Derek, I keep coming across references to “ferrying people” while studying Eastern philosophy. What does it mean?
In the Tao, “ferrying people” means helping others reach a better understanding of spiritual truths. The Chinese characters are du ren. The image they evoke is that of a sentient soul on one side of a river, seeking a way to cross it. You come by with your boat and take this person to the other side, thus rendering assistance and creating powerful, positive karma.
The river in this image is our typical human existence, a life that has not completely awakened to the truth of spiritual reality. The opposite shore is the higher state of consciousness, greater awareness and wisdom. Some look across the river longingly but have no means to get across; others may not even realize that there is more to life than the shore where they are still stuck. Either way, the river is a barrier, just as life in the mundane, materialistic world can keep us from discovering spirituality.
Having studied the Tao, you have a boat that allows you to navigate the waters. This boat is the principles of the Tao, a tool that you can use to attain wisdom in life (reach the other side). However, the fact that you possess greater mobility (access to Tao teachings) also means that you have an obligation. Sages and Buddhas all point out that enjoying the teachings alone cannot compare to sharing them with friends. Therefore, you are called upon to help fellow sentient beings by ferrying them across the river.
Once the people you ferry reach the other side, they will also have vessels of their own. They will be able to help even more people just as you have helped them. In this manner, the goodness that you have created will multiply indefinitely.