Abandon the Raft

The Alagadduupama Sutta (Majjhimanikaaya – M22) contains several similes, though the simile perhaps most quoted is the simile of the raft. The raft being the Dhamma, in the sense of being the teaching of Lord Buddha. We must be careful not to abandon the raft too early though. In some discussion groups I’ve noted that some people refer to this simile to support their own view that opponents are being too strict with the Dhamma. One person even used the simile of the raft to support his partner’s use of cannabis and drinking alcohol. Another example is to claim that adhering to the Dhamma or to the five precepts is the same as clinging to rules and rituals siilabbata-paraamaasa. They also cite the old story of the Mahayaana monk carrying the woman to ford a river.

Can we abandon the raft, or even some parts of the raft, mid stream? Perhaps the time to abandon the raft/Dhamma is when the yogi has already crossed the stream and at least attained the eye of the Dhamma (sotapanna).

Majjhima Nikaya M22. Alagadduupama Sutta: The Simile of the Snake (อลคัททูปมสูตร)

13. “Bhikkhus, I shall show you how the Dhamma is similar to a raft, being for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of grasping. Listen and attend closely to what I shall say.”–“Yes, venerable sir,” the bhikkhus replied. The Blessed One said this:

“Bhikkhus, suppose a man in the course of a journey saw a great expanse of water, whose near shore was dangerous and fearful and whose further shore was safe and free from fear, but there was no ferryboat or bridge for going to the far shore. Then he thought: ‘There is this great expanse of water, whose near shore is dangerous and fearful and whose further shore is safe and free from fear, but there is no ferryboat or bridge for going to the far shore. Suppose I collect grass, twigs, branches, and leaves and bind them together into a raft, and supported by the raft and making an effort with my hands and feet, I got safely across to the far shore.’

And then the man collected grass, twigs and branches, and leaves and bound them together into a raft, and supported by the raft and making an effort with his hands and feet, he got safely across to the far shore. Then, when he had got across and had arrived to the far shore, he might think thus: ‘This raft has been very helpful to me, since supported by it and making an effort with my hands and feet, I got safely across to the far shore. Suppose I were to hoist it on my head or load it on my shoulder, and then go wherever I want.’ Now, bhikkhus, what do you think? By doing so, would that man be doing what should be done with that raft?”

“No, venerable sir.”

“By doing what would that man be doing what should be done with that raft? Here bhikkhus, when that man had arrived at the far shore, he might think thus: ‘This raft has been very helpful to me, since supported by it and making an effort with my hands and feet, I got safely across to the far shore. Suppose I were to haul it onto dry land or set it adrift in the water, and then go wherever I want.’ Now, bhikkhus, it is by doing so that that man would be doing what should be done with this raft, being for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of grasping.

14. “Bhikkhus, when you know the Dhamma to be similar to a raft, you should abandon even the teachings, how much more so things contrary to the teachings.

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