness or health. The yoga doctrine is that this increases the amount of sattva, not only in the individual, but also in the cosmic sphere, affecting the minds of others all over the world, generally unconsciously. They don’t know why, but they find there is a little breath of peace that comes to them, and this can help them in their conduct. In this way illness and other obstacles do not become wasted or harmful experiences, but become fruitful.

© Trevor Leggett