Dhamma as a Raft

When people first come across Dhamma they judge it the way they always judge things – against you own standards i.e. what you think is good and bad. What you find is you like some teachings and dislike others. Naturally then, those you like, you think of as good. Those you dislike you think of as bad (or at least not very good).

The natural follow on from this, is a spiritually immature, if natural, agreeing and disagreeing with different points.

But dhamma is not about finding a philosophy that fits with your preconceptions. Where have your philosophies and world views gotten you so far? Well, they got you this far at least, but with Buddhism, and religion as a whole, there is the promise of something much greater than you yourself. A teaching much greater than you have the capacity to judge. And ultimately yes, a teaching that is much greater than it’s own self.

By this is meant the Buddha’s own description of the teachings that he gave, not as great truths, but as a vehicle that leads to the great truths.

In fact he described Dhamma as a raft!

You make a raft not from great and mighty trees, but from the things you find around you. Put them together in the right way they will take you across the water. Once you land on the other shore, you have no need of the raft, just as you have no need to cling to Dhamma as an ultimate truth of any kind, once you have crossed over.

The implications of this teaching are worth considering. Now we have something that is not to be judged on ones predispositions, guided by what you like/dislike, but by how useful they are in transformation. Agreeing/disagreeing, or measuring the Dhamma as a set of philosophical standpoints, is never going to be really useful. It will not be transformational. And so the judge has lost the message of the teaching he is judging.

And when Dhamma is put to work – used as a framework of observation that encourages the disentanglement from the world, and the freeing of the consciousness – some of the more odd teachings make sense. The more you give up, the more you have. The more dispassionate you are, the more love you have to give. The less you need, the more you can give. The more of your ‘self’ you abandon, the more you find yourself coming home. The harder you try, the further from the goal you get …. And more. Zen in founded on such paradoxes.

Why is dispassion a good thing? What is ‘disenchantment?’ – all these kinds of things are not going to be answered to anyone’s full satisfaction. But if you absorb, and neither like nor dislike – but observe. Then things fall into place. Even the 84 000 stanzas of the Buddhist teaching can come together in one moment of meditation.  The teachings are not philosophical standpoints, but are there to be used as tools, as a vehicle for transformation.

For the things that do not make sense, let them marinate!


About Cittasamvaro

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