Selling fossils by the cliff.
A Zen master once said: "Ho! Ho! For forty years I have been selling water by the river and my teaching is totally without merit."
I take this to imply pointless activity such as sending coals to Newcastle or selling refrigerators to Eskimos. Since the water in the river is already free for everyone to use, why bother to buy it? In a spiritual sense the Zen master is pointing out that the Truth is there for anyone to realise.
In my early teens I began collecting fossils. They reveal past life. They are free. When you realise that you are looking at something that has not been seen for millions of years, you experience a thrill. This is perhaps why I don't really approve of selling fossils.
On a visit to Whitby, a famous locality on the coast of NE Yorkshire, I saw stores and shops selling fossils that could be found in the cliffs a few hundred yards away. I wondered why anyone would want to buy them. Then it dawned on me. The fossils in the shops were labelled; the ones on the cliffs were not. Most people do not know they are there in the cliff and wouldn't recognise them there as fossils. They need an "expert" to point them out.
So perhaps selling water by the river is not as pointless as it seems. Some people need to know that the water is safe to drink by buying it from an "expert". When we first begin to practice most of us need to be shown that the truth is there and is safe to use. Although it is there all the time, we often do not see it. So it is that, besides being grateful to the monks and the ancestors for pointing out the way, I am currently developing a respect for fossil sellers.
from Now And Zen - August 2000