Modern Metaphors for the Buddhist Raft

by Kooi F. Lim, The Buddhist Channel, 17 Oct 2023

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- In the Alagaddupama Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 22), the Buddha uses the metaphor of a raft to represent the Dharma. The raft is a tool to help us cross the river of suffering and reach the other shore, which symbolises Nirvana or liberation.

The raft can be made of various materials, as long as it serves its purpose. In the sutta, the man improvises a raft of grass, foliage and branches. In modern terms, this could be seen as using the resources available to us, such as the teachings and practices of Buddhism in the form of technology and publication, to navigate our way through life's challenges.

For example, a Buddhist chat bot such as NORBU (, represented as digital code, could be seen as a modern tool or medium to convey the Dharma. If it helps individuals understand and practice the teachings, leading them towards liberation, it could metaphorically be considered a "raft".

However, it's important to remember the essence of the teaching in the sutta: once the other shore is reached, the raft, that is "the teachings or the tools used to understand them", should be let go. This is because clinging to the raft could become a hindrance to complete liberation.

So while a Buddhist chat bot could serve as a tool or a "raft" to help individuals navigate their spiritual journey, it is ultimately the understanding and practice of the Dharma that leads to liberation. The bot, like any other tool, should be used wisely and not be attached to.

In the context of modern tools or mediums, there are several metaphors that could be considered as a "raft" to cross to the other shore of enlightenment.
  • Books and Literature: In the age of information, books and literature continue to be a powerful medium to convey the Dharma. They serve as a raft by providing knowledge and insights about the teachings of Buddha, guiding individuals on their spiritual journey.
  • Online Courses and Webinars: With the advent of technology, learning has become more accessible. Online courses and webinars on Buddhism can serve as a raft, helping individuals understand and practice the teachings of Buddha in their daily lives.
  • Meditation Apps: These apps provide guided meditations and teachings, serving as a raft that helps individuals navigate the waters of their mind and reach a state of inner peace and enlightenment.
  • Social Media: Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can also serve as a raft. They provide a space for individuals to share and discuss the teachings of Buddha, fostering a sense of community and mutual learning.
  • Podcasts and Audio Books: These mediums provide an alternative for those who prefer auditory learning. They serve as a raft by providing teachings and discussions on Buddhism that individuals can listen to at their convenience.
  • Virtual Reality: This emerging technology can serve as a raft by providing immersive experiences, such as virtual meditation retreats or virtual tours of sacred Buddhist sites.
The raft is not something to be clung to once we have reached the other shore. As the Buddha says in the Alagaddupama Sutta, "...when you understand that the Dhamma is similar to a raft, you [eventually] let go of even good states, how much more so bad ones". This means that even the teachings and practices of Buddhism are ultimately to be let go of, once they have served their purpose in helping us to reach liberation.

In essence, the Dharma is to be lived, not just understood intellectually. It's about transforming our hearts and minds through wisdom and compassion. May this understanding helps us in our journey towards attaining total freedom and liberation.
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