Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Empty Boat

A classical Zen/Taoist story regarding Emptiness. This version comes from The Way of Chuang Tzu as translated by Thomas Merton.

If a man is crossing a river and an empty boat collides with his skiff, even though he is a bad-tempered man he will not become very angry.

But if he sees a man in the boat, he will shout at him to steer clear. If the shout is not heard he will shout again, and yet again, and begin cursing. And all because there is somebody in the boat.

Yet, if the boat were empty, he would not be shouting, and not angry.

If you can empty your own boat crossing the river of the world, No one will oppose you. No one will seek to harm you....

Such is the perfect man:
His boat is empty.

Hands palm to palm,


  1. reminds me of a conversation V & I had on the huge overlooked significance of "row row row your boat, gently down the stream..."

  2. Excellent! I love your simple stories that convey in-depth ideas and philosophies. I'll definately be forwarding this one on to my students.

  3. Steph: good point. why row when you're going with the flow.

    Dan: Thanks..but thank Chuang Tzu!

  4. Chuang Tzu may have been the originator, but do not discount your importance in keeping the story alive and spreading the wisdom...I, for one, much appreciate your role in how this story came to me.

  5. Yes, I have always loved this one...and have used it myself because it is SO True. Wonderful, thanks for sharing :-)

  6. So the boat is the self, and the person in it is the ego? Lose the ego and there's nothing for others to contend with?

    Man, usually i get these pretty quick, but i had to read this one a few times. Too much Zen, my Taoism's getting rusty.

  7. Good interpretation Kevin. It's not so much as losing the ego (which we can't) but to see through it and not be attached to it's sense of self-importance.

    A boat in buddhist literature is usually referring to the buddhist teachings...they are to help us reach our goal and when we get there, leave the boat...also not to be attached to the boat or any boat for that matter while we are in it. The boat is then empty.

    Thanks for commenting.