Crossing the flood

In this sutta the Buddha explains to a heavenly being how he “crossed the flood”, i.e., how he replaced delusion with deep and complete wisdom (awakening).

Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Savatthi in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapiṇḍika’s Park. Then, when the night had advanced, a certain devatā of stunning beauty, illuminating the entire Jeta’s Grove, approached the Blessed One. Having approached, he paid homage to the Blessed One, stood to one side, and said to him:

“How, dear sir, did you cross the flood?”

“By not halting, friend, and by not straining I crossed the flood.”

“But how is it, dear sir, that by not halting and by not straining you crossed the flood?”

“When I came to a standstill, friend, then I sank; but when I struggled, then I got swept away. It is in this way, friend, that by not halting and by not straining I crossed the flood.”

The devatā:
“After a long time at last I see
A brahmin who is fully quenched,
Who by not halting, not straining,
Has crossed over attachment to the world.”

This is what that devatā said. The Teacher approved. Then that devatā, thinking, “The Teacher has approved of me,” paid homage to the Blessed One and, keeping him on the right, disappeared right there.

SN 1.1 translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

This is a perfect description of sustainable and progressive practice. The Buddha was looking for a way out of dukkha, which for a long time seemed inescapable, but he wouldn’t be deterred. The flood refers to the river of delusion we usually wade in. The Buddha discovered that a steady effort to investigate direct experience without flagging and without pushing was what got him to the breakthrough.

What does this mean for us? “Not straining and not halting” is a model we can attempt to follow, even if we’re new on the path. Some of us have an “all or nothing” personality and tend to strain and struggle to get where or what we want. Others have a “Que sera, sera” attitude and are reluctant to make any effort. Establishing a determined and steady effort without too much or too little energy is a learned skill, in meditation practice and in other life situations. Often, we acquire this skill through trial and error. Over time we see that too much or too little energy produces either frustration or stagnation. The invitation is to bring mindfulness to every experience, pleasant or unpleasant or neutral, and to have firm faith that this steady, in-the-moment effort is what will gradually wear away unwholesome habits and establish wholesome ones. Each of us has to discover the sustainable level of investigation that works best for us.

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Causes and results, Dukkha, Mindfulness, Patience, Wisdom and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Crossing the flood

  1. beforewisdomapikeyaccount says:

    I recently reread that sutta. One of my favorite Buddhist similes.

    The other is the one about not being able to start a fire with a soggy log. 🙂

    So clear, in writings that are otherwise so hard to pull apart.

  2. Patrick Cole says:

    One more example of the Middle Way. Thank you, Lynn. I always look forward to your posts. _/\_

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