“However, the path itself must eventually be abandoned, just as you abandon a boat when you reach the other shore. You must disembark once you have arrived. At the point of total realization, you must abandon Buddhism. The spiritual path is a temporary solution, a placebo to be used until emptiness is understood.”
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
We each possess our very own custom-built raft. It’s that special vehicle we hope and believe will carry us across the ocean of our life to the “other shore”, a grace-filled place which we imagine will be different than where we are now — happier, more elegant, enlightened, and desirable, and certainly comfortably free from the pests, impediments, and tribulations which seem to constitute so much of our current circumstance.
Some rafts are material – an attractive and well-nourished physical form, a hefty bank account, the mini-mansion in the right neighborhood and a summer home out at the shore, several well-appointed automobiles, an exotic travelogue, a big screen tv in every room with 1000 satellite channels, an enviable collection of enviable collectibles, and plenty of bling to flash around and confirm that one’s raft is all about travelling in style.
Other rafts are relational – that promising new date or mate, those intimate friends with their own stylish rafts, or the cozy familial arrangement which promises to satisfy that ancient genetic mandate.
Some are political – the call of the herd, the song of the tribe, the nationalistic anthem, and jihad on all infidel rafts (be they Republicans, Democrats, Communists, Capitalists, Socialists, Greenies, Monarchists, Theocrats, or some modified version of any of the above rafting positions).
Other rafts are religious/spiritual – the deified redeemer raft, that promising new guru, pastor, master, or prophet, the potent meditation technique everyone’s talking about, the authoritative doctrinal belief, special mantra, perfect posture, secret initiation, hoped-for vision, kundalini shakitpat, or unexcelled Dharma teaching guaranteed to provide us with a stairway to Nirvana in one lifetime.
Regardless of their particular idiosyncratic quality, all of our rafts have one thing in common: they are assembled of the same materials and ingredients – hope and fear. Hope and fear are both mental projections about what’s to come, and being dependent on future outcomes (and past regrets), both preclude being present right here and now. Both hope and fear represent an avoidance of uncertainty, and yet the Unknown is actually our true home, if we really are serious about freedom.
Liberating ourselves from distracting concerns about success or failure, we become available, and much better able to focus our attention and intention on the present moment with clarity and freshness. Abandoning the false urgency that’s spawned by hope and fear, we can relax and enjoy the rare virtue of patience – at peace with our circumstance, and capable of true listening, listening to ourselves, our relations, and to the whole universe, just as it is.
Does this mean we should discard any raft, any means, regardless of how expedient, that could serve us along the way? Certainly not – any vehicle which we might make temporary use of merely needs to be seen for what it is, with right discernment. Recognizing it in this manner, and also keeping in mind that we are not the raft, we can freely employ it as immediate circumstances may require, but we don’t need to tote it around on our back for the rest of our lives. Once it has served its purpose, it can be discarded, in the same way we would discard a thorn which we have used to remove another thorn.
A problem arises, however, when we are unwilling to let go of the raft, even if it is no longer serving us. We tend to cling to obsolete views, preconceptions, and beliefs about ourselves and the way life should be, because they give us a feeling of safety and security. By fixating on old patterns, schemes, and escape plans, we invariably stagnate. Only by our seeing through and letting go of all habitual reactivity and conditional strategies, does the Real have a chance to emerge from the background and reveal itself to us.
Nor is “It” on the other shore, awaiting us in some idealized future. This is the other shore, there is no other shore than this. This is the place right here and now where all of our rafts have delivered us, and so this is where the treasure awaits, this where we can awaken, and this is where we can let go and relax into the native happiness and radiant shine of our own true nature – hands free to give and heart wide open to receive.
“Don’t prolong the past,
don’t invite the future,
don’t be deceived by appearances,
just dwell in present awareness.”