One of my students shared a story. A friend of hers was on a whitewater rafting trip in Colorado. During the trip, one of the people in the raft fell out into the river. He floundered around passively while the guide attempted to steer the raft towards him. The guide offered assistance but the man remained passive. Finally, the frustrated guide shouted, “Participate in your own rescue!”
There is a key dharma lesson in this story. The Buddha noted that all of humanity is in need of rescuing. Life is suffused with senseless, self-inflicted, stress, misery, dissatisfaction, and suffering.
Salvation does not come from without. Gods and karma don’t seal our fate, but our intentions and actions. He taught a system of self-reliant psychology. Buddhist scholar, Professor Richard Gombrich noted how unique the Buddha’s emphasis on self-reliance was.
“A great deal of modern education and psychotherapy consists of making people aware that they are responsible for themselves. In fact, we consider that it constitutes a large part of what we mean by becoming a mature person. It is amazing that someone should have promulgated this idea in the fifth century BC, and hardly less remarkable that he found followers.”
How do we participate in our own rescue? First, we must recognize that we have fallen out of the boat and require rescue. Next, we must do what we can not to make the situation worse. We need to pay keen attention to what the moment requires and act on that information. We need to be proactive and move towards the resources that are available.
We can meditate and see how our minds contribute to our sense of disquiet in each moment. We can seek peace in the midst of any situation, even the ones that are not going as we would like. We can choose to swim towards the raft even when the currents are strong and pushing us back. We can have faith that our efforts will prevail.
We will fall out of the boat. There is no way to avoid that. When we do, we can start swimming right away–moving ourselves back towards the moment. Salvation is immanent and available in any moment–in every moment.