A Sea Change




Fife Shipyard used to be one of the greatest boatbuilders in the world. I believe it’s still there at Fairlie – just a way south of Greenock on Scotland’s west coast. In 1929 they built their most successful racing yacht, a classic metre-class boat, Caryl, the only British metre-class yacht to race against the Yanks and win. Almost 50 years later, I was sailing her, now rather old and leaky, down towards the Grenadines. I’d given up my job on an island to the north and sailed down to St. Vincent with a friend. There we planned to go our separate ways, he to the UK and me to sail south through the Grenadines to South America. I called a friend from the island we used to live on and asked if she’d like to come along for the trip. But somehow when she arrived she had it firmly in her head that we’d sail north back to the island we’d come from. I had it firmly in my head that we were sailing south. And as it was my boat and I knew how to sail her. We headed south. It all seemed quite reasonable to me at the time.

Thus started the most unhappy voyage I ever took which ended in shipwreck. We pulled up our anchor and headed south into the island chain and into the reefs. She became rather intransigent and stodgy. Not to be outdone, so did I. There was little sign of our former friendship.

We sailed for several days – together on our small boat but not united. On the last day of our sail we were on a sea I hadn’t proper charts for, sailing along into the reflections of the afternoon sun and so unable to see what dangers might lurk in the waters underneath us. We were sitting opposite each other in the cockpit but I’m not sure we were talking much that day. We ran aground as we approached land. I knew we were in some danger as the hull timbers were soft with age. A French boat came to pull us off the reef but in so doing we were pulled against it. This punched holes in the side of the hull and we started to sink. The seas worked quickly on the hull and I realised we would soon be wrecked. But my only real concern was for my friend. She couldn’t swim and I wanted her off at once. I signaled to the French boat and they returned in their dinghy and took her off.

Later it struck me how false I’d been. It had taken an extreme situation to show me that my true relationship with her, pure love, was the reality. But I’d really believed in our disconnectedness even though I’d chosen that path through my own volition – as had she. How utterly foolish we had been, believing even in the delusions of our own creation. But that is the way of the world.

We live with others but pull in opposite directions completely convinced our way is right. And we become disconnected, unhappy, and limited beings as a result. And this can last for more than a few days – it can last for lifetimes. It’s truly tragic – we completely believe in our deluded views. It’s pitiful really.

When my old teacher’s teacher was training in Sojiji in Japan, the other monks often seemed quite unreasonable. But she would say to herself, against all the evidence, “I could be wrong.” Wonder of wonders! – the truth has a chance to appear – we have a chance to see things just as they are and so tread the path. And somewhere along the path the self drops away, for a while at least, and we are surprised to find we had somehow fabricated it. Now we are happily and gratefully reunited with our true hearts – a gentle respect and compassion for all persons and all things arise. Former ideas of paradise fall away. We find ourselves in a priceless world.

P.S.  The shipwreck occurred when I was in my 20s.  The article was written when I was a zen monk in my 40s.   Now in my 70s I’m submitting it to Bodhicharya




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