In 2017, I randomly discovered the wisdom of Zen Buddhism while searching for books on Amazon that I hoped would help me feel better about my life. Here's one of the books.
A few months later, while trying to understand how Zen Buddhism could be of practical use to me, I came across the raft parable. It’s been told in several ways, but here’s my gist of it:
A man is on a solo journey and comes across a large body of water. He must cross it at this point to continue his journey. He determines that it would not be possible to swim acoss, so he decides to build a raft instead. He then uses this raft to succesfully cross this body of water. He then had a crucial decision to make - should he carry this raft on his shoulders for the rest of the journey, in case he comes across another body of water (which could tire him out), or should he drop it and figure it out when a similar situation arises?
What would you do?
There are several interpretations of this parable but here’s the one that really helped shaped my mind for the better:
Learned constructs (‘rafts’) that I needed in the past, do not need to be grasped onto for the chance of them being needed again. The more I carry mentally, the more likely it’ll weigh me down in life. Instead, when a construct has served it’s purpose, I should readily let go and move on. I must always remember that I’ve done it before, and I will most definitely figure out how to do it again.
In a way, this allowed me to feel more agile and free with how I perceived the world.
As someone who considers themselves largely secular, the beauty of this parable was also its self-awareness. Here are 2 extracts that highlight this from Thich Nhat Hanh’s, Your True Home:
The Buddha said to consider his teaching to be a raft helping you to the other shore. What you need is a raft to cross the river in order to go to the other shore. You don’t need a raft to worship, to carry on your shoulders, and to make you proud that you are possessing the truth.
The Buddha handed us an instrument to remove notions and concepts, and touch reality directly. If you continue to cling, even to Buddhist notions and concepts, you miss the opportunity. You are carrying the raft on your shoulders. Do not be a prisoner of any doctrine or ideology, even Buddhist ones.
Regardless of whether you’re religious or believe in spirituality, we are all holding onto ‘rafts’ that we had learned when we were younger. They protected and helped us cope with the physical and mental struggles. But now, many of them are likely to be holding us back.
Take the time to identify your rafts and work on dropping them in order to feel better and achieve more today.