Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Row, Row Redux

Has anyone here ever noticed what a beautiful little Zen koan "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" is?

 Often thought of as an innocuous little children's poem, it's got some potent truths in it. Just about all of them, in fact! (potent truths, that is.)

I think even the fact that it's written to be repeated, over and over and over and over with
no end is surprisingly Buddhist, it's like a mantra or a chant.

There are quite a bit of specific instructions in that little poem, which could very well be called a koan in my book.
 For one, it speaks to a point brought up here by Jinzang about actively engaging with life, as it instructs one to row their boat, and doesn't advise to just drift in your boat with the stream. That's important.
Far wiser than  "Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream" 
right into the ra-pids, right into the ra-pids....
 Better to be rowing.

It also points out that one should row with the stream as opposed to against it, and it councils us to row gently rather than with much effort.

It reminds us to be happy, and it suggests that we decide whether we are happy or not by telling us to row Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily...

and it ends with the potent reminder that life is but a dream.

It really says it all, beautifully and succinctly.

Yet, in this culture, we're not encouraged to really think about it.


At March 28, 2007, Blogger rchinn72 said...


At March 28, 2007, Blogger me said...

Nice post & I agree. I've sung this many times to my girls and have often thought about how Buddhist it sounds.

At March 29, 2007, Blogger Anatman said...

It is beautiful. Especially when done in segments by three nice voices.

"As stars, a fault of vision, a lamp,
A mock show, dew drops, or a bubble,
A dream, a lightning flash, or a cloud,
So should one view what is conditioned."

Wouldn't go so well with music.

At March 30, 2007, Blogger gniz said...

What a cool post!

Made my morning.

At March 30, 2007, Blogger oxeye said...

I liked this post except maybe the conclusion..

After all, This is the culture that produced the song. In this culture it has become an enduring classic. And, in this culture it is still being thought about.

At March 30, 2007, Blogger endofthedream said...

Mudderpugger wrote:

Yet, in this culture, we're not encouraged to really think about it.

Yes, I agree with this culture ALL we are encouraged to do is

think think think.

Make no mistake about it. There are many addictions but thinking is the most elemental of addictions. Any effective meditation practice will allow this to become evident.

And that is not to say that thinking is bad or wrong. It's just...addictive and it's the sole vehicle through which the world, the self, and all its believed-in suffering, is birthed.

No thought. No world.

More curious: in what way (or ways) is "life but a dream"? Such a notion is often referred to in spiritual literature. Are we under the impression that life = a dream or life is like a dream? And if so, in what ways?

At April 05, 2007, Blogger MudderPugger said...

"think think think.

Make no mistake about it. There are many addictions but thinking is the most elemental of addictions. Any effective meditation practice will allow this to become evident."

I knew you were going to say that when I wrote it. You zoomed right in on the word think.

You sum up why I haven't checked in here since I wrote the post, which I didn't think too deeply about at the time, it just flowed out like poop.
You think too much, endo.

I said we're not encouraged to really think about it, and I stand by that still.

We're bombarded with news and trivia, massive amounts of information, we all know a little bit about everything and not much about anything. That's a cultural generalization I'm gonna just go ahead and make.

Generally speaking, our popular culture is shallow. We're so caught up in paying the bills and so distracted by entertainment and so on that we don't have time to question anything too deeply.

Oxeye might have been lucky enough to get a teacher or a parent thoughtful enough to point out the wisdom in Row Row Row, but I didn't, nor have I met any children along the way who've ever found it interesting at all. It was something we had to sing in school.

I knew the pledge of allegiance by heart, but I didn't know what the fuck it meant, nor did we ever really think about it.

Now, just to make endo erase all the stuff he's written up til now, let me chime in on my thoughts about enlightenment, inspired, if you will, by his original post.
I say that because I didn't read the comments and so don't know if what I'm about to say has been brought up already.

The sun is shining all the time. No matter how dark a cloudy day is, above those clouds, its a beautiful, sunny day.

I think of enlightenment like that. It's there all the time, like a sun shining that never sets. Our conceptual thinking are the clouds in this metaphor. They block the sunlight.

The idea of being someone is a cloud, as soon as I think "I" there is no enlightenment. It's ridiculous to say "I am enlightened."

So, enlightenment is not thinking. I can't say "think about it" in hopes that you will think your way there as enlightenment is not thinking. You can understand enlightenment, you can really think about it, but that has nothing to do with enlightenment, it's just more delusion.

I understood that when I wrote "we're not encouraged to really think about it." I was not suggesting that we need to think our way to enlightenment or however you wanna wrap that in words to make it make sense (I have to keep adding disclaimers, there is no way to get to enlightenment, but I said it that way to make a point, jeeeeeeez)

I haven't done much koan work, maybe I will some day, but it seems to me that what I'm saying is in spirit with what koans reveal. You can't think through a koan, all thoughts become tangled in themselves, none lead the way through and solve the riddle or bring about the understanding being pointed to.

That has to arrive from true thinking, which is not-thinking. I don't know how to say it well.

A lot of times I feel that understanding is already there, like enlightenment, whenever something I had not understood becomes clear, when I suddenly understand it, it's like a block has been removed that's allowed me to see what was already there.
To really think about something then, to me, means to be open minded about it. Not defining it, not restricting it by thinking about it, but by soaking in it. Becoming it. Grokking it. Totally fuckin' diggin' it.

That said, I don't want to think about it anymore. I might bore you all with some ideas I had about what we call zazen, but I don't know if I have time now.
I returned to the cushion last week. Cleaned out the zendo, raked up the cat hair and spider webs and the dust....and the dust....we live on the curve of a dirt road and get clouded with dust whenever a car goes by.
That's sorta the post I was gonna write, right there; zazen is cleaning, zazen is doing the dishes, zazen is actively engaging life, not thinking about it.
The line of least resistance turns out to sometimes be the most active one!
Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.....

I gotta go. Don't think about this shit too much, man.
Sit on it, instead.

At April 06, 2007, Blogger endofthedream said...

You think too much, endo.

How much is "too much"?

There's nothing wrong with thinking. It is a necessary functional tool. It's part of being alive and we cannot survive without it.

Problems arise when there is attachment to thought, when it is not seen for what it is: it is just thinking, it is not reality. Sitting on the couch, looking at the pussy cat, there are all kinds of THOUGHTS about it. Those thoughts are not the cat; they are...thoughts.

If that distinction is not recognized, much confusion results, because then there is often the desire that reality (the actual pussy cat) match fiction, imagination (what thought says is -- or should be -- so). And the two are frequently not congruent.

To see clearly is to see that thought is not reality, and some forms of meditation hold the potential of bringing that to light. (As in "en-light-ening.)


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