The Empty Boat

Would we get angry if an empty boat collided with our boat? No. But we would, if the boat was manned. Why?

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.

- Chinese mystic Chuang Tzu

It is ordinary to try to be extraordinary

Empty boatChuang 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.

When the mind is not there, life will remain a movement, but it will not be directed. You will move, you will change, you will be a river-like flow, but not going anywhere, with no goal in view. A perfect man lives without any purpose; a perfect man moves but without any motive. If you ask a perfect man, “What are you doing?” he will say, “I don’t know, but this is what is happening”.

Mind can live in the future, but cannot live in the present. In the present you can simply hope and desire. And that’s how you create misery. If you start living this very moment, here and now, misery disappears.

Ego is the baggage of the past

But how is it related to the ego? Ego is the past accumulated. Whatsoever you have known, experienced, read, whatsoever has happened to you in the past, the whole is accumulated there. That whole past is the ego, it is YOU!

The past can project into the future – the future is nothing but the past extended – but the past cannot face the present. The present is totally different, it has a quality of being here and now. The past is always dead, the present is life, the very source of all aliveness. The past cannot face the present so it moves into the future – but both are dead, both are non-existential. The present is life; the future cannot encounter the present, nor can the past encounter the present. And your ego is your past. Unless you are empty you cannot be here, and unless you are here you cannot be alive.

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.

Those who are very intimate with me sometimes get angry with me and they look very foolish! If the boat is empty you can even enjoy the anger of others, because there is nobody to be angry with, they have not looked at you. 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.

Ignorance breeds anger

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.

Being is the problem

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.

It is not a question of whether you behave or misbehave. This is not the question. Even a good man, even a very saintly man, creates anger, because he is there. Sometimes a good man creates more anger than a bad man, because a good man means a very subtle egoist. A bad man feels guilty – his boat may be filled, but he feels guilty. He is not really so spread out on the boat, his guilt helps him to shrink. A good man feels himself to be so good that he fills the boat completely, overfills it.

Tao is totally different. Tao has a different quality, and to me Tao is the deepest religion that has existed on this earth. There is no comparison to it. There have been glimpses, there are glimpses in the sayings of Jesus, in Buddha, in Krishna — but only glimpses.

Chuang Tzu’s message is the purest – it is absolutely pure, nothing has contaminated it. And this is the message: This whole hell is all because there is somebody in the boat.

Excerpted from The Empty Boat. Courtesy: Osho International Foundation

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    Osho was never born never died. He only visited this planet earth between 11 December 1931 and 19 January 1990.He was a charismatic and gifted speaker who became the leader of a worldwide new spiritual movement.

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One Response to The Empty Boat

  1. Excellent article.

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