The Three Fish
This is a story of the lake and the three big fish that were in it, one of them intelligent another half-intelligent and the third, stupid. Some fisherman came to the edge of the lake with their nets. The three fish saw them.The intelligent fish decided at once to leave to make the long, difficult trip to the ocean. He thought, “I won’t consult with these two on this. They will only weaken my resolve, because they love this place so. They call it home. Their ignorance will keep them here.” When you’re traveling, ask a traveler for advice, not someone whose lameness keeps him in one place. Muhammad says “Love of one’s country is part of the faith.’ But don’t take that literally! Your real “country” is where you’re heading, not where you are. Don’t misread that hadith. In ritual ablutions, according to tradition, there’s a separate prayer for each body part. When you snuff water up your nose to cleanse it, beg for the scent of the spirit. The proper prayer is, “Lord wash me. My hand has washed this part of me, but my hand can’t wash my spirit I can wash this skin, but you must wash me.“
A certain man used to say the wrong prayer for the wrong hole. He’d say the nose-prayer when he splashed his behind. Can the odor of heaven come from our rumps? Don’t be humble with fools. Don’t take pride into the presence of a master. It’s right to love your home place, but first ask, “Where is that, really?”
The wise fish saw the men and their nets and said, “I”m leaving.” Ali was told a secret doctrine by Muhammad and told not to tell it, so he whispered it down the mouth of a well. Sometimes there’s no one to talk to. You must just set out on your own. So the intelligent fish made its whole length a moving footprint and, like a deer the dogs chase, suffered greatly on its way, but finally made it to the edgeless safety of the sea. The half-intelligent fish thought. “My guide has gone. I ought to have gone with him, but I didn’t, and now I’ve lost my chance to escape.
I wish I’d gone with him.”
Don’t regret what’s happened. If it’s in the past, let it go. Don’t even remember it! A certain man caught a bird in a trap. The bird says “Sir, you have eaten many cows and sheep in your life, and you’re still hungry. The little bit of meat on my bones won’t satisfy you either. If you let me go, I’ll give you three pieces of wisdom. One I’ll say standing on your hand. One on your roof and one I’ll speak from the limb of that tree.” The man was interested. He freed the bird and let it stand on his hand.
“Number One: Do not believe an absurdity, no matter who says it.” The bird flew and lit on the man’s roof. “Number two: Do not grieve over what is past. It’s over. Never regret what has happened.” “By the way,” the bird continued, “in my body there’s a huge pearl weighing as much as ten copper coins. It was meant to be the inheritance of you and your children, but now you’ve lost it. You could have owned the largest pearl in existence, but evidently it was not meant to be.” The man started wailing like a woman in childbirth.
The bird: “Didn’t I just say, Don’t grieve for what’s in the past? And also, Don’t believe
an absurdity? My entire body doesn’t weigh as much as ten copper coins. How could I have a pearl that heavy inside me?” The man came to his senses. “All right. Tell me Number Three.” “Yes. You’ve made such good use of the first two!” Don’t give advice to someone who is groggy and falling asleep. Don’t throw seeds on the sand. Some torn places cannot be patched. Back to the second fish, the half-intelligent one. He mourns the absence of his guide for a while and then thinks, “What can I do to save myself from these men and their nets? Perhaps if I pretend to be already dead!
I’ll belly up on the surface and float like weeds float, just giving myself totally
to the water. To die before I die, as Muhammad said to.” So he did that. He bobbed up and down, helpless, within arm’s reach of the fishermen. “Look at this! The best and biggest fish is dead.” One of the men lifted him by the tail, spat on him, and threw him up on the ground. He rolled over and over and slid secretly near the water, and then, back in.
Meanwhile, the third fish, the dumb one, was agitatedly jumping about, trying to escape with his agility and cleverness. The net, of course, finally closed around him, and as he lay in the terrible frying-pan bed, he thought, “If I get out of this, I’ll never live again in the limits of the lake. Next time, the ocean! I’ll make the infinite my home.”
From The Essential Rumi. By Coleman Barks with John Moyne.