Letting Go

13 – The Path of Liberation

It’s commonly said that Buddhism is a path of liberation…but what does that really mean? In this episode, I will discuss the concept of freedom and truth. I will also discuss how can we extend freedom to ourselves and to others. If you are interested in attending any retreats or workshops, please visit secularbuddhism.com/retreats/ to express your interest.

Subscribe to the podcast on:
iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/secular-buddhism/id1071578260
SoundCloud – https://soundcloud.com/secularbuddhism
TuneIn – http://tunein.com/radio/Secular-Buddhism-p823114/
Stitcher – http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=80132&refid=stpr

Transcript of the podcast episode:

Hello. You’re listening to the Secular Buddhism podcast and this is episode number 13. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I am talking about freedom.

Welcome to the Secular Buddhism podcast. This podcast is produced every week, where I cover philosophical topics within Buddhism and secular humanism. Remember, episodes one through five, serve as a basic introduction to secular Buddhism and general Buddhist concepts. So if you’re new to the podcast, I definitely recommend listening to the first five episodes in order. All episodes after that are meant to be individual topics that can be listened to in any order.

Before starting, a quote I love to share by the Dalai Lama. He says, “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are.” Please keep this in mind as you listen and learn about the topics and concepts discussed in the podcast episode. If you enjoy the podcast, please feel free to share it, write a review, or give it a rating in Itunes. Now let’s jump into this week’s topic.

I’m really excited to be talking about freedom today; specifically, freedom in the Buddhist understanding, from the Buddhist worldview. Buddhism’s often referred to as the Path of Liberation, or the Path of Freedom. What exactly is this freedom that’s being talked about? Freedom is not an absolute thing, it’s a relative thing, right? Freedom is generally freedom from or freedom to. Is this sense, what we’re talking about in the Path of Freedom, we’re obtaining freedom, it’s relative to freedom from conceptual constraints and freedom to act or be a certain way.

I want to jump into this and really talk about this but first, imagine a prisoner, someone who’s been in jail years and years, and they’re finally gonna be set free. Once that person is out of the prison, their freedom is freedom from the constraints of the cell that they were in or the constraints of the overall prison walls that they were behind; and freedom to, freedom to do all the things, to be a certain way or to act in a way that they couldn’t while they were prisoner. This could be as simple as the prisoner can now go to a store and go shopping. They’re free to go to a store and go shopping. That’s a freedom that they didn’t have before.

Understanding freedom, in the sense that it’s a relative thing, it’s freedom to or freedom from, will help us to jump into another deeper level of understanding of what truth is because what we’re talking about here is … We’ve all heard the expression that the truth shall set you free, right? Again, free from what? How does truth do that? To understand that, let’s talk about truth for a little bit.

I like to categorize truth in two major categories. This is for me. I didn’t get this anywhere, I just … For me, there are empirical truths and there are conceptual truths. Empirical truths would be truths that are true whether or not I believe anything. For example, an empirical truth is that if the temperature drops low enough, water solidifies and turns into ice. That’s an empirical truth. It can be observed, it can be replicated. Most of our empirical truths, if not all of our empirical truths, come from science, scientific research.

Science is always revealing new empirical truths for us. Those are not the kind of truths that I’m gonna talk about in this podcast. I’m talking about conceptual truths. Conceptual truths are truths that are true because of our beliefs, not in spite of our beliefs. For example, another way of saying this would be truths that are true whether or not there are humans, those are empirical truths. If there are no humans on the planet, we would still see, during the winter months, when the temperatures cooled and water turns to ice, there would still be these empirical truths happening, right?

Now conceptual truths are true because of humans, because of the beliefs that we have. So an example of a conceptual truth … I like to split this into two other categories: societal truths and personal truths, but they’re both still conceptual. An example of a societal truth would be that gold is more valuable than silver. That is a societal truth. It’s a conceptual truth because it’s only true because we believe that it’s true. Now if there were no humans on the planet, a lump of gold and a lump of silver next to each other in a field have no inherent value. There’s no inherent value that says the gold is worth more than the silver. These things are just things, but we come along and we assign meaning to things, we create stories, and inside of our conceptual understanding of the world, we have decided that gold is worth more than silver.

With the gold and silver example, it’s not just because someone said. Supply and demand. Scarcity of gold verus silver. All those things went into determining the value of gold being higher than silver; but still, overall, it’s just a conceptual truth and yet, it’s true. It’s even … You could argue it’s factual. You could go into the pawn store, into the pawn shop, and have one ounce of gold and one ounce of silver and you’re going to get a lot more for your gold than you’re from your silver. A societal truth, it’s conceptual though. These are truths that are true only because of our beliefs.

Then, you can scale this down from societal truths down to personal truths. For example, a personal truth for me would be that eggs taste better when you put hot sauce on them. This may be true for me while it’s not true for you. There are countless examples of this. Someone who thinks hotdogs are better than hamburgers or hamburgers are better with cheese. I keep using food analogies. It’s not just applicable to food, but any kind of personal conceptual truth. Being a Texan is better than being a Californian. Well of course that’s what a conceptual truth that you would hold if you believe that Texas is better than California. Now if you don’t believe that, that’s not a conceptual truth for you.

I like to imagine conceptual truths categorized in these societal and personal views, but I recently read a book called Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s a brief history of humankind and in this book he … There’s this compelling argument about our ability as humans to go from early humans as hunters and gatherers and then collect into societies and become what we are today, all hinges on the fact that we have the unique ability to tell and believe stories. It’s our ability to tell stories and then hold these collective beliefs inside of our stories that propels humans to where we are now. With our ability to have a collective belief, that gives us the ability to have politics. Political systems and governments are conceptual truths. Same with religion. Same with economics. It’s our shared belief that the value of this green piece of paper that has a one on it is actually worth something, gives us the ability to interact with each other in commerce. It’s a conceptual truth. Is it really worth a dollar? Well that doesn’t mean anything. If there were no humans, that piece of paper doesn’t mean anything.

There’s a fascinating insight in this book Sapiens that illustrates how is our ability to tell stories and believe stories that gets us to where we are today. Along with this comes the ability to be bound by our conceptual truths. This is where the idea that good concepts are like a golden chain, bad concepts are like an iron chain, but they all equally bind you in the end. That’s pretty powerful to think about. Everything that we hold as a conceptual truth binds us and that we’re bound by it. Think about all of the daily interactions you have with conceptual truths and how we’re bound by them. I don’t mean bound in a bad way. I don’t mean that we’re bound by things as if that’s bad, but to understand freedom, we need to understand that what we’re free from and free to do. To do that, we need to know what conceptual truths we’re bound to.

Byron Katie mentions, “A thought is harmless unless we believe it.” I think that’s a powerful statement. A thought is harmless unless we believe it. Again, we’re talking about conceptual truths here, right? Not empirical truths. She says, “It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts, that cause us suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring. A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to, often for years.”

When you think about conceptual truths and the beliefs that we have through what we consider to be conceptual truths, you understand what binds you, what you’re bound to, and that’s the sense of freedom that we’re talking about here. Freedom, again, freedom to or freedom from, has to do with our conceptual understanding of the world being at conflict with the empirical reality of the world. This is to say that there is what is, and then there’s the story that we create around what is. As long as we reside inside of the realm of the story of reality, we’re not dealing with reality itself.

Think about this. You’re driving on the road and somebody cuts you off. Immediately there is what happened, and then there’s the story we create about what happened, right? Typically, in a scenario like that, we’re thinking, “Okay, this person is a jerk. This person probably does this all the time, takes advantage of people. Think they can do whatever they want. Not obey the rules. Here they are just cutting me off.” There’s a whole story attached to the event. If you think about it, the suffering that you’re experiencing during that event has to do with the story around it, not with the event, right? You get cut off. That doesn’t do anything to you. Nothing happened. There’s absolutely nothing going on when you get cut off, but the story around it is the dangerous part. The thought is harmless unless we believe it, right? We believe the story that we’ve created. So this is what I’m talking about when I’m talking about freedom. It’s freedom from habitual reactivity.

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and a psychiatrist, and he was the founder ologotherapy. He was a Holocaust survivor. He went through some of the most difficult things that you could probably imagine going through. Something that he says … He talks about freedom in the sense that, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space, is our power to choose our response. In our response, lies our growth and our freedom.”

This is really powerful. I want to talk about this. The concept that between stimulus and response, there’s a space, because that’s what Buddhism is trying to teach and really get at, is that as we go through life, we are reactive; and even worse, we’re habitually reactive. We tend to just react on things. Between the stimulus and response, there’s this space. It’s inside of this space that we have the power to choose our response.

There’s a famous story … I think it’s a zen story, but the story goes like this. There’s a man standing on a trail, or on a path, and he can see off in the distance that there’s a man approaching him on a horse and he’s galloping at full speed and he just watches. As he gets closer and closer, he finally is close enough to talk to him. He asks this man, “Hey, where are you going?” The man just says, “I don’t know, ask the horse,” as he gallops by at full speed.

The idea here is that we are like the horse and the rider. We have two systems in the mind. There’s our intellectual part of the brain, that’s like the rider. Then there’s the emotional reactive side of us, that’s like the horse. You can read about this. Several books talk about this concept. The idea here is often times, we go through life like this man on the horse, that’s running full speed and we don’t know where it’s going. We don’t even know … The worse part is we think we’re in control, but the horse is the one that’s deciding where we go and at what speed. This would be an example of living in a reactively. Habitually reactive state of living. The sense of freedom, again, has to do with that space in between the stimulus and the response, where we actually have the power to choose our response.

Imagine again being cut off. You’re driving. You get cut off by another car and then imagine if the story’s different. The story this time is that there’s a person in the back who’s been injured. They’re trying to get to the hospital as quickly as they can. They couldn’t wait for the ambulance so here they are, speeding on the road. The story changes, but the circumstances have not changed, right? You’ve just been cut off. There’s reality. That’s what is. The story around what is may have changed and that changes everything, right? Now in this scenario, you’d be thinking everybody get out of the way. You’re rooting for this person to get to the hospital as quickly as possible. Yet, the reality of what happened is identical to the previous story. The only difference is the story around it is now different. We do this in life all the time. All the time, we go through life, things are happening, life presents something and then we make meaning of it, and we give it a story and inside of that story, is the suffering that we’re going to experience.

Think about the ways that we go through life creating stories around outside of the reality of what’s happening. There’s a zen story that kind of eludes to this concept and the idea is that you’re to imagine that you’re a fisherman and you’re out on the river fishing and you decide to lay down in your boat. Take a little nap or just relax for a minute. While you’re laying in your boat, you hear this loud thud on the boat. You sit up and you turn around and you realize another fisherman’s boat has crashed into your boat. There’s a hole in your boat. What kind of reaction you’re going to have. Typically, you’re gonna be upset thinking, “This idiot fisherman crashed his boat into mine.”

Then, they replay the scenario and ask you to imagine your the fisherman. You’re out on the river and you decide to lay down and rest, or take a nap, and then you hear the thud and you sit up. You immediately turn and realize a log has floated on the river and collided with your boat. The scenario and the outcome is the same. Your boat now has a little hole in it. The difference is that in one scenario, what you feel can be anger towards the scenario. Thinking, “Okay, well that stinks.” Because it was just a log, there’s not a story behind it. With the person in the other boat, you’re creating meaning right away. This person does not pay attention. This person is careless. All the … It doesn’t matter whether or not the story is true, the point is that inside of the story is where we contain the suffering around the event. What is is just what is, and then the story we create around what is determines how we feel about what is.

When you know that and when you can understand that that’s our natural tendency, then you can start to have this sense of freedom in between the stimulus and the response. This is the space that Viktro Frankl was talking about and it’s inside of that space that we can have the power to choose our response. When we can choose our response, we’re now longer being reactive. I kind of want to clarify that for a second, too, because this idea that okay, once I master this, I’ll never be reactive. That’s not accurate. Reactivity and emotions are a natural part of being human.

Let’s go back to the example of the man on the horse. Living reactively is you’re running somewhere and you don’t know. You’re not in control of that horse. If you tame the horse, you can have a good relationship where you decide where it goes. You’re essentially in control of that horse at all times, but if you’re out in the field and a snake comes out of the grass, that horse will get spooked and you’re going to have a good 10 to 15 seconds of scary, emotional reactivity where you’re actually not in control for that brief moment of time. The horse is going to jump, it’s gonna take however many steps back, it’s gonna do whatever it’s gonna do. It might even buck. Moments like that, you’re just hanging on for the ride, but that’s not the habitual state that you’re in. Reactivity versus habitual reactivity. What we’re trying to be free from is habitual reactivity. I hope you can distinguish the difference there because it’s a very big difference.

What’s crazy with us, going back to the original analogy of freedom, and imagining someone who’s in prison, that’s essentially us. The difference is that we are in our own prison where we are own jailers. We are the ones who hold ourselves captive and we don’t even realize it. What we’re held captive by is our beliefs, our conceptual truths that we believe in.

Pause at some point and just think of this. Empirical truth versus conceptual truth and what conceptual truths do I hang to, or hold to, or believe, that cause me suffering? Or cause others suffering? Analyze those. It’s a really powerful experience.

There’s a place where we can go where you can experience reality as it is and not have any of the habitual truths really effecting you too much. That’s in nature. I love to experience being in nature, and I think the reason why … I’ve thought about this a lot … I think the reason why is when we’re out in nature, we are experiencing reality as it is. There’s no pretending. Trees are just trees. Flowers are just flowers. Birds are just birds. Everyone, everything’s what it is. It’s just free to be what it is, doing whatever it does; and we get to be there and we get to experience that.

It’s kind of absurd to imagine being in nature and enjoying the scenery and thinking, if that mountain were ten degrees less steep, then this might be an ideal portrait for me. Or if that tree was five feet over in that other direction, now maybe this landscape would look nice. We don’t do that in nature, because there’s no need to. It’s one of the places where we can go and we can experience reality as it is and take it all in without assigning meaning to any of it. Furthermore, it does the same back to us. When we’re out there, nature allows us to be what we are, to be who we are. You don’t hear the birds chirping and then they change there song because sorry you wore a red jacket and you were supposed wear a yellow jacket out here. There’s none of that. You get to experience reality as it is and reality gets to accept us just as we are and that’s why it feels so good to be there. That’s my theory at least.

All that goes away as soon as we’re around people though, right? Because now people have conceptual truths and inside of these conceptual truths, you do have things like, “Why are you wearing that red jacket? I told you to wear your yellow jacket. Or you look better in your yellow jacket. Or why are you even wearing a jacket? It’s warm out here. I’m not cold, why are you wearing” … You know, you get all these crazy things that start to happen where there’s no freedom. The sense of freedom … The freedom to be who you are can be diminished when you’re around other people, but it’s the same thing that we do to others.

The ultimate sense of freedom that we can give to someone else is the freedom to allow them to just be who they are. That’s also the ultimate sense of freedom that we can extend to our yourselves is the freedom to allow ourselves to just be who we are. That’s a lot easier said than done. The reason that it’s hard is because of our conceptual truth. The conceptual truths that we believe in bind us, very much like the golden chain or like the iron chain, whether they’re good or bad. That’s the ultimate sense of freedom here and I wanted to wrap this up with one more thought. It’s my favorite parable and I know I’ve talked about this before earlier in another podcast episode but it’s the parable of the horse.

The parable of the horse goes like this … There’s an old man who’s out in the field farming and a horse shows up. His neighbor comes running over and he says, “How fortunate for you, you have a horse, and it came out of no where.” The old man just says, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” and he goes about doing his thing. Puts the horse in the corral. Later that night, [00:22:35] in the morning, he comes out and discover the corral is broken and the horse has disappeared. The neighbor comes running over and he says, “How unfortunate. How unfortunate for you, you had a horse and now you don’t.” The old man simply says, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” He goes about doing his thing. Later in the day the horse comes back with four additional horses and he takes the horses, puts them in the corral, fixes the corral, the neighbor comes running over. “How fortunate for you. Your horse has come back and it’s brought additional horses.” He just says, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” He goes about doing his thing.

Then the next day … His son is out working with the horses, trying to tame the horse so that he can use it in the field. He falls off the horse and he breaks his leg. The neighbor comes running over and says, “How unfortunate. Your only son … Your only source of help in the field has broken his leg. So unfortunate.” The old man simply replies with, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” and goes about doing his thing. The next day the army comes into town and they’re conscripting all the youth, and they can’t take the farmer’s song because he has a broken leg so they leave him, they take everyone else, including the neighbor’s son. The neighbor comes running over and he says, “How fortunate for you that your son had broken his leg.” and then goes on with his normal routine and pauses and just says, “You know, who knows what is good and what is bad.” and goes back to his house.

The moral of the story here … I think sometimes the misunderstanding with this is to think as we go through life we just don’t care. We don’t care about things. Who knows what is good, who knows what is bad. That’s not what we’re talking about here and I clarify this in my podcast about acceptance versus resignation. This is not an active resignation to life as it is. This is an active acceptance of life as it is. The sense of freedom in this parable comes from the old man who’s not bound by assigning meaning to things. That’s the freedom.

The reactivity is there. That parts there. I have no doubt that when his son falls and breaks his leg, this old mans thinking, “Oh no, my poor son, you’re in pain, let me help you; or when the horse first showed up, it’s like, “Woohoo, a horse!” Then it left the next morning. “Oh dang it, the horse is gone. Oh well.” That’s the difference, the oh well. I go about doing what I need to do and not attach to things, and even worse, I’m not making meaning of things. The old man in this parable is not making meaning of things and that’s what the neighbors constantly doing, assigning meaning. This is fortunate. This is unfortunate.

Everything that goes along with making meaning, that is our habitual reactivity. The sense of freedom comes, again, between the stimulus and the response. There’s a space and in that space, is our power to choose our response. This is exemplified in the story, this parable of the old man, where he can choose his response. He doesn’t have to be bound by his habitual reactivity and making meaning to things.

That’s the sense of freedom I wanted to talk about in this podcast episode. I think the ultimate source of freedom that we can extend to someone is the freedom to be who they are. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “We must love others in a way that they feel free.” I think that’s the sense of freedom he’s talking about here. The freedom to love someone without the conceptual constraints that I would put on someone because of my beliefs. I love you except … I love you but … If you were just this, or if you were not that … Or if you were … Those are the conceptual truths that bind us, and freedom transcends our conceptual truths, and allows us to have the freedom to allow ourselves to be the way we are, to allow others to be the way that they are, and to just love in a way that feels free. That’s why I wanted to talk about this topic: freedom.

Like with all my podcast episodes, if this is a topic that you’ve enjoyed, I would love to interact with you on our Facebook study group. If you just search for Secular Buddhism, you can find it there. I’ll have a link to it on our … On secularbuddhism.com … or on the Secular Buddhism Facebook page, that’s easy to find as well too. If you enjoyed this podcast, please feel free to share it. Give it a rating in Itunes, that really helps. Just feel free to reach out to me. I love talking about this stuff and I look forward to another topic next week. Thanks.

One more thought before I end the podcast. I’ve been working with a couple of other companies on developing an idea around doing some retreats. I’ve been really interested for quite some time to put together either workshops, like part-day or full-day workshops, where we explore topics about mindfulness or meditation, and learn as a group in a workshop type setting, and also doing retreats. One of the retreats that we’re discussing is actually a really exciting one. It would be a week, or even two week, long retreat going somewhere like Africa, Uganda specifically. Where we would have the … Part of the retreat, we’re teaching the foundations of mindful living in the evenings but then during the day, we’re doing experiential work with humanitarian projects. Whether that be working on building schools, digging wells, interacting with the local communities providing a hands-on help to different programs that are involved in villages in Uganda.

I’m really interested in gaging what kind of interest there is. If we were able to open this up for 10, 15, or even 20 people to do … I’d love to gage your interest, so if attending a retreat like that, or even just a shorter workshop is of interest to you, please visit secularbuddhism.com/retreats. There’s a form you can feel out there that will help me to gage what kind of interest there is, and if there’s enough interest and this is something I’d like to maybe put together as a retreat going and learning the conceptual understanding of Secular Buddhism taught in courses, but also the experiential hands-on aspect of it. Actually doing humanitarian work in Uganda. This would be probably late January or early February, but go on there and express your interest on secularbuddhism.com/retreats. That will help me to gage what kind of retreats we should put together. I look forward to doing something like that with several of you. Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks again. Until next time.

12 – Master Meditation by Not Meditating

In this episode, I will explore the idea of learning to meditate by not meditating. I share the poem “Dust if You Must” by Rose Milligan that went viral on the Secular Buddhism. It was viewed by over 10 million people in just a matter of days. I also discuss the idea of being vs doing. I hope you enjoy this episode!

Dust If You Must

by Rose Milligan

Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
To paint a picture, or write a letter,
Bake a cake, or plant a seed;
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
With rivers to swim, and mountains to climb;
Music to hear, and books to read;
Friends to cherish, and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world’s out there
With the sun in your eyes, and the wind in your hair;
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go (and go you must)
You, yourself, will make more dust.


Subscribe to the podcast on:
iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/secular-buddhism/id1071578260
SoundCloud – https://soundcloud.com/secularbuddhism
TuneIn – http://tunein.com/radio/Secular-Buddhism-p823114/
Stitcher – http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=80132&refid=stpr

Transcript of the podcast episode:

Hello you are listening to the secular Buddhism podcast. And this is episode number 12. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about meditation through non-meditation. I’m also sharing the poem Dust if you Must, by Rose Milligan. So thank you for joining.

I like to say this every time before I start. This quote from the Dalai Lama where he says, “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are.” Please keep this in mind as you listen and learn about the topics and concepts discussed in this podcast episode. And hopefully this will provide you with some information to provide you be a better whatever you already are.

Now let’s jump into this weeks topic. I am excited to be back with you for another podcast episode this week. And I wanted to start out with sharing another milestone. This has been an exciting week for me. I was out of town over the weekend on a family trip, and when I came back in the morning I was checking our Facebook page. I was really surprised to see that one of the posts that I had shared had gone viral.

This was really meaningful to me. Earlier in the year, I guess it was at the end of last year, I came across a post from Jason Silva, who’s the host of Brain Games on National Geographic. And he has a web series called Shots of Awe, where he posts these small tidbits of philosophical of information for, I forget what he calls it, but it’s essentially a three to five minute feast of philosophical thought. And it’s really fascinating, and it’s something that inspired me to want to share what I’m passionate about, which is secular buddhism.

And something he shared that really resonated with me was the concept of really finding what it means to be a billionaire. And the way he explains is that what if we took this, rather than being a monetary value that we strive for, strive to have money in the sense of being a billionaire, what if we redefine that to say a billionaire is someone who can influence the lives of a billion people. And influencing their lives for the positive.

And when I heard that, I just loved that idea. I thought we go through life chasing after things, right? And money is a big one. And I know that there’s so much more to life than earning money, paying bills, and then dying. And everything that I had studied, was studying at the time and learning about Buddhism, drove me to this one emphasis of, “How do we learn to live life to the fullest? And live in the present moment?”

And when I heard that idea that he taught about redefining what it means to be a billionaire, I knew right then and there that that’s something I wanted to aspire to. To be able to provide a set of tools or information, or some form of platform that can inspire people to want to be better. To have a more positive existence, a more positive way of living.

It was literally January 1st where I decided, “Well, okay. I’m going to start a podcast.” And I started working on this. I developed the Facebook page, and a blog, and a website. All around this concept of sharing Buddhism through a secular lens, the lens that made the most sense to me. And it’s been fascinating to watch this grow and watch it become what it’s becoming. I think in a very Buddhist way it’s exciting to see that there’s no goal in mind. I’m just allowing it to be what it is. I don’t know what that is yet because it’s constantly changing and evolving, which is the very nature of existence, right? The nature of impermanence, the nature of interdependence.

But this weekend the exciting milestone I got to experience was seeing one of my posts go viral. Up until this point anything I tend to share online, whether it be in the form of a podcast, or a blog post, or a Facebook post, or anything like that, it’s grown to the point where it gets seen by thousands of people. And that’s been exciting. But what happened this weekend took it to a whole new level.

When I checked, at first I couldn’t believe these numbers were true. Because what happened over the weekend was one of the posts I shared, which was a poem called Dust if you Must, had gone viral. And it had been seen by over ten million people over the course of the weekend. And I thought, “How is that possible?” And out of that there were just over one million interactions with this post, which caused all of the other posts and everything else I had been posting online to just explode. Suddenly hundreds and thousands of new people were subscribing to the seven day introduction to Buddhism post that’s available on secularbuddhism.com. And over night I was waking up, finding out that there were 8,000 new subscribers, or 8,000 new followers.

It’s just fascinating. It’s still … I had a similar experience last October. Some of you may not know this about me, but I develop products. I have a company, we manufacture photography accessories. And I’ve been doing this for five years. That’s what I do for work, I manufacture photography accessories. And I remember having this really profound experience visiting Hong Kong and meeting with businesses. I’m walking through the mall and I come across the photography store. I’m standing there, and there on the back wall are five or six of the products that I developed. Just hanging in the store. As I’m staring at them the sales person from the store comes up to me, and she’s like, “oh, would you like to buy one of these tripods?” And I got teary-eyed because this was the culmination of years of work for me designing and developing a brand of products. Putting in a lot of hard work and countless sleepless nights, stressful deals, loans, and everything that entails building a business and manufacturing products.

Here I was almost literally on the other side of the world, standing in a store, looking at something that I had created. It was a very moving and humbling experience to me because it felt like all of this had started as an idea. And here I was, sharing something that meant something to me. Creating products that I was passionate about with photography. And there they were, in this random store in a mall in Hong Kong. It was really moving for me. It was the first time that made me realize that we can take something and work on it, and it can become something.

I had that similar experience with Jason Silva’s invitation to redefine what it means to be a billionaire, to be able to share, or influence in a positive way, the lives of a billion people. When I first heard that I thought, “I want to really find what that means to be a millionaire.” Because I thought, “I don’t know how to do that with a billion people.”

This weekend alone, the ideas that I’ve been sharing through this platform have been seen by over ten million people. And over one million people actually interacting with my posts. It’s really humbling. And it’s humbling from the sense that this started as an idea. I genuinely believe that with the right perspective, and with the proper understanding of impermanence and interdependence, it can change your life to see the world in this light.

I believe that the dharma the way that it was taught, and is taught through the lens of Buddhism, can be life changing. And I believe that changing the world is changing ourselves. By providing the teachings of the Dharma, and teachings through secular Buddhism, people who are secular-minded like me can make sense of these fantastic philosophical teaching that inspire to be a better person. To have a more positive light. And it’s been fun to see that this weekend in numbers that exceeded my dreams. Especially this soon in the process, it’s only been four months since this podcast started. So that’s been really exciting for me, and I wanted to share that milestone with you. So again, thank you for sharing and spreading the messages that are shared through this platform. Through the Facebook page, through the study group. It’s really rewarding for me to receive emails from people who are saying, “Thank you for sharing this new concept, or this new approach that I haven’t explored before has literally changed my life.” It’s very rewarding, and that’s why I’m doing this. Because first it changed my life, and now it’s exciting to see how this is improving in a positive way the lives of others.

So I want to share with you the poem that I shared, the poem that went viral. And I think this touches on something that resonates with people. Obviously, that’s why it went viral. The title of this poem is called Dust if you Must. And it goes like this:

Dust if you Must. Dust if you Must, but wouldn’t it be better to paint the picture, or write a letter? Bake a cake, or plant a seed. Ponder the difference between want and need. Dust if you must, but there’s not much time. With rivers to swim, and mountains to climb. Music to hear, and books to read. Friends to cherish, and life to lead. Dust if you must, but the world’s out there. With the sun in your eyes, and the wind in your hair. A flutter of snow, a shower of rain. This day will not come back around again. Dust if you must, but bear in mind, old age will come and it’s not kind. And when you go, and go you must, you yourself will make more dust.

That poem is by Rose Milligan. When I found that and shared that on the secular Buddhism Facebook page, I noticed right away that the messaging really resonates with people. This isn’t an attack on dusting or on cleaning. I think that’s obvious. The key to this message is that we go through life doing, and in the process of doing, we sometimes forget to just be.

My understanding of this, the way it makes sense to me, is the process of doing versus being. And it makes me want to share the concept of meditation from a different perspective. We spend a lot of time meditating. I think when I teach meditation, one of the first things that happens is we get really exciting about meditating. Because we want something out of it. We want to be calm, we want to have more peace in life. There’s an objective. And then over time as it becomes a consistent practice, it’s common to hear from people who say, “Okay, I’ve been doing this for several months now. Yeah, it made me a lot more calm, but now what?” Or people will say, “Now I’m realizing things I hadn’t realized before. I tend to get mad easily, or I tend to have a temper.”

So I wanted to discuss meditation a little bit, from the perspective of the key to meditation being non-meditation. Or this idea of doing versus being. When I teach meditation to someone, mindfulness meditation, I usually explain to imagine a pond. And there’s a pond that has muddy water, and what would have to happen for that muddy water to become clear? Alan Watt says, “Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.” And you can picture this with a muddy pond. If you were to leave it and let it sit still … or take a jar and put dirt in the water in that jar and shake it up, and the water is going to be really muddy. But if you put it down and leave it alone, give it time, all of that mud settles to the bottom, and what you have is clear water again.

This is the first, I guess, level of meditation, which is calm and inviting meditation. It’s learning to still the waters, the muddy waters. What happens as a consequence of learning to still those waters is that then the water is clear, and now we learn to this phase of insight meditation. You’re able to look into that pond and see what’s actually there. This is looking into the nature of awareness, the nature of the mind, and see what’s really there.

And I think something that happens when you learn about meditation, you say, “Okay, I want to start meditating,” is we start to develop expectations about what meditation is, what it’s going to do for me, how I’m going to benefit from it. And that becomes the very thing that Buddhism is trying to eliminate from us. Is that nature tendency, the reactivity that we have, to create meaning around thing. So there’s this concept that there is what is, and there’s the story that we create around what is. I think this is really common when it comes to meditation, or when it comes to life in general. We create meaning around it. And that’s not a bad thing because creating meaning around life is part of life. But with meditation it can be detrimental to create meaning around what meditation is.

A lot of teachers will talk about this concept of the key to meditating is to not meditate. The moment I’m saying I’m going to meditate, that’s a concept in my mind. That means something. Whatever that means to me, that’s the meaning you give to meditation. It is this, or that, or it causes this, or it causes that. Whatever concept you hold about what meditation is can be useful to the point of helping you to be calm. To gain this calm clarity that you need. And then insight meditation you start to be able to see the nature and awareness. But when this is done properly, and the mind and thoughts have been calm enough for the mud settle, so to speak, and for the water to become clear to the point where you can start to see the nature of the mind, the way the mind works, then the concept that you have about what meditation is actually becomes a hindrance to progressing to the full purpose of meditation.

Which is with that insight, when you can finally see what’s really there, what you’re going to gain out of this is the one thing that Buddhism is trying to get you to see, which is seeing things as they are. Again, to clarify, the concept of non-meditation, or the key to meditation being non-meditation, is that we want to let go of what the concept of meditation is.

I think this becomes very relevant with what I shared last week in the podcast with the parable of the raft. What the Buddha taught is the raft is something that you need. Let’s say in this case he taught it specifically was the Dharma, the teachings, which in this case we can equate to meditation. It’s this tool that you use and you’re life depends on it to be able to accomplish what you’re trying to get. But at some point, you have to learn to let go. The concept of letting go, from the sense of meditation, is that if you really want to get what meditation is all about, then you’ll learn that what it’s all about is about not meditation. That’s the difference between doing, it’s not something that you do, it’s about how you are, it’s about being. Doing versus being.

To take meditation to that next level, at some point you have to understand that the whole purpose of meditation is that you don’t meditate. You’re learning to just be with what is. That’s why when I teach meditation, mindfulness meditation, what I try to convey is this concept that there’s nothing magical happening. Nothing happens. All you’re doing is learning to be with what is. It’s kind of the exercise with learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

That can be confusing to people, because then it’s like, “Well, what’s the point of all this then?” Think about this, how often do we really spend time with just being with something. Not doing anything, just being with what is. I think one of the sources of all of our problems is the minute that we start meditating or the minute we’re doing anything, we’re creating meaning. And then we can’t allow things to just be as they are. So meditation can be this practice. This is a technique that used in different Buddhist traditions. There’s the Tibetan [inaudible 00:19:10] meditation that instills this … you go through different phases. And the ultimate phase is this phase of non-meditation.

How does that work? How does this apply to a daily practitioner of meditation in the secular Buddhist lens? If you’re new to this and you want to start meditating, how does that help to knowing this now, especially early on in the game? And I think the key is by grasping this intellectually, as some point in your meditation, the only way you’re going to be able to progress with gaining wisdom to the nature of reality is to let go of whatever that concept you have of what the nature of reality is. Hopefully that makes sense.

Alan Watts talks about this in terms of the attitude of faith. He says, “The attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be.” I think this is very relevant with this concept of meditation. Because what you’re doing is letting go of whatever you think meditation is, or what it’s supposed to do, or how it’s going to benefit you. You let go of that. Because there is nothing, it’s not supposed to do anything, or benefit you in any way. And yet, when you grasp that that’s when it benefits you, because that’s when you’ve let go.

Again, it’s like this paradox. I love this, Buddhism is general is like this paradox. There’s a teaching that says when you first start to study or learn Buddhism, before, mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers, streams are just streams. And then you start to learn a little bit about Buddhism. And it’s exciting. And the more you start to learn suddenly it’s like there’s this awe in everything you see. Mountains aren’t just mountains. Rivers aren’t just rivers anymore, and streams aren’t just streams. The more time that you spend with it, the more that you start to learn the philosophical understandings, and the teachings of Buddhism. Then when you’re done and you really get it, then you realize, “Oh, mountains are just mountains. Rivers are just rivers. Streams are just streams.” And yet, that’s what makes them so beautiful.

I like to think about this with the teaching of a rose. A rose is beautiful because a rose is just a rose. It doesn’t bloom and then wait for someone to come along, pick it up, and say, “Wow, you are a beautiful rose.” Because it doesn’t care. That’s not the reason why a rose exists. It does not exist so someone can pick it up and tell it it’s beautiful. And yet, that’s what makes it beautiful. Because it just is what it is.

It’s no different with us and our existence, and the way that we try to see things the way that they are. When you learn to see something the way that it is, then it becomes beautiful, and almost magical, simply because it is just what it is. You’ve detached all the meaning you had behind it. Remember, it’s inside of these concepts, meanings and ideas, that we attach to things, that things get muddy. And muddy water is best cleared by leaving is alone, as Alan Watt says. We leave things alone, meaning we let go of the meaning that we’ve attached to things, and the things just are what they are. When we can allow things to just be what they are, then we can see them as they really are.

Meditation is that tool. Meditation itself can become a hindrance if we have meaning, or ideas, or concepts, attached to what meditation is. What this is supposed to be doing for me. I think the biggest mistake around this is spending time thinking, “meditation is working. Meditation is not working. It’s doing this, it’s doing that.” All of this resides inside of the sphere of the meaning that we have around what meditation is. Or what it’s supposed to do. The whole point is that there is nothing that it’s supposed to do, there’s nothing that it’s supposed to mean. It’s the exercise of just being with what is. Learning to be comfortable with discomfort. It’s sitting and observing the thoughts, in the same way that you would sit outside and observe the clouds. You notice that the nature of watching clouds in the sky is that they arise, they appear, they linger, and then they go away. That’s the nature of observing clouds. That’s also the nature of meditation, and observing our thoughts.

The nature of things as they are is that things arise, they linger for a while, then they’re gone. Isn’t that the very nature of life itself? Things arise, they exist for a short time, then they’re gone. And when we can allow ourselves to start to see things the way that they are, without attaching meaning to things, then we become that much closer to being enlightened.

This is another concept, the idea of enlightenment, carries so much connotation around the meaning that we have about enlightenment. If I were to ask you, “What does it mean to be enlightened?” Everyone has an interpretation of what that means. Enlightenment in it’s purest form is nothing more than what I explain earlier about mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers, streams are streams. Then when we think we start to know what it means to be enlightened, that’s when we think, “Oh, mountains aren’t just mountains. Rivers aren’t just rivers. Streams aren’t just streams. It’s something more.” But then true enlightenment happens and you realize, “oh, they are just mountains. Rivers are just rivers. Streams are just streams. Life is just life. Happiness is just happiness, sadness is just sadness.” It’s in allowing these things to be what they are, this attitude of faith, to let go, to become open to reality whatever it may be, that is the nature of awakening. That is the nature of enlightenment in the secular Buddhist understanding.

This is what makes it all so beautiful. It’s inside of that space of allowing things to just be what they are that everything becomes beautiful. The concept of the rose. What makes the rose so beautiful is that it’s just a rose. There’s nothing more to it. There’s nothing that you add to it. A rose is a rose, and that’s what makes it beautiful. A human being is a human being, and that’s what makes us beautiful.

If we could see all things like that, with that lens of allowing things to be what they are, it would change everything. Meditation is the tool to do that. That’s the concept of meditation through non-meditation.

I hope that resonates with you, and I think that’s what touches the heart of the concept of Dust if you Must. We go through life, and we’re busy, and we’re doing things that we think we need to be doing, and these things are meaningful. And yet at the end, we’re just dust. We go back to being the one thing that we’re trying to clean up, or trying to avoid all along. That’s the one thing we are. I think it’s a powerful message, and it’s at the heart of why I want to share the things that I share, as I study and learn and teach the concept of Buddhism. I want to spread the message, and the idea of enlightenment being the idea of learning to see life just the way that it is. Learning that there is what is, and then there’s the story that we create about what it. We tend to live and go through our entire life inside of the story of what is, and never actually see what is.

Imagine if you were to taste a food one day you had never tasted before, because your whole life, you’ve only seen the menu. And you’ve been in love with the menu, and the pictures on the menu, and the words that describe the dish. And the price attached to it. Everything around the concept of what is, but you never actually experienced what is, which would be to taste the food. It may seem silly, but that’s what we do in life. There’s what is, the experiential version of living, you’re tasting the food, and then there’s the intellectual or conceptual of what is. That’s like being in love with the menu, thinking that this whole time what you loved on the menu is actually the meal. And it’s not. They’re two completely different things.

I think we do this a lot with meditation. There’s my idea of what meditation is, what it’s supposed to do. I know everything from a conceptual understanding of what meditation is. That’s the menu. And then one day you experience what meditation actually is, it’s learning to see things as they are, that’s like tasting the food. And it’s a whole different thing. That cannot be conveyed. You cannot convey that in words to someone else. You can only experience it.

Using that menu as an example, I can taste all the food and enjoy the flavors, everything, and try to convey it to you. And maybe all you’ve ever experienced is what I’m telling you on a menu, and you think, “Yeah, yeah, I got it. Yeah, I see what this is. I see the ingredients, I get it.” But we can’t. Until you taste it yourself, you’re not going to know what that really is. That’s the difference between meditation and learning that they key to meditation is actually non-meditation. Let go of the concept that you have about meditation, and learn to just meditate. Which is, learn to just be with what is. Learn to clear that muddy water by leaving it alone, by not trying, by just being.

Next time you practice your meditation, don’t have any expectations about what it is, what it’s supposed to do. Just practice sitting there and being with what is. Whatever it turns out to be. Think about this attitude of faith that Alan Watts talks about. The attitude of faith, of letting go. Becoming completely open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be. Learning to be with what is, whatever that might turn out to be.

Let me know how that goes for you. I’d love to hear about it. We have the secular Buddhism Facebook page, which as I mentioned before, is exploring. There’s the secular Buddhism study group, which is also a Facebook group. There’s a secularbuddhism.com website, where you can comment and post. Where I post the podcast, you can comment on that page. Or feel free to reach out to me. A lot of people have been reaching out to me directly, and I respond to every email. I interact. At some point that becomes something that I cannot manage, then I’ll stop saying to do that. But for now, feel free to reach out to me directly at Noah, N-O-A-H, at secularbuddhism.com. I’d love to discuss this concept with you, and see what you think about it. Hopefully this is useful and helpful information to help you have a more positive life.

I send you guys my regards, and thank you once again for turning in. Thank you for being a part of this journey with me. I look forward to seeing where this goes from here. Thank you, and until next time.

11 – Parable of the Raft

In this episode, I will discuss one of the Buddha’s most famous teachings: The Parable of the Raft. The general concept to be learned by this parable is the importance of letting go of the things that we no longer need on our journey. It would be wise to take a moment to reflect on what rafts we continue to cling to even after they are no longer necessary for us.

Subscribe to the podcast on:
iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/secular-buddhism/id1071578260
SoundCloud – https://soundcloud.com/secularbuddhism
TuneIn – http://tunein.com/radio/Secular-Buddhism-p823114/
Stitcher – http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=80132&refid=stpr

Transcript of the podcast episode:

Hello, you are listening to the Secular Buddhism podcast and this is episode number 11. I am your host Noah Rasheta and today I’m talking about the Parable of the Raft. Before we jump into the topic, I want to remind you that this podcast is produced every week, covers philosophical topics within Buddhism and Secular Humanism and the episodes one through five serve as a basic introduction to Secular Buddhism, and to general Buddhist concepts. So if you’re new to the podcast, I definitely recommend listening to the first five episodes in order. After that all other episodes are just meant to be individual topics that you can listen to in any order.

Something I like to mention before starting is that, a quote from the Dalai Lama where he says, “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are.” Just keep that in mind as you listen to this podcast, or to any of the topics discussed within the podcast series. There is no intent here to convert anyone to anything. I’m just sharing what’s meaningful to me as I’ve studied Buddhism in the last many years, and trying to share it in a way that inspire you to be a better whatever you already are. So remember if you enjoy this podcast please feel free to share it, write a review, give it a rating, all that really helps. Now lets’ jump into this week’s topic.

Hi guys. I’m excited to talk to you today about a parable called, “The raft parable.” This is a well-known teaching in Buddhism, that I think is quite popular because it has a great message. This comes from the Alagaddupama Sutta and this is also called, “The water-snake simile,” sutta, or teaching. The idea here … It’s two different stories and the first part of the story is about a water-snake and the second part of the story is about a raft, and they go hand in hand and there are various interpretations of what this parable means and what the moral of the story is, but just to give you a background really quick on the actual story.

The first part of the story is about a man who approaches a water-snake and he picks it up from the wrong end. He grabs the tail end. The snake turns around and bites him, and it’s a poisonous bite. He regrets that he picked it up the wrong way. The moral of that story is about when you’re learning the teachings of the Buddha, or the Dharma, if you grasp them in the wrong way it’s going to have consequences. It will put us in danger. So the idea is that as we’re studying, learning the teachings of the Buddha, that they need to be understood correctly because to understand them the wrong way is very much like picking up a snake from the wrong direction.

This understanding in the water-snake part of the story is probably what Nagarjuna had in mind when he said, “Emptiness wrongly grasped is like picking up a poisonous snake by the wrong end.” Then the raft story immediately follows the snake story. The idea of the Parable of the Raft, if there is a person who comes to a large body of water and he’s trying to get to the other side and this can be a river, can be an ocean, and I think it’s told differently in different translations, or in various interpretations, but again the idea is that he’s there, he needs to cross to the other side. There’s no way to do it, at least safely. So he starts to assemble all of the components that he needs to build a raft. The twigs and the branches and the rope and he spends all this effort and time building a small raft, and once it’s put together he relies on this raft to keep himself afloat and he makes his way across the body of water to reach the other side.

Then once he reaches the other side the idea is now that he’s there, is he supposed to leave the raft or is he supposed to drag it along with him or carry it on his back? What the Buddha taught is that he should leave it and he explained that the Dharma, or the teachings are like this raft. They can be useful for crossing over but not useful for grasping or holding on to. It’s a short and simple story and it’s been interpreted in many ways, and one of the understandings is that as you’re studying the teachings in Buddhism and you become awakened to what the meaning is of the teachings, are you supposed to continue hanging on to these teachings? Or do you let go?

Some argue that that is the interpretation as you become awakened or enlightened, then you let go of Buddhism entirely and others argue that that’s not the right interpretation, that it has more to do with the way that you grasp, or cling to these. What you’re supposed to do is let go of clinging and that the raft isn’t necessarily the teachings. The raft is letting go of or clinging to the teachings. Again there are several ways, several arguments. My intention isn’t to explain one of the arguments. I like the parable for other reasons. What I really like about the Parable of the Raft is the concept of something at one point being really meaningful in your life, maybe a lot of energy and effort went into it. This can be a relationship, or specific belief system, a job, something that was very meaningful to you and a lot of time and effort went into building that and then at some point in your journey, or on your path, it’s no longer relevant or important.

Well, it may be important, but it’s no longer necessary because you’ve reached the other side. So you let go of it and to continue to carry it would be taking this as an example, in a relationship it would be like being in a relationship with someone. All the time and effort that went into making that relationship important and meaningful and successful is like building that raft and then at some point the relationship ends. You’ve reached the shore, a new shore where it was no longer necessary to continue to carry the aspects of that relationship. Now that you’re not with that person, would be like carrying the raft. It’s unnecessary and it’s actually just hindering your progress at that point. One of the typical things that we do, assuming you are able to let go of the raft, or leave that raft behind. I think it’s also detrimental to look back on that specific [phase of your life and think that it was a waste of time.

So for example, again using the Parable of the Raft, at one point the raft meant everything of your time and energy went into building it. Once you’re on the raft and you’re over the water, or you’re floating on the water, the raft is a matter of life and death. That’s how meaningful that raft is to you, and once you reach the other side, it’s no longer necessary and let’s say somewhere down the road, even if you did … Either you’re carrying the raft, or you left the raft behind. It would be silly to look back on that phase and say, “Man, I wish I would have never wasted time building that raft. That was stupid,” because you’re saying this from the perspective of the person who’s already at the point of the journey where the raft is no longer necessary, but it’s like we forget that at one point it was and when you were on the water, that meant everything.

So if you were to apply this a relationship, or where I see this a lot is people who are transitioning in their faith journey and maybe at one point they belonged to a specific religion or they understood life through the lens of a specific school of thought, or a specific set of ideas, and then later at some point in their life they don’t and they look back on that and think, “Why did I ever believe that? How could I have been so silly?” Or something to that affect, but the concept is the same as the raft. It’s once you’re at a point in your life where the raft doesn’t mean anything to you, I think it’s detrimental to look back and regret the time or energy that was wasted on building the raft because you’re thinking, “I didn’t need that.” But you’re saying that from the perspective of a place where you are now where the raft doesn’t mean anything to you. It’s not necessary because maybe now you’re walking around on dry land.

We forget that at the time where we were in that part of our journey, the raft did mean everything to us. Even if it doesn’t mean anything to us now. So I kind of wanted to address this concept from the perspective of how in our journey, our faith journey, or our relationship journey, just the journey of life in general, we come across bodies of water and at times it’s important to build the raft and to spend all the time and energy on everything that we need to build a raft to cross that body of water. During that time the raft means everything to you and if you pause for a minute and think about the various stages in your life when you were building rafts, these rafts are very important to you. They mean everything to you.

It’s different things, right? It can be if you’re on a faith journey, it can be your beliefs or your convictions. If you’re thinking about relationships, it can be a specific person or there’s so many things that I think apply to this concept of the raft. If you were in a career, it could be the time and energy you spent studying for the Bar exam when you were trying to be … Learn to become an attorney, or again this is kind of endless. It can apply to so many things across so many different spectrums, but these are our rafts. In life, we’re constantly building rafts. Wherever you are right now in your life, you’re probably either building a raft, or you’re on the raft paddling to the other side of something.

One of the things … The two big mistakes that we make, is one when we get there, we just put the raft on our back and keep on going. This is the concept of not being able to let go. The second, assuming you are able to let go, is that you actually haven’t let go because now you are angry at the phase of life that you feel was wasted for spending time on the raft, that now you feel, “Well that’s a waste, that raft isn’t necessary,” but we forget that at the time, where we were in that place mentally, or emotionally, it was necessary. The raft was everything. It was a matter of life and death.

So from this lens the Parable of the Raft to me, for me personally is the story of understanding what it means to let go. I think there’s another story that helps illustrate the teaching of letting go and this is the Zen story of the two monks and a woman. The way this story goes, there were two monks. A senior monk and a junior monk and they’re traveling together and at some point in their travels they come to a river that has a strong current. It’s kind of a big river. The monks are getting ready to cross the river and at that point one of them sees a young and beautiful woman who’s trying to cross this river and the young woman asks them for help and the two monks kind of glance at each other, because they realize they have taken vows not to touch a woman. Without word, the older monk, the senior monk doesn’t say anything. He just picks up the woman, carries her across the river and gently places her on the other side. Then they continue their journey.

As they continue their journey, the younger monk just can’t believe what happened and this is festering and he’s thinking and thinking and at some point he finally speaks up and he’s like, “Hey, I don’t get it. We’ve taken vows to not touch a woman and how are you able to just pick her up and carry her on your shoulders and ut her on the other side? I don’t get it. You’ve broken your vow.” The older monk looks at him and just says, “I put the woman down on the other side of the river. Why are you still carrying her?” I think it’s a simple Zen story, like all Zen stories. It carries a simple, beautiful message about the concept of letting go and how often we carry something and we hold on to it and it’s there and it’s festering and it’s on our mind because we were not capable of letting go.

Again this Zen story, don’t read into any of the moral or ethics of the vows they had taken. None of that matters. The point of the story, the moral of that story is when you do something, you do something and then when you’re done you let it go. Applying this to the other Parable of the Raft, it’s very similar. There’s a raft that at the time, it makes sense to have a raft or build a raft or be on a raft, the raft can mean everything and then at moment that the raft no longer means anything to us, or it’s no longer necessary, you have the two options. You carry it with you, or you let it go. I think the letting go also has two options. Once you’ve let it go, you either let it go completely, or you let it go and let it fester on your mind that you’re mad that you ever carried it in the first place and that would be silly when you think about the concept. Just the story of the raft, you know?

It would be silly to look back and say, “Well I can’t believe I ever wasted time building that raft,” only because you’ve forgotten that there was a time when the raft did mean everything to you. So that’s what I wanted to discuss a little bit in this brief podcast, is the Parable of the Raft, and I would hope that you can spend some time looking in to your own life and think, “What are the rafts that I’ve built in my life? What are the bodies of water that I needed to cross and in order to do so safely, I had to rely on a raft? How did I build that raft? What was that raft to me?” Then, “In what ways am I still carrying the raft with me?” Again this might apply to relationships, to faith transitions or journeys, to career transitions, parenting transitions, so many different applications here, but in what way do you continue to carry the raft with you?

If you have let it go, or at least you think you’ve let it go, in what way are you actually still carrying it with you because you continually think of it? It’s still there on your mind or you resent the fact that you ever had to carry the raft on your back or you ever had to be on the raft in the first place, or that you wasted time and effort building a raft. I think there are so many levels that you can apply this to in day to day life and I think it’s a worthy mental exercise to spend time thinking about the Parable of the Raft and the teaching that the Buddha taught specific to the raft, was the importance of learning to let go of something that can be as meaningful and as important as a raft is. When your life depends on it, the raft means everything to you, but at some point when it doesn’t it’s okay to let it go and it can be detrimental to not let go.

I know in my own life I can think of several instances where things were as important to me, these were my rafts. They meant everything to me, and I thought I had let these things go. At some point, I’m like the younger of those two monks who realizes I haven’t let it go. It’s been festering and I’m thinking and at that moment you kind of unleash the question. Like, “Why? I don’t get it. You were supposed to …” you know it’s like you’re talking to that senior monk saying, “Why were you carrying her?” And that was hours ago. Or days ago, or months ago, or years ago. The wise monk will say, “I let that person down on the other side of the river. Why are you still carrying them?” That’s like I let go of the raft when I no longer needed it. Why are you still carrying it? This is a matter of wisdom, right? It’s not right, or wrong. I’m not saying you’re wrong for doing this, it’s just not wise. It’s not wise to be carrying a raft when you don’t need it.

At some point when you encounter a new body of water, then you’re going to spend the time an energy building a new raft to cross that body of water, but we don’t just carry these with us. So that’s the concept of the raft I’d love to hear what you think of the parable and specifically what this parable means to you. The various aspects, the water-snake and how we grasp things and how dangerous it is to grasp things from the wrong end, or improperly. Also the concept of the raft. What does it mean to you? What are some of your rafts? Let’s talk about these. You can email me or post it on our Secular Buddhism Facebook group, or on the blog post. Anywhere you want, I’d love to discuss these things. See if you can get to the root of what some of your personal rafts are, and what ways you can let go of these things.

So if you have any other questions or comments about this, please feel free to get a hold of me. Again like in all podcasts, if you enjoyed this, please feel free to write a review through iTunes or give it a rating and share this with someone who you think might enjoy the things that I’m sharing and teaching in these podcasts. Thank you for your time and I look forward to sharing another podcast with you next week. Thank you.

7 – Acceptance vs Resignation

What is acceptance?

I think there’s a common misconception around the idea of “Acceptance” and it has to do with the semantics of the word acceptance. It’s common to associate the word acceptance with the word resignation. I want to spend some time discussing what acceptance is but clarifying also what it’s not. Buddhism does not encourage resignation, it encourages acceptance. So what is acceptance? Read More

5 Tips for the Overwhelmed

As an entrepreneur, I’ve had my share of overwhelming times where I felt like the sky was literally falling around me. This feeling isn’t unique to entrepreneurs, it can be experienced by anyone at virtually any point in life. Whether it’s family/relationship, work, financial, or just seasonal circumstances that are causing the stress and feelings of being overwhelmed, it can be very helpful to remember the following 7 tips: Read More

The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

The famous Tibetan poet Milarepa once said: “My religion is to live – and die – without regret.” I remember writing that quote down in my journal with a big star next to it that said, “me too!” It’s been almost 4 years since I wrote that down. I recently came across a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing and it made me pause and reflect on the way that I’m living. Read More

11 Tips for Mindful Living

Meditation is where mindful living starts. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just sit for 5-10 minutes and learn to “be in the present”. Focus your attention on your breath. Notice when your thoughts wander from your breath, and gently return to the breath.

The real meditation practice is how we live our lives from moment to moment to moment. – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Read More