Deep in the remote mountains lives a renowned wise old man, whose insights into the meaning of life draw visitors from far and wide. Among them is a young man eager to transform his life. After traversing rugged terrain for days, he finally arrives at the modest dwelling of the wise old man.
“I’m tired of what I’m doing,” the young man confides, his eagerness palpable. “Is there a better path for me to follow, sir?” he asks the wise old man.
The old man doesn’t respond directly. Instead, he poses a cryptic question: “Can you tell me the shape of water?”
Puzzled, the young man furrows his brow. “The shape of water? But water doesn’t have a shape,” he replies.
The old man pulls out a cup and fills it with water. The young man watches with interest, curious about what the wise old man is trying to teach him. “Ah, I see now!” the young man exclaims. “Water takes the shape of a cup!”
The old man nods and pours the water into a vase. The young man’s certainty falters. “… so water is in the shape of the vase?” he asks, feeling uncertain.
The old man remains silent as he pours the water onto the sandy ground. The water quickly disappears into the sand, leaving no trace behind. The young man contemplates what he has just witnessed and realizes, “Water has no shape of its own, but it can take on any shape.”
The wise old man then leads the young man to a corner outside the house. Pointing to a hole in the ground, he asks, “What do you see on the ground?”
The young man observes carefully and replies, “It’s a hole that was formed by drips from the roof.”
“Exactly,” the old man affirms. “To navigate the ever-changing world, you must be as pliable and adaptable as water. It allows you to stay close to any situation you find yourself in, and that’s the only way to truly understand what it has in store for you. Only then can you change your destiny.”
It leads the young man to ponder further.
“If you can cultivate the persistence of water, nothing can stop you,” the wise old man remarks. “Water may be soft, but it can penetrate even the hardest of rocks. This is the Tao.”
The young man reflects on these words and realizes why he has been feeling stuck in his life. He has been unwilling to accept reality and participate fully in life. How can he change his life if he refuses to engage with it?
Thanks to the wise old man’s insights, the young man begins to see life in a new light. He learns to be like water, soft and yielding, able to take on any shape and stay close to reality. With focus and consistency, he becomes persistent like water, able to overcome obstacles and meet life’s challenges with courage.
Tao Te Ching Water Quotes
Like Lao Tzu says,
“The softest of all things drive the hardest of all things.
The non-substance penetrates the non-crevice.
Hence, I know the value of action without striving.
Teaching of non-words,
Benefits of non-actions,
Rarely are they outstripped in the universal.”