The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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Buddhist Story: The Fish and the Turtle (Is Nibbana Nothingness?)
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Once upon a time there was a fish. And just because it was a fish, it had lived all its life in the water and knew nothing whatever about anything else but water. And one day as it swam about in the lake where all its days had been spent, it happened to meet a turtle of its acquaintance who had just come back from a little excursion on the land.
"Oh", said the turtle, "I have just been for a trip on dry land."
"Well," said the turtle good-naturedly. "If you want to think so, of course you may; there is no one who can hinder you. But that's where I've been, all the same."
"No, it is not wet," said the turtle.
"Is it nice and fresh and cool?" asked the fish.
"No, it is not nice and fresh and cool," the turtle replied.
"Is it clear so that light can come through it?"
"No, it is not clear. Light cannot come through it."
"Is it soft and yielding, so that I can move my fins about in it and push my nose through it?"
"No, it is not soft and yielding. You could not swim in it."
"Does it move or flow in streams?"
"No, it neither moves nor flows in streams."
"Does it ever rise up into waves then, with white foams in them?" asked the fish, impatient at this string of Noes.
"No!" replied the turtle, truthfully. "It never rises up into waves that I have seen."
"There now," exclaimed the fish triumphantly. "Didn't I tell you that this land of yours was just nothing? I have just asked, and you have answered me that it is neither wet nor cool, not clear nor soft and that it does not flow in streams nor rise up into waves. And if it isn't a single one of these things what else is it but nothing? Don't tell me."
"Well, well", said the turtle, "If you are determined to think that dry land is nothing, I suppose you must just go on thinking so. But any one who knows what is water and what is land would say you were just a silly fish, for you think that anything you have never known is nothing just because you have never known it."