The River 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
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 that she herself is 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 that 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.

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