The Giddy Fish

There was a bhikkhu who had great difficulty in keeping his senses and passions under control; so, resolving to leave the Order, he came to the Blessed One to ask him for a release from the vows. And the Blessed One said to the bhikkhu: “Take heed, my son, lest you fall a prey to the passions of your misguided heart. For I see that in former existences, you have suffered much from the evil consequences of lust, and unless you learn to conquer your sensual desire, you will in this life be ruined through your folly.

“Listen to a story of another existence of yours, as a fish. The fish could be seen swimming lustily in the river, playing with his mate. She, moving in front, suddenly perceived the meshes of a net, and slipping around escaped the danger; but he, blinded by love, shot eagerly after her and fell straight into the mouth of the net. The fisherman pulled the net up, and the fish, who complained bitterly of his sad fate, saying, ‘This indeed is the bitter fruit of my folly,' would surely have died if the Bodhisattva had not chanced to come by, and, understanding the language of the fish, took pity on him. He bought the poor creature and said to him: ‘My good fish, had I not caught sight of you today, you would have lost your life. I shall save you, but from now on avoid the evil of lust.' With these words he threw the fish into the water.

“Make the best of the time of grace that is offered to you in your present existence, and fear the dart of passion which, if you do not guard your senses, will lead you to destruction.”

The author of this story is unknown and greatly appreciated!

The Spiritual Moral / Meaning of This Story

The story of the bhikkhu who struggled with his passions and the parable of his former existence as a fish offers profound lessons on self-discipline, mindfulness, and the consequences of unchecked desires. This narrative, shared by the Blessed One, emphasizes the importance of mastering one’s senses and overcoming sensual desires to achieve spiritual liberation.

Buddha Telling A StoryThe bhikkhu's struggle with his senses and passions is a common human experience. It reflects the inner battle many face when trying to maintain control over their desires and impulses. The Blessed One's advice to the bhikkhu highlights the necessity of vigilance and self-control in the spiritual journey. This story reminds us that true liberation and peace come from within, through the mastery of our own minds and hearts.

The fish's fate in the former existence serves as a powerful allegory. The fish, blinded by love and desire, fails to see the danger ahead and falls into the net. This imagery illustrates how unchecked passions can lead us into perilous situations. Just as the fish was ensnared by its desire, we too can become trapped by our own cravings and attachments. The story urges us to be aware of the consequences of our actions and to avoid being led astray by fleeting pleasures.

The intervention of the Bodhisattva, who saves the fish and advises it to avoid the evil of lust, represents the role of wisdom and compassion in our lives. The Bodhisattva's act of saving the fish symbolizes the guidance and support we can receive from enlightened beings or wise mentors. It is a reminder that we are not alone in our struggles and that there are always opportunities for redemption and growth if we are willing to listen and learn.

The fish’s complaint about its fate, saying, “This indeed is the bitter fruit of my folly,” underscores the concept of karma—the idea that our actions have consequences. The fish's predicament is a direct result of its previous actions, and this principle applies to our lives as well. The story teaches us that we must take responsibility for our actions and understand that our present circumstances are often the result of past behaviors. By recognizing this, we can make conscious choices that lead to positive outcomes.

The Blessed One’s final words to the bhikkhu emphasize the importance of making the best use of our current life. He advises the bhikkhu to guard his senses and to be mindful of the “dart of passion” that can lead to destruction. This cautionary message is a call to mindfulness and self-awareness. It encourages us to remain vigilant and to cultivate a disciplined mind that is not easily swayed by external temptations.

Ultimately, the story of the bhikkhu and the fish teaches us about the impermanence of desires and the importance of inner strength. It reminds us that true happiness and liberation are found not in the pursuit of sensual pleasures but in the cultivation of a serene and disciplined mind. By overcoming our passions and desires, we can attain a state of inner peace and spiritual freedom.

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. What are the desires and passions in my life that I find difficult to control?
  2. How do these desires impact my decisions and actions?
  3. What past experiences have taught me about the consequences of unchecked desires?
  4. How can I cultivate mindfulness and self-discipline in my daily life?
  5. Who are the mentors or guides in my life that help me navigate my spiritual journey?
  6. What actions can I take to avoid falling into the “net” of my desires?
  7. How do I take responsibility for the consequences of my actions?
  8. What practices can help me stay vigilant and guard my senses?
  9. How can I remind myself of the impermanence of desires and the importance of inner peace?
  10. What steps can I take to achieve spiritual liberation and inner freedom?

A Poem Based On This Story

The Wisdom of the Net: A Tale of Inner Strength

A bhikkhu once, in struggle dire,
Sought release from vows, his heart afire.
To the Blessed One, he came with plea,
“Release me, Lord, from this decree.”

The Buddha spoke with gentle grace,
“Beware the passions that you chase.
For in past lives, you've suffered much,
From lust's cruel hand, its deadly touch.”

“Listen now, a tale of yore,
A life you lived in times before.
As fish you swam in river wide,
With mate beside, in waters glide.”

“She saw the net, a peril near,
And swam around, escaping clear.
But you, in love's blind, eager flight,
Swam straight into the net’s dark bite.”

“The fisherman, with net in hand,
Pulled you up to solid land.
In sorrow deep, you cried in pain,
‘This is the fruit of lust's domain.’”

“A Bodhisattva, passing by,
Heard your cries, saw your sigh.
With compassion, he bought your life,
And saved you from the butcher's knife.”

“‘Good fish,' he said, ‘heed my advice,
Avoid the lust that tempts entice.
For had I not come by this day,
You’d have been lost, a tragic fray.'”

“Remember now, in present life,
Guard your senses, avoid the strife.
For passions lead to sorrow’s shore,
But discipline opens wisdom's door.”

“Make the best of grace's time,
Guard your heart, let virtues climb.
Fear the dart of passion’s snare,
Find inner peace, beyond compare.”