illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
According to the legend, after the future Buddha broke his years of asceticism following an offering by Sujātā, he took the bowl to the river bank and set it on the river saying, "If today I shall be able to became a Buddha, let this bowl go up stream" and it floated up-stream…
Since then, "going against the flow" has been worn as a "badge of honour" by buddhists.
Moreover, many 'unexpected' stances of the Buddha (e.g. against sexism, or the caste system, etc.) were reframed as a 'fight', a "going against the stream".
In June, I gave an advanced teaching about "the stream" (gplus.wallez.name/2V7f1nBTBq2). I understand it is not "easy reading" for all, so I'll address below one single crucial point.
Our Buddhist path is a hard path… The first noble truth is "life is unsatisfactory" so the path never was expected to be easy!
It is hard because certainties are what the ignorant mind craves for: certainties about safety, about who one is, about a predictable world (so that prediction allows planning and thus allows satisfaction of cravings)…
The path goes directly against the stream, but this is not a stream of some external world: this is not against the caste system, sexism, income inequality…
The path goes directly against the stream of our own mind, the stream of perpetuating ignorance and craving!
The path goes against the stream because not-knowing is at its heart, paying attention to possible exceptions (no matter how established some knowledge was until now, how reliable predictions proved to be), being present here&now, engaged rather than in our mental 'certainties'…
The path goes against the stream because letting go of certainties is at its heart, no matter how much our mind craves for these certainties!
A consequence of not-knowing is indeed found in the challenge to institutions, to habits, to prejudices and to the status quo…
But this 'external' manifestation is a consequence rather than the root of the path.
Free your mind from prejudices, habits, preferences, ignorance… and, only then, help the world suffer less!
Don't start fighting because the world is not as you want it to be… That's craving, that's the perpetuation of unsatisfactoriness!
Don't start fighting and arguing in the name of progress, before you're even able to put yourself in the shoes of anyone else (because you're still clinging to your own identity)! Only when you can put yourself in the shoes of the doer of unwholesome deeds can you understand the causes and tendencies enough to disrupt their perpetuation!
Only when you can take ownership of how you perpetuated, or at least allowed, these tendencies in the past will you be able to finally do something about them. How would you act on what you don't make 'your' problem? You have to take responsibility for the situation; only then, your wisdom can be manifested in doing 'better' than in the past.
"Against the flow" is against your ignorant mind, the one perpetuating a flow no matter what, not paying attention, not responding to what's needed but only doing what it's used to do (because it's what it knows, what feels safe)! You're impermanent and selfless… but you still want,want,want to fix the world, push,push,push toward your desires, know,know,know who you are, what you want, what's good for you, what's good for the world?
What do you know about yourself? Are you in the driving seat, or are your desires, certainties (desires of security) and aversions driving (for) you? You're impermanent and selfless… Can you put yourself in someone else's shoes for a moment? Can you go against the stream of who you are, against 'your' stream, against 'your' status quo?
Photo: submerged statue of (Hindu) Shiva stands amid the flooded waters of river Ganges at Rishikesh (Uttarakhand). June 2013.