I would not venture to say what Life is; I would only say what Life is like.
Life begins like a nascent river flowing eastward, having emerged from ice and snow somewhere up high. Converging with many a rivulet to form a powerful torrent, he embarks on his downward dash, zigzagging by cliffs, flattening dunes and mounds, churning up sands and pebbles. He rushes along with joy, with confidence, with license. When blocked by rocks, he charges with rage, roaring, twirling and swirling, wave after wave, until finally clearing the imposing obstacles and continuing his journey on a light-hearted note. Sometimes he rolls quietly on leveled terrain through green grass in the setting sun, caressing fine sand, giving now and then a shy gaze at the bright peach blossoms on the banks, and singing softly while stepping gently into the romantic rhythm of this joyful leg of his voyage.
Sometimes he is caught in storms, with horrifying burst of thunder and lightning. Ripped by ferocious gales and beaten by punishing downpours, he becomes, for a time, ruffled and muddy, only to find himself refreshed and energize when embraced by the sunshine again. At calmer moments he is charmed by the clouds waltzing along the horizon at dusk, and smiling at him, and then by the arrival of the new moon, which sketches his silhouette, and bestows a touch of warmth in the midst of a chilly night. A yearning for a respite or slumber gnaws at him, but eventually gives way to the impetus to move on.
Finally one day the ocean leaps into his view from afar. Alas! He is at the end of his journey. So vast, so imposing, so bright, and yet so dark, the ocean is breath-taking and humbling! When she greets him solemnly, he lets himself drop into her massive arms, dissolved and naturalized, experiencing neither joy nor sorrow. Perhaps, one day he would again rise from the sea in the form of fine vapors and travels westward, to form again a river that would dash by cliffs, and look for peach blossoms on the banks. But I dare not say that’s the rebirth of his previous life, for I couldn’t bring myself to believe in an afterlife.
Life begins also like a young tree. He starts his journey underground where he gathers vitality and struggles to extend his tiny self to the snow above. When dew drops in early spring have moistened the soil, he musters his courage to push up, and out comes he! It doesn’t matter to him whether he happens to be on a level stretch of land, or on a rock, or on a wall, as long as he can see the sky when he looks up. Oh, he sees the sky! He’s thrilled! Eagerly, he stretches his tender leaves upwards, inhaling fresh air, basking in the sun, singing in the rain, dancing in the wind. He may be overshadowed and oppressed by the big trees towering over him, but empowered by his youthful vigor he manages to break free. Branching out strong, he positions himself squarely in the burning sun. When balmy spring breezes kiss him into full blossom, he finds himself surrounded by humming bees, fluttering butterflies, and chirping birds. He also hears orioles whistling, cuckoos crying, or owls hooting.
In his prime, his thick foliage spreads out like a colossal green cover, giving shake to budding flowers and young grass below. The abundant fruit he produces is so inexhaustibly rich and sweet, flavored by Mother Earth. Then comes the autumn wind in sharp gusts, turning his dark green color into many shades of red, yellow and orange. Standing in the autumn sun, he radiates a stately calmness, tinged not with an indulgence in the pride in his foregone blooming prowess or the bliss of sweet fruition, but rather with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. One day, winter’s bitter air bits off the last of his withered leaves and parched twigs. His roots wobbly and his trunk shaken, he leaves himself at the mercy of elements. When Mother Earth greets him solemnly, he collapses quietly into her massive arms, dissolved and naturalized, experiencing neither joy nor sorrow. Perhaps, someday he would again push up from underground, where he has been gathering vitality as a seed, to become a young tree again. Once again he would break free from the entanglements surrounding him, and once again he would be listening to orioles singing. But I dare not say that’s the rebirth of his previous life, for I couldn’t bring myself to believe in an afterlife.
The universe represents an all-encompassing life, in which we are but tiny breathing souls. While rivers and streams merge into the ocean, and fallen leaves return to where the roots are, we are no more than specks that join all that exits in the universe. However insignificant, and however seemingly negligible, the tiniest particles, by virtue of their never-ending motion, join forces to power the evolution of the universe. But we have to remember: all rivers or streams would not end up blending into the ocean, since those that do not flow would become stagnant; all seeds would not transform themselves into trees, since those that fail to grow would be reduced to empty hulls. Life is neither a joy forever, nor an ever-lasting woe, for the two shape each other and are mutually balancing, much in the same manner as a river is bound to wash against different banks, and a tree is destined to experience seasonal changes. In happiness we owe our thanks to Life, and in agony we are no less indebted to Life. Bliss is, needless to say, heartening, but who can claim that beauty is absent from pain and suffering? As an adage goes, “may there be enough clouds in your life to make a beautiful sunset”.