NCE UPON A TIME, about two thousand years ago, Emperor Wu of the
Early Han Dynasty ruled China.
Emperor Wu was a wise and good monarch. His empire was vast and
bountiful. And during his reign paper, ink and the camel's-hair writing
brush were the great inventions of the day.
Knowledge was very important to Emperor
Wu. So also were art and nature's beauty.
His palaces and cities had splendid parks
decorated with chrysanthemums and lilies.
Cherry trees, plum trees and willow trees
abounded as well. Yet, as unbelievable as it
may seem, not a one of the emperor's
parks and gardens, at any of his many
palaces, had a lagoon, a lake or even a
small pond. At long last the Emperor
decided it was time to have one made.
The Imperial Palace at Chang'an boasted the most splendid of the
Emperor's gardens. So it was there on the grounds of Chang'an, near
Willow Walk where the sweet, snowy blossoms of the jasmine mingled
gloriously with lavender wisteria, that Emperor Wu had his private pond
made. He called it K'un-Ming Pond.
One evening in early spring several years after the pond had been
completed the Emperor sat and gazed at the moon's reflection as it danced
upon the surface of the water. He was quite still, his breathing slow, and
how quiet his thoughts had become. Truly he was at peace.
Suddenly the reflection of the moon disintegrated and fell apart. Noisy
sloshing filled the air. Emperor Wu sat to attention. The peace filled
moment now dispelled. To the left, to the right he turned his head, looking
all around. What was that sound? Where did it come from? The water
rippled wildly like a sudden storm upon the sea, but only a breeze gently
stirred the air. The sloshing and splashing was violent. The water more
aggravated, yet there was nothing in the water . Listening more intently the
Emperor followed the sound first with his eyes, then walked hurriedly to
the farthest edge of the pond. A golden carp, the great golden carp that
ruled the sea life in K'un Ming writhed fitfully near the pond's bank.
"What is wrong there?" called out the Emperor as he hurried to the fish's
aid. "What is wrong?" he asked again as he reached into the chilly water to
rescue it. The carp was weak and pale and quivering. The rounded neck of
a brass hook hung out of his gill, the sharp point was lodged deep in his
throat. Blood in a steady rhythm beat upon the water's surface.
The fish's tail flailed back and forth.
"Shhh, let us see what we can do," whispered Emperor Wu in comforting
The hook he removed gently trying not to tear any more skin. Tenderly he
massaged the wound closed, and gathered up leaves and mud and applied
it over the wound.
"Shhhhh, it will be alright little friend. Shhh, it will be alright," he said,
petting the fish, trying to calm him down and ease his tensions.
Really for not more than a few minutes did he keep the fish out of water.
When he was satisfied that the wound would not reopen the Empeor placed
the fish in the water and let him go. He waved his hands away from himself
in a gesture of shooing to encourage the great old carp to swim away.
"Good health and long life," he called out, and bid the fish farewell.
The fish was weak and out of sorts for many weeks. Still, as unusual as it
may seem, he was a thoughtful fish and could not stop thinking about
Emperor Wu. There was one question that he pondered night and day: How
and when can I repay the Emperor for saving my life?
Days passed on. Weeks gave way to months. After two months had
passed, the golden carp finally regained his strength. Once again he was
the lord of K'un-Ming Pond. By early summer the great golden carp was
robust and in brilliant color. Now fully recovered he returned to his rightful
place in the center of the pond. Day to day he observed the emperor's
comings and goings. At the same time every evening he noticed Emperor
Wu take his honored seat under the ancient weeping willow to watch the
reflection of the moon wax and wane on the surface of K'un-Ming.
When the moon is full, thought the carp to himself, I will
repay my debt of gratitude to the Emperor. By then my
gift will have reached maturity.
Twelve days later, on the evening of the full moon, the
carp waited upon his throne in the center of the pond. At
hand was the hour that the Emperor usually arrived. The
golden carp quivered with excitement.
Emperor Wu, however, was no where in sight. His bench
An hour passed. Still the Emperor did not appear. Another hour passed, and
another. Still, no emperor. The excitement of the fish was by now long gone.
After hours and hours of waiting his head drooped in disappointment. His
eyes were heavy and laden with sleep. He shook his head to fight it off, and
to keep his eyes open he stared intensely at the royal seat on the shore. But
it was no use. He blinked once... twice...now thrice more. Finally his eyes
stayed closed. Sleep overcame him.
Moments later sparks began to fly. Something electric charged the air. The
water sizzled. Abruptly the carp woke up from the shock. It was now the
middle of the night, between the hours of the Ox and Tiger. A time when
anything becomes possible and all Buddhas attain enlightenment. There,
dignifying his place of honor sat Emperor Wu dressed in full regalia.
Excitement rushed through the carp. All of a sudden he did not know
whether he was coming or going. Around and around he swam, making
circles like a dog chasing its tail. Collecting himself, trying to pull it together
he swam, albeit very nervously, zigging and zagging, to greet the Emperor of
China. At a point in front of the Emperor, as near to the shore as he could
get, the carp lifted his golden head above the water and opened his mouth.
Glistening on his tongue with absolute perfection was a wondrously
candescent pearl the size of a cat's eye.
"Yourrr Maajesty," uttered the carp in his gurgling voice, "I am deeeeply
grrrateful to youuu forrr saaving my liife. Plleease aaccept thiis aas a
toooken of my grraatituude." Thereupon the fish most graciously presented
the exquisite pearl to the Emperor.
Alas, there are some people in the world who will question the value of a
single pearl to the Emperor of China. The Emperor of China, whom, after all,
had an extensive and bountiful empire. The wise and thoughtful Emperor Wu
was not one of those people. He knew, as so few us do, that the pearl
represents perfect happiness that exists only within the human heart.
Clapping his hands in surprise and elation he said, "All the riches of ten
worlds cannot buy such happiness." And he thanked the fish from the
bottom of his heart.
In "The Opening of the Eyes," Nichiren Daishonin summarizes this tale to
illustrate that if even a lowly creature such as a fish understands that he
must repay his obligations, then so should we human beings understand our
obligation to repay the debt of gratitude we owe to the Buddha, the Law and
the priests, to our parents and siblings, to our nation and to all living beings.
The heavenly beings, sages and saints, as well, must repay their debt of
gratitude to the keepers of the Law who are those people who embrace the
Mystic Law of Namu-myoho-renge-kyo.
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