Boatman’s Dreaming

A boatman used to earn his money by towing a barge up and down a canal. This he would do by walking along the canal-side pulling the barge behind him with a rope, stopping here and there to load or deliver goods.

As he went about his business, he would sometimes dream of what he would do if he managed to save a sum of money from his earnings. “I’d line the canal-side with soft, foamy footcushions so that as I walked along, my feet would not trod on hard earth, pebbles, sharp thorns and so on.”

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This illustrates the root of anthropomorphism and zoomorphism, the projection of physical qualities upon the Divine. One who is very strongly attached to material life will conceive of God and the spiritual world as idealizations of material entities and experiences. The boatman thought that when he got his fortune he’d still be a boatman; only the conditions of his existence as a boatman would improve.

Similarly, the attached materialist hopes that religion will improve his standard of life without altering the basic values held dear by materialists everywhere. Heaven, for a materialist, is a place of sense gratification far superior to earth–but if it is a place of sense gratification, then the basic consciousness of “I am an enjoyer of matter” remains unchanged. Even God is a but a materialist in the view of materialistic believers: He has no other lila than the creation of this material world and the provision of sense gratification for all creatures on earth and in heaven.


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