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.”

The wise fish saw the men and their nets and said, “I”m leaving.” 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.

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.”

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.”

This is from the book Essential Rumi by Jalal al-Din Rumi and translated by Coleman Barks.

The Spiritual Moral / Meaning of This Story

In the timeless dance of existence, stories often serve as mirrors reflecting the deeper truths of our spiritual journey. The tale of the three fish, each facing the fishermen's nets with varying degrees of wisdom, offers profound lessons on intuition, adaptability, and the pursuit of higher understanding. By examining the spiritual morals embedded within this story, we uncover insights that guide us toward greater self-awareness and growth. These lessons illuminate the path to embracing our full potential, navigating life's challenges, and transcending the limitations that bind us.

The Wisdom of Intuition

The story of the three fish begins with the intelligent fish acting on its intuition. Spiritual growth often requires us to trust our inner guidance, even when the path ahead is uncertain and difficult. Intuition is a powerful tool that connects us to a deeper wisdom within, urging us to make decisions that align with our higher purpose. By following his intuition, the intelligent fish not only saves himself but also demonstrates the importance of listening to that inner voice. This story encourages us to cultivate and trust our intuition, recognizing it as a guiding force in our spiritual journey.

The Consequence of Hesitation

The half-intelligent fish’s story highlights the spiritual significance of hesitation and missed opportunities. When we fail to act on our intuition or delay our decisions, we often find ourselves trapped in undesirable situations. Hesitation stems from doubt and fear, preventing us from taking the necessary steps toward growth and freedom. The half-intelligent fish's regret serves as a reminder that spiritual progress requires decisive action. We must learn to recognize and seize opportunities for growth, understanding that hesitation can lead to stagnation and regret.

The Power of Adaptability

The half-intelligent fish’s survival through pretending to be dead illustrates the spiritual moral of adaptability. In life, we are often faced with challenges and threats that test our resilience. Adaptability is the ability to adjust to these circumstances creatively and resourcefully. By “dying before he died,” the half-intelligent fish adapts to the threat and survives. This lesson teaches us the importance of flexibility and innovation in our spiritual journey. Being adaptable allows us to navigate life’s challenges with grace and resilience, finding ways to thrive even in difficult situations.

The Danger of Ignorance

The fate of the stupid fish underscores the peril of ignorance and stubbornness. Despite the evident danger, the stupid fish relies on its limited understanding and physical agility to escape, ultimately leading to its demise. Ignorance, in this context, is a lack of awareness and refusal to learn from the wisdom around us. Spiritual growth demands that we remain open to new knowledge and experiences, continually expanding our understanding. The story warns us that clinging to ignorance and resisting change can lead to our downfall. We must seek wisdom and remain open to learning in order to evolve spiritually.

The Call to Transcend Limits

The intelligent fish’s decision to leave for the ocean represents the spiritual call to transcend the limits of our current existence. The lake symbolizes the familiar and comfortable boundaries we often impose on ourselves, while the ocean represents the infinite possibilities of spiritual expansion. True spiritual growth involves breaking free from these self-imposed limits and seeking the boundless potential that lies beyond. The story inspires us to strive for greater heights, to make the infinite our home, and to embrace the vastness of our spiritual journey.

The Role of Sacrifice

The half-intelligent fish’s tactic of pretending to be dead involves a significant act of sacrifice. In the spiritual context, sacrifice often means letting go of our ego, comfort, and preconceived notions in order to achieve a higher state of being. The fish’s willingness to “die” to save itself symbolizes the necessary sacrifices we must make on our spiritual path. This story teaches us that true growth often requires us to relinquish aspects of our current self, embracing humility and surrendering to the greater good.

The Impermanence of Life

The story also touches on the impermanence of life and the importance of living with awareness. The fishermen’s arrival represents the sudden and unpredictable changes that can occur in our lives. The fish's varying responses to this threat reflect different levels of spiritual awareness. Recognizing the impermanence of life encourages us to live more mindfully and intentionally, appreciating each moment and making choices that reflect our deepest values. This awareness helps us navigate life's uncertainties with a sense of peace and purpose.

The Value of Courage

Courage is a recurring theme in the story, particularly in the actions of the intelligent fish. Spiritual growth often demands that we face our fears and take bold steps into the unknown. The intelligent fish’s courageous decision to leave the lake for the ocean serves as a powerful reminder that courage is essential for spiritual evolution. By embracing courage, we empower ourselves to overcome obstacles, break free from limitations, and pursue our highest potential.

The Wisdom of Letting Go

The half-intelligent fish’s survival tactic embodies the wisdom of letting go. In spiritual terms, letting go means releasing our attachments to outcomes, possessions, and even our identities. By surrendering control and trusting in the flow of life, we open ourselves to new possibilities and deeper understanding. The story teaches us that sometimes, the best way to save ourselves is to let go of our resistance and allow life to guide us. This act of surrender is a profound spiritual practice that leads to greater freedom and inner peace.

The Importance of Reflection

Finally, the story emphasizes the importance of reflection in our spiritual journey. Each fish’s response to the threat provides an opportunity for introspection and learning. By reflecting on our actions, decisions, and their outcomes, we gain valuable insights into our spiritual path. The story encourages us to regularly reflect on our experiences, learning from our successes and mistakes. Through reflection, we deepen our self-awareness and continue to grow spiritually, continually refining our understanding and approach to life.

Personal Reflection Questions

Spiritual stories are an opportunity to reflect on your own life. Here are 10 questions you can use to go deeper with the teachings in this story:

  1. How often do you trust your intuition when making decisions?
  2. What are some opportunities you regret not taking due to hesitation or fear?
  3. In what ways have you adapted to challenges in your life? How has this adaptability helped you grow?
  4. How do you seek wisdom and remain open to learning in your daily life?
  5. What self-imposed limits are holding you back, and how can you begin to transcend them?
  6. What sacrifices have you made for your spiritual growth? How have these sacrifices transformed you?
  7. How does the impermanence of life influence your perspective and actions?
  8. When have you demonstrated courage in the face of fear or uncertainty?
  9. What attachments do you need to let go of in order to achieve greater freedom and peace?
  10. How do you incorporate reflection into your spiritual practice? What insights have you gained from this process?

A Poem Based On This Story

“The Wisdom of the Waters: A Journey to the Infinite”

In a tranquil lake, three fish did dwell,
Their fates a tale, a story to tell.
One with wisdom, keen and bright,
Saw the nets and took swift flight.

To the ocean vast, he swam away,
Trusting his heart, without delay.
A second fish, not quite as wise,
Mourned his chance with sorrowed eyes.

Yet in his grief, a plan did weave,
To float as dead, his life to cleave.
He bobbed and swayed, the men deceived,
And in the end, his life retrieved.

The third fish, foolish, full of pride,
Ignored the signs, no guide beside.
He jumped and thrashed, in vain he fought,
Till in the net, his end was caught.

From these three, lessons do arise,
In wisdom's light, and folly's guise.
Trust your heart, when danger's near,
Act with courage, not with fear.

Adapt and bend, like reeds in stream,
For rigid ways, will end the dream.
Let go of pride, embrace the flow,
In the depths, true wisdom grows.

The lake, a symbol of life’s bounds,
The ocean vast, where spirit sounds.
Transcend the limits, seek the wide,
In the infinite, let your soul abide.

Reflect, adapt, with courage stand,
Life’s lessons clear, by waters grand.
For in each choice, a path unfolds,
To guide the heart, where wisdom holds.

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