Parable of the sailboat - I



“Some ten tourists had come on a holiday to a riverside town where they planned to have dinner on the bank of the waterway, it being a moonlit night. The menu was drawn up well but not as wisely, in that the partaking of liquid-refreshments was more than solid! Predictably they were light-headed at the end of the repast when, to their joy, they saw a long sailboat parked partly on the sand. It struck them that they could row upstream to their hometown and thus combine travel with pleasure. So they sent their van away and pushed the boat into the river and clambered on board. The sailboat drifted gracefully to the middle of the stream and the passengers commenced rowing with gusto, singing riotous songs which they might not have been allowed to, if they had travelled by road. The wind was blowing in their direction and that added to their spirits. They plied their oars all the night with the full moon shining down on them.


“Dawn, however, held a sore surprise for them — the sailboat was still at the starting point as they could see the temple-tower on the riverbank. One of them sought to explain their predicament by suggesting that perhaps the wind had changed direction by 180º midway through the night without their being aware of it. By now sunlight had spread over the water and someone spotted a thick rope going into the river from one end of the boat. A tarpaulin covered this end which had escaped their attention in the dim moonlight. When the cover was taken away they found a wheel-and-axle contraption with a big drum. The contrivance was operated and the wet rope rose out of the river like a serpent and wound itself over the drum. The job took some time as the rope was very long but at last it was lifted out of the water to reveal an anchor dangling from the other end. The sailboat had remained anchored throughout the night of strenuous but fruitless labour on the part of the ten inebriated tourists!


“Swami Rama Tirtha (1873 – 1906), that brilliant  mathematics-professor turned Vedantin, tells this parable and proceeds to explain that the tourists are ourselves, the vessel is our lifeboat, the anchor is our Ego and the rope is Attachment. Like the tourists who were not sober and so could not see the rope and the anchor in the moonlight, we too are intoxicated with world-pleasures and in the dim light of ajnaanam (knowledge of persons and objects in our proximity only) we have been striving generation after generation without making an iota of progress. What a pathetic and ridiculous plight, this, compounded by our abysmal ignorance of the causes of our own misery! It is when the sun of jnaanam (wisdom) shines forth that we are made aware of our stagnation and only then does it occur to us to ascertain the reasons for our ignominious plight. Could we stop here? No, we have to devise ways and means — a comprehensive methodology — to overcome and eliminate the obstacles, if we do not want to waste another lifetime.


“It is such a method of deliverance that we are developing in our Training programmes here. The programmes themselves are limited to an hour-and-a-half in time, but the Training has to be a continuous affair. Remember, it is an upstream job you have to do and unless you are vigilant there are more chances of your drifting back than progressing. Be attentive and I will tell you more about the anchor and the rope in the next class.”


(Excerpt from a Lecture by Sage TGN)

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