Crossing the flood
Once late at night a deva came into the Buddha's presence, shedding bright light over the whole of Jetavana. He saluted the Lord, stood to one side, and asked: "How, dear sir, did you cross the flood?" This god knew that the Buddha had gone beyond samsara's deluge of misery and wanted to learn how he had achieved this.
The Buddha replied: "By not standing still, friend, and by not struggling I crossed the flood." The deva, perplexed by this paradox, asked for clarification. To clear up the analogy, the Exalted One told him: "When I came to a standstill, friend, then I sank; but when I struggled, then I got swept away. It is in this way, friend, that by not standing still and by not struggling I crossed the flood." The metaphor describes balanced effort. He "sank" when he did not work hard enough, but if he strained too hard he became agitated and got "swept away." When he discerned how to cross over with just the right balance between energy and calm, he transcended the flood of suffering fully and permanently. This deva rejoiced that at long last he had met a real arahant, a true holy man:
"After a long time at last I see
A brahman who is fully quenched,
Who by not standing still, not struggling,
Has crossed attachment to the world." (KS I, 2; SN 1:1)
The delighted deva had correctly perceived what set the Buddha apart from others: he had transcended death, rebirth, and all suffering by eliminating all the mental impurities. The deva began with a modicum of faith in the Buddha and received personal instruction from him. As a result, the commentary indicates, he became a stream-enterer. After the Buddha approved the deva's verse, he paid respects and departed.