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Swimology

March 9, 2009

Hey y’all!

How goes it?

Popping up during a quick visit to Barcelona; heading back to Dhamma Neru meditation center tomorrow.

Today, in an email, I sent this story to a friend, paraphrased from one of Goenka’s lectures in the ten-day course I sat in February.  I think it’s adorable and useful, particularly for the overanalyzers among us, so I thought I’d share.

There is a poor, old boatman who is working on a passenger ship. On one voyage, the ship carries a very distinguished scholar and professor — one of the most famous in the world. A whole alphapet of degrees following his last name. And the old boatman is curious to learn from this great man, so every night he comes to his cabin and the professor offers him dazzling lectures on all kinds of fascinating subjects.

One night, after one of their lectures, the professor asks the sailor, “My friend, have you studied geology?”

“Sir,” said the sailor, “I am very poor, I have had no education in my life, sir. What is geology?”

“Why, the science of the earth!” said the professor. “What a shame you have never learned it. You have wasted a quarter or your life.”

“Oh, a shame sir, a shame,” said the old sailor, and left the cabin hanging his head.

The next night, after his lecture, the professor again questioned the boatman. “My friend, have you studied oceanography?”

“Sir, what is this oceanography? as I say, sir, I have had no education. I am ignorant. I have not studied anything.”

“Ah, oceanography, the science of the seas. A true pity you have never learned it. You have wasted half of your life.”

“Oh, a pity, a pity, yes,” said the old boatman, and left again, feeling very regretful.

The next night, again a discourse, and again a question. “My friend, have you studied meteorology?”

“Sir, no sir, I have never studied. what is meteorology?”

“Why, the science of the winds, of the weather, my friend. Oh, it is so fascinating, so useful, so scientific. Without studying it, you have wasted three quarters of your life.”

“Three quarters of my life, oh what a shame, sir” said the old boatman, and left the cabin feeling very low indeed.

The next night, the old boatman arrived again to the professor’s cabin. This time it was his turn to ask a question.

“Sir, have you ever studied swimology?”

“Swimology!” exclaimed the professor, “What sort of nonsense is that?”

“Swimology, sir,” said the boatman, “The science of how to swim.”

“No, no, my good fellow,” said the professor, “I am a very important scholar, constantly reading books, practically from infancy. I never learned how to swim.”

“Ah, it is a pity sir, a pity,” said the old sailor very sadly. “Then you have wasted your whole life. For the ship has caught fire in the hull, and will sink by morning. There is a shore in sight, sir, but only those who know how to swim will be able to reach it.”

Swimology, hehehe.  I love it.  And it reminds me of the analogy I made, last year, when I finally decided to stop reading so much Buddhist scholarship and start actually meditating.  I thought to myself, “Well, I wouldn’t go about learning yoga by memorizing diagrams of asanas and sequences and their benefits.”  Turned out to be a good impulse.

Now I’m beginning to learn, through guidance and experience, that dhamma is a praxis: theory plus practice.  Without the theory, one just goes through the motions, accepting the instructions blindly, without questioning them.  But folks, blind faith doesn’t help.  Even the Buddha said so!  We must be critical, we must understand what we’re doing and why.  At the same time, mere understanding, without the personal experience to support it,  is equally meaningless.  When the ship starts sinking, we will be screwed.  And sooner or later, in each of our lives, one ship or another will sink.  Probably many of them, again and again.  So better to learn how to swim, yeah? :->)

With love,

katie

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