The following simile is one of my attempts to explain what motivates me to take the Dhamma journey, simplify life, meditate and so on. People see things in quite different ways, with different values, different assumptions and knowledge about reality. This leads people to adopt different behaviour and morality. Because of how we view reality we take diverse paths that tend toward further suffering or tend toward liberation.
Imagine that we are all on a ship that is on fire and sinking. Some passengers just party, party, party until the ship sinks. Other passengers become depressed and helpless and some in this camp even suicide. Some passengers panic and go crazy. Most passengers either don’t know or choose to ignore the fact that the ship is on fire and sinking. This is despite the ship listing and smelling of smoke. Of course some parts of the ship are worse than other parts.
However, a minority of passengers believe there is an escape, a way off the ship. Someone in the past found the way to get off. The believers study and practice the method of escape. Sometimes their practice attempts give them glimpses that it escape is really possible and this gives them confidence to keep trying. Some energetic passengers actually escape and then, from a safe external point, also help other believing passengers escape.
Even when the former passengers who escaped stand in that safe point to explain the method of escape, most passengers still don’t believe that escape is possible, or even if it were possible, they don’t believe it is a good thing to do. These passengers don’t like escaping because they have to leave behind all their friends and nice things on the comfortable parts of the burning sinking ship. They would lose their investments. They also don’t know or understand what they might be escaping to, escape seems risky. It is all too hard and so they prefer not to think about it.
Some passengers who don’t believe escape is possible and want to enjoy life on the sinking burning ship criticise the escaping passengers for being “selfish” for not wanting to be with passengers who are apparently enjoying life on the ship. These critics don’t see the virtue of escaping, and then from the safe place, helping other passengers to escape. Another group of ship passengers are delighted that there are sincere escaping people and fully support them in the hope that the once these people escape, they will be able to reach back from the safe point and also help them and other passengers on the sinking burning ship.
What happens when the burning sinking ship sinks and everyone goes down with it? They are all reborn on yet another sinking burning ship and most of them have to live in worse conditions than the conditions they were living on the previous ship. They also forget that there were on other burning sinking ships in previous lives. The reborn escape believers have more fortunate rebirths on the burning sinking ship and may soon escape themselves, even though most of them also forget their previous births. This is kamma.
The simile of a sinking burning ship refers to this life where we are all ageing, suffering sickness and face inevitable death. The burning sinking ship represents the unsatisfactory nature of life. I believe in the Buddha Dhamma that teaches a way to escape ageing, sickness and death. I have practiced and become confident in this path. I believe that escape is possible in this life. I believe that I may be able to help others to escape. This is a worthy goal.
There is a great potential reward for supporters who are happy to see escapees attempting to get off the burning sinking boat. The opposite is also true. Not many people are aware of this.