Images of water and light


...always learning
Reaction score
New Zealand
Hi everyone

I just came across this site today, and first up I want to just say it is so refreshing to see an active forum of people talking about belief, religion, spirituality - not just 'tolerance' for other religions, but curiosity for and interest in other beliefs. Its great!:)

Anyway, now to my point...

For my final semester at university (studying architecture), I have the opportunity to research and design some form of religious/ ritual building. I have always been interested in spirituality, brought up in a christian environment and family. So I feel I have a lot of resources from that viewpoint, but feel I lack knowledge on other religions.

It is a fairly open-ended project at this early stage. At this point I am particularly interested in imagery of water and light in religion and religious texts. I'm wondering if this symbology runs as a current within all/ many other relgions.

Can anyone give me any references/ books/ ideas?

I've always appreciated Japanese design, particularly their garden designs. Water and light both at least metaphorically have been used as comon themes throughout chan/zen buddhist history. There are a number of books out regardign zen gardens and even a recent 1 or 2 regarding the Japaneses zen design ethic in general, "wabi-sabi," I believe, though titles escape me for the present. Weclome aboard CR, Earl
Hi At_the_wellspring, and welcome to CR. :)

As for your question - I have to admit, one of the first buildings that comes to mind is the recent Baha'i temple project - think it's in South America, but I'll have to ask.
Thanks Earl and Brian for your replies :)

I think I'm going to start by looking up some other religious texts etc for imagery. What interests me is if the connotations are similar -

eg. in the bible:

light is created by God (Gen 1:3)
God is light (rev 22:5, 1 John 1:5)
looking towards God is like looking at light (Isiah 9:2)
then Jesus is the light (John 8:12)
Jesus' followers are light for the world (Matt 5;14) and
call people to the light
light reveals truth (Eph 5:13)
light penetrates into darkness
light guides the pathway (Ps 119:105)

then water has its connotations of being a source of life, cleansing and renewal, a gathering place of social, cultural, historical importance (the well)

So I guess I'm interested in water/ light passages in other religious texts.

I was talking yesterday to one of my tutors for this design project who is a Catholic Priest. I thought it was interesting what he said about common imagery between religions - that the imagery starts from a very common very 'human' element - water, light, bread, oil etc - something easily understood and experienced, which has come to have spiritual connotations as well, not exclusively in one religion.
Thanks again, and I'll keep you posted :)
I said:
Hi At_the_wellspring, and welcome to CR. :)

As for your question - I have to admit, one of the first buildings that comes to mind is the recent Baha'i temple project - think it's in South America, but I'll have to ask.

I apologise for my tardy reply...

I was on vacation a few days and just got back to my old keypad and antiquated browser... feels great!

There is an interactive site on the architectect's conception of the Temple in Chile at

The thread with the general topic is at

You can reach it by sarching for "House of Worship" under Baha'i topic.

There's a Lotus Temple near New Delhi India that is well liked and a new Temple being built as above in Santiago Chile.

Baha'i Temples are built from support of the world Baha'i community and architectural designs are carefully selected usually with local cultural influences in mind.

- Art

Hi,welcome! In Pure Land Buddhism,Amida Buddha is identified with light................."Immeasurable Light". Light is symbolic of wisdom, since the illumination by Immeasurable Light endows us with the ability to see delusions, both within and without.

Other names for Amida....................Unhindered Light, , Incomparable Light, Majestic Light, Unceasing Light, Light More Luminous than Sun and Moon, Improbalble Light, Indescribable Light, Inconceivable Light. As the Pure Land writer Taitetsu Unno says........"the principle characteristic of Immeasurable Light is that it takes in the foolish beings of blind passion without judgement or hesitation and transforms them into awakened beings endowed with wisdom.........As Amida declares.........."I can make bits of rubble change into gold"........all beyond our own calculation, "made to become so" in and of itself..............("for the earth bringeth forth fruits of herself" as one of the Parables of the Kingdom says)

Unno, in his discussion of the symbolism of Light in the Pure Land tradition, also quotes the great Hindu saint Rabindranath Tagore.....

"Light, my light, the world-filling light, the eye-kissing light, heart-sweeteniing light.

Ah, the light dances, my darling, at the centre of my life; the light strikes, my darling, the chords of my love; the sky opens, the wind runs wild, laughter passes over the earth.

The butterflies spread their sails on the sea of light. Lillies and jasmine surge up on the crest of the waves of light.

The light is shattered into gold on every cloud, my darling, and it scatters gems in profusion."

Shinran, the founder of Jodo Shin Shu, writes........

"The light of wisdom exceeds all measure,
And every finite being
Receives the illumination that is like the dawn,
So take refuge in Amida, the true and real light"

"Through the benefit of unhindered light,
We realize True Entrusting of vast, majestic virtues,
And the ice of our blind passions necessarily melts,
Immediately becoming the water of enlightenment"

(From Hymns of the Pure Land)

And finally,

"Although my eyes filled with blind passion
Cannot see the light that embraces me,
Great Compassion ceaselessly
Illuminates my darkness"

to reach the top of the mountain is to find the "light" .... I would recommend that you look at "domed" buildings and their spiritual significance .... even the native american "hogan" .... the "domed" buildings in my view represent the top of the mountain or the human head..... you may also want to do a search on "caves" as they relate to religious places because the "cave" represents the inner sanctum of the brain, the holy of holies. just some thought to share on this thread .... me ke aloha pumehana, pohaikawahine
Peace, pohaikawahine, and all,

Mahalo! For the wonderful conversation--

I was wondering--I hope this is not innapropriate--I understand that the top of the mountain is the light. And I think I understand water really well. Are there valleys?

My question is sincere, and I hope it does not detract from the discussion--

This thread started with the building of a church, or temple, or synagog .... a place of worship .... and concepts of "light" and "water" are keys .... "light" most of us understand is a reference to "enlightnment or spritual wisdom" and water is the flow of energy .... in the ancient hawaiian traditions it is called "kaaumoana" or the "ancient ocean" and is a metaphor for the flow of energy within the body and yes there are "valleys" because they are also metaphors. There are also rivers, streams and tunnels .... and most important the "tree of life" which is a metaphor for the human body .... water as a metaphor usually runs up the tree of life and "feeds" the mind .... in some cultures you will see stories of how the ocean came up through the trunk of a tree and brought fish to feed the people .... to "cast the net" to the right is to move to the right side of the brain .... remember that the "net" is a symbol for the veil or shroud that covers the brain, called the arachnoid (like the spider's net) .... at least these are my views on the matter .... he hawai'i au, pohaikawahine
Mahalo, pohaikawahine, for your reply. I do realize that "valleys" is not a term that is used in reference to architecture very often. However, while I am no architect, I do study art, and part of that study has included architecture. In one particular class, a student brought some related literature to present as support for a certain project--a design for a house of worship. The "valleys" were part of the suggested surrounding landscape, but philosophically or, I think, spiritually, were also part of the shadows that juxtaposed the light and somehow blended into and became sharper and more noticeable as one approached the house of light. Water was a part of the theme, as well. I think I have a copy of those writings somewhere--I will see if I can dig them out. I found them fascinating.

Also, thanks for the links Arthra--enjoyed that.