The nun Chiyono studied for years, but was unable to find enlightenment. One night, she was carrying an old pail filled with water. As she was walking along, she was watching the full moon reflected in the pail of water. Suddenly, the bamboo strips that held the pail together broke, and the pail fell apart. The water rushed out; The moon’s reflection disappeared – and Chiyono became enlightened. She wrote this verse : This way and that way I tried to keep the pail together, hoping the weak bamboo would never break. Suddenly the bottom fell out. No more water; No more moon in the water – emptiness in my hand.
This is a zen koan that holds many lessons for attaining the Samadhi state described by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. This is the ultimate stage of yoga – enlightenment – where the meditator comes to realize an interconnectedness with all living things and a profound connection to the Divine.
In this koan, the nun studied for years without reaching her goal of enlightenment. Yet she perseveres. In here we see that discipline is necessary for the seeker to stay on the path, yet accumulation of knowledge is insufficient to achieve a breakthrough. Enlightenment is not about knowing, but it is about being. It is becoming aware of one’s true Self and the answer can only be found through the exploration of one’s internal landscape.
The old pail symbolizes one’s Mind and Thoughts are the water. We often try desperately to hold on to our thoughts, clinging to the beliefs and ideologies that keep them together. We think that what we see is of true value, like the moon reflected in the pail of water, not realizing that it is merely an illusion, a mere shadow of the true treasure that remains out of reach.
The Hindu philosopher Shankara tells us that all that we see is Maya – an illusion, falsely leading us to think that the self and the Universe is separate. This is because of the filters that we put on (our subjective thoughts) when we perceive reality. By piercing through the veil, metaphorically letting the bottom fall out, the nun attains enlightenment when she is able to experience reality directly, perceiving all points of view of reality at once, without focusing on any particular one. With emptiness in her hand, she is able to hold the Universe.
Jan-May, 200Hrs Weekend TTC