Thou art to know that what thou beholdest yonder as a wide lake is, in truth, a plain like unto this, all bedight
with flowers. And likewise thou art to know that in the midst of that plain there standeth a castle of white marble and of ultramarine illuminated with
gold. But, lest mortal eyes should behold our dwelling-place, my sisters and I have caused it to be that this appearance as of a lake should extend all
over the castle so that it is entirely hidden from sight.
The Story of King Arthur and His Knights
Being mortally wounded, the noble Sir Pellias sank with pain and much lamentation to the very threshold of death. Gone to the world was he in consciousness, but before his spirit had passed over, he was approached by a pale lady all dressed in emerald green, with dark hair swaying around eyes as deep as the lake from whence she had come. She gave to him an elixir vitae which, when he drank it, made his body feel as light as air. His immortal soul dilated with pure joy and he rose from his couch with the desire to remain with his benefactress, who assured him, "It shall be as thou dost ask, for it was to that end that I have suffered thee nearly to die and have brought thee back unto life again."
In his renewed state Sir Pellias had become half-fey and half-human, having partly entered into another world. Readily accepting this, he proclaimed to the lady, "Thou hast given life unto me again. Now do I give that life unto thee forever." Thus it was that, after having followed a pale silver light in the forest which led to the plain of the fairy lake, Sir Gawain came upon him. There at its mist-bound shore Sir Pellias stood with the Lady of the Lake, and as he approached, the fearful Gawain trembled to see the face of his former adversary. It shone with a strange light and its expression was that of no ordinary man, but was fixed instead with a kindly though eerily remote smile. "Touch me not," Sir Pellias said, "for I am not as I was aforetime, being not all human but part fey." Whereupon he turned and disappeared into the lake, leaving the younger knight to marvel and recall that to just such a place had King Arthur come years before. Seeking the magical sword which rose from its swirling waters, the king had been warned by the same emerald-clad lady that no mortal man could cross the lake "saving in one way. Otherwise, he shall perish therein."
Shrouded in such enchanted mists, the lake has ever evoked a deep sense of awe in men. To the ancient Egyptians its hieroglyph symbolized the occult and mysterious. Even artificially constructed lakes, like that at the Temple of Amon at Karnak, were considered to represent the waters of Chaos over which the sun-god proceeded in his eternal boat. For many people water has always suggested a connection between the superficial and the profound, a transparent, fluidic mass which conceals and yet reveals the way to another world. The lake embodies this in its fearful depths as well as on its glittering surface. It is profoundly feminine, being the humid spawning place of monsters and magical female powers, and yet the image of self-contemplation, consciousness and revelation. Sitting beside a lake, one is calmed and led inexorably into a reflective state. But upon entering its waters, one slips into a bottomless realm where cold draughts rise up from unseen depths to curl like cloying tendrils around one's exposed and pathetically vulnerable body. In this fearful guise, the lake is a fatal abyss symbolizing and sometimes becoming the means of transition between life and oblivion, form and formlessness, solidity and fluidity. Lying, as it often does, far below the pure air of mountain heights, the lake can represent a low spirituality, a watery quagmire filled with death-giving life. One is not at all confident that such soggy depths could enshrine the soul's immortal castle or that one would wish to enter its fairy world. But Sir Pellias was a gentle and pure knight, and the lady to whom he gave his life also provided the sword of Arthur's spiritual victory. To enter into the domain of such a one would seem to represent more than merely becoming bewitched or floating in some limboed half-life between worlds. Perhaps there are lakes of clear vision as well as those that open into oblivion.
Certainly, there are many sorts of genii believed to dwell in and govern lakes. People everywhere have had traditions of "water masters", maidens or "lake mothers". And whilst tales of hapless youths drawn to watery graves by lacustrine nymphs can be found in many parts of the world, equally widespread is the notion that lakes are the source or resting place of gods. Goddesses of Norse myth often return to secret lakes, just as the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl is said to have ended a cycle of his manifestation by submerging into a sacred lake. The Indians of ancient Peru believed that the divine Inca came to them through the waters of Lake Titicaca, driven forth by an aquatic serpent from their other world. In considering this, one is reminded of the dragon pools of Chinese tradition or of the serpent Sesha Ananta, coiled in cyclic curves around the resting form of Vishnu-Narayana. One may think of Lake Superior (which the Algonquian Indians called Gitche Gumee) with its great thirteen-hundred-foot high Thunder Cape held to be the recumbent form of the Great Spirit, whose voice reverberated from its heights during storms.
Hiawatha embarked upon a great vision-quest at this lake and endured many trials and dangers to achieve his goal. Each in his own way, Arthur and Sir Pellias encountered the mystery of the lake: Arthur reached the sword in a boat with swan's wings, and Sir Pellias rode into the lake on his horse. In considering these examples one may imagine gliding across the astral wastes upon the wings of Kalahansa or directing back into dissolution the vital energy represented by the horse. Celtic lore taught that "those who want to return to the divine land must not dismount from their horses", a warning similar to the one related to the admonition against prematurely abandoning the raft in Buddhist tradition. It is significant that, had Sir Pellias pursued his adventures in a Greek context, he would, as a knight, have been called (hippotis) from ϊππος, or "horse". Perhaps in becoming the knight of the Lady of the Lake, he had become identified with that vital force which surges forth out of chaos from time to time and gives impelling energy to the great work of the world. But was the lake merely chaos or was it the divine land? Are some lakes capable of divulging their watery secrets to those on the threshold of greater understanding? In search of the answer, some intrepid souls have travelled great distances and endured enormous hardships to reach a lake reputed to have sublime and truly magical powers. Of all such sacred lakes in the world, perhaps the most fabled and revered is Lake Manasarova, whose name itself reveals something of the deeper reflective power attributed to it.
Around the turn of the century the Japanese monk Ekai Kawaguchi wandered the length of the Himalayas, having as one of his prime goals the most sacred of mountains and lakes. After months of difficult adventures, he sighted the holy Mount Kailas and soon after was looking down upon the clear, placid waters of Lake Manasarova, which appeared to him as a marvellously symmetrical mandala. In his diary he wrote that "the hunger and thirst, the perils of dashing stream and freezing blizzard, the pain of writhing under heavy burdens, the anxiety of wandering over trackless wilds, the exhaustion and the lacerations, all the troubles, and sufferings I had just come through, seemed like dust, which was washed away and purified by the spiritual waters of the lake; and thus I attained to the spiritual plane of Non-Ego, together with this scenery showing Its-Own-Reality".
According to the Puranas, Lake Manasarova was "formed in the mind of God". The story goes that the sons of Brahmā had performed austerities at Mount Kailas for twelve years with very little rain or water. In their distress they requested Brahmā to create for them a place to bathe while engaged in these devotions. In response, by a mental effort, Brahmā formed the holy lake of Manasa and the Rishis resumed their worship. The lake lying thus at the foot of Lord Shiva's abode, its sacred powers have been extolled since the days of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
The poet Kalidasa wrote that "when the earth of Manasarova touches anyone's body or when anyone bathes therein, he shall go to the paradise of Brahma, and he who drinks its waters shall go to the heaven of Shiva and shall be released from the sins of a hundred births". The pilgrim who succeeded in enduring the hardships of crossing the Himalayas was expected to follow the religious precepts laid down in the Puranas, namely that such a one should bathe there, pour libations to his ancestors, worship Mahadeva in the form of a royal swan, make parikrama of (circumambulate) the holy lake while gazing at Kailas, and bathe in all the neighbouring rivers.
Whilst only the Sutlej River now takes its actual source from Lake Manasarova, the Indus, Ravi, Ganga and Brahmaputra have all been believed, at one time or another, to have originated there, and even in modern times they arise in the general area, lending added sanctity to the lake itself. With the Gurla Mandhata Range rising beyond, a small stone lamasery at its turquoise shore, the lake has inspired even the secular visitor with reverence. In 1864 Thomas Webber described Manasarova as he beheld it from atop the Sutlej and Brahmaputra watershed as a "most brilliantly beautiful blue sea", and Sven Hedin later noted that the lake and sky shared the same ethereal value. In the light of such observations it is wonderful to reflect upon the fact that twenty million years ago the whole of the fifteen-hundred-mile Himalayan chain, including the great plateau of Tibet, lay at the bottom of the sea. Great long, parallel folds were then thrust up as the land mass that would become the Indian subcontinent pushed northward into the underside of Central Asia. The depressions between them were filled with alluvial silt, and rifts or pockets became the basins of lakes like Koko Nor, Baikal or Manasarova, all high and very clear reflectors of equally clear and depthless heavens.
Whatever the term used for it - the Latin lacus, the African nyanza, the Mongol nor, the English 'tarn' or the Celtic 'lough' - the critical factor distinguishing a lake is that it is completely surrounded by land, with no direct communication with the sea. It has been rather jocularly said that in their development, as with the serving of soup, two things were necessary: the bowl and its contents. Nor are the two invariably found together. Several different sorts of geophysical factors have produced the world's lakes. Tectonic action resulting in vast inland seas such as the Caspian and Aral can also produce crustal sags or rifts that become deep lakes like that of Baikal or Victoria. Volcanic activity can result in crater lakes, whilst extreme continental folding may yield pockets like that at Geneva. In the case of Titicaca, the whole lake basin was thrust bodily skyward by the upsurging Andes to its present elevation of 12,507 feet. Fluvial and glacial movement have, in places, carved out large depressions, such as the Canadian or Scandinavian shields, where lakes abound, including some as enormous as the Slave and Great Lakes. Of all of these, the largest by far is the Caspian Sea at 169,300 square miles, Lake Superior at 31,820 square miles being second in size. Next to these, Lake Baikal's 13,300 square miles seems small, but it is the size of Switzerland and five times deeper than Lake Superior. Called by the Tibetan and Mongol people Dalai Nor, or Holy Lake, it is beautiful, clear and cold. Over a mile deep, this appalling gulf is the most abysmal to be found on the land surface of the globe, and unlike most lakes, Baikal is tens of millions of years old, a vast aquarium (5,785 cubic miles of water) of archaic forms of life.
Very few lakes have mirrored the passing clouds for so many millions of years. Most date back to the glacial age or are more recent still, whilst the majority are dying; many thousands are already dead. Symbolically associating lakes with the mirror of the mind, one could see their relative duration as representing cycles of consciousness: some great, the majority smaller. Each does this in a unique way, for every lake has, as it were, a dramatic personality of its own. Some are sublime, others simply alluring, whilst still others fill the sensitive observer with foreboding and even at times a distinct impression of evil. Few things in Nature have the capacity to embody such qualities so forcefully. On the physical plane alone, each breathes air which circulates through its entire volume, causing highly distinctive pulsations, oscillations and tides. Over time, each lake models its own outline out of the surrounding basin, creating a subtle boundary giving shape to a miniature world. A wide variation in colours reflects their individual characters. Ranging from an almost colourless hue to yellow, pink, red, green, black, turquoise and deep blue, the several hundred thousand lakes of the world display a kaleidoscope of nutritive and reflective potential. Some, like the shallow green lakes of Kashmir, contain feeble currents in which grassy weeds unfurl in long, sinuous arabesques. Those of the Tibetan plateau take far less nutritive substance from their cold and awesomely barren environment and are often clear and deep blue. Among the tens of thousands of lakes in North America and Europe, these and every other sort of condition can be found mirrored within the individually unique microcosm of each limno-system.
Being individual entities, every lake responds slightly differently to the external environment. Because of this, a lake can be considered a climatic recording instrument. Depth, fetch, basin shape and exposure to the wind are internal factors, whilst air temperature, humidity and stability of air and wind are external. All of these variables come into play in the continual transfer of radiant energy within the system. Changes in the lake's heat content are determined by the algebraic sum of these radiation processes, evaporation and conduction into the atmosphere affecting the temperature of the lake in layers from the surface to its deepest depth. Except in cases where there is an extreme angle of incidence, water is easily penetrated by the shorter wave-lengths of solar radiation to a considerable depth, depending on its clarity. In return, only the very top layer of the lake emits long-wave radiation into the atmosphere. Being nearly opaque, any clouds above the lake are strongly absorbent of this long-wave radiation, which, as it increases with the water's temperature, augments the back-radiation from the clouds to the lake.
Evaporation from the lake's surface is the major means of heat loss, its rate depending upon the vapour pressure gradient across the skin of the air/water boundary. When water is colder than air, it cools the air, stabilizes it and reduces the wind action on the surface. One can more readily grasp the nature of how the limno-system works by observing its seasonable mode of exchange throughout an annual cycle. In a deep, temperate lake, spring witnesses the disappearance of ice, and the water, at about four degrees centigrade, is isothermal from surface to bottom. Incoming radiation from the sun mixes evenly at first, until surface temperature increases to a point where there is sufficient buoyancy to resist vertical mixing. As summer approaches, most of the heat is stored in the epilimnion layer, from whence evaporation and heat transference with the atmosphere take place, whilst below it the cooler water of the hypolimnion stabilizes. With autumn, the last evaporation begins to exceed radiation input, the lake cools and the thermocline separating the epilimnion from the hypolimnion begins to descend. Winds arise and mix the two layers, so that the lake tends to rebecome isothermal but with a higher temperature than in the spring. Cooling continues, with evaporation and increased unstable conditions of cool air overlying relatively warm water until, at about four degrees centigrade, the lake approaches an isothermal state. A winter drop to freezing temperatures produces a protective ice sheet which then shields the water from the wind and minimizes further loss of heat energy. The sedimentary basin returns to the water some of the heat it has absorbed during the summer and, together with a very limited solar radiation, gradually warms the water. With the breaking of the ice and the coming of spring, the whole cycle begins again.
In a balanced lacustrine ecosystem, a near equilibrium between production and destruction of organic matter as well as production and consumption of oxygen is maintained. Compared to a terrestrial ecosystem, that of a lake has a small biomass and a more complicated food web. It is more sensitive to change, and pollution of any kind results in a reduction in the diversity of trophic levels and a narrowing of the food chain, accompanied by unpredictable increases of bacterial and animal growth. In every lake solar energy is extracted by the phytoplankton and used to support a biological community. In this sense above all, it is a little world. But it is also a mirror of its environment, its system of energy flowing through interlocking cycles being profoundly affected by chemical and physical perturbations. Every stressful change increases the ratio of biotic energy flux to biomass. Nature responds by simplifying its ecostructure, by impairing negative feedback mechanisms and by accelerating nutrient cycles. Thus, a randomness of the system increases as its organization decreases.
Proliferation and changes in the composition of phytoplankton (despite corresponding increases in zooplankton density) cause a significant part of it to settle into the deeper water layers, where uncounterbalanced oxygen consumption and ultimate anaerobiosis drastically alter the fauna at the water-sediment interface, triggering an overall imbalance. In contrast to this, a natural lake comprising a non-perturbed ecosystem exposed to solar radiation can maintain a macroscopically constant composition, in which steady state an optimum in metabolic efficiency is attained.
Man has always possessed what may be called a limnetic drive. Some, whilst suggesting that this was prompted by something deeper than economic needs or a desire for recreation, have tried to explain it in terms of aesthetic attractions. But the effect of a lake on the human mind and soul is much greater than can be described by that feeble word. The desire to have a body of water nearby has prompted wonderful works, resulting in such beautiful man-made lakes as those in Rajasthan, in some of which float fairy-tale palaces to rival that described by the Lady of the Lake. If one sits at evening beneath an arabesque cupola suspended over the darkening flow, one's mind melts and becomes merged with the lake, reflecting the scattered rays of the setting sun. The soul's knowledge of the relationship between man and all of Nature is released, and a great peace surpassing the grasp of intellect settles within one's heart. The higher and clearer the lake, the greater its power to do this. As one stands at dawn on the edge of Panggong Tso Lake in the glacial rift area of Ladakh, a light breeze stirs the surface into little lapis lazuli waves, whose crests become gilded with the rising sun. The reflections of Karakoram peaks are drawn out in the larger swirls as inverted triangles of granite and snow. Across the water the opposite shoreline is lifted up by a mirage until, reaching the edge of some dry and ancient beach, it seems the ghost of lakes long gone. The breathing of this lake is fresh and pure, its cold layers bearing little vegetation to die and choke its basin. It is a mirror into which the mind is readily drawn to receive a broader picture of reality. In its water the past lies alongside the present and the above is mirrored below. Atomic particles float freely to shape images known only in other worlds, and long-forgotten memories surface to float for a moment beside embryos of ideation in their pre-natal state.
In such lakes people like the Navaho observed the sacred whirling arms of the swastika, made up of eight powerful Yei figures who instructed them in the mysteries of healing. Generations of Tibetan seers have meditated at the edges of many such holy lakes. In 1935, after the death of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, the Regent Reting Rinpoche went to Lhamo Lhatso lake to seek a sign that would enable him to locate the birthplace of the new fourteenth incarnation. Lying at an elevation of seventeen thousand feet, its oval-shaped basin is surrounded by massive peaks, around which the weather constantly shifts from sun to rain to hail to snow. Years before, the whereabouts of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama had been discovered there by means of a dramatic vision seen in the centre of its waters for a week by several hundred people, but on this occasion the Regent and his party split up, each to seek his own vision from different vantage points around the lake. As it happened, Reting Rinpoche alone witnessed the remarkable display of Tibetan letters indicating the place, the names and the pictures of a monastery with a turquoise-tiled house nearby.
Not every man can stand beside a lake and receive a vision, any more than can every lake throw one up. There must be certain perfections inherent in the mind of the seer, matched by the purity and receptive power of the lake, for this to occur. Both the mind and the lake must be as mirrors of the Self of all in order to reflect the loftiest and most universal visions. In the writings of Robert Crosbie several characteristics of the mind suggest the means by which human beings may perceive visions in communion with lakes. He noted that the mind, in taking the shape of the object it focusses upon, absorbs the characteristics of that thing. Being like a mirror, if the mind is covered with dust it will absorb and reflect a very distorted and dim shadow of what it sees. As spirit, with all its powers, still must act in accordance with the ideas present in the mind, the manifested progeny of human thought are often warped and crippled in their expression. The lake is also like a mirror opening to the pure spiritual energy of the sun. If it is cool and clear, in a state of optimum metabolic balance, it is capable of reflecting the essential and primordial action of spirit in matter. For the water of the microcosmic lake is analogous to the cosmic Hyle, the first primordial matter, freshly penetrated by the electric spark of Fohat. In its absolutely latent state this primordial matter is referred to as "the cold Virgin", a cool radiance which is colourless, formless and tasteless. But when awakened by Fohat it becomes the prolific "slime", the Hyle whose first born are the Akashic, the Ethereal, the Watery and the Fiery: the primal natures of the first Dhyan Chohans which, in the sensual world, are reflected as fire, air, water and earth.
Lakes of enormous depth unburdened by a vast organic load, such as Lake Baikal, are closer in nature to being a pure reflection in the world of the cool fire of the highest Akashic progeny of proto-matter. Those teeming with nutrients lend themselves to the cycle of death more rapidly and give dramatic expression in the world to the original prolific slime. Polluted lakes become breeding grounds of distortion and contamination. All the fabled monstrous births of the earliest Rounds in evolution are recapitulated in miniature within their fetid basins. They become sink-holes of ignorance and disharmony, reflecting only the darkness of death which teems in its activity beneath their surface. If such lakes have genii, they must be harbingers of pollution much to be feared, whilst the alluring lakes from whence the ethereal maid arises to tempt the passerby must surely be those dreaming pools which abound with living things and bask in petalled mist beneath the floating sky. Visions they may have to offer and magic swords as well, but they are tricky in their nature, dealing life and death with the same draught. Like the astral realm it mirrors, such a lake contains both evil and good. Only the seer of wisdom can discriminate accurately which is which. For good reason did Sir Gawain feel fear as he approached the fairy lake. He must have intuitively known that he was unprepared to discern the true nature of its potential power.
The lake by itself does not envision, nor would its genius ever appear, were it not for the presence of thinking man. But it is a reservoir capable of mirroring intelligence beyond what man can usually pluck from his own limited consciousness. It can reflect what man knows outside the limits of his finite awareness and cast up a vision which transcends the bonds of time and space and personal desires. It can mirror a deeper understanding of things stored in the higher astral yet unknown to worldly minds, and these sometimes may be imaged in the form of a human-like being who gestures and speaks and reveals what is known. Like the clear, unpolluted lake, the mind must become utterly pure in order to reflect the highest Akashic intelligence and perceive its presence in the world around. The human mind, which is continually affected by its environment, can easily become polluted, for it lies like a passive basin receiving the trickled effects of all that occurs around it. It needs depth and breadth and the subsequent ability to affect the climate around it to some degree. The mind that fully recognizes the radiant source of its existence is more receptive to its warming spiritual rays and freely and more fully participates in the transfer of radiant energy that operates within and through it to the other vestures. With purified concentration, channels reaching from the brain open to the astral body and from thence to the inner man, enabling that which is temporary to become a conscious part of the eternal. That this takes place within man is true, but one can see how the lake, in some cases, can play a connecting role in the process of opening the channels through the astral realm.
The mind, like the lake, has its own limno-systemic cycle. If it is deep and temperate, it emerges out of a winter's quietude full of cool, balanced thoughts which temper evenly the ways in which one perceives whatever develops. Governed by such a mind, one's actions would express a proportionality born of deep and dispassionate meditation between the highest and lowest levels of one's being. Later in the season, when the mind becomes more absorbed in the cares of the world, it tends to lose its isothermal condition and becomes increasingly stirred up and heated at its surface. A resistance to vertical mixing sets in, and it becomes more and more difficult to maintain the conscious connection between the deepest and the more surface levels. One is in danger of losing contact with the cool, undisturbed centre of one's being. With the autumn, the air over the lake becomes cooler than the water which destabilizes it, causing winds to arise. Just so does one disrupt the atmosphere and the affairs of others with an overheated mind. In Nature this is part of a repeating cycle with long-term beneficent effects, but in man such conditions are not meant to be expressed unchecked. Instead, the mind is to be taken in hand and guided wisely through its analogous cycles of involvement and withdrawal from the world. The external winds of change may clear the air and mix the layers of the mind's warm and cool waters just as it does with the lake in the autumn season, but the mixture in the mind must be consciously monitored so that only the purest reflections of solar truth are allowed to percolate throughout the whole.
A balanced use of the mind is very much like that of a lake's balanced ecosystem. The mind absorbs the rays of spiritual Teaching, causing a production of thoughts, longings, hopes, creative urges and potentials which must be put into a constructive and disinterested practice that is quite analogous to the destruction of organic matter and consumption of oxygen that must go on in the lake to counterbalance their production. If the right use of these Teachings is not enacted, a condition will evolve similar to that of the lake which is overburdened with organic growth to the point where the dying particles begin to clog its bottom, creating a growing anaerobic layer that will eventually pollute the entire system. When the mind opens itself to the pure spiritual energy of divine Teaching and is not directed by the higher will to instruct the thoughts and emotions, the sense-organs and deeds, the surrounding environment will become polluted. One's relations with others, one's interaction with all sorts of objects and elements as well as the subtle matter of one's own aura, will become clogged with distorted and unnatural thoughts and desires, the monstrous progeny of imbalance which will, in turn, pollute the mind that spawned them. For the conscious mind to work in harmony with a vast, universally interacting intelligence, it must establish within itself a harmonious equilibrium between the divine solar radiation that it takes in, the resultant growth it enjoys, and the digestion and transmutation of this through daily thought and action.
To achieve this calm and sublime balance is to become like the sacred Manasarova lying placid and pure at the foot of Lord Shiva's abode. All around, the peaks of Masters arise. Like a vast range of Adepts, they loom o'er this faithful mirror and, one by one, are reflected in its open and clear water. Pilgrims struggling over the high and rocky passes draw up, tired and worn, to its shore and rejoice in their hearts to see the reflections of such Great Ones shimmering there. Coolly and with a depth of patient meditation unfathomed, such a deeply pure and azure mind reflects the heavenly abode of its Lord, who rests as the Mahayogin on the peak of Mount Kailas. Centuries may pass and still this mind never ceases its worship, never ceases to mirror the universal meditation of its Lord, until a genius grows within it which is a pure reflection of his Divine Will. Weary pilgrims who brave all trials and persist long enough to reach the lofty fastness of this sacred and pure mind may come one day. As they approach the shores of its shimmering waters, a rich reward will greet them. For the Lady of that holy lake of mind will be seen there and her words and signs will transmit to them the arcane Teaching of her Lord on high, whose fiery instructions clothe themselves in her substance and whose word garbs itself in her speech. This Lady is worth following, not into the water of oblivion or to a castle of never-ending dreams, but to the altar of reflective worship that lies cool and pure at the feet of Mahadeva.