This excerpt from no death, No Fear, No Death by Thich Nhat Hanh is an allegory for our lives as we meander our way to source, absorbed in attachment to evanescent forms.
There is a little stream that comes from a mountain spring. It is very small and young and wants to reach the sea as quickly as possible. It does not know how to dwell peacefully in the present moment. It is in a hurry because it is so young…so it flows down the mountain, reaches the plains and becomes a river.
As a river it has to go more slowly. This is irritating because it is afraid that it will never get to the sea. But since it is forced to go more slowly, its waters become more still. Its surface begins to reflect the clouds in the sky – pink clouds, silver clouds, and white clouds. There are so many wonderful shapes. All day it follows the clouds. It becomes attached to the beautiful clouds. So the river suffers because the clouds are impermanent. They are always moving with the wind, leaving the river to go off somewhere else. How the river suffers! The river tries over and over to hold on to the clouds. It is sad that the clouds will not stay with it and stand still. One day a stormy wind blew all the clouds away. The vault of the sky was very clear blue and empty. How the river despaired. It no longer had a cloud to follow. There was not a cloud in the sky. The vast expanse of blue brought despair into the river’s heart. “What is there to live for without the clouds….without my beloved one?” The river wanted to die, but how could a river kill itself? All night long it wept.
That night the river had a chance to listen to itself crying. The sound of its weeping was the sound of its own waves lapping on the shore. When it was able to come back to itself and hear its own crying, it had a very wonderful insight. It realised that its nature was also the nature of the cloud. It was the cloud. The cloud that lay in the depth of its own being. Just like the river, the cloud was grounded in water. The cloud was made of water. ‘So why’, the river thought ‘do I have to run after the cloud? I only have to run after the cloud if I am not the cloud’. That night of utter loneliness and depression helped the river to wake up….
That morning the blue emptiness of the sky, which had made the river feel so lonely, was now something new and very wonderful, clear and bright. The blueness of the sky was reflecting the newfound freedom and innocence of the river. It knew that the vault of the sky was the home of all the clouds and no cloud could exist outside the vault of the sky. The river understood that the nature of the cloud was not to arrive and not to depart…
The river had another insight that morning. It saw the no-birth, no-death nature of the sky. This made the river very peaceful and quiet. It began to welcome and reflect the sky…Now the sky was always there for the river, day and night. Before, the river had not wanted to be in touch with the true nature of things. It had been in touch with change, with birth and death….
That afternoon when the clouds came back, the river was no longer attached to any particular one of them…It smiled at every cloud as it passed. It welcomed and loved every cloud. Now the river felt the special joy of equanimity…The river was free. It did not feel it even needed to run to the sea anymore. That night a full moon rose and shone into the depths of the river. The moon, the river, and the water practised meditation together. The river enjoyed the present moment in freedom. It was liberated from all sorrow.
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