Zimmer, Dr Heinrich - On the ferryman
Type of spiritual experience
A description of the experience
Philosophies of India – Dr Heinrich Zimmer [edited by Joseph Campbell]
The ferryboat arrives and as it comes to the landing we regard it with a feeling of interest. It brings with it something of the air of that yonder land which will soon be our destination.
Yet when we are entering it we still feel like members of the world from which we are departing, and there is still that feeling of unreality about our destination. When we lift our eyes from the boat and boatman, the far bank is still only a remote image, no more substantial than it was before.
Softly the ferryboat pushes off and begins to glide across the moving waters. Presently one realises that an invisible line has been recently, imperceptibly passed, beyond which the bank left behind is assuming gradually the unsubstantiality of a mere visual impression, a kind of mirage, while the farther bank drawing nearer is beginning to turn into something real.
The former dim remoteness is becoming the new reality and soon is ‘solid’ ground, creaking under the keel – real earth – the sand and stone on which we tread in disembarking; whereas the world left behind, recently so tangible, has been transmuted into an optical reflex devoid of substance, out of reach and meaningless, and has forfeited the spell that it laid upon us formerly – with all its features, all its people, all its events – when we walked upon it and ourselves were a portion of its life.
Moreover, the new reality, which now possesses us, provides an utterly new view of the river, the valley and the two shores, a view very different from the other and completely unanticipated.
Now while we were in the process of crossing the river in the boat, with the shore left behind becoming gradually vaguer and more meaningless – the streets and homes, the dangers and pleasures, drawing steadily away – there was a period when the shoreline ahead was still rather too far off too; and during that time the only tangible reality around us was the boat, contending stoutly with the current and precariously floating on the rapid waters. The only details of life that then seemed quite substantial and that greatly concerned us were the various elements and implements of the ferryboat itself; the contours of the hull and gunwales, the rudder and the sail, the various ropes, and perhaps a smell of tar.
The rest of existence, whether out ahead or left behind, signified no more than a hopeful prospect and a fading recollection – two poles of unrealistic sentimental association affiliated with certain clusters of optical effects far out-of-hand.