The River Sutra, Lessons From the River

Nagas, Snakes in Hinduism

The Rivers symbolize life, duty, detachment, renunciation, divinity, purity, time, and sacrifice.

by Jayaram V

In Hinduism the rivers are considered sacred and worshipped as divinities. The rivers symbolize many things and aspects of life and creation. They represent the very movement of life and the forward motion of time. Human civilization and life upon earth have become possible because of rivers only. The rivers also symbolize the impermanence and change that are inherent in our existence. They also exemplify detachment, renunciation, duty, purity, sacrifice, and relationships. The rivers make possible diversity of forms upon earth and play an important role in the renewal and recycling of resources. The following are ten important facts about rivers and their correlation to human life.

1. The river does not stop for anything

Life too does not stop for anyone or anything. Opportunities that come once do not come again in the same manner as time and life both move on. So seize the moment and put it to best use.

Flowing river

2. The river is never the same

The river is born every moment. Heraclitus said that no one would cross the same river twice. So is with life. The continuity is an illusion as we gloss over the facts. You do not live the same life twice. Things change. Circumstances change. And so are you. You are not the same person day after day. You keep changing as the world changes and circumstances. No one meets the same person twice. This is the fact of life.


3.The river finds its own way to fulfill its destiny.

Through twists and turns and through obstacles and narrow passes the river negotiates its way until it reaches its destined end. It moves on overcoming what it can and moving around what it cannot. Life does not always happen according to your expectation. When difficulties arise, you must know how to move on finding your way around your problems that are beyond your control. The river uses the gravity and the geography of the earth to its advantage. In life we must know how to use our circumstances to our advantage by aligning with them rather than resisting them or running away from them.

River and mountains

4. The river has its roots in heaven just as your life.

The river connects the heaven to the earth. It descends from heaven through rains, but it's course has to run upon earth and its duty is set here upon earth. So is the case with you and your life. You have to live upon earth and do your duty, although you belong to the heaven and descend from there into the mortal world to fulfill your role in creation. The rivers facilitate the journey of the souls to the heaven by washing away their sins and their rebirth, and so do you as your help others in the sacrifice of life and meet your obligations to God and others.

River thourhg a gorge

5. You can flow with the river or stagnate in it

Life is a river. Like a river, it has both movable and immovable parts. You can either flow with it, or choose to stagnate in it. In both cases you are responsible for the consequences. When you flow with it, you experience the currents of life and move forward, learning your lessons and improving from them. When you stagnate in it like a stone that is stuck in it, you let the waters of life polish you and wear you out. It is a long, painful, and passive process in which you let the forces of Nature mold and control your life and destiny.

River and pebbles

6. The river moves on and stops for none.

The river belongs to no one. It moves on and stops for none, while you may fall in love with it and build bridges across its waters, or a house on its banks, wishing to make it yours forever. Your life too does not truly belong to you. It is an illusion to believe that it is yours or that you can stay in the flow of life forever at any place or point in time. You keep changing in an ever changing world like a little whirlpool in the waters of life. Wise people know it and hence they swim on the surface of life and flow with it rather than becoming drowned in it.

River with a structure

7. The river is turbulent where the waters are shallow.

This is an important lesson you can learn from your life too. If you have the depth of knowledge, and understanding, your life will be calmer and smoother and you will have peace and serenity in your mind. If your life is turbulent, know that there is something shallow or superficial in you or about you. It may be lack of something, skills, truth, knowledge, ability, patience, tolerance, virtue, commitment, faith, honesty, trust, reason, intelligence, maturity, or sincerity. Sometimes, you may have all these but not the right place or circumstances for your actions. Whatever it is, find out and address it so that you may discern better solutions to the problems you face.

turbulent river

8. The river does not discriminate

The river does not discriminate and treats alike a fool as well as a seer. It carries whatever that flows with it according to its nature. It does not care who you are, to whom you are born, or to what caste or family you belong. All have the freedom to drink its waters, swim in it or die in it. Whatever fear or awe you may experience in its presence is your subjective experience. Same is with life. It gives you the same opportunities as it gives to others according to your nature, vision, fear or courage.

The river does not discriminate The snake river

9. The river represents the triple functions of Nature.

The river is a manifestation of Nature. It facilitates Nature's design as the creator, preserver and destroyer of life. In its pleasant aspect is life giving, life sustaining and living changing instrument of Nature. Wherever it flows, it nourishes the earth and brings to life whatever it touches. In its unpleasant aspect, it destroys life and carries away its remains.

River nourishes life

10. The river keeps nothing and chooses nothing

The river keeps nothing and accumulates nothing. It returns to the earth what belongs to the earth, and returns to the ocean what belongs to the ocean. It mirrors life that it touches and reflects the light of the Sun back to the heaven. It does not choose its course, direction, purpose or support, and flows according to the path laid out for it, changing its color and course according to the earth and gravity. It epitomizes renunciation, sacrifice, and detachment which are considered the highest virtues.

The river keeps nothing

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