A man is trapped on one side of a fast-flowing river. Where he stands, there is great danger and uncertainty – but on the far side of the river, there is safety.
Yet there is no bridge or ferry for crossing. So the man gathers logs, leaves and vines and is able to fashion together a raft, sturdy enough to carry him. By lying on the raft and using his arms to paddle, he crosses the river to safety.
The Buddha then asks the listeners a question: What would you think if the man, having crossed over the river, then said to himself, ‘Oh, this raft has served me so well, I should strap it on to my back and carry it over land now’?
The monks replied that it would not be very sensible to cling to the raft in such a way.
The Buddha continues: What if he lay the raft down gratefully, thinking that this raft has served him well, but is no longer of use and can thus be laid down upon the shore?
The monks replied that this would be the proper attitude.
The Buddha concluded by saying, ‘So it is with my teachings, which are like a raft, and are for crossing over with — not for seizing hold of.’