Waterfalls are one of the basic motifs of Chinese landscape painting, from such painters of the
T'ang Dynasty as Wu Tao-tzu and Wang Wei, to those of the Sung Dynasty. In basic pairings,
the waterfall contrasts with the rock, MOUNTAIN and WATER, and yin and yang.
The downward movement of water alternates with the upward movement of the mountain,
the dynamism of the waterfall with the static properties of the rock. It is, and this coincides
with the teachings of C'an (Zen) Buddhism, the symbol of impermanence as opposed to changelessness.
The waterfall persists as an entity, but is never the same.
The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, had already noted this in the phenomenon of the stream.
Observing that in the same river it is never the same water flowing past, he provided the basis of the theories of the continuous evolution of beings and of the paradox of thought which claims to fix through rigid definition what is fluid. The drops of water which make up the waterfall are renewed each second, just like, according to Buddhism, the purely illusory components of manifestation.
The downward movement of the waterfall carries the same meaning as the downward direction
of heavenly activity, deriving from the still center, the Immutable, and displaying its infinite potentiality.
Still water would provide the image of motionless latency from which all manifestations derive and to which they will ultimately return. Thus Wang Wei painted his waterfall with a hanging cloud of spray,
a cloud which floats and from which water comes, the gleaming liquid spray passing and vanishing.
Waterfalls are also unharnessed elemental motion, the force-fields which one needs to master and control to one's spiritual benefit, something akin to the concerns of Tantrism.
This symbol is also that of permanence of form despite change of content. Mme Liliane Brion-Guerry observes that by a species of inner vision 'beyond the natural appearance of the waterfall, its symbolic meaning may be discovered as an emblem of continuous motion, and emblem of the world in which the elements change ceaselessly while its shape remains the same.'
The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols
This remarkable and wide-ranging book is an inventory of symbols and the symbolic imagination. The editors and their fifteen contributors are drawn from a variety of scholarly backgrounds—including anthropology, ethnology, psychotherapy and art history. This diversity of approach is responsible for the book's unique character, a reflection of the multiplicity of symbols and signs and the phenomenal range of possible interpretations they offer. This book draws together folklore, literary and artistic sources, and focuses on the symbolic dimension of every colour, number, sound, gesture, expression or character trait that has benefitted from symbolic interpretation. The conscious and unconscious minds are explored, desire and dreams are treated alongside the known and the chronicled. Extraordinary in its range and eclecticism, this dictionary was originally published in French as the Dictionnaire des Symboles, and it is regarded as the standard work on the subject.
This is a remarkable dictionary, exploring the vast and various symbols which abound in literature, religion, national identity and are found at the very heart of our dreams and sub-conscious. Compiled by an international team of experts, each entry is given its complete range of interpretations - sexual and spiritual, official and subversive, cultural and religious - to bring meaning and insight to the symbol.
This book provides six pages of in depth symbolism on the word 'soul' and
ZERO pages on the word 'Spirit'!