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Essential Nature of Water

Saraha the Arrowmaker, one of the 84 Great Yogis of the Indo-Tibetan tradition, in his Queen Doha, advises practitioners that:

Only a holy guru can bring about the understanding That in Emptiness all diverse phenomena Are one and the same.  This supremely noble one is like the water unto swans.

Water is generally thought of as pure by its very nature, the essence of life and more precious to us than any other substance.  We can go a long time without food, but less than a week without water.  We are almost always thirsty, and Milarepa reminds us:

All the water and drink you've consumed
Through beginning-less time until now
Has failed to slake thirst or bring you contentment
Drink therefore this stream
Of enlightenment mind, fortunate ones. 

Tilopa, in the instruction known as "The Ganges Mahamudra," compares the mind to river water: 

"Allow the cloudy water of thought to clarify itself or to clear itself.  Do not attempt to stop or create appearances.  Leave them as they are.  If you are without acceptance and rejection of external appearances, all that appears and exists will be liberated as mudra.  ["mudra" here means, gesture or display]

~ Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche.  The Life of Tilopa and The Ganges Mahamudra. 



Good water, that is, water suitable for offerings, is traditionally considered to have 8 fine qualities.  It is delicious, cool, smooth, light, clear, pure, and harmful neither to throat nor stomach.  The Indian master Atisha, who visited Tibet in the eleventh century with far-reaching and profound effect, praised the water of that land saying that in simply appreciating its excellent qualities, it could be mentally offered joyfully to the Buddhas.  Also

Water can be easily and honestly obtained and when offering it one can imagine washing away the miserliness of all sentient beings. 

It was once a saying among Tibet people, that while Indians are clean outside, Tibetans are clean inside.  This was a dig at the fact that in India, a land in which water is liberally available, there are many purification rituals during the day in which water must be used.  For personal grooming Tibetans used other methods beside washing, often making do with dust or sand, and in winter, snow.

Buddhist shrines generally have seven bowls of water offerings set in a row before the main image.  That is because water can stand for all offerings.

For more about the shrine and the traditional offerings.

Saffron is sometimes added to the water, which contributes a golden hue and a slightly astringent taste. 

In the mythology of the world, water pays a supreme role.  Many deities are associated with it, and their names reflect this connection that evokes their role in dispensing fertility or prosperity of all kinds. The popular contemporary name Sara meaning flowing is related to that of Saraswati, a key goddess in Hinduism, who as White Tara also appears in the imagery of  Tibetan Buddhism.  The demise of the Indus Valley cities of Mohenjodara and Harappa is attributed to the drying up of the legendary Saraswati River. 

The Old Testament contains much about the distinctions between "the waters above and the waters below" and between salt and fresh water.  The Leto cycle of Greek myths is liberally "sprinkled" with references to water, both sweet and salt; both flowing and still.

The Ocean

From the Tibetan Cosmogony

In the beginning was voidness, a vast emptiness without cause, without end.  From this great voidness there arose gentle stirrings of wind, which after countless eons grew thicker and heavier, forming the mighty double thunderbolt sceptre of Dorje Gyatram. 

Dorje Gyatram created the clouds, which in turn created the rain. The rain fell for many years until the primeval ocean was formed. Then, all was calm, quiet, and peaceful; the ocean became clear as a mirror. 

However, the ocean is an aspect of our world which few inhabitants of Tibet ever get to actually see.  Knowledge of it is mainly through the mythology of the region and references in Buddhist scripture.  

"In the company of monks," Savannah Morning News, Jan. 19, 2003:

The dozen Tibetan [Drepung Loseling] monks that walked on the Tybee Island pier last Sunday morning had never seen an ocean before.

When they reached the end of the pier, they stopped for a moment. They glanced to the left, the right, and ahead toward the horizon, as far as their eyes could see. Then all 12 turned around and walked back to the van they had just climbed out of.

"What's wrong?" asked their escort, Murray Silver, who thought that showing the monks the ocean for the first time would be a momentous and special occasion.

One of them replied with a question: "Is it going to do anything different then [sic] it is now?"

Silver thought about it. "No," he said.

"Then we get it," the monk explained. "Let's go."

The ocean is the symbol of Profound, Extensive Wisdom and both titles, Dalai Lama and Gyalwa Karmapa, allude to it. The first is the word for ocean in Mongolian, the second is ocean in Tibetan.  In Tibet, the Dalai Lama is actually known as Gyalwa Rinpoche.

It is the source of the Pearl of Wisdom or Pill of Immortality that images of some deities may be seen holding with the fingertips, usually of the right hand.  The makara that was our emblem for Year of the Water Horse has churned up some of these pearls which we can see embedded in the waves at its tail.


India and other parts of South Asia experience a period of intense rains known as monsoon. In accordance with the instructions of the Buddha as set out in the Vinaya, or "rule", all monks and nuns are enjoined to return to the monastery during monsoon season.  It is sometimes said that one of the reasons for this is that many small living creatures are driven from their homes at that time, and when the road is muddy or completely flooded, we might inadvertently cause them harm.  

During this retreat time, the monks observe certain restrictions and engage in meditation and other special practices. Yarney is the Tibetan term for this period which runs for one and a half months -- from the 15th day of the 6th lunar month to the 30th day of the 7th lunar month.  ‘Sojong’ or confession is done by the sangha on two occasions during this time, and on  the evening of the 30th, the last day of the retreat, selected monks teach the Dharma to the local community.

At the end of July 2002 when flood waters covered 2/3rds of Bangladesh but made no seasonal appearance in other parts of the north Indian region, the Tibetan monks of the area assembled in the holy city of Varanasi (Benares) for mass prayers to propitiate the rain god.  These Mahamegha prayers were performed in Tibet during times of drought. 

  • A warm welcome to Monsoon, Dharamshala, 17 June 2003 (Tibet.Net)

    This summer has been exceptionally hot all over India, with the heat wave taking a heavy toll of lives of thousands of people.  Reports of delayed monsoon further exacerbated the situation with many looking out for ways to escape what one journalist has aptly described as 'the inferno'. For many of the well-to-do families, hill stations became the favourite destination to get some respite from the heat, but the poor peasants relied on spiritual miracles by invoking gods to call for the quick arrival of the monsoon rain.

    In Dharamsala, the prolonged spell of hot and dry summer has left many worried. Long dry summer means serious problems of water shortage. For the residents here, this remains the most worrisome issue. Through the years, with a certain change in the weather pattern, the availability of drinking water has decreased considerably. And this summer is no different. A cautionary letter has already been circulated by the Health Department of the Central Tibetan Administration to the staff to use water sensibly. 

In Mcleod Gunj, restaurant owners and the residents have started buying water on regular basis brought in tankers. With the dreadful thought of the glaciers (the source of water here) melting faster than usual and the discomfort of spending hot lazy days, people here, like in rest of the country, have of late started wishing for the monsoon to hit soon.

Till yesterday late afternoon 16 June, this seemed like a wishful thinking with the days continuing to be exceptionally hot and dry.  The first pre-monsoon shower occurred much to the relief and surprise of the people here. Four hours of pelting rain washed the whole hill town, cooling the air and bringing smile on everyone's face. Streams of gurgling muddy water flowed through every hole and crevice draining the whole place clean. When asked whether it is really the monsoon we are having, one beaming Tibetan bureaucrat responds quickly, "no doubt about that because the element of surprise is clearly there." He succinctly described Dharamsala's monsoon which is considered very unpredictable.

Now that this north westerly monsoon is here, its story will continue for the next few months. As a Chinese saying goes, "fish and guest start stinking
after three days," the monsoon too will see itself stinking and wished by the people never to have arrived. However, as of now, it is most needed and
warmly welcomed. Tashi Tsering who lives in Mcleod Gunj thinks his neighbours will now not have to wait in line for water in front of the public tap in the middle of the Mcleod Gunj street.

The Flood

A flood covering the entire world appears in a variety of different mythologies, not only in Judeo-Christianity.  In one of the Mesopotamian accounts of the deluge, the Sumerian sky god Enki, told Atrahasis to build a boat so that mankind would be saved from the great flood that would occur when it rained for days. In India, Manu the lawgiver saves humanity after a universal flood.  A similar theme appears in the mythologies of the New World.

Samsara -- worldly existence with its ties and obligations, desires and aversions -- is likened to a flood: waters raging out of bounds and out of control that can easily sweep us away.  In Buddhist literature, the Dharma is often compared to a raft that will swiftly and safely carry us across the flood to the farther shore that is the state of no further suffering, or Nirvana. 

Mahasiddha Ghantapada caused a flood when the king, his student, spilled an offering.

Does Water Respond to "Vibes"?

Emoto Masaru claims magnetic resonance imaging shows that the crystalline structure of water responds to verbal messages.  However, there has been "no replication by scientists, no control groups, and no publications in reputable peer reviewed scientific journals.”  Reputable researchers find his "discovery" to be complete balderdash.

  • See James Randi (who will give a certified cheque for one million dollars to anyone who can prove any such ideas.) 

To purchase Flim-flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions by James Randi.


Drepung Loseling monks: The small company was in Savannah, Georgia, to do an Akshobya ritual and mandala as a healing for violence plaguing that town.

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