Something about the water element: I have talked a little about the earth element and we might well think that we are made of the earth element or that the earth element makes a large part of our world. We live in a materialist society, we say. But the water element is in many ways even more vital. I could go without solid food for several weeks, but one could only go without water, without liquid, for several days at most. So, the water element is more vital to our existential being even then the earth element.
Now, recently I was at the seaside, and I… it was a rocky shore in Brittany, and one day I was sitting on a big rock, much bigger than me, so, a big chunk of earth element under my bottom, looking out at the ocean, at the Atlantic Ocean. I think everybody quite naturally finds sitting looking at the ocean to be a kind of meditation – the waves role in, one after another, in a certain sense always the same endlessly, in another sense every single wave completely unique, never totally repeating. In they come, one after another, a vast body of water. What could make one feel more insignificant than sitting looking at the ocean? And yet, there is a kind of satisfaction, a certain release in being there with this huge powerful element, that roles in towards you that manifests a power, that is not one’s own, that is not under one’s control, that one can do absolutely nothing about. This is the water element.
Of course, there are traces of water element in oneself. There is phlegm and saliva and blood and urine and so on. And in my own case, I have to regularly take tablets to keep the blood flowing in an easy way through my body. There are certain circulation problems in my physical being and if these got to be too much, then my life would cease. So, I have a very palpable sense of how I am completely dependent upon this.
So, this sense of dependency, sense of gratitude is a very important spiritual exercise. Whatever one’s metaphysic, however one conceives it - perhaps one thinks the water element is a great god or one thinks it is a purely physical force and science can tell us all about it - it doesn’t make any difference: when you’re sitting on that rock looking out at the ocean, you have a palpable sense of your own insignificance, you have a certain release from the worries that one has (the gas bill one has to pay and so on). These seem to be a great deal less important when we’re sitting there looking at these “Forces of Nature”, as we would call them, doing their business, doing what they do, being completely unconcerned about ourselves, completely unconcerned about “me”.
So, the Buddha’s teaching about “This is not me. This is not mine. This is not myself” becomes palpable, whether one thinks intellectually about it or not, one experiences it, one feels it and the sense that I am just my body, just a tiny bit of this vast circulation of water: the ocean, the clouds, the rain that fall – I’m just somewhere in the middle of this big cycle. One might even say: a small fish in the big ocean.
This is how we are in this world and reflecting upon the elements gives us an important spiritual sense.
Thank you very much
Namo Amida Bu