The Empty Boat

IF A MAN IS CROSSING A RIVER
AND AN EMPTY BOAT COLLIDES WITH HIS OWN SKIFF,
EVEN THOUGH HE BE A BAD-TEMPERED MAN
HE WILL NOT BECOME VERY ANGRY.
BUT IF HE SEES A MAN IN THE BOAT,
HE WILL SHOUT TO HIM TO STEER CLEAR.
AND IF THE SHOUT IS NOT HEARD HE WILL SHOUT
AGAIN AND YET AGAIN, AND BEGIN CURSING —
AND ALL BECAUSE THERE IS SOMEBODY IN THAT BOAT.
YET IF THE BOAT WERE EMPTY, HE WOULD NOT BE SHOUTING,
AND HE WOULD NOT BE ANGRY.
IF YOU CAN EMPTY YOUR OWN BOAT
CROSSING THE RIVER OF THE WORLD,
NO ONE WILL OPPOSE YOU,
NO ONE WILL SEEK TO HARM YOU.

If you are somebody, you are like a solid block of stone, nothing can penetrate you. When you are nobody you start to become porous. When you are nobody, really you are an emptiness, transparent, everything can pass through you. There is no hindrance, there is no barrier, no resistance. You become a passivity, a door.

Right now you are like a wall; a wall means somebody. When you become a door you become nobody. A door is just an emptiness, anybody can pass, there is no resistance, no barrier. Somebody…you are mad; nobody…you will become sane for the first time.

But the whole society, education, civilization, culture, all cultivate you and help you to become somebodies. That is why I say: religion is against civilization, religion is against education, religion is against culture — because religion is for nature, for Tao.

All civilizations are against nature, because they want to make you somebody in particular. And the more you are crystallized as somebody, the less and less the divine can penetrate into you.

You go to the temples, to the churches, to the priests, but there too you are searching for a way to become somebody in the other world, for a way to attain something, for a way to succeed. The achieving mind follows you like a shadow. Wherever you go, you go with the idea of profit, achievement, success, attainment. If somebody has come here with this idea he should leave as soon as possible, run as fast as possible from me, because I cannot help you to become somebody.

I am not your enemy. I can only help you to be nobody. I can only push you into the abyss…bottomless. You will never reach anywhere; you will simply dissolve. You will fall and fall and fall and dissolve, and the moment you dissolve the whole existence feels ecstatic. The whole existence celebrates this happening.

Buddha attained this. Because of language I say attained; otherwise the word is ugly, there is no attainment — but you will understand. Buddha attained this emptiness, this nothingness. For two weeks, for fourteen days continuously, he sat in silence, not moving, not saying, not doing anything.

It is said that the deities in heaven became disturbed — rarely it happens that someone becomes such total emptiness. The whole of existence felt a celebration, so deities came.

They bowed down before Buddha and they said, “You must say something, you must say what you have attained. Buddha is reported to have laughed and said, “I have not attained anything; rather, because of this mind, which always wants to attain something, I was missing everything. I have not achieved anything, this is not an achievement; rather, on the contrary, the achiever has disappeared. I am no more, and, see the beauty of it — when I was, I was miserable, and when I am no more, everything is blissful, the bliss is showering and showering continuously on me, everywhere. Now there is no misery.”

Buddha had said before: Life is misery, birth is misery, death is misery — everything is miserable. It was miserable because the ego was there. The boat had not been empty.

Buddha is insulted by people many times, stones are thrown at him, people abuse him… he smiles.
Once he said to a group of people who had come with very great hostility, ”I feel sorry for you. You are almost in a rage! You must be burning within. I feel sorry for you. What can I do for you to help? How can I calm you down? You are in a spiritual fever!”

He does not say anything about himself. He is not saying, ”You are being hostile to me.” He is not saying, ”Why are you hostile to me?” He is not saying anything in reference to himself; that is not the point at all.

Somebody asked, ”But we are being hostile to you, and you are feeling sorry for us? We are enemies! We want to uproot you and your doctrine completely. And you are feeling sorry for us?”

And Buddha said, ”Yes. You may be hostile from your side. For example,” Buddha said, ”you can throw a burning torch into the river – it remains fire TILL it touches the river. The moment it touches the river, it cools down. I am cool. You throw fire at me – it remains fire from your side, but the moment it touches me it becomes cool. It disappears! I am not hurt, you cannot hurt me– because the one who used to be hurt is no more. That ego is gone.

”I have searched for it, and it has not been found. There is nobody inside me – how can you be hostile to me? I am not– how can you be hostile to me?”

Now the boat was empty; now there was no misery, no sorrow, no sadness. Existence had become a celebration and it would remain a celebration to eternity, for ever and forever.

That’s why I say that it is dangerous that you have come to me. You have taken a risky step. If you are courageous, then be ready for the jump. The whole effort is how to kill you, the whole effort is how to destroy you. Once you are destroyed, the indestructible will come up — it is there, hidden. Once all that which is nonessential is eliminated, the essential will be like a flame — aliveness, total glory.

This parable of Chuang Tzu is beautiful. He says that a wise man is like an empty boat.

SUCH IS THE PERFECT MAN —
HIS BOAT IS EMPTY.

There is nobody inside.

If you meet a Chuang Tzu, or a Lao Tzu, or me, the boat is there, but it is empty, nobody is in it. If you simply look at the surface, then somebody is there, because the boat is there. But if you penetrate deeper, if you really become intimate with me, if you forget the body, the boat, then you come to encounter a nothingness.

Chuang Tzu is a rare flowering, because to become nobody is the most difficult, almost impossible, most extraordinary thing in the world. The ordinary mind hankers to be extraordinary, that is part of ordinariness; the ordinary mind desires to be somebody in particular, that is part of ordinariness. You may become an Alexander, but you remain ordinary — then who is the extraordinary one? The extraordinariness starts only when you don’t hanker after extraordinariness. Then the journey has started, then a new seed has sprouted.

This is what Chuang Tzu means when he says: A perfect man is like an empty boat. Many things are implied in it. First, an empty boat is not going anywhere because there is nobody to direct it, nobody to manipulate it, nobody to drive it somewhere. An empty boat is just there, it is not going anywhere. Even if it is moving it is not going anywhere.

If people go on colliding with you and if people go on being angry with you, remember, they are not at fault. Your boat is not empty. They are angry because you are there. If the boat is empty they will look foolish, if they are angry they will look foolish.

So remember, if people go on colliding with you, you are too much of a solid wall. Be a door, become empty, let them pass.

Even then sometimes people will be angry — they are even angry with a buddha. Because there are foolish people who, if their boat collides with an empty boat, they will not look to see whether someone is in it or not. They will start shouting; they will get so messed up within themselves that they will not be able to see whether someone is in it or not.

But even then the empty boat can enjoy it because then the anger never hits you; you are not there, so whom can it hit?

This symbol of the empty boat is really beautiful. People are angry because you are too much there, because you are too heavy there — so solid they cannot pass. And life is intertwined with everybody. If you are too much, then everywhere there will be collision, anger, depression, aggression, violence — the conflict continues.

Whenever you feel that someone is angry or someone has collided with you, you always think that he is responsible. This is how ignorance concludes, interprets. Ignorance always says, “The other is responsible.” Wisdom always says, “If somebody is responsible, then I am responsible, and the only way not to collide is NOT TO BE.”

“I am responsible” doesn’t mean, “I am doing something, that is why they are angry.”

That is not the question. You may not be doing anything, but just your being there is enough for people to get angry. The question is not whether you are doing good or bad. The question is that you are there.

Now the paradox has to be understood. Man never meets God. Man can only dissolve, disappear; then God is. In your absence God’s presence descends. The whole work of religion is nothing but helping you to disappear as an ego. The moment you look into yourself and there is no one, no ego to be found, but utter silence, utter emptiness, therewith the matter is settled… you are God.

This is the difference between Tao and other religions. Other religions say: Be good, behave in such a way that no one gets angry with you. Tao says: DON’T BE.

Osho: The Perfect Master, Vol 1: CHAPTER 9. HAIL GREAT SCHOLAR! (Excerpts)
Osho: The Empty Boat Chapter #1 Chapter title: The Toast Is Burned (Excerpts)
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दरिया के तलातुम* से तो बच सकती है कश्ती
कश्ती में तलातुम हो तो साहिल न मिलेगा……………………. मलिकज़ादा मंज़ूर अहमद

dariyā ke talātum* se to bach saktī hai kashtī
kashtī meñ talātum ho to sāhil na milegā
…………………… MALIKZAADA MANZOOR AHMAD

(* तलातुम/ talatum – dashing of waves, sea-storm, high tide, upheaval)

The boat can be saved by the storm in the ocean
but you won’t find a shore if there is a storm within the boat.

Like the team of Raj Kapoor, Shankar-Jaikishan and Shailendra in 50s-60s, there was another team of Pancham da (RD Burman), Gulzar and Kishor Kumar in 70s-80s giving so many soul stirring melodies. One such beautiful song is from film “Khushboo” (1975) – as if talking about this Empty Boat….Enjoy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsBnr89VRPY

9 thoughts on “The Empty Boat”

  1. Awesome as usual ,but not aware how to practice, world is so corrupt and my movements respond sharply creating more waves in steady water, thanks Rajiv

  2. Question therefore is… how not to be….
    Question also is… can one cater to the responsibilities of the 4 ashramas with an empty boat…

  3. I’ve been at war with my own anger. To some extent it has worked. Vipassana helped. Then Cleaning of trapped emotions helped a bit more. Today the metaphor of the empty boat helped some more 🙏

  4. Rajendra Dhandhukia

    Very nice. New perspective with simple and metaphor of Boat. Will make an effort to remember and practice. Too good.

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