The Empty Vessel: A Buddhist Teaching

There is a story in the Buddhist canon which tells us of a person rowing a boat across a very large lake. It is just before sunrise and there is a heavy fog. A fog so thick that the rower cannot see past the bow of his own row boat. Suddenly there is a SLAM and he has run into another boat head on. Our boatman is furious and begins yelling and screaming obscenities at the other boat. As he rows alongside, his angers dissipates as he realizes the boat he has run into is abandoned. There is no one there to get angry at, and thus…his anger subsides.

Perhaps if we can see terrorists and terror attacks as the empty boat, it might take some of the fear and anger out of terrorism, thus making the terrorists primary weapon useless. Just as it was the nature of the abandoned boat to simply drift in a random direction, unable to steer itself out of harm's way, so it is the nature of terrorists to commit heinous acts of violence against innocent people.

I drew this parallel this year watching hurricane Irma strike the USA on September 11th, 2017. The same day as the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks sixteen years later. We seem to be able to witness the storm, prepare for the storm, flee the storm,, and rebuild from the storm without the deep seated horror and fear that a terror attack tends to bring. Why? Because there is no ego driving the storm. Irma, the storm is the empty boat. It is the nature of the storm to do exactly what it is doing.

There are many lessons to be learned from natural disasters such as Irma and Harvey.
Compassion, loving-kindness, a deeper care and respect for our environment, and solidarity regardless of race, creed, sexual preference to name a few. Perhaps we can also learn to see our fellow human brothers and sisters as boats. The empty vessels which we bump into from time to time on the large lake of life. Perhaps we may then cease our habitual reactions of anger, fear, and aggression. People can only behave to the highest level of their evolution. People can only serve the truth within themselves to the best that they have been taught how to. Just as an empty vessel can never steer out of harm's way. It is just its nature. Just so.