The boatman and the river

25 December, 2015
Krishnamurti Centre, Varanasi

The river was flowing east. A little wooden boat was in it, with a single man moving the two oars. His body moved forward when the oars moved backward, and it moved backward when the oars moved forward. It was a rhythmic movement and it was repeated several times. There was an order in this movement. Even though there was much repetition, it was not the repetition of the machine or the mechanical nature of work in the factories or offices of the cities. In two strokes – one forward and one backward, the boatman’s whole body was aligned to and brought in harmony with the vastness of the river.

It was an ancient river. Many myths surrounded it. For thousands of years man had prayed by it, singing praises to it, purifying himself in its waters. It travelled a long journey from the mountains to the ocean. In his little boat, with his wooden oars and his rhythmic movement, the boatman had totally merged with the life of the river. He took people across from dawn to dusk. At dusk he would light a little candle and continue to row the boat for a short while in the moonlight, before going to sleep. Then, he would awaken before dawn, wash his boat and be ready for the day’s journeys. As the sun rose over the river, its rays adding a sparkle to the water, the boatman would be back, taking people across. There was no noise of the machine, but only the swift sound of wood moving through water.

Modern man had totally forgotten his place in nature. He had decided to dominate it. His voice and his movements were expressions of power over the subtle rhythms of nature. His sounds – the motorboats, the drills, the cars – were not in harmony with nature but in dissonance with it.

The boatman, however, was not part of that civilisation that destroyed nature. He was in nature, with nature. Like the leaves which complete the wholeness of the tree, he completed the order that flowed through the universe.

This order could only be completed with a conscious presence. An animal could not complete it, for it lacked consciousness. But man could complete it, not just by being part of nature, but by being conscious of its rhythms and expressing that consciousness in his daily life, in his poetry, in his movements, in his speech, in his writing.

As if the universe was meant for him. As if the vast silences and the brilliant variety of species had all awaited millions of years for man to appear and become conscious of them. And in that consciousness had arisen the highest of music and poetry.

And in that consciousness, like all things, was the seed of its own decay and death. Man was now on the verge of death, having forgotten his true glory, and developed all kinds of spiritual and physical illnesses.

But this too was the order of nature. Everyday by the river, flowers were born and died. As did the bees that sat on them. Birth and death were one, were threads in the same web that we call existence.

The river had seen a lot of birth and death, as if it were an eternal witness to all creation, a reminder of the true witness – the divine itself. Kevala saakshin, “mere witness”, the ancients had called it, referring to its total separateness from the flux of creation.

The boatman knew all this, if not in his mind, in his heart, in his body.

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~ by tdcatss on December 31, 2015.

2 Responses to “The boatman and the river”

  1. Ahlamdulillah! a beautiful piece of writing indeed.

  2. Thank you

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