Lin Chi, one of the greatest Zen masters, was very fond of boating while he was young. He had one small boat and he would go on the lake alone for many hours together. Once he was in his boat meditating with closed eyes on a beautiful night. An empty boat came floating downstream and struck his boat. Since his eyes were closed he thought that someone was there with his boat and struck. Anger arose. He opened his eyes and he was just going to say something to that man in anger. Then he realized that the boat was empty.
He said, “There was no possibility to project the anger on an empty boat. So I just floated backward with subsided anger. The empty boat became my realization. I came to a point within myself in that silent night. And now if someone comes and insults me, I laugh and say, “This boat is also empty”.
We know two ways to deal with anger. One is throwing our anger onto the other. But when we have wounded the other we may feel guilty and we may regret that we should not have done this.
Or we may suppress our anger. In this way we may go on collecting anger. But we cannot suppress it continuously. It can explode any moment. Suppression is nothing but postponing.
There is a third way. As Lin Chi learnt from the empty boat, understanding that the other is not the source. The source is always within us.
A friend comes by and makes a joking remark. Nine out of ten we would laugh, think it funny, think nothing much about it and make a good natured crack in return. But it does not happen every day. One day we are suffering tensions of anxiety and worry. We take the remark in the wrong way, become offended and hurt, and anger begins to rise.
This simple everyday experience illustrates well the principle that we are injured and hurt emotionally- not so much by other people or what they say or don’t say- but by our own attitude and our response.
If we throw a bucket into a dry well, nothing will come out. If we throw the bucket in water filled well, water will come out. Water is from the well and the bucket only helps to bring it out. So one who is insulting us is just throwing a bucket in us and the bucket will come out filled with anger or hate that was inside us.
We alone are responsible for our responses and reactions. So it is our own response that we have to be concerned about-not other people’s. We are programmed to react, we are hypnotized into thinking that a response is called for or we are not matured adults. Actually the matured adult is the one who thinks before reacting to anything. We do not have to respond at all. Like Lin Chi we can also laugh and say “This boat is also empty”.