15 – The Fish

15 – The Fish

If those who practice good conduct successfully realize virtuous ideals in this life ― how much more will they be able to realize virtuous ideals in the next! Therefore strive for pure conduct.

Once the Bodhisattva was born as king of all the fishes that lived in a certain large lake ― a lake with lovely waters adorned by water-lilies and red lotuses, by lotuses of white and blue, its surface sprinkled with the blossoms of neighboring trees. This was a lake much favored by swans and ducks and geese.

By long and sustained practice, good or wicked actions become inherent in one’s nature to such a degree that in future existences they are performed without effort, as if in a dream. Thus it was that the Bodhisattva was intent on acting solely for the good of others, even in his existence as a fish.

The Great Being cared for his fellow fish as if they were his own offspring, ministering to their every need with gifts, the kindest of words, and the like. Through skillful means he gradually restrained them from desiring to harm each other, and so they gave up their cruel manner of feeding. In time, a mutual affection even developed among the fishes. – …He taught them the way of the Dharma, and under his protection the fishes came to know great prosperity and freedom from calamity, much as does a town whose magistrate follows the path of right action.

But because of bad luck and the general misfortune of beings, and because of the neglect of the gods in charge of rain, it happened that Parganya, the rain god, failed to dispense the proper quota of rain. Clear rain, tinged with gold by the flowers of the kadamba trees, no longer fell to replenish the lake.

With the onslaught of summer, the Sun burned ever more intensely; as if lazy and weary, it drank from the lake day after day, as did the Earth, heated by those rays, and the dry Wind, searching for coolness. As if to allay their wrath and fever, they all drank from the water until at last the lake was left a stagnant pond.

Now crowds of birds haunted the lake’s dry borders, and even troops of crows appeared, all casting greedy eyes on the gasping fish, who could scarcely move in the murky water. The great distress afflicting his charges moved the heart of the Bodhisattva, and he thought:

“Alas, poor fishes! What a calamity has come to pass! The water is decreasing day by day as if racing to die before us, and still no clouds appear. We cannot escape, for who would take us elsewhere? Meanwhile our enemies, eager and me acing, throng the shore. As soon as the lake dries up, the will devour the prostrate fishes before my very eyes. But what can I do?”

Considering long and hard, the Great Being saw only one hope for relief: the blessings of the truth, plain and simple. Heaving a deep sigh of grief and compassion, he gazed up the sky and spoke these words:

“I do not remember ever having harmed a single living being ― not ever, not even when I was in great distress. By the power of this unassailable Truth, may the king of the gods fill the lake with the water of his rains.”

As soon as those words were uttered, prompted by the power of the blessings of the Truth, by the store of the Bodhisattva’s merit, and by the favor of the gods, nagas, and yakshas, who together exercised all their might, rainclouds suddenly converged from all parts of the sky, as timely as they were untimely. Hanging low, adorned by flashes of lightning, rumbling softly and deeply, the enormous dark blue thunderheads spread across the sky as if reaching out to embrace each other until, like shadows of mountains mirrored in the heavens, they met the horizon on all sides. At the sound of the thunder, peacocks screeched in delight and danced about as if to praise the storm. The clouds themselves seemed to rejoice, rumbling with laughter and giving forth great flashes of light.

Then the clouds let loose streams of rain-pearls. At once the swirling dust settled, and the strong, fresh smell of renewal was carried everywhere by the wind. The summer sun, which only a moment before had been at the height of its power, was now hidden from view, and rivulets flecked with foam rushed down from the mountains to fill the lake. Gold and yellow lightning brightened the firmament again and again, dancing to the drums of the clouds.

In great confusion the crows and other birds of prey flapped away, as currents of water flowed down the mountains, bringing new hope and joy to the schools of fishes. But the Bodhisattva, though heartened, continued to speak over and over again to Parganya the rain god, lest the rains should suddenly cease: “Roar, Parganya!” he cried. “Roar deeply and loudly! Dispel the raucous joy of crows! Pour down your splashing waters sparkling like jewels in the flaming brilliance of lightning!”

Hearing this cry, Shakra, Lord of the Gods, was much astonished. He appeared in person before the Bodhisattva and said: “Oh Mighty Lord of Fishes, it is through the power of your undeniable Truth that these clouds ― like water pots tipped upside down ― have released their burden to the lovely sound of thunder. I would be much to blame were I not to approve the actions of beings such as yourself, who are intent on acting for the benefit of the world.

“Do not be anxious anymore! I am the friend of the virtuous, whatever their tasks, and I hereby swear that this region, realm of your great virtue, shall henceforth never again be visited by drought.”

After praising the fish in the kindest of words, Shakra vanished on that very spot. And the lake never again went dry.

From this story one can see how those who practice good conduct will be successful and thrive even in this world ― and much more so in the next. One can also see how important is to strive for complete purity of conduct.