Necessary for all life to exist, water is present throughout many Buddhist traditions, stories, beliefs, and meditations. The Earth’s surface consists of nearly three-quarters water; the human body, or any living creature for that matter, is comprised or nearly as much. Every cell within the body requires water to survive and function. Our bodies require food and water to survive and the foods we consume required water to grow, such as fresh produce.
Essential for Life and Health
Health specialists recommend a minimum of eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day for maintaining hydration, and this need increases when environmental conditions force greater water-loss, such as high temperatures or increased activity levels. As little as a 2-percent drop in bodyweight from loss of water will present symptoms of dehydration including, but not limited to, decreased mental clarity, increased irritability, weakness, fatigue, difficulty focusing, dry eyes, dry mouth, and headache. When considering such symptoms, the need for water in Buddhism can take on added meaning.
Meditation, for example, can be very difficult for anyone; no matter how much experience the individual has with the practice. Throw in the dehydration factor and suddenly the practice of meditation becomes increasingly difficult. The mind is more chaotic. The individual feels more frustration with this mental chaos. The slightest interruption triggers irritable behaviors and speech, increasing tension in the body and mind. Fatigue sets in, along with a dull nagging headache. These things are challenging enough to deal with without even trying Buddhist meditation or striving to maintain Buddhist principles.
Now consider the water itself. Dogen Zenji, founding of Soto-Zen Buddhism, told of water and Enlightenment:
“Our attainment of Enlightenment is something like the reflection of the moon in the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water cleft apart. Though the light of the moon is vast and immense, it finds a home in water only a foot long and an inch wide. The whole moon and the whole sky find room enough in a single dewdrop, a single drop of water. And just as the moon does not cleave the water apart, so Enlightenment does not tear a man apart. Just as a dewdrop or drop of water offers no resistance to the moon in heaven, so man offers no obstacle to the full penetration of Enlightenment.”
There is a poem that speaks of two monkeys, both reaching to grab the moon reflected on water. The underlying premise is that students should be mindful and avoid trying to find truth in things that lack substance. At the same time, students should avoid trying to differentiate between delusions, in this case the moon reflected on the water, and Enlightenment. In typical, somewhat confusing, Zen tradition, real and unreal are one and the same so the moon reflected on the water is still the real moon.
The story of Chiyono, a Zen Buddhist nun, tells of her impression of the moon reflecting in a bucket of water. After filling the bucket and seeing the moon reflected in the water the bottom of the bucket broke and she comprised a poem having realized Enlightenment:
“Suddenly the bottom fell out
No more water
No more moon in the water
Emptiness in my hand.”
The Moon in the Water by Gwenn Boardman Petersen (1979; University Press of Hawaii).
A View on Buddhism: Zen Poems and Haiku – A Selection from a ‘non-zennist’
Zen Moon by Barbara O’Brien