World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts
Editor, Andrew Wilson
Crossing The Waters
The religions born in India share a common symbol of salvation as crossing the waters. The waters represent the painful existence in the world, plagued by ills, a continual passing from life to death in samsara. Tossed about on the turbulent sea, the wayfarer finds rest only on the other shore, the firm ground of Nirvana. In the Judeo-Christian scriptures, crossing the waters is also a symbol of salvation, drawn from the historical tradition of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea under divine protection and later crossing the Jordan River to reach the promised land.
Carry us across, as by a boat across the sea, for our good. Shining bright, drive away our sin.
Hinduism. Rig Veda 1.97.8
The body, they say, is a boat and the soul is the sailor. Samsara is the ocean which is crossed by the great sages.
Jainism. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 23.73
Rig Veda 1.97.8: Cf. Satapatha Brahmana 188.8.131.52, p. 871. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 23.73: See Uttaradhyayana Sutra 10.34, p. 746.
Even if you were the most sinful of sinners, Arjuna, you could cross beyond all sin by the raft of spiritual wisdom.
Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 4.36
Strive and cleave the stream. Discard, O brahmin, sense-desires. Knowing the destruction of conditioned things, be a knower of the Unmade.
Buddhism. Dhammapada 383
As they call the great ocean a boundless flood of water, difficult to traverse with the arms alone, so should the learned one know and renounce it [samsara]: that sage is called "Maker of the End."
Jainism. Acarangasutra 2.16.10
Few are there among men who go across to the further shore; the rest of mankind only run about on the bank. But those who act rightly according to the teaching, as has been well taught, will cross over to the other shore, for the realm of passions is so difficult to cross.
Buddhism. Dhammapada 85-86
Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.
Judaism and Christianity. Psalm 69.1-2
The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength. Yea, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old, You are from everlasting.
The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice, the floods lift up their roaring. Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, The Lord on high is mighty!
Bhagavad Gita 4.36: Cf. Bhagavad Gita 12.5-7, p. 761; Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.6, p. 839; Narada Dharma Sutra 1.210, p. 159; Svetasvatara Upanishad 2.8, pp. 842f. Dhammapada 383: Cf. Sutta Nipata 948, p. 531; Dhammapada 414, pp. 231f. Dhammapada 85-86: On desires as the stream, see Dhammapada 338-47, p. 418. On the metaphor of the teaching as a raft for crossing to the other shore, see Majjhima Nikaya i.134-135, p. 802.
Your decrees are very sure; holiness befits your house, O Lord, for evermore.
Judaism and Christianity. Psalm 93
Once Rabbi Phinehas was going to the house of study, and the river Ginai which he had to pass was so swollen that he could not cross it. He said, "O river, why do you prevent me from getting to the house of study?" Then it divided its waters, and he passed over. And his disciples said, "Can we too pass over?" He said, "He who knows that he has never insulted an Israelite can pass over unharmed."
Judaism. Jerusalem Talmud, Demai 22a
Suppose, monks, a man is carried along a river by a current which looks delightful and charming. Then a sharp-sighted man standing on the bank sees him and calls out, "My friend! Though you are being carried along in the river by a current which seems delightful and charming, yet further down here is a pool with waves and whirlpools, with monsters and demons. My friend, when you get there you will come by your death or mortal pain!" Hearing the other's call, that man struggles against the stream with hands and feet.
This parable, monks, I use to explain my meaning. The river current is craving; 'looking delightful and charming' refers to one's own sphere of perception. The pool lower down is the five fetters belonging to this lower world; its waves are the five pleasures of sense; monsters and demons refer to women. His going against the stream refers to renunciation; struggle with hands and feet means to put forth energy. The sharp-sighted man standing on the bank is the Wayfarer, Arahant, a Rightly-awakened One.
Buddhism. Itivuttaka 114-15
Man's life is a poison-laden ship, tossed into the ocean; The shore is not visible as it floats in the midst of the waters. Neither is there oar in hand, nor is there a pilot in this terrible vast sea. Friend! The world is caught in a mighty snare, Only by Divine grace and meditating on the holy Name May man remain afloat. God is the ship; the holy Word the pilot. Where there is God's Word, neither wind nor fire, nor waves, Nor any frightful forms have power: There the holy eternal Name alone abides, Which carries man across the ocean of worldliness. Those going over it, by divine grace reach the other shore. Engrossed in devotion to the Eternal; Their transmigration is ended; Their light is merged into the light of the infinite.
Sikhism. Adi Granth, Maru Ashtpadi, M.1, p. 1009
Demai 22a: Stories of sages crossing a physical body of water are common to many traditions. There are stories of the Buddha crossing a river to his disciples; Jesus walking on water in Matthew 14.24-31, p. 759; a Taoist sage walking through a cataract in Chuang Tzu 19; and Moses crossing the Red Sea in Exodus 14, pp. 615f. Itivuttaka 114-15: Cf. Dhammapada 338-47, p. 418. 'Wayfarer,' etc. are titles of the Buddha.
Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not you that cut Rahab in pieces, that pierced the dragon? Was it not you that dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; that made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over? And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Isaiah 51.9-11
When you go over the Jordan, and live in the land which the Lord your God gives you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies round about... you shall rejoice before the Lord your God.
Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Deuteronomy 12.10-12
The rocky stream flows on: hold you all together, quit you like heroes, and cross over, my friends! Leave here all those that are evil-minded, let us cross to powers who are undiseased.
Stand erect, and cross you over, my comrades! This rocky river flows on before us. Abandon here all those that are malicious, let us cross to powers, benign and pleasant.
Hinduism. Atharva Veda 12.2.26-27
Maru Ashtpadi, M.1: Cf. Suhi Chhant, M.5, p. 898. Isaiah 51.9-11: Isaiah likens the new salvation of God to God's mighty acts in history. At the creation, He pierced the dragon of chaos (Rahab), which ancient cosmogony identified with the waters of the deep (cf. note to Laws of Manu 1.5-16, p. 131) and dried up the primeval waters to construct the world. At the Exodus God divided the Red Sea and opened a way for the Israelites to cross dry-shod; cf. Exodus 14, pp. 615f. Deuteronomy 12.10-12: In the faith of Black Americans, crossing the Jordan River is a metaphor for crossing from the troubles of this world to the peaceful abode of Heaven. Atharva Veda 12.2.26-27: These verses are sung at funeral ceremonies. On a bridge to cross over the waters of hell, cf. Yasna 46.10-11, p. 349; Hadith of Bukhari and Muslim, p. 349.
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