उदशराव आत्मानमवेक्ष्य यदात्मनो न विजानीथस्तन्मे प्रब्रूतमिति तौ होदशरावेऽवेक्षांचक्राते तौ ह प्रजापतिरुवाच किं पश्यथ इति तौ होचतुः सर्वमेवेदमावां भगव आत्मानं पश्याव आ लोमभ्यः आ नखेभ्यः प्रतिरूपमिति ॥ ८.८.१ ॥
udaśarāva ātmānamavekṣya yadātmano na vijānīthastanme prabrūtamiti tau hodaśarāve’vekṣāṃcakrāte tau ha prajāpatiruvāca kiṃ paśyatha iti tau hocatuḥ sarvamevedamāvāṃ bhagava ātmānaṃ paśyāva ā lomabhyaḥ ā nakhebhyaḥ pratirūpamiti || 8.8.1 ||
1. [Prajāpati said:] ‘Look at yourselves in a vessel full of water. If you have any doubts about the Self then let me know.’ They then looked at themselves in the water, and Prajāpati asked, ‘What do you see?’ They replied, ‘We see the reflection of our whole self, including even our hair and nails’.
Udaśarāve ātmānam avekṣya, look at yourself in a vessel filled with water; yat ātmanaḥ na vijānīthaḥ, what you do not understand about the Self; tat me prabrūtam iti, tell me what it is; tau ha udaśarāve avekṣāñcakrāte, [then] they looked [at themselves] in the water; tau ha prajāpatiḥ uvāca, Prajāpati said to them; kim paśyathaḥ iti, what do you see; tau ha ucatuḥ, the two of them said; āvām, we both; bhagavaḥ, Lord; sarvam eva idam ātmānam paśyāvaḥ, see the whole of our self; pratirūpam, a reflection; ālomabhyaḥ, from the hair; ānakhebhyaḥ, to the nails.
Prajāpati told them to bring a pan of water. They brought it, and he said: ‘Look in the water. What do you see? If you have any doubt, if it is not clear to you exactly what I mean when I say the Self is in the water, then ask me.’ A kind teacher is always ready to answer any question that a student may put. But instead of thinking and questioning, they simply said they saw the reflection of their own bodies—to the hair and the nails. When they even included the hair and nails, it should have been obvious to them that this could not be the Self.
In the Vedānta philosophy there is the illustration of the pole-star. How do you show someone the pole-star? First you draw that person’s attention to a tree. Then you point to a big branch of the tree, and then to a smaller branch, and then to the pole-star beyond that. So you take the person step by step. This is what Prajāpati is trying to do. He is not trying to mislead them, but to take them from where they are, one step at a time.