be like water meaning

Be Like Water —  Meaning of Success

be like water meaning

Once upon a time, there was a Taoist Master whom people came from far and wide to seek his advice on the meaning of life.

Among them was a disgruntled young man.  He trekked the mountain for days.  Finally he arrived at the Master’s humble abode to pay respect — and to find out how he could find success in life that had so far evaded him.

“How can I be successful, Sir?” humbly asked the man, eagerly awaiting an answer.

The Master was muted.  Instead of giving him an answer, he asked, “What’s the shape of water?”

The man was puzzled.  “The shape of water? But water has no shape!”

The Master took out a cup and filled it with water.

“Oh, I know it now!  Water is in the shape of a cup!”

The master shook his head.  Silently he decanted the water into a vase.

“Now I understand, water is in the shape of a vase!” exclaimed the man.

Saying not a word, the master poured the water onto the ground.  The ground is sandy, and the water vanished into the sand in no time.   The man pondered and said,  “So … water has no shape, and yet it can be in any shape.”

The master nodded his head and led the man to a corner outside the house.  Pointing to a hole in the ground he asked, “What do you see on the ground?”

“It is a hole, formed by drips from the roof,” said the man.

“Here you are!  If you want to deal with the ever-changing world, be as pliable and yielding as water,” said the master. “So that you can stay close to the reality.”

” You should, on the other hand, be as focused and consistent as water, so that you can penetrate a rock,” said the master, “This is Tao.”

Awestruck, the man thanked the master for the insight — that was about to change his life entirely.

Water can be in any shape, so it stays close to reality.  Water is focused and consistent, so it is strong enough to destroy resistance of a rock.

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.”

(Tao Te Ching Chapter43)


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  1. I have subscribed to your blog or whatever it is, thinking I’d get a daily Taoist thought of inspiration, but I have received zero communication. What is the point of joining if there is nothing that comes to my inbox? I can always go to your site and explore, but that is not what subscribing is supposed to be about.

    Thank you.

    Cherlyn Comer

    1. If asked a question, is not getting a response from someone still a response?

      Some times I find my children ask me a question and I just look at them to watch the answer dawn in their eyes while I smile knowing they will remember what they have figured out for themselves.

      They have found their way. And I was there to see it.

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