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Empty Boats

Oct 31, 1995 08:11 PM
by K. Paul Johnson

Last night I talked to my old college friend Larry, who has
studied Buddhism for many years. After a long discussion of my
next writing project, I asked him if he had any insight or
advice on dealing with the repeated demands for my attention
from someone who was obsessed with the shortcomings of my
work. He thought a minute, and said that there was a teaching
attributed to the Buddha that might help. If you are in a boat
on the river and another boat collides with yours, and there is
a person in the other boat, you get mad. You blame that person
for getting in your way. But if the boat is empty, you don't
get mad, you just attribute the collision to the wind and the
current, forces that are not consciously controlled by anyone.
Larry said that it would be helpful to see one's antagonist as
an empty boat. That is, instead of thinking that there is a
conscious entity in charge who is deliberately setting out to
interfere with our progress down the river of life, we should
realize that he, and we, are only concatenations of skandhas.
The person who is colliding with you is not doing so
deliberately out of malice; he or she seeks only to find
happiness and avoid suffering. Because of a series of causes
going back eternally-- hereditary, environmental, past-life,
etc.-- that person is behaving in a particular way. Probably
he is perceiving you as having deliberately and maliciously
interfered with his progress down the same river. But in fact,
the currents in the river are beyond your control and determine
the collision.

Well, that does help. The Theosophical movement is a river
with strong currents and deep holes. Boats can crash on rocks
or be sucked into whirlpools. The natal chart of the TS shows
just how much turbulence there is. The particular aspect that
describes what is going on with my boat is the opposition of
Saturn and Mars in the eighth house to Uranus in the second.
Saturn is tradition and authority, Mars is aggression and
initiative, and the eighth house rules the unconscious,
inheritance, collective values. Uranus is independence,
discovery, enlightenment, the clash of ideas; the second house
rules personal values. This aspect means that in the
Theosophical movement there will be a regular succession of
individualistic nonconformists who come up with new ways of
understanding that seem revolutionary. And they will be
regularly attacked by the aggression of those who value the
collectively accepted tradition and want to stamp out any
challenges to it. That's the nature of this particular river.
Rather than piss and moan about the battering received by my
boat, it makes more sense to simply take it out of the river.
And strive to refrain from reciprocating all the personal blame
messages received, understanding that the blame more properly
goes to a collective pattern that is being unconsciously

On an unrelated matter (sorta) please be advised that any
unfriendly and unsoliticed email from listmembers will
henceforth be forwarded to the list.

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