Over a thousand years ago a certain spiritual master expressed, perhaps in one of the most profound ways that any one has done so in the history of spirituality, many of the principles and obstacles we all face in our everyday and spiritual lives by famously declaring that ‘the water takes the shape of the container that contains it’. Deep reflections on this statement will no doubt bring ever deeper understandings for each of us and its applicability in many spheres, like the individual’s spiritual journey, or even our physical lives, and how we relate to one another or the outside world.
The container in this statement can be thought of as a symbolic reference to a receptacle or the corresponding receptivity of a person towards an issue, message, solution, or knowledge. So for example, if the container happens to be made of red glass, then the water inside will appear to be red, which has nothing to do with the real color of water which is a transparent colorless liquid. This ‘coloring of water’, can be viewed as a symbolic reference to the many misconceptions and preconceptions that exist in the mind of the observer, which has nothing to do with reality. There are often many sources of such misconceptions, like for example cultural and social beliefs, such as dogma and superstitions that color the reality behind the observations or experiences of a person.
It’s precisely these filters that often act as barriers to understanding people’s experiences, which then can become obstacles in conveying their experiences to others, no matter the source of the experiences. In order for a spiritual seeker to become clear of these filters, the seeker needs to evolve to the level of a gnostic rational scientist. In the sense that, just as a scientist conducts their experiments in a sterile laboratory, the seeker must initially clear their mind-set from all superstitions and dogma. As in this analogy, the laboratory for spiritual experiences is the physical body of the seeker, and the senses used for such observations are both the inner, and the outer senses of the person. Where the inner senses are a reference to the senses of the metaphysical dimension of each person that are activated during spiritual exercises, like deep meditation.
Otherwise, the experiences of the seeker can be colored, just as the colored glass colors the water it contains. Thus, the reality that is the basis of a seeker’s experiences, even though it is in actuality their true Self, can be covered and misunderstood. This is an issue that is often faced by all seekers who are interested in the comparative analysis of the spiritual experiences of different practitioners from different paths. As even though the spiritual journey, regardless of the path, has the same point of departure, destination, and many common way-stations, often when the seeker comes to describe their experiences, they tend to give it a color based on their culture, social or even religious background. That often has nothing to do with the essence of their experience, which invariably is a personal encounter with the different layers of their own consciousness or the phenomena that gives each person their ultimate sense of awareness, which is commonly referred to as the soul.
The journey is endless
The other aspect of the above-mentioned phrase that needs to be examined, is the capacity of the container. As the container in question is also a symbolic representation of the unique physical and metaphysical aptitudes which we all possess as human beings. Some of which are waiting to be discovered as a result of a person’s spiritual journey. However, what tends to happen is that a seeker makes judgements on their experiences, based on the capacity of their aptitudes, or based on the way-station they have arrived at. Not realizing that each seeker’s journey is an endless journey, and thus every observation, no matter the station from which the seeker is making it, is always a relative observation. All of us, regardless of our levels, are exploring the infinite. And thus even during the advanced stages of the journey, where the drop representing our individual consciousness is connected to the ocean of the Universal Consciousness, it nevertheless always remains the experience of a drop in relation to an infinite ocean.
Faced with this realty, the seeker’s only way forward is through their inner humility, and realization that no matter what their level, there are always others who are further along the path, thus making absolute remarks about a relative experience will only lead to a dangerous detour. For as Jesus famously said to his apostles: ‘The greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted .’ (Matthew 23:10-12)
Therefore, all spiritual seekers need to learn from these wise words by becoming aware of their inherent relativity and staying humble while they continue their inner journey. By keeping their humility and continuing their journey they will realize the actual capacity of their vessel also increases due to divine mercy. All of which should be viewed as the means by which the Higher Consciousness encourages each seeker to maintain their journey.
The point of Unity
Another important aspect of the phrase that needs to be examined is the water itself. Which by definition is a formless, transparent substance. This part of the phrase is a symbolic reference to the reality of our own essence, which is an invisible, formless reality. Therefore, the only way to understand this reality and experience it is it to move beyond our worldly obsession with forms like gender, race, creed etc. For as long as each of us are obsessed by form, we fail to understand and appreciate the underlying Unity that is running through each of us, and indeed the whole universe. Thus, as a seeker we must not only seek to experience this reality, but also help to act as a bridge to our society by lowering barriers that result from the over emphasis, or misuse of forms such as gender, race, and etc. We do this through sympathy and empathy, whilst at the same time trying to act as a positive fulcrum for equal opportunities that help to reduce these barriers through our efforts.
As all seekers who have realized their own essence invariably have a true respect for the whole creation based on the Unity that they see underlying the whole universe. Furthermore, it is the level of manifestation of this Reality within each form, that this Reality uses to express itself, that is the basis of their respect. For as Saadi the famous 13th century Sufi master famously said:
Human beings are members of a whole, In creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, Other members uneasy will remain. If you have no sympathy for human pain, The name of human being you cannot retain.
Saadi’s words are not only based on his own personal experience of the above-mentioned Unity, but also his personal appreciation of it through his own personal experiences. That is why this poem has very fittingly been placed within the halls of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.