He’s a Buddhist (and a practicing Jew) but not the Buddha: Leonard Cohen would appear to be the author of this quote.
“What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world, where each person is clinging to his piece of debris? What’s the proper salutation between people as they pass each other in this flood?”
The quote is found in a 1993 book, Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers by Susan Shaughnessy (p. 103). In a fuller form it’s:
The question becomes: What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world, where each person is clinging to his piece of debris? What is the proper salutation between people as they pass each other in this flood? These are the things that concern my work today.
Walking on Alligators isn’t the original source, which may have been a magazine or video interview.
The quote above certain doesn’t sound like anything from a canonical Buddhist source, but the Buddha did like to talk about life as a flood. For example:
- Greed, I say, is a great flood; it is a whirlpool sucking one down, a constant yearning, seeking a hold, continually in movement.
- Mindfully focused on no-thing-ness, / relying on ‘There isn’t,’ / you should cross over the flood.
- As a great flood carries away a sleeping village, so death seizes and carries away the man with a clinging mind, doting on his children and cattle.
- I have taught the way to cross over the flood by going from one support to the next, the noble liberation.
- By effort and heedfulness, discipline and self-mastery, let the wise one make for himself an island which no flood can overwhelm.
I suspect that Cohen had this kind of imagery — of life being a dangerous flood to be crossed — in mind when he made the statement quoted above.