This language has been interpreted mainly in two ways. Some say that the Buddha was saying that once you get to the other shore, you have no need of the dharma any more and can discard it. Others say that what the Buddha was saying was part of the teaching of non-attachment. One shouldn’t become attached even to the Buddha’s teachings One shouldn’t define oneself in terms of the dharma.
These interpretations have been considered inconsistent; I would, however, disagree because I think something has been missed which joins them. When one reaches the other shore, when you perceive the emptiness of all five skandhas and thus are at one with all things, free of all feelings and perceptions, you are one with your unborn Buddha mind. And being one with your unborn Buddha mind, you are one with the dharma from direct knowledge, not teaching. Thus one can indeed discard and should let go of the dharma as teachings.
There is another aspect of the parable with I have not seen commented on. When the man reaches the other shore, he is ready to proceed with his journey, which by implication stretches out before him. A journey on which he will experience no fear.
Sometimes, the “other shore” is depicted as an island. Much like the Buddha’s comment that each bhikkhu should make of himself his island, himself and no other his refuge. But the Buddha I think meant the term “island” here not as a place isolated from the rest of the world but rather a place within which a bhikkhu takes refuge.
That this is the case is made clearer by a footnote to the translation that indicates that the Pali word translated as “island” also can be translated as “lamp.” So the Buddha was not just saying that the dharma was a space within which to take refuge, an “island,” but that it was a lamp to light the way forward on the journey after reaching the other shore.
So many people think of Buddhism and meditation as a way of shutting out the reality of the world, of separating oneself from it. But that is definitely not the case. Buddhism is a way of freeing oneself not from reality but from the suffering caused by our learned experiences, the perceptions our mind develops … which is not reality … so that we find a new, healthy way to relate to ourselves and the world around us. When we are able to experience things directly as they are, we can then walk through life free of fear, in peace, finding happiness in each moment.