Mountain or River?

There are two popular metaphors used to describe and talk about our spiritual journey. One is the mountain, the other the river. Well, which is it? It seems to me that I hear mountain more often. Some Buddhists, for example, talk about two paths--one going around the mountain in an upward spiral, the other going straight up the mountain, the fast but difficult way. Many other references in various traditions are made to climbing the mountain.

It is most likely that the use of the mountain metaphor arises in viewing the spiritual journey from the perspective of the limited, human self. From that point of view it certainly appears monumental. In the use of this image there is the implication that the journey requires struggle, difficulty, effort, and courage. It implies that there is something to be achieved or accomplished, something to be conquered. It gives a picture of a summit to be climbed, little by little, through our own efforts. It is as though we believe that by climbing high enough we can escape the earth. This metaphor inherently assumes that spiritual awakening is an accomplishment. It implies evolution and becoming. It suggests that there is a lengthy and arduous process requiring great skill and perseverance. All of this emphasis on the difficulty, struggle and achievement is what the "me" finds so necessary in order to "be somebody," to maintain its illusory existence. And, if we carefully examine this line of thinking, we find that it is but the self-mind's justification for delay and avoidance, another form of unwillingness. All efforting, all techniques of self-improvement, all seeking are but more attempts to make the ego real.

There is absolutely nothing the "me" can (or is even willing to) do to move even one millimeter closer to truth. All attempts of the ego-self to "become spiritual" are like a man jumping higher and higher trying to escape gravity. All movements of the self are away from truth. Truth is now. Truth is here. Nevertheless we run as fast as we can away from it even though we know, deep down, it is inevitable and inescapable. That is the root of the contradiction and misery of human existence.

Ultimately which is the more powerful, the mountain or the river? The river, of course. All mountains eventually crumble and are washed into the ocean. And, just to demonstrate the limitedness of our human perception, if the earth were reduced to the size of a bowling ball, it would be smoother than a bowling ball. Our so-called mountains are nothing. The highest is only 0.1% above mean sea level. This illustrates the ineffectiveness of our so-called personal "climb." Our situation is as if we had arisen out of the river and, now that we perceive ourselves separate from the river, we feel that if we enter into it we will surely drown. So we resist this process and continually try to build an island in the stream, some place of "safety." But for whom? From what? For the "me," the one who feels separate from the river (our Self) and, therefore, afraid of it.

The joke is, once we get to the top of the mountain, we still have to jump into the river and allow it to take us to the ocean. Somewhat paradoxically, the higher we climb by our own efforts, the shallower and more turbulent the river becomes, i.e., the more difficult the initial transition. But, the river knows where it is going, there is no need to push it. Flowing effortlessly, following always the path of least resistance, the river inexorably reaches the sea. Merely surrender, go with the flow. We are the river; it is our source and our real life. And yes, the "me" will not make the trip; it will be washed away in an ocean of joy.


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daan dehn