The River and the Clouds
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Once upon a time there was a beautiful river finding her way among the hills, forests, and meadows. She began by being a joyful stream of water, a spring always dancing and singing as she ran down from the top of the mountain. She was very young at the time, and as she came to the lowland she slowed down. She was thinking about going to the ocean. As she grew up, she learned to look beautiful, winding gracefully among the hills and meadows.
One day she noticed the clouds within herself. Clouds of all sorts of colors and forms. She did nothing during these days but chase after clouds. She wanted to possess a cloud, to have one for herself. But clouds float and travel in the sky, and they are always changing their form. Sometimes they look like an overcoat, sometimes like a horse. Because of the nature of impermanence within the clouds, the river suffered very much. Her pleasure, her joy had become just chasing after clouds, one after another, but despair, anger,and hatred became her life.
Then one day a strong wind came and blew away all the clouds in the sky. The sky became completely empty. Our river thought that life was not worth living, for there were no longer any clouds to chase after. She wanted to die. “If there are no clouds, why should I be alive?” But how can a river take her own life?
That night the river had the opportunity to go back to herself for the first time. She had been running for so long after something outside of herself that she had never seen herself. That night was the first opportunity for her to hear her own crying, the sounds of water crashing against the banks of the river. Because she was able to listen to her own voice, she discovered something quite important.
She realized that what she had been looking for was already in herself. She found out that clouds are nothing but water. Clouds are born from water and will return to water. And she found out she herself was also water.
The next morning when the sun was in the sky, she discovered something beautiful. She saw the blue sky for the first time. She had never noticed it before. She had only been interested in clouds, and she had missed seeing the sky, which is the home of all the clouds. Clouds are impermanent, but the sky is stable. She realized that the immense sky had been within her heart since the very beginning. This great insight brought her peace and happiness. As she saw the vast wonderful blue sky, she knew that her peace and stability would never be lost again.
That afternoon the clouds returned, but this time she did not want to possess any of them. She could see the beauty of each cloud, and she was able to welcome all of them. When a cloud came by, she would greet him or her with loving-kindness. When the cloud wanted to go away, she would wave to him or her happily and with loving kindness. She realized that all clouds are her. She didn’t have to choose between the clouds and herself. Peace and harmony existed between her and the clouds.
That evening something wonderful happened. When she opened her heart completely to the evening sky she received the image of the full moon – beautiful, round, like a jewel within herself. She had never imagined that she could receive such a beautiful image. There is a very beautiful poem in Chinese: “The fresh and beautiful moon is travelling in the utmost empty sky. When the mind-rivers of living beings are free, that image of the beautiful moon will reflect in each of us.”
This was the mind of the river at that moment. She received the image of that beautiful moon within her heart, and water, clouds, and moon took each other’s hands and practiced walking meditation slowly, slowly to the ocean.
There is nothing to chase after. We can go back to ourselves, enjoy our breathing, our smiling, ourselves, and our beautiful environment.