Buddha’s Boat

 

There is a story which Gautama the Buddha used to tell… which I love very much… and which is just as relevant today as it was 2,500 years ago.

In fact, in the modern world, where there is so much more stuff, and we are drowning in a tsunami of information… perhaps even more so…

The story is as follows:

A man, on a journey, comes to a halt in the face of large, wide and deep river, which is so deep and flowing so fast, that he has no chance of crossing by wading across or swimming…

But fortunately, he notices a boat tied up near him… and he uses that boat to cross the river safely to the other side.

So grateful is he for finding the boat… and so scared is he of coming across another big river… that he decides to take the boat with him… just in case…

And at that point, he starts to drag the boat after him, and he keeps dragging the boat along, behind him, which is quite heavy… across deserts… and across hills and mountain ranges…

And with each step, he thinks to himself… “Well, if I come to another river, at least I will be prepared”.

But as Buddha pointed out… the man has made a big mistake…

If you are scared of big rivers… instead of wasting effort and energy on dragging a boat…

If the need arises again…

Just find another boat… or maybe build one…

And that story remains as good a metaphor for the human condition now as it was 2,500 years ago.

Yes, the boat is a metaphor for anything… which we keep carrying forwards in our lives… beyond its use by date.

Anything which was useful / beneficial once upon a time, perhaps it got us through our childhood… and kept us safe… but now that we have grown into adulthood it is holding us back, stifling our future and development… and we need to let go.

You come across a lot of that in life… people holding on to beliefs and attitudes which got them through their childhood… and so were appropriate for a time… but now they are all grown up, those same beliefs and attitudes are getting in the way of their achieving their precious dreams, holding them back… are definite handicaps to living.

The boat (or boats) will differ from person to person… but we all have boats

For some… their boats will be physical… “My Precious“… something they must own and maintain at all costs…

But for others… their boats will be emotional or mental… a belief about reality and the world which they hold on to… even when for everyone else it is out of date and no longer working.

For example… a boy is told “”Work hard and you will go far and be rewarded“… and he clings to that belief for 30 years… and he climbs the corporate ladder…

Until the day when… completely out of the blue… he is made redundant (i.e. severance, laid off, shown the door) through no fault of his own… and now, without job or income, he sits at home, thinking…

But I did everything they wanted… I did everything right… why did they betray me? What went wrong?

But in Buddha terms… the boat in his head, the belief system which got him so far is no longer appropriate for his new situation…

Human beings are plain weird… we change our clothes as we grow… but we seldom check to see if we have outgrown our beliefs and attitudes.

We would find it odd to watch a 30 year old man walking down the road in the clothes he wore when he was 4 years old…

And yet, the beliefs in his head… the boats in his head… may be from an even earlier age.

And that is nothing like the badness which occurs when the world around us changes, and we find ourselves with the wrong kind of beliefs filling our brains… which means we are often handicapped trying to navigate any brave new world we find ourselves in.

So if there is anything I have learnt from Buddha’s story… it is this…

Be grateful to the boat for getting you out of a tight fix… thankful… but don’t be foolish and try to take it with you, if it has served its purpose, and out grown its use… let go… leave it where it is…

Don’t be afraid to leave it behind… you can always find a new one later… and this time you will know what you are looking for.

Ditto objects and beliefs.

(c) Brian Parsons Sepetmber 2016

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