Dr Arbuthnot Thwaite of Oxford University was an incisive intellectual academic who had developed a formidable for being undefeated in debate. So when he heard that in Kyoto, Japan, there resided a Zen Master by the name of Hyakawa San, who also had a formidable reputation for being undefeated in debate, he was worried.
Being a stalwart fellow of competitive spirit, Arbuthnot found out where Hyakawa San’s next presentation was. He arrived in Japan, unbowed by his long flight, and after he had checked in to his hotel room, went immediately to the conference reception to enquire the whereabouts of Hyakawa San. The organizers told him that Hyakawa San was outside meditating by the side of a river that ran through the grounds.
Seemingly oblivious to his tranquil and elegant surroundings, Arbuthnot strode in determined fashion out into the grounds, until he saw Hyakawa San sitting cross-legged gazing into the river.
Arbuthnot’s spirits soared, his confidence abundant. “Excuse me,” he proclaimed. “Are you the Zen Master, Hyakawa San, who is undefeated in debate?”
Hyakawa San looked up from his contemplations, his hands lying calmly on his immaculate kimono, and smiled beatifically at Arbuthnot. “Hai! I am Hyakawa San.”
“Excellent!” said Arbuthnot. “Please allow me to introduce myself: I am Arbuthnot Thwaite at Oxford University. I, too, remain undefeated in debate.”
Arbuthnot said, “Hyakawa San, I am so pleased to find you here. It just so happens that I have prepared the introduction to a private debate that you and I might have to see which one of us would remain undefeated in a private competition.” He continued with earnest haste, “Coincidentally, the question I have prepared for you concerns the river. Are you willing, now, to engage me in this debate?”
“I would be delighted!” said Hyakawa San, with a respectful bow and a clear gaze.
Crouching down by the side of Hyakawa San, Arbuthnot released the defining question: “My dear Hyakawa San, this is my question: Is it possible to step into the same river twice?”
Hyakawa San turned his head away from Arbuthnot, stared into the river and remained silent for five or so minutes.
After this time, impatient for his victory, Arbuthnot said, “Come, Hyakawa San, enough for this prevarication, it’s time for your answer.”
Hyakawa San slowly turned and looked up with sadness in his face. “Ahh,” he sighed, “my esteemed opponent, is it possible that you do not know it is impossible to step into the same river even once?”
Do you get it? Why is it impossible to step into the same river once?
The truth is that the river is in constant change, and it has changed its form even before your toe breaks the surface of the water. In every second that passes, billions of molecules and atoms of water will pass by you. The light is changing constantly because each tiny ripple on the river’s surface will reflect the sun’s rays in completely different directions. The river is therefore not the same river that was there while you stood at the bank. It will have changed in billion-fold ways. With each second that passes, you are seeing many different rivers.
Similarly, in each second that passes, your life changes. Everything you have experienced to date has led to this moment, and that each moment impacts on the future – your future, the future of those people around you, and by implication the future of those you have never, and will never meet.
You can only remain constant by changing.
You can only stay where you are by moving.