The Dhamma as Raft

I feel it is really not easy to relate to the teachings as a raft.

But, i can see in the sutta’s that there is no other goal in Dhamma but to really arrive at the destiny, which is Nibbana, the absence of all clinging. Whatever knowledge or right view, also this is never a goal an sich. One must not cherish it or see it as ones possession. That is the Path of clinging. This does not align with seeing the teachings as raft.

In the same way we have to judge ourselves and others. It is not about how full our minds are of knowledge and expertise, not at all. Or about how well we can teach Paticca Samuppada. Even right view about all this must not be seen and cherished as ones possession. All are only steps to arrive at the destination of non-clinging, Nibbana.

I believe in general knowledge is alluring. But that is also a pitffal i believe. No i am sure about this.
Expertise can bedazzle us. Especially in Dhamma matters. Maybe it does not seem this way, but i have taken this to heart. What really counts is non-clinging, also to knowledge and right views.

Personally i believe this message of the Buddha does not easily land. It is not easy to use the Dhamma as it is meant, as a raft. But it is very easy to use Dhamma for intellecual gratification, and becoming more and more a possessor of knowledge. I see it in my self and i do not believe this is good way to deal with Dhamma.

Bhikkhus, purified and bright as this view is, if you adhere to it, cherish it, treasure it, and treat it as a possession, would you then understand that the Dhamma has been taught as similar to a raft, being for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of grasping?”—“No, venerable sir.”—“Bhikkhus, purified and bright as this view is, if you do not adhere to it, cherish it, treasure it, and treat it as a possession, would you then understand that the Dhamma has been taught as similar to a raft, being for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of grasping?”—“Yes, venerable sir.” (MN38)

I see the same message in the teachings on purification. Also this must not be cherished, but seen as steps towards final Nibbana, absence of clinging.

It is difficult, right?, to really use the teachings as a raft.

Is the simile stating that the dhamma is the raft or that the Buddha’s teaching of the dhamma is the raft. The Pali seems to indicate the latter?

kullūpamaṁ dhammaṁ desitaṁ

In which case the raft becomes the simile for the vehicle of the dhamma, not the dhamma itself. Thus the clinging happens toward the means of acquisition. This is how I’ve read the simile. For me, it is a nuanced but important distinction.

Thank you for your beautiful contemplation.

:pray:t2: :elephant:

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I do not really understand what exactly is for you the Dhamma itself?

When I compare MN38 with SN23.2, it’s the same teaching but with different similes – the raft (for exhausting the fuel that sustains clinging to sammappaññāya in and of itself) and the children playing with sandcastles who cling to them such that they don’t dissolve and disappear.

So in MN38 I take dhamma to be the teaching the Buddha had just delivered on dependent origination. Then:

“Pure and bright as this view is, mendicants, if you cherish it, fancy it, treasure it, and treat it as your own, would you be understanding my simile of the teaching as a raft: for crossing over, not for holding on?”

where diṭṭhiṁ refers to the aspect of sammappaññāya he had just described as a way of extinguishing the fuel.

I welcome feedback!

:pray:t3: :elephant:

Bhikkhus, when you know the Dhamma to be similar to a raft, you should abandon even the teachings, how much more so things contrary to the teachings.

This is the concluding sentence of the simile.

I believe knowing Dhamma to be similar to a raft is a reference to enlightenment. Only in hindsight can you recognize the Dhamma as a raft.

That the teaching is abandoned does seem to me to imply that not the Dhamma itself is most important, but the insight it leads to, after which no more prescribed rules are necessary.


The Dhamma is a Raft. To abandon it is the big Question that the Buddha instructs.

Are we to abandon it, or continue to use it to help others be ferried back and forth, leading them to the Other Shore? The Law of the Dhamma may be such that some may decide not to abandon it, or that abandoning it may be a difficult task. After all, it has so many Spiritual uses, that one can form a serious Spiritual attachment to it. For if one sees the Dhamma, they see the Buddha, and we are not to abandon the Buddha. Quite the big Question to ask oneself on how to abandon the Dhamma as the Buddha instructs.

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I think non-clinging is the Path or the Stream rather than the destination. To be able to float downstream towards the ocean requires not clinging to the banks of the river and also not clinging to the scenery. Many dhammas that make up Right View are part of the scenery rather than part of the Raft. If the Raft is tied up (clinging), it won’t float downstream. :man_surfing:

The raft simile is most useful to me for the insight of anatta. The self being a subjective impersonal process brought about by the aggregates and their resultants. While I can acknowledge this ultimate truth, in the middle of the path it’s a better use of this abstraction to use it to motivate me to be free of suffering. That original intention to be free of suffering is a craving, an attachment. It may be considered a noble intention, but until enough wisdom is gained it shouldn’t be thrown out wholesale… like “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”

At times when I feel most sensitive to the ego, I often have to soothe this moral terror of wrong view and remember to use it as the tool it is. The experience of samsara is directly felt by this sense of self. Without this sense of self and with only imperfect understanding, I tend to cycle into nihilistic perceptions. I remind myself that the Buddha refused to answer the question as a distracting net of views, liable to ensnare. He would not say whether there was a self, nor if there was no-self.

I hope to attain a point in the path where I can discard this tool, this sense of self, but for now I stay mindful of its traps and utilize its flaws to propel me forward.
Ultimately the simile I see as a warning to not fall in love with the tools of the ultimate goal. Neither should one dismiss the tool as anathema—denial of this experience is delusion and aversion to the idea is of no benefit but instead leads to further suffering and doubt. Like so many things, I feel the truth is in the middle. When equanimity is there, these questions and doubts fall by the wayside and are recognized for the cast shadow puppets they are. I do not indemnify myself for wondering in those times either, this sense of self is exactly what put me on the path.

Apologies if this is a bit of a ramble or off-topic, I hope others may benefit from my take on the raft simile.


HumanBlade, thank you for this beautiful contemplation. May I aspire to such a responsive and honest mind and heart. :pray:t3:

I am truly grateful for the Original Post (OP) as I have spent the last few days contemplating the raft. In this process, I’ve also delved into the pāli in MN38 and now feel comfortable with it – I hadn’t ever studied this sutta in such depth. (It’s also led me into some commentarial study in pāli which is a whole other topic :blush: .)

I’ve read your post with care and attention because it’s a different lens from mine – I appreciate your use of the old adage that feels wholly appropriate here.

Regarding this thread initiated by Green, when I read MN38 I’m now seeing a flow:

(1) Sāti’s intransigence regarding his view on transmigration
(2) the Buddha’s admonishment
(3) he questions the bhikkhus for any doubt that Sāti may have introduced
(4) he offers the correct teaching on transmigration via teaching on dependent arising
(5) he reaffirms that the bhikkhus have no cause for doubt because of their complete understanding (sammappaññāya)
(6) he’s clear about the utility of sammappaññāya for understanding this particular teaching:

“Good, mendicants! You have been guided by me with this teaching that’s apparent in the present life, immediately effective, inviting inspection, relevant, so that sensible people can know it for themselves.

“Sādhu, bhikkhave, upanītā kho me tumhe, bhikkhave, iminā sandiṭṭhikena dhammena akālikena ehipassikena opaneyyikena paccattaṁ veditabbena viññūhi.

(7) nevertheless he interjects the raft simile to say that grasping at this perspective or view on the teaching itself becomes unproductive.

“Pure and bright as this view is, mendicants, if you don’t cherish it, fancy it, treasure it, and treat it as your own, would you be understanding my simile of the teaching as a raft: for crossing over, not for holding on?”

“Imañce tumhe, bhikkhave, diṭṭhiṁ evaṁ parisuddhaṁ evaṁ pariyodātaṁ na allīyetha na kelāyetha na dhanāyetha na mamāyetha, api nu me tumhe, bhikkhave, kullūpamaṁ dhammaṁ desitaṁ ājāneyyātha nittharaṇatthāya no gahaṇatthāyā”ti?

I suppose this “puts a bow” on the whole account (at least, up to this point in the sutta)…because we started with the Buddha admonishing Sāti for being entrenched in a pernicious, harmful perspective. Cultivating a “pure and bright” perspective, by contrast, is useful but only up to a point.

Of course, it is not clinging and grasping at a pernicious, harmful perspective. Even so, at a certain point even pure and bright diṭṭhi is released for what it is – a means to an end.

Which brings me back to the first paragraph of the OP!

:pray:t3: :elephant:

I think less commented upon is that the dhamma should not be let go off too early or else one has no dhamma guide in practise. In the simile, it’s only let go of once one is safe on the other shore.

In morality aspect especially, being strict in dhamma practise is important. In meditation, one can let go of clinging to everything, but still need to know the proper instructions. In wisdom training, one needs to align to the 3 universal characteristics to see things as they really are.

Arahants do not have attachment to views, but still have right views, by which they can use to teach.

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Yeah, rafts can be quite useful when one is alone in the middle of an ocean and not a fish :joy: :pray:

Let go of the Raft and hop aboard a Star Ship! :sunglasses: :rocket:


The instruction clearly goes to those that have identified the Dhamma as a raft. Arguably, to be able to do so you need to understand the nature of the shores, flood and raft.

Again this IMO can only be a reference to enlightenment. And I belive it may well imply that the Buddha didn’t think of the Buddhadhamma as the only possible raft.

In addition this may be a hint at the exoterical nature of the teaching. The simile of the snake right before that IMO also points in that direction.

The only way is the noble 8fold path. Stream winners do not take another as their teacher.

It can be argued that the Buddha said, in his own words, that no Buddha is necessary for one to understand truth as he did. Realization, being the peak of a process with a number of known and unknown causes and conditions, can as well occur with a different set of causes and conditions (or at least it cannot be said that such alternate realization cannot happen ever). Having been here already, however, makes him a necessary and inextricable condition for our current state, which is one of accelerated understanding. But, like anything else, he (and the teachings) are not necessary forever.

Didn’t mean to go this far. But I think all of doctrine is meant to point at something rather than constitute Dhamma by itself.

If I presented you with a 4fold path to mix flour, eggs and sugar and put it in the oven for an hour, I have not literally instructed you to bake a cake. But you still did, and that waa why I’ve instructed you. Same with Dhamma I believe.

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It’s a great question whether one can find the Dhamma themselves or whether they always need to seek a Source higher than themselves. I think that Buddha had great past life Realization. I think that the Law of Enlightenment is beginningless, even if one can create it. :wheel_of_dharma:

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IMO the full simile is not focused on the destination. It is focused on how we relate to the dhamma. See below for my rationale.

Thanks for the MN22 reference. Here’s an interesting comparison:

In both MN22 and MN38 we see the formulaic teaching where the Buddha admonishes the wayward mendicant (Ariṭṭha and Sāti respectively):

Atha ca pana tvaṁ, moghapurisa, attanā duggahitena amhe ceva abbhācikkhasi, attānañca khaṇasi, bahuñca apuññaṁ pasavasi.

But still you misrepresent me by your wrong grasp, harm yourself, and create much wickedness.

Then the flow of the teaching diverges a bit.

In MN22 the Buddha goes from the clarified teaching to “a foolish person who memorizes the teaching.” The transition then focuses immediately on how one relates to the (memorized) teaching: with wrong grasping.

Yassa catthāya dhammaṁ pariyāpuṇanti tañcassa atthaṁ nānubhonti…Duggahitattā, bhikkhave, dhammānaṁ.

They don’t realize the goal for which they memorized them…Because of their wrong grasp of the teachings.

So he admonishes thus:

Suggahitattā, bhikkhave, dhammānaṁ…
Tasmātiha, bhikkhave, yassa me bhāsitassa atthaṁ ājāneyyātha, tathā naṁ dhāreyyātha.

[A] correct grasp of the teachings…mendicants, when you understand what I’ve said, you should remember it accordingly.

A wrong grasp here, when solved by a correct grasp, should be remembered.

Then he goes into the full simile:

Kullūpamaṁ vo, bhikkhave, dhammaṁ desessāmi nittharaṇatthāya, no gahaṇatthāya.

Mendicants, I will teach you a simile of the teaching as a raft: for crossing over, not for holding on.

Actually, it seems kind of awkward because “wrong grasping” = duggahitattā and its antonym suggahitattā are a completely different term than “not holding on” = no gahaṇatthāya. Nevertheless, the transition gets us to the raft simile.

In MN38 the Buddha moves from “correct grasping” = suggahitattā to how understanding the teaching fully (sammappaññāya) is an antidote for doubts about the teaching (on dependent arising).

Then he transitions to the raft simile by saying that even sammappaññāya, as helpful as it is, is only a means to an end. It is the same stock teaching, using the term “not holding on” = no gahaṇatthāya.

(Of course MN38 proceeds with the other non-MN22 material.)

All of which tells me that the raft simile is its own stock “thing” which gets woven into the two suttas in very different ways. But that the meaning of the simile is exactly the same. That is, crossing over and “not holding on” (no gahaṇatthāya) is focused on how we relate to the dhamma.

The full simile is not focused on the destination. It is focused on how we relate to the dhamma.

Kullūpamaṁ vo, bhikkhave, dhammaṁ desitaṁ, ājānantehi dhammāpi vo pahātabbā pageva adhammā.

By understanding the simile of the raft, you will even give up the teachings, let alone what is against the teachings.

I am researching the “crossing over” metaphor separately, as it seems to exist that way without any reference to a raft.

:pray:t3: :elephant:


Yes, the crossing over from near to far shore is a common one, but I think it requires a vessel?
(The Buddha’s teaching, the ‘voice of another’, the Dhamma)

A putujjana would never hit upon the Dhamma without the help of another.

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