Can You See the River?

“Can you see the river?” the master asked. “Of course,” the student said, “the river is right in front of me!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” the student said, “I am sure. I see the river. I hear the river. I can touch the water and feel it cool on my hand.”

“Can you really?” the master insisted, “do you see the many springs up in the mountains, as they give birth to this river? Do you see, where the river joins the ocean?”

The students shook his head. “No, I do not,” he admitted, “so should I say that I cannot see the river, even though I am standing right in front of it? Should I always say that I see only a part of the river?”

“No, no,” the master laughed, “people would think that you are silly! Tell them that you see the river, yet still be aware of all the parts you cannot see.”

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov

Photo by
Igor Ovsyannykov

In everyday interactions, when we talk to other people, we make assumptions about many facts we cannot see. I assume a bread is a bread, not just a crust, although I cannot see its inside. We need to trust our experience, our concepts, and other people, or we will go crazy. When I see a head and two hands sticking out of a set of clothes, I assume that there is a human inside the clothes – any other assumption about the content of the clothes should be left in the realm of scary stories.

Yet still, stay aware that at any given time you know and see only a fragment of what there is to know and see. In the morning, when you see light falling through the window sills, you assume that the sun is rising. Likely, you are right. But only fools and kings, who are about to lose their kingdom, believe that they know.