“If you are quiet enough, you will hear the flow of the universe. You will feel its rhythm. Go with this flow. Happiness lies ahead. Meditation is key.”

If you are quiet enough, you will hear the flow of the universe

No, this is not the Buddha:

If you are quiet enough, you will hear the flow of the universe. You will feel its rhythm. Go with this flow. Happiness lies ahead. Meditation is key.

I have absolutely no idea where this one originates from. It seems to be quite recent, and hasn’t made its way into any books that are indexed by Google Books (one of my main research tools).

It’s on a number of websites, and graphics containing this quote are common on Pinterest. So far the oldest instance of it I’ve seen is from May 5, 2012, in a Facebook post. It was undoubtedly around before then, though.

The Buddha did not use metaphors like “the flow of the universe.” He didn’t tell us to go with the flow. He did however talk about streams and rivers in a metaphorical way. Here’s a lovely example:

Know from the rivers
in clefts and in crevices:
those in small channels flow noisily,
the great flow silent.
Whatever’s not full makes noise.
Whatever is full is quiet.

This next one is less appealing to our modern sensibilities:

Whatever streams are in the world, it is mindfulness that obstructs them and restricts them, and by wisdom they are cut off.

The “streams” here are the currents of craving that flow in the mind. It’s as if we’re swept along by these streams:

The misguided man in whom the thirty-six currents of craving strongly rush toward pleasurable objects, is swept away by the flood of his passionate thoughts.

That one’s from the Dhammapada, verse 339.

The 36 streams are three types of craving (for experiences to happen, to continue, and to end) combined with the six sense-channels through which the cravings flow (mind being the sixth sense).

Accordingly, the first level of realization is the “stream-winner” (sota-panna), who has broken through the fetters of 1) belief in a separate and permanent self, 2) of doubt in the attainment of awakening, and 3) of using spiritual practices as a way to avoid realization.

5 thoughts on ““If you are quiet enough, you will hear the flow of the universe. You will feel its rhythm. Go with this flow. Happiness lies ahead. Meditation is key.””

  1. I’d always assumed that “stream winner” meant “one who has won through to the stream of liberation (which will carry him to Nibbana in at most seven lifetimes)”.

    But your comments suggest another interpretation: “one who has won against/achieved victory over the stream of samsaric cravings/experiences”.

    My Pali is too weak to say one way or the other.

    1. That’s a good point, and you know, I’ve never had this entirely clear in my mind. The problem is that there’s more than one “stream” metaphor in the Pali canon. There are references to “Mara’s stream,” as in this one:

      The wise one, by awakening,
      Has opened the door to non-death,
      Which safely reaches nibbana.
      Mara’s stream is penetrated!

      Unfortunately Access to Insight doesn’t have the rest of that sutta, but there are repeated paragraphs that end with these words: “breasting Mara’s stream they too will get safely across to the further shore.”

      In the Sutta Nipata (2:12) there’s another reference to Mara’s stream, but here he’s called Kanha:

      He cut off the desire for name and form in this world,’—so said Bhagavat,—‘Kaṇha’s (i.e. Māra’s) stream, adhered to for a long time, he crossed completely birth and death.

      That’s from Fausböll’s translation. Saddhatissa’s translation also refers to having crossed Mara’s stream.

      And in a similar vein there’s this:

      Don’t let Mara cut you down
      — as a raging river, a reed —
      over & over again.

      All this fits with the whole “Dharma as a raft” metaphor. And of course there’s the reference I gave in the article above.

      But there there is also this:

      “Sariputta, ‘The stream, the stream’: thus it is said. And what, Sariputta, is the stream?”

      “This noble eightfold path, lord, is the stream: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.”

      “Very good, Sariputta! Very good! This noble eightfold path — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration — is the stream.”

      That’s quoted in this essay on Access to Insight, which gives the same understanding of the metaphor of stream entry” that you’ve been using: “a person who has attained this level has entered the ‘stream’ flowing inevitably to nibbana.”

      So there are two rather different metaphors here. The stream (sometimes flood) being Mara or craving seems to me to be far more common. I’d have to do some research, but that reference to the eightfold path as the stream is the only one I can recall seeing. But then my recollection is a feeble thing!

    2. The more I look at the sutta about the eightfold path being the stream, the more suspicious I am. Further down the sutta it says that one possessed or or endowed with (samannāgata) the eightfold path is “called a stream-entrant.” But that’s not normally the criterion for being a stream entrant: breaking the first three fetters is. It makes not sense to me to say that everyone who is possessed of the eightfold path is irreversibly on the path to awakening! So far it’s the only sutta I’ve found to make this claim.

      The phrase in which this is said — iminā ariyena aṭṭhaṅgikena maggena samannāgato, ayaṃ vuccati sotāpanno — is more usually iminā ariyena aṭṭhaṅgikena maggena samannāgato, ayaṃ vuccati brahmacārī. This makes more sense. One possessed (samannāgato) of this noble eightfold path (ariyena aṭṭhaṅgikena maggena) is called (vuccati) “a liver of the holy life” (brahmacārī). Now that makes more sense. I’m wondering if this sutta has in fact been messed around with.

      1. I’d like to learn more about this one: “using spiritual practices as a way to avoid realization.”

        I may not be alone in thinking I’ve been doing this all my life.

        1. Hi Dan.

          I wrote a little about this elsewhere. Here’s the relevant portion:

          The third fetter is “dependence on ethics and religious observances.” The wording of this fetter is strangely complex compared to the others, and it’s also harder to connect this with an experience that happens at the same as the other two fetters break. But apart from the stunning insight that there is no substance to the self, and the surge of confidence we feel as doubt falls away, there’s one other powerful experience that happens at stream entry — a sense of the immediacy and obviousness of the insights we’ve just experienced. Now that we’ve seen, we wonder why we haven’t seen before. After all, the reality of the insubstantiality of the self is out there in the open, just waiting to be seen. The reality of impermanence is not exactly a secret. So there’s this sense of wonder that this is all so easy to do, and we puzzle over why we haven’t seen it before.

          So how does this relate to dependence on ethics and religious observances? Basically, this fetter seems to refer to the practices we’ve done that have ended up being a distraction from seeing impermanence and seeing the insubstantiality of the self. We get caught up in external practices that are distractions, like trying to be a “good Buddhist” and trying to impress, and especially trying to understand intellectually rather than just looking and seeing what’s right there in front of us.

          Of course we need, in a way, to rely on ethics and religious practices. But sometimes we use them as distractions. We cling to the form of our practice and forget the spirit. We keep forgetting, on some level, what the purpose of practice is. And actually all we have to do is look. And look again. And again. Until finally the penny drops.

          I know I’ve written in more detail about the third fetter, with examples, but I can’t at the moment recall where!

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