Why emptying your boat, choosing to be a nobody, makes sense

A Chinese philosopher teaches us the value of being a nobody.

Chuang Tzu, a.k.a Zhuangzi, a Chinese philosopher who lived in the 4th Century BC, has written a poem called The Empty Boat’. Here are relevant excerpts from that poem:

If a man is crossing a river
And an empty boat collides with his own skiff,
Even though he be 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.

Who can free himself from achievement
And from fame, descend and be lost
Amid the masses of men?
He will flow like Tao, unseen,
He will go about like Life itself
With no name and no home.
Simple is he, without distinction.
To all appearances he is a fool.
His steps leave no trace. He has no power.
He achieves nothing, has no reputation.
Since he judges no one
No one judges him.
Such is the perfect man:
His boat is empty.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Picture Copyright with Original Owner

The moral of the poem applies in all situations to all of us in Life. Most of the time we are reacting to imaginary perceptions we have of people. We feel slighted or hurt when people say something. We feel such people have motives. We conclude that everyone does something good to you, or to anyone, only if they see a gain for themselves in it. If someone is very nice to you, you begin to wonder why they are that way. We analyze people and situations in a zillion different ways to see if there isn’t any catch or any fine print that we are missing in any transaction or relationship. All this hyper activity in our mind makes us all very edgy, suspicious and causes us to suffer!

So, one way to rid us of all this wasted energy is to see ourselves as nobodys – as empty boats. And treat others also the same way – as empty boats! If you can empty your boat, if you can lose all your cravings and trappings of power, respect, recognition and ego, you too can be free and sail through Life – experiencing its beauty and magic – with no grief or suffering! No one can react from an empty boat nor can anyone react to an empty boat! Period.

Living with awareness of your impending, inevitable death makes you live better

The truth is that we don’t have much time.    

This morning we attended the memorial service of a friend’s mother. She had passed away at a Senior Citizens’ Home where she lived the last few years of her Life. So the inmates at the Home had arranged this service to share their experiences of living with her and knowing her.

It was a dignified event. No one cried. Or delivered flashy eulogies. And despite the searing heat – the venue was non-air-conditioned – the energy in the room among the inmates of the Home was so compassionate; it was simple yet beautiful in a very unique way. One of the administrators of the Home, herself a senior citizen, made a significant point: “Ultimately each of us has to go join the Maker. So, the only prayer we must have is to be able to live well and depart, when our time comes, without suffering.”

I absolutely love this perspective. Even if we can’t really order a perfect – suffering-free and instantaneous – exit for ourselves, I think that we can experience equanimity in each moment when we start living with complete awareness of our impending, inevitable death.

your-time-is-limited-so-dont-waste-it-living-someones-life-steve-jobs-1-728As the Dalai Lama points out, the problem with all of us is that we think we have too much time. So because we don’t see our Life as a limited period, soon-to-expire, offer, we go on postponing living, loving and happiness. We seem to have time for everything else – for fighting, for grieving, for worrying, for working like zombies, for being angry, for feeling jealous, for investing and creating wealth (which we cannot take away with us) and for sitting on our fat egos, but we don’t have time for ourselves, for living fuller and happier lives? Think about it – how much more bizarre can it get?

Even so, I don’t think any of us consciously chooses to squander our lives. Often times a large portion of our Life remains unlived because we think we can be happier and live better when all our problems are solved. It’s a very faulty logic that we employ to kid ourselves. But bringing death into the picture can dramatically alter things for you. Consider this – How would you live your Life if you knew you only have until tomorrow morning to live? What would you do? Who all would you call? And what would you tell the people that you have hated, fought with or remain estranged from? Remember, death is not a distant eventuality. It is right here, around the corner. Living your Life well, your way, in the time you have left here is the best choice you can make for yourself!