The Muddy River - on Meditation

The Muddy River - on Meditation

Jan 07, 2022

Picture: The muddy river, Nevada. Taken from Google.

In a Sunday morning dharma talk, one of my Zen teachers told of a well-known story that I had never heard before about Buddha and one of his monks.

It went something like this...
One day Buddha asked one of his monks to go to the river and fetch him some water.

The monk went down to the river only to find that it was muddy, not running clear. He returned to Buddha and told him, "Master, I went to fetch you some water and the river is muddy, not running clear, not good drinking water." The Buddha nodded and asked of his monk to return to the river and fetch the clear water. The monk nodded and returned.

When the monk returned to the river it was indeed still muddy, not running clear. He dipped in his water vessel a couple times to test the water and it continued to be mucky, particles floating around, could not see through it. He waited and waited until eventually It seemed the mud had settled and he was able to fetch some clear water. Upon doing this, he returned to the Buddha.

"Master, I have brought you clean drinking water from the river." He approached the Buddha and gave him the water vessel filled with clean river water. "Ah, thank you," the Buddha said as he took a sip, "Please tell me, monk, what did you do in order to get the water clear again?" 

"I did nothing, Master. All I did was sit and wait for the mud and dirt to settle."

"That is exactly how you should approach your meditation practice," said the Buddha.


As my zen teacher, Yoshin David Radin, continued he supported the story. He says people want to come to meditation for enlightenment, they think it will help them get out of a stressed out state, yet they come and they sit and they realize that they are in the midst of muddy waters. There is nothing to do here except be in it, wait for it to clear. This takes great patience and acceptance. 

I personally love this analogy because there are several times where I sit zazen (meditation) and for my first 20 to 30 minutes and my mind is racing all kinds of thoughts, feelings, reminders, narratives. Then, as is tradition in Zen, we go for a 10-minute walking meditation (khin-hin) and upon returning back to my meditation cushion for zazen again, I find that my mind has settled. Meditation allows me to sift through the layers of my mind. Meditation has helped me to not just realize but experience that I am not my thoughts, I am the one who thinks them.

You too are consciousness, the Universe, experiencing itself. We are but particles, stardust, infinite energy that has come together and taken this form. What an experience we get for just a blip of time. From this perspective, isn't it important to figure out how to let the mud settle? Or would you prefer to live this short, awe-striking existence covered in muck? No one wants to, dear friend. 

We all have the ability to learn how to let our mud settle. Some of us are born deep in the mud and it will be a lot more challenging to work our way out. I'm not saying meditation is the path for everyone, in fact absolutely not. I am saying that I hope you find it within yourself to know that you can make big changes, no matter where you came from.


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