Man is Like a River- A Story

I think this tale relays an important message about growth, understanding, and about recognizing and responding to your own emotions, as well as the emotions of others (we are all human after all). I also think that regardless of what ideology, religion, belief system, or philosophy one adheres to, most people can recognize a decent moral when it is presented; as well as appreciate a plainly-told but compelling story.




Buddha was sitting under a tree talking to his disciples. A man came and spit on his

face. He wiped it off, and he asked the man, "What next? What do you want to say

next?" The man was a little puzzled because he himself never expected that when

you spit on somebody's face, he will ask, "What next?" He had had no such

experience in his past. He had insulted people and they had become angry and they

had reacted. Or if they were cowards and weaklings, they had smiled, trying to

bribe the man. But Buddha was like neither; he was not angry nor in any way

offended, nor in any way cowardly. But just matter-of-factly he said, "What next?"

There was no reaction on his part.

Buddha's disciples became angry, they reacted. His closest disciple, Ananda,

said, "This is too much, and we cannot tolerate it. You keep your teaching with

you, and we will just show this man that he cannot do what he has done. He has to

be punished for it. Otherwise everybody will start doing things like this."

Buddha said, "You keep silent. He has not offended me, but you are offending

me. He is new, a stranger. He must have heard from people something about me,

that 'this man is an atheist, a dangerous man who is throwing people off their track,

a revolutionary, a corrupter.' And he may have formed some idea, a notion of me.

He has not spit on me, he has spit on his notion, he has spit on his idea of me—

because he does not know me at all, so how can he spit on me?

"If you think on it deeply," Buddha said, "he has spit on his own mind. I am not part of

it, and I can see that this poor man must have something else to say because this is a way of

saying something—spitting is a way of saying something. There are moments when you feel

that language is impotent— in deep love, in intense anger, in hate, in prayer. There are

intense moments when language is impotent. Then you have to do something. When you are

in deep love and you kiss the person or embrace the person, what are you doing? You are

saying something. When you are angry, intensely angry, you hit the person, you spit on him,

you are saying something. I can understand him. He must have something more to say, that's

why I'm asking, 'What next?' "

The man was even more puzzled! And Buddha said to his disciples, "I am more

offended by you because you know me, and you have lived for years with me, and still you


Puzzled, confused, the man returned home. He could not sleep the whole night. When

you see a buddha, it is difficult, impossible, to sleep again the way you used to sleep before.

Again and again he was haunted by the experience. He could not explain it to himself, what

had happened. He was trembling all over and perspiring. He had never come across such a

man; he shattered his whole mind and his whole pattern, his whole past.

The next morning he was back there. He threw himself at Buddha's feet. Buddha asked

him again, "What next? This, too, is a way of saying something that cannot be said in lan-

guage. When you come and touch my feet, you are saying something that cannot be said

ordinarily, for which all words are a little narrow; it cannot be contained in them." Buddha said, "Look, Ananda, this man is again here, he is saying something. This man is a man

of deep emotions."

The man looked at Buddha and said, "Forgive me for what I did yesterday."

Buddha said, "Forgive? But I am not the same man to whom you did it. The

Ganges goes on flowing; it is never the same Ganges again. Every man is a river. The

man you spit upon is no longer here—I look just like him, but I am not the same, much

has happened in these twenty-four hours! The river has flowed so much. So I cannot

forgive you because I have no grudge against you.

"And you also are new. I can see you are not the same man who came yesterday

because that man was angry—he was anger! He spit, whereas you are bowing at my

feet, touching my feet—how can you be the same man? You are not the same man, so

let us forget about it. Those two people—the man who

spit, and the man on whom he spit—both are no

more. Come closer. Let us talk of something else."

This is response..



I forget now where I found this story. I only know that it is a Buddhist tale I stumbled across while looking into Eastern philosophy some time ago. 

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Comments (1)

  1. EricCharlesSmith

    Excellent. Similar to the Greek idea that man cannot step into the same river twice, for the river itself is always changing, as is the man. I particularly like the analysis that actions, positive and negative, are often statements about preconceived notions.

    July 11, 2012