Story of a Meditating Monk and an Empty Boat

A monk decides to meditate alone, away from his monastery. He takes his boat out to the middle of the lake, moors it there, closes his eyes and begins his meditation. After a few hours of undisturbed silence, he suddenly feels the bump of another boat colliding with his own. With his eyes still closed, he senses his anger rising, and by the time he opens his eyes, he is ready to scream at the boatman who dared disturb his meditation. But when he opens his eyes, he sees it’s an empty boat that had probably got untethered and floated to the middle of the lake.

At that moment, the monk achieves self-realization, and understands that the anger is within him; it merely needs the bump of an external object to provoke it out of him. From then on, whenever he comes across someone who irritates him or provokes him to anger, he reminds himself, “The other person is merely an empty boat. The anger is within me.”

Moral of the Story

Something similar happens in our lives too. You can think of many instances in your life like when someone hits your car, your boss criticizes you for your performance, your child does not perform as per your expectation when someone writes something nasty to your Twitter message and many more. You become like an empty boat that is without a driver and with no control.

At this moment, you have 2 choices for your Karmas, whether to react angrily/tamely or respond with a smile.

What are Reactions and Response

Reacting is a bit different from responding. When we react, many times it is instinctive, reciprocal or in opposition to a particular situation or person. That reaction may be favorable or not, depending on how you feel.

Responding, while technically a reaction, takes into consideration the desired outcome of the interaction. A reaction may result in a positive or negative outcome whereas a response is engineered to produce a positive or negative outcome.

Reacting is emotional, responding is emotional intelligence


When someone hits your car from the back, we can shout back at the other person like an empty boat or we can pause for a moment and respond adequately.

When our internet connection does not work, we have 2 choices, either to feel desperate like an empty boat or to respond to ourselves that it is ok, the connection will be ok soon

When we have a political affiliation with a particular political party and someone writes a nasty comment on your Twitter account, you get out of control like the other person and both of you start writing unpleasant comments to each other.

What is Right? Reaction or Response

Logically we may feel that what’s wrong in reacting to a situation? If something is not right, it is ok to react immediately. But the important question is ‘whether there can be a better option than reaction?’ Consider the situation when someone hits your car, you can logically react sharply and shout at the other person or you can control your emotions, get down from the car, talk to the person, find out the reason, why it happened and can take possible realistic action but without losing your cool.

It is important to understand, who has the REMOTE CONTROL of our life. Are we changing different TV channels throughout the day or is someone else having our remote control and we keep on behaving differently as per the other person’s behaviour?

Do not ask the question, WHY did it happen to me?

Ask the question, HOW do I respond to it?

If Response is Considered a Weakness?

Many people think that if you do not react immediately, it will be considered your weakness and people may take advantage of you. But it is important to understand, that being an empty boat without a boatman is a better situation or a boat with a boatman (sailor) is a better situation.

When your boss shouts at you and you keep calm and relaxed, who is stronger?

When someone writes a nasty mail to you and you send a smiley, who is stronger?

When your parents or child is not well and hospitalized and you remain calm and composed and take all possible action, who is stronger, you or the other person who is continuously cribbing?

How to Change from Reaction to Response

Introspection followed by self-talk is one of the most powerful techniques. When we are reacting, we are reacting, to what is fed in our subconscious mind. But when we regularly do self-talk consciously, we create a new groove in our subconscious mind which helps us to respond instead of reacting to any situation. The key is to not allow your reactions to overshadow your responses.

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