There was, once upon a time, a sage who dwelt alone somewhere in the forest. He lived there quietly, immersed in nature, not troubling much about the world, but from time to time visitors would come, seeking advice about their problems. The sage would listen attentively to whatever they had to say, but he seldom responded with any direct advice. Instead, he would meditate for a time, and then say something like, ‘Go and look at the stars in the night sky. Learn from them,’ or ‘The song of such a bird at dawn might have something to tell you,’ or ‘Listen to the wind in the leaves of such and such a tree – you could find an answer there.’
His visitors would go away and do as he suggested, and usually they did not return to the sage – which suited the sage very well, as he felt no need for company or conversation.
One day, though, he was visited by the minister of a king, who was deeply perplexed by some problem in his kingdom. ‘The king has asked for counsel. Many lives in our kingdom will depend upon what I tell him,’ said the minister, as he explained the problem to the sage. ‘I have never faced such a serious matter before.’
As he usually did, the sage closed his eyes in meditation. When he opened them, he said, ‘On the other side of the valley, there is a waterfall. Sit by the pool at the bottom of the cascade. Some guidance might come then.’
The minister thanked the sage and went away to find the waterfall, while the sage went on with his own affairs. Some time later, though, the minister reappeared.
Bowing deeply, he said, ‘I beg your honour’s permission to ask a second question. As your honour suggested, I went to the pool at the foot of the waterfall. Sitting quietly, embraced by the forest, my consciousness was permeated by the sound of falling water, and I passed into some unusual state. Then I placed my question before the waterfall, and instantly felt a response that ran through my entire body. When I think about that response, I interpret it this way…’ And the minister explained what he had understood.
There was a silence, and then the sage said, ‘Your second question?’
‘It is this: How can I trust this answer? So much depends on this, and what I have told you, what I think I heard, these are only my own words.’
The sage smiled. ‘Did you think the waterfall would write you a letter? Nature has no need for words. It is people who need them. So nature gave you guidance, but since you are in need to words, you had to add the words yourself.’