The two rivers
It will be useful if we compare human life in general to a large
river which arises from various sources and flows into two separate streams, that is to say, there occurs in this river a dividing of the waters, and we can compare the life of any one man
to one of the drops of water composing this river of life.
On account of the unbecoming life of people, it was established for the purposes of the common actualizing of everything existing that, in general, human life on the Earth should flow in two streams.
Great Nature foresaw and gradually fixed in the common presence of humanity a corresponding property, so that, before the dividing of the waters, in each drop that has this corresponding inner subjective “struggle
with one’s own denying part,” there might arise that “something,” thanks to which certain properties are acquired which give the possibility, at the place of the branching of the waters
of life, of entering one or the other stream.
Thus there are two directions in the life of humanity:
active and passive. Laws are the same everywhere.
These two laws, these two currents, continually meet, now crossing each other,
now running parallel. But they never mix; they support each
other, they are indispensable for each other.
It was always so and so it will remain.
Now, the life of all ordinary men taken together can be
thought of as one of these rivers in which each life, whether of
a man or of any other living being, is represented by a drop in
the river, and the river in itself is a link in the cosmic chain.
In accordance with general cosmic laws, the river flows in a
fixed direction. All its turns, all its bends, all these changes
have a definite purpose. In this purpose every drop plays a
part insofar as it is part of the river, but the law of the river as
a whole does not extend to the individual drops. The changes
of position, movement and direction of the drops are completely accidental. At one moment a drop is here; the next moment it is there; now it is on the surface, now it has gone to
the bottom. Accidentally it rises, accidentally it collides with
another and descends; now it moves quickly, now slowly.
Whether its life is easy or difficult depends on where it happens to be. There is no individual law for it, no personal fate
Only the whole river has a fate, which is common to all the
drops. Personal sorrow and joy, happiness and suffering—in
that current, all these are accidental.
But the drop has, in principle, a possibility of escaping from
this general current and jumping across to the other, the
This too is a law of Nature. But, for this, the drop must know
how to make use of accidental shocks, and of the momentum
of the whole river, so as to come to the surface and be closer
to the bank at those places where it is easier to jump across. It
must choose not only the right place but also the right time, to
make use of winds, currents and storms. Then the drop has a
chance to rise with the spray and jump across into the other
From the moment it gets into the other river, the drop is in
a different world, in a different life, and therefore is under different laws. In this second river a law exists for individual
drops, the law of alternating progression. A drop comes to the
top or goes to the bottom, this time not by accident but by
law. On coming to the surface, the drop gradually becomes
heavier and sinks; deep down it loses weight and rises again.
To float on the surface is good for it—to be deep down is bad.
Much depends here on skill and on effort. In this second river
there are different currents and it is necessary to get into the
required current. The drop must float on the surface as long as
possible in order to prepare itself, to earn the possibility of
passing into another current, and so on.
But we are in the first river. As long as we are in this passive
current it will carry us wherever it may; as long as we are passive we shall be pushed about and be at the mercy of every accident. We are the slaves of these accidents.
At the same time Nature has given us the possibility of escaping from this slavery. Therefore when we talk about
freedom we are talking precisely about crossing over into the
But of course it is not so simple—you cannot cross over
merely because you wish. Strong desire and long preparation
are necessary. You will have to live through being identified
with all the attractions in the first river. You must die to this
river. All religions speak about this death: “Unless you die, you
cannot be born again.”
This does not mean physical death. From that death there is
no necessity to rise again because if there is a soul, and it is
immortal, it can get along without the body, the loss of which
we call death. And the reason for rising again is not in order to
appear before the Lord God on the day of judgment as the fathers
of the Church teach us.
No, Christ and all the others
spoke of the death which can take place in life, the death of
the tyrant from whom our slavery comes, that death which is a
necessary condition of the first and principal liberation of man.
If a man were deprived of his illusions and all that prevents
him from seeing reality—if he were deprived of his interests,
his cares, his expectations and hopes—all his strivings would
collapse, everything would become empty and there would remain an empty being, an empty body, only physiologically
This would be the death of “I,” the death of everything it
consisted of, the destruction of everything false collected
through ignorance or inexperience. All this will remain in him
merely as material, but subject to selection. Then a man will
be able to choose for himself and not have imposed on him
what others like. He will have conscious choice.
This is difficult. No, difficult is not the word. The word “impossible” is also wrong, because, in principle, it is possible;
only it is a thousand times more difficult than to become a
multimillionaire through honest work. (VRW 178-9 pdf 236-9 the book)