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Zen Master Dogen taught: “What different types of beings see is different. We should reflect on this. Is it that there are various ways of seeing a single object? Or is it that we have mistaken a variety of images for a single object? We should examine this question in detail, concentrate every effort on understanding it, and then concentrate even more. Given this multitude of perspectives, it follows that training on the way of practice and verification cannot be of one or two kinds, and the realm of ultimate reality must also have a thousand types and ten thousand kinds.”

So there are many ways in which to view water. Water can help or destroy depending on how much of it is being used. The balance of water’s use is an important idea here, and to remember the circumstances of water’s uses and perspectives are ever-changing.

Zen Master Dogen continues: “However, the various waters, which accord with the kinds of beings that see water, do not depend on mind, do not depend on body, do not arise from karma, are not self-reliant, and are not reliant upon others. Water, being dependent on water, is liberated.”

If one can move beyond all the perspectives of water, it can be truly seen for what it is and connect everything in our world. (Reference: Parabola Magazine Vol. 34 No. 2)

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The Jews saw water as a purification substance, but more often than not it was something to be feared. The flood in which only 8 people survived according to the book of Genesis, was God’s way of punishing the wicked and starting fresh with Noah and his wife, 3 sons and daughters-in-law along with one male and female of every animal in the Arc that God instructed Noah to build.

Later, when God is inflicting the 10 plagues upon Egypt, he has Moses turn the Nile River from water to blood. Also, the Exodus of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt back to their native land was accomplished by crossing the Red Sea while God parted it.

With the magnitude of power the Jews witnessed in these miraculous happenings, it is no surprise that water was seen as a fearful, powerful element. Still, water is used in the Old Testament as a means of salvation. Moses was saved from the Pharaoh’s decree to kill all Hebrew male babies when his mother made a basket of reeds and floated him down the Nile River in it. Later in Moses’ life, his people were indeed saved by passing through what must have been the terrifying walls of the parted Red Sea, and finally, while wandering in the desert with the Jews, God provided life-giving water from a rock that Moses struck with his staff.

It was also a tradition that Jewish translators would wash their hands and pray to God before doing their work to translate the Torah from Hebrew to Greek. Furthermore, the washing of another’s feet was seen as an act of service, to clean off all the dirt and whatever else collected during the days of walking with no shoes or only thin sandals. Water was ultimately symbolic of purification, removing all that is unholy, to the Jews. (Reference: Parabola Magazine Vol. 34 No. 2)

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The Bath of Venus

Ancient Greek society gave honor to the bath time ritual. They had stories of the female gods bathing, such as Artemis in the forest waters, Hera retrieving her virginity in a spring, and Aphrodite (Venus) enriched in cleansing waters. The Greeks had statues of Venus removing clothes, removing jewelry, and getting into or out of her bath.

Our bathing rituals could stem from the example of Venus, washing our hair, using a mirror to restore our appearance, and just soaking in the bathtub. The soaking was seen as a spiritual practice of removing oneself from the pressures of the hectic world and simply renewing one’s feeling of peace. We have adapted to this by paying for massages and spa treatments, pedicures and manicures, etc. It has the same outcome: a renewed peaceful outlook on life and the current problems we are facing.

“When you take a bath, you soak your soul as well as your body.” Even the sound of running water is a part of the healing. Using fragrant oils was to Venus like a healing for the skin and spirit, awakening all the senses. Disrobing was Venus’ way of moving past shame into appreciation for the beauty of the human form.

Many people remodel and redecorate their bathrooms, realizing that this is the place where their soul feels renewed. Can you remember a time when you took a bath and it calmed your fears or helped you through a rough day? We may have trouble thinking of a time when a bath didn’t do those things! (Reference: Parabola Magazine Vol. 34 No. 2)

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A Lesson for Confucius

The Chinese religion or philosophy Taoism (founded by Lao Tzu) dates back to 600 B.C. Tao literally means “the way”. It can refer to the way a person lives their life, and also the way of the Cosmos.

Taoists believe that the goal of life is to be true to oneself. Apparently there was a divide between Taoism and Confucianism, the former being for the individual with several symbols and meanings in life, while the latter was for society and rooted in the scholar’s thoughts. “Confusius’ ideal for man is the carved jade—the cultured person whose character is formed as a work of art; Lao Tzu’s ideal is the uncarved block—the natural man."

In a story by Chuang Tzu, a man who was considered the second greatest Tao teacher, Confucius learns from a humble man swimming in a river. It takes place on a nice day where one of Confucius’ students takes him and the other students to see a great waterfall with dangerous currents. They arrive to find a man tumbling under the massive waterfall. Confucius sends his students running to try and save the man from impending death. However, when they get to the shore the man is leaving the river in one piece. Confucius asked him how he did it without drowning:

“Well…I’ve never really thought about it. If I have to explain it, I’d say that when the currents throw me this way or that, I let them. If they pull me down, I dive with them. And I know that when I reach the bottom the current will shoot me up again. I wait for that moment, and when it happens I swim with it.” “So you work with the water and don’t just let it have its way with you?” “That’s correct, Master. Although the currents are very powerful, they’re sort of like a friend I’m familiar with, that I’ve gotten to know over many years. So I can sense what they’re going to do and I adjust to their movements.”

The lesson provided by Tzu’s story was meant to reflect that swimming against the current, whether in water or life’s decisions, can result in feeling overwhelmed and helpless. According to this tale, swimming with the current is accepting the natural order of the Cosmos and therefore a much easier, yet deeper outcome will result. (Reference: Parabola Magazine Vol. 34 No.

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India’s Ayurvedic Water Beliefs

The Vedic culture started out near the Saraswati River and grew to the Ganges River. The sage Kananda had the theory that there are nine substances in the universe: space, air, fire, water, earth, mind, soul, time and direction. From five of these were discovered the three constitutions. Vata is space and air, or movement. Pitta is fire and water, or metabolism. Kapha is earth and water, or stability. When in equilibrium, these three constitutions or doshas are able to perfectly balance each other:

Life depends on water’s constancy. The ability of water to absorb large amounts of energy buffers photosynthesis in cytoplasm and the transfer of oxygen in animal blood from chaotic flux; moderates the Earth’s climate by using oceans and lakes for heat storage; eases seasonal change and our bodies’ adaptation to it by slowing, without shocks, the change of weather; and protects plants like cacti from boiling under desert skies, Most of all, water’s specific heat, heat of vaporization and heat of fusion give life its ability to maintain in hard times. Without these molecular traits, climatic extremes would turn living creatures over to their Maker at unprecedented rates.

Most water found on Earth is too salty to drink. It's been suggested that we need 2.5 liters per day. Water is what keeps us all alive and makes up over 60% of our bodies. It lubricates every part of us to keep the balance between all three doshas. The Ayurvedic goal is to keep Vata, Pitta and Kapha equal in the body for ultimate health. (Reference: Parabola Magazine Vol. 34 No. 2)

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