Monday, October 4, 2010

Nirvana: The Story of the Turtle and the Fish

How to describe nirvana when nothing compares?
Bhikkhu Bodhi As It Is (edited by Wisdom Quarterly)
The following story illustrates the error of regarding nirvana as "nothingness" when it is described by saying what it is not.

There was once a turtle who lived in a lake with a group of fish. One day the turtle went for a walk on dry land. He was away from the lake for a few weeks. When he returned he saw the fish.

They greeted him and asked: "Hello! How are you, Mr. Turtle? We haven't seen you for weeks. Where have you been?"

The turtle answered, "I was up on dry land, spending time on dry land."

The fish looked puzzled and said, "Up on dry land? What are you talking about? What is this dry land?"

The turtle paused as he tried to think of a way to explain something that had no parallels to their ordinary underwater world.

The fish tried to help by prompting the turtle, "Is it wet?"

The turtle answered, "No, it's not wet."

The fish continued, "Is it cool and refreshing?"

"No, it's not cool and refreshing."

"Does it have waves and ripples?"

"No, it doesn't have waves and ripples."

Worried, they finally asked, "Well, can you swim in it?"

"No you can't swim in it," the turtle had to admit.

Naturally, the fish reasoned: "It's not wet, not cool, not wavy, and you can’t swim in it? Well then this 'dry land' of yours must be complete nothingness, either a fairytale or annihilation."

"That may be, that may be" the turtle smiled as he left for another walk on dry land.

Wisdom Quarterly
Ineffable nirvana gets poetic treatment -- at least the attainment of it does -- in a Sanskrit mantra epitomizing the Heart Sutra: Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi, swaha!

Gone, gone,
Gone beyond,
Gone altogether beyond,
O, what an awakening,
So it is!

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