Short stories: The Zen Koan about carrying your own raft

spirited By spirited, 5th Jun 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Short Stories

Many vehicles can help us as we go through life, but if we hoard them all up and try to carry them all along with us, rather than letting the earlier ones go, we will be carrying along a very heavy load with us by the end of our life's journey, indeed!

Are we still carrying our rafts through life with us?

Apparently it was the Buddha who once said that his teaching was like a raft.

Sure, it can be used to cross a river, but then only a fool would still continue to carry the raft around with themselves after they had already reached the other shore, or after they have already in fact reached their destination.

If the Buddha did really say this, is the raft perhaps representing our karma here?

This would mean that once we are enlightened, we do not need to carry the learned mind teachings, or theoretical book knowledge around with us anymore, because we can operate then from a level of knowing that is coming to us directly from our heart, and not first through our minds anymore.

All knowing is already known by you unconsciously.

Enlightenment is a process bringing all of this inner knowing to consciousness.

A raft is any vehicle that can help you to enable this to be done.

The raft represents here our various life experiences, but it is not just being indicated
here only as a representative of the outer experience itself, because the deeper inner
meaning is really all about our non-learning of the real lesson of love that has often been all but lost to us within the outer experience.

This will happen to us as much as we try to hang onto the experience rather than learning its lesson.

Once we learn this lesson of love, the experience itself can be dropped or even forgotten about, because it is the learning that is important, and the experiences themselves are a dime a dozen, or essentially irrelevant in their make up in that any experience can be fashioned and refashioned over and over again in order to teach you, but the lesson of love is what's most important.

The experience is just that the way the lesson is being presented to you.

The Buddha however valued the truth more than love.

Here is something else that he was reported to have said to one of his disciples.

"If you were to follow the Dharma purely out of love for me or because you respect me, I would not accept you as my disciple. But if you follow the Dharma because you have yourself experienced its truth, because you understand and act accordingly - only under these conditions have you the right to call yourself a disciple of the Exalted One."

To my mind, he really has it all back to front here, because love contains truth, but truth
doesn't contain love, until we ourselves place it there. Truth on its own is empty of love.

Love contains all of the truth of God because there is only love, and truth is merely describing the infinite ways that love, loves. Buddha was not really so much wrong here, but perhaps he was just not seeing the wood here for the trees, in the way that he said this.

The wood is truth, but it requires the tree, or love, to give to it its truer meaning.

Zen Koan about carrying your raft

With these introductory remarks, here is a Zen koan about a man carrying his raft.

This koan is about separating understanding or learning from the actual experience itself.

There was a man walking beside a wide river, which was also very long. He suddenly got the idea that he wanted to see what was on the other side of this river. How could he safely cross this river, he now speculated to himself.

This is how the Buddha continued this tale.

Buddha was talking to his monks as they all gathered around him.

"Monks," he said, "the purpose of a raft is to cross over the river, but its purpose must
then be let go of once this part of the journey has been completed."

Then he continued,

"Without a ferry or a bridge to cross over the river, some other way had to be found by the man in order to do so. The man then thought to himself that he will gather together some twigs and branches, bind them tightly together, and so make himself a raft. Having made the raft, he then used it to cross over the river, and because he had taken the time and effort to properly constructing his raft, he safely arrived at the other shore."

"The man then thought to himself momentarily, 'What a great raft this is, I will carry it
with me on my continuing journey on this side of the river, just in case I might perhaps
come across another river, or maybe I might even need it in order to go back to the other side of this river, once more again.'"

"The man then reflected further to himself, 'I have crossed over the river safely, so why do I need to keep the raft anymore. I will leave it here on the shore for someone else to

This reminds me of another tale about the female Zen master Chiyono, (1223-1298.)

She studied Zen, and meditated for many years under the tutelage of the renowned Zen master Bukko, (1226-1286) the founder of the Engakuji temple in Japan.

The Chinese master Wuxue was one of the first Chinese Chan masters who came to Japan, (in 1280, and spending the last few years of his life there) but he is of course known best by his Japanese posthumous honourific name of simply, "Bukko." The fuller name was Bukko Kokushi, and which means, "National Teacher." The Engakuji temple remains even today one of the most important Zen Buddhist temple complexes in Japan.

The word, "en gaku" apparently means perfect realisation.

Chiyono however seemed unable to reach enlightenment, or to be able to solve the questions that she was still holding onto, like the raft in the above story, and seemingly she could not seem to reach the great heights of her great master. He really was living on the distant shores, or maybe even on another planet, or so it probably seemed to her.

One moonlit evening, she was carrying along an old bucket that was bound around with bamboo strips to keep it held together. It was full of water. As she silently walked along the dusty path, she noticed that the full moon was being reflected in her little pail of water.

She continued walking, when quite suddenly the bamboo strip holding all of the pail's staves together began to thread, and then to unfold itself. Finally it broke altogether, even as the bucket now came all apart. The water had apparently been too heavy for the bucket to hold, some had to be let go of.

The loosening bottom of the bucket then dropped completely out, and so the water now soaked itself up into the dry dusty soil. The moon's reflection could be seen now no more. In that very instant, Chiyono realized that the moon that she had been looking at was merely just a reflection of what was the real thing, and this exactly mirrored just what her whole life up until now had also been.

At that precise moment Chiyono let go of her raft.

In commemoration of this, she wrote this simple poem:

In this way, and that I tried to save the old pail.
Since the bamboo strip was weakening, and about
to break.
Until at last the bottom fell out.
No more water in the pail!
No more moon in the water!

This is all about our wanting to keep or hold onto the experience or raft, rather than
moving on right past it.

This is about trying to know God through acquiring and accumulating head knowledge about him. God is not something to be understood from without, or even from within for that matter from our minds, but rather something to be freed within us in order for him to then be able to fully live within us, and for us to be also fully then him too, within him.

When we connect to the real God, we become the real us. We are no longer just living our lives by playing along only with his shadow.

Experiences bring you along your path providing the right steps for you to take, but each step must be then put behind you, even as you take the next one to appear, and so in this way, you continue to grow forwards instead of looking only backwards at where you have been.

Life forever grows, and there is always another step for us all to take, or something more for each of us to learn, and to understand, and so to expand our consciousness into.

You grow as much as you really love, instead of only ever just becoming, and then remaining, attached to the objects, or experiences, of that same love.

Let go of your raft to feel not just the draft of love, but to live fully from its full and perfect energy living within you being you.


Buddhism, Koans, Short Stories, Zen, Zen Koan

Meet the author

author avatar spirited
I have been interested in the spiritual fields for over thirty five years now. My writing is mostly in this area.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
5th Jun 2014 (#)

Together we sail; together we walk. Well done, friend!

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author avatar spirited
5th Jun 2014 (#)

thanks Phyl!

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