An old Zen Master is approaching death. As he lies on his bed, tired but content, his students gather in a group outside his room. They are worried that his work is not done with. There are so many questions he has raised without offering resolution, that the students come to a decision. They send in the eldest among them, the one who has been studying with the Old Master the longest, to ask, finally, what the meaning of life is.
The student enters the darkened room and slowly kneels next to the old man.
"Master, please," he begins. "The students are wondering...You have lived such a long and peaceful life, and they want to know if you can pass along your final thought on the meaning of life."
The Old Master is quiet for a short while and then he speaks in a hushed whisper, so quiet that his eldest student must lean in to hear. "Tell them that life is like a river." The student nods and rises.
The students mull over the master's words of wisdom for a day, each trying to decipher the magic of the words, to no avail. They decide the next morning that the eldest student must go back and ask for clarification
Stepping back into the darkened room, and once again kneeling at the master's side, the student whispers,
"Master, I need to ask you again...The students are unclear. What does it mean, 'Life is like a river'?"
The Old Master doesn't open his eyes, breathes shallow, and is quiet for a long time. Finally he speaks, so quiet this time that the student must put his ear right up to the master's mouth, "OK, tell them that life is not like a river."