I recently read the parable of the empty boat. A monk decides to meditate alone, away from his monastery. He takes his boat out to the middle of the lake, moors it there, closes his eyes and begins his meditation. After a few hours of undisturbed silence, he suddenly feels the bump of another boat colliding with his own. With his eyes still closed, he senses his anger rising, and by the time he opens his eyes, he is ready to scream at the boatman who dared disturb his meditation.
But when he opens his eyes, he sees it’s an empty boat that had probably got untethered and floated to the middle of the lake. At that moment, the monk achieves self-realization, and understands that the anger is within him; it merely needs the bump of an external object to provoke it out of him. From then on, whenever he comes across someone who irritates him or provokes him to anger, he reminds himself, “The other person is merely an empty boat. The anger is within me.”
The day after I read this story, I found myself waiting in a parking lot, with the signal on, for a parked car to reverse so that I could take its place. The guy was taking his own sweet time (I later realised he’d been taking swigs of the drinks he’d just bought at the local beer store there), but I kept waiting patiently, chatting with my daughter. When he finally reversed, a huge 4WD suddenly swooped in and took the spot I’d been waiting for! I was furious. I began arguing with the guy there on the street, right next to an indifferent police van. (The other driver thought I was one of those drinking in cars and didn’t know I meant to park there!) Anyhow I eventually drove off in a huff, my head boiling with enraged indignation.
Within a few seconds, however, the parable of the empty boat came to mind, and I began taking deep breaths. Talking to my daughter about my thoughts helped too. “He was just an empty boat,” I said to her, “the anger is within me. I have to remove the anger within me; he is merely the trigger.” Even while driving, I tried focusing on my body, and could veritably sense the fury originating a little above my belly. Within another few minutes, after some more breathing and focusing on this area, and talking about it simultaneously with my kid, I managed to calm down completely, and even laughed at the whole situation. The lesson had been learnt. Time taken: thirty minutes.
But gosh, within another twenty minutes, I found myself in a parking knot with someone else who parked his car behind mine, leaving no room to navigate out! Once again I felt the irritation rising, and once again, I calmed down repeating, “Empty boat, empty boat,” to myself. Time taken: two minutes. It’s almost as if the universe had thrown me a test to check if I’d learnt my lesson the first time around! 🙂
I’m trying, I’m trying.
2 thoughts on “The empty boats”
nice parable. ’empty boat’ will be my new mantra, not just for anger, but irritation, unhappiness, etc. learning to control your own reactions to everything, to life itself, is the biggest lesson ever. too bad we tend to learn it so late -why don’t they teach this stuff in school?!