Posted by: Inside-Out Peace | May 9, 2009

Raft Not Shore

There is a wonderful book called The Raft Is Not the Shore: Conversations Toward a Buddhist/Christian Awareness.  The conversations in the book are between Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, and Daniel Berrigan, a Roman Catholic priest.  The title refers to a precept of Buddhism which Hanh describes: “It is often said that the Buddha’s teaching is only a raft to help you cross the river, a finger pointing to the moon. Don’t mistake the finger for the moon. The raft is not the shore. raftIf we cling to the raft, if we cling to the finger, we miss everything. We cannot, in the name of the finger or the raft, kill each other. Human life is more precious than any ideology, any doctrine.”

There are all kinds of rafts: religious rafts (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, etc.), economic rafts (capitalist, socialist, communist), political rafts (Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative), ethnic rafts (white, black, Hispanic, Arab, etc.) and… I’m sure there are others, but it’s taking me too long to think of any more.  Anything from which people form any part of their identity can become a raft.  It appears to me, for example, that some people are clinging to the raft of being “Republican” – while others have no problem abandoning ship. 

What rafts are you on, and what shore are you trying to reach?



  1. What a great post!

    I would love to read that book.

    Do you ever have a feeling like what you just read was destined, that the singular specific nagging question you have seems to lead you to the perfect answer, or most appropriate juncture? Other times it helps me to understand events that have just occurred.

    I feel like this post is relevant to my own seeking – a reflection almost. I have grasped the notion of unity and The Other but never processed the consequence.

    Right now I have begun a little book called “The Gospel According to Zen” which is as far as I have gotten a collection of essays a collection of Jesus’ sayings from the Gospel of Thomas.

    Your post reminds me of one of my favorites – “Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, ‘These nursing babies are like those who enter the (Father’s) kingdom.’

    They said to him, ‘Then shall we enter the (Father’s) kingdom as babies?’

    Jesus said to them, ‘When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom].”

    He adds gender to the list – one of my favorites to deconstruct – the spark behind all poetry perhaps, the question of what is embodied by nature and what by convention?

    I see virtue in practicing detachment from rafts (which is interestingly an important symbol in Hesse’s Siddhartha now that I think about it…) treating as though it is the mountain you spoke of earlier – a personal and correspondingly societal goal. It strikes deep into the heart of words and language as well as our notions of self and other. Not in the sense of deconstruction, but now demanding a new approach. Fortunately, gathering the old approaches seems to be the best way forward.

  2. […] I failed to convey the first time around – Atheism, in its own way, can become a crutch or raft just as any […]

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