On the sparkling surface of the blue-grey ocean near the Scottish coastline, a wave skimmed along under the mid-day sun. The wave enjoyed riding the currents and chatting with nearby waves as she cruised across the vast sea. One day, she spied something strange and menacing in the distance. A dark streak appeared on the horizon where before she had seen only water without end. Soon the muted shapes of craggy cliffs came into view on the shoreline stretching out ahead.
The wave had never seen land before. She stared at the rugged coast, with a mixture of fascination and fear. As she watched, wave after wave rushed towards the shore and dashed upon the rocks, leaving only wisps of white foam to wash up on the beach. Her fear turned to horror when she realised that she, together with all the other waves, was destined to die in the crashing surf ahead.
Terrified, she struggled with all her might to turn around and swim back towards the open sea. But it was no use. She was soon exhausted by her futile attempt as the relentless current pushed her closer and closer to the deadly rocks. Nearby were other waves that, to her amazement, seemed happy and unconcerned. She wandered if they had not seen the coastline ahead. She called out, "Hey, don’t you see the shore? Aren’t you afraid of dying?"
"Oh, don’t worry about the shore," a foolhardy wave replied. "It’s so far away. Besides, there’s nothing you can do. You might as well forget about it and enjoy life while you can."
The advice seemed foolish to her. The shore was fast approaching and death was certain. How could these waves be so naïve, so carefree even in the face of death, she wandered? Then she noticed their strained expressions and nervous laughs. She began to suspect that they too were fearful, but were trying hard not to think about the menacing shoreline ahead. They thought only to distract themselves, to hide from this grisly truth. But she could not subscribe to their delusion. "I wish I could pretend all is well," she thought, "but I can’t shut the awful truth from my mind. Besides, they can’t hide from the truth much longer."
She wandered if anyone had discovered a way to avoid dying on the rocks and began to ask the other waves whether they knew of any solution to this deadly dilemma. Most thought she was foolish. "Be practical," they said. "You must learn to accept your fate, however dreadful it is."
Desperately seeking help, she continued inquiring until she spotted a group of waves bowed in prayer. She approached them respectfully and asked, "Can you save me?" A solemn wave paused to address her. "O pitiful wave! You must live a pious and prayerful life. Then after you die, you will go to the glorious Great Ocean and enjoy eternal bliss."
"How can I know for certain I will go there?" she asked.
"If you believe what we believe," said the solemn wave, "if you follow our practices and embrace our doctrines, then you will certainly reach the Great Ocean."
Other groups of pious waves also congregated in the ocean. Some sang and chanted. Some performed elaborate rituals. All of them were determined to reach the Great Ocean. Each group was convinced that theirs was the only way to get there. The anxious wave, seeking comfort and hope, only found confusion. "I want to be saved," she lamented. "I want to go to the Great Ocean when I die. But I don’t know what to believe! What is the true way to get there?" she began to cry. The sight of the nearby shore filled her with fear. Time was running out.
A wise old wave travelling from a far-away sea happened to observe her anguish. The old wave looked at her, not with pity but with compassion and understanding. When she spotted the wise old wave, she noticed his peaceful expression and felt the contentment he somehow radiated even in the face of death. "Are you not afraid of dying?" she asked.
"No," he said calmly.
"Don’t you see that we will soon be thrown upon the rocks and die on the shore ahead?"
"Yes, I see," he replied.
"Then do you believe you will go to the Great Ocean after you die?"
"Maybe …. or maybe not."
Mystified by his evasiveness, she asked, "Then what do you believe?"
"Then why aren’t you afraid of dying?"
"Because I know I will not die."
Bewildered, she screamed, "Are you crazy? Of course you will die. We will all die. No one can survive the rocky shore ahead."
"Yes, that is true. All waves will certainly die on the shore," he said calmly.
"Then you, too will die," she insisted.
"I will not die because I am not a wave."
She began to wander if the old wave was a little crazy. "You certainly look like a wave," she said sarcastically.
"Yes, what you see is a wave. But there is more to you and me than waves generally think."
"What do you mean?"
Recalling his own desperation before meeting the revered one who so lovingly imparted the ancient wisdom to him. He began to explain, slowly and deliberately, "Waves are born, they live for some time, and when they reach the shore, they die. This is an undeniable fact about our lives. Yet this is not the whole truth. You say you are a wave, but are you not also water? Clearly, you are both wave and water. But which is the true you, your true self?"
He continued, "When you were born, you were a mere wavelet; now you are a full-grown wave. The wavelet and the wave are completely different, yet both are you. As a wavelet you were water. Now also you are water. In spite of your constantly changing form, you have always been water. Your essential nature, your true self is water alone."
"But," she interjected, "even if I am water, I am still going to die."
The old wave smiled reassuringly. "As you swelled from a tiny wavelet to your present size, the water which is your essence never changed. First you were water in the form of a wavelet; now you are water in the form of a full-grown wave. Even before you were born from the ocean, the water you are already existed. And when your present form is destroyed on the shore, as water you will continue to exist, utterly unchanged."
"So, my dear one, you were never born nor will you ever die... because you are water. What difference does it make whether your present form as a wave survives or not?"
She reflected on the old wave’s teachings. They seemed to resonate within. Somehow, their truth seemed obvious, self-evident. Then a cloud of doubt swept over her when she remembered her conversation with the pious wave. "What about the Great Ocean?" she asked. "How do I get there?"
"Water," the wise wave replied, "is the essence of you, of me, and every other wave in the ocean. Water pervades all. The Great Ocean, too, must certainly be pervaded by water. And the same water that pervades all, including the Great Ocean, is the water that is your essence. You need not go to the Great Ocean because it is already within you!"
These words stunned her like thunderclaps. She realised how misdirected her search had been. What she sought so desperately was already within her. All along, the seeker was the sought. Her fear and anxiety vanished. A peaceful stillness filled her completely. She surveyed the ocean and saw only water, in so many forms, large and small. She studied the old wave who had so patiently helped her and realised that she was the same water as he.
On the rocks of the Scottish coastline under a clear blue sky, the little wave was shattered into thousands of tiny droplets soaring high into the air, all brilliantly reflecting the sun as they fell in a graceful arc and disappeared into the pebbled beach. In the crushing surf, the wave surrendered her wave-ness, but remained forever as the water pervading all.
From a story first told by Swami Dayananda, Rishikesh, India.