February 25, 2007 12:10 PM

The Blind Turtle and the Endless Sea

My therapist, Dr. W, is a buddhist. Sometimes he says things to me in our sessions that I seem to understand at the time, but when I try to think about them later I find I have no idea what he was talking about. Here are some of the things he has suggested to me that I have had to do research about after the fact.

Parable of the Blind Turtle and the Endless Sea

“The story is told in a Buddhist sutra of a lone blind turtle who dwells in the depths of a vast ocean, coming up for air only once every hundred years. On the surface of the same ocean floats a golden yoke. It is more common for the turtle to place its head through the yoke when it takes its centennial breath, the sutra says, than it is for a being imprisoned in the cycle of rebirth to be born as a human with the good fortune to encounter the teaching of the Buddha. Human birth in a Buddhist land is compared to a rare jewel, difficult to find and, if found, of great value, because it is in the human body [that one may most easily travel] the path that leads to liberation.” Lopez: 266 (parable 066)

Note: The notion that rebirth as a human being is difficult may run counter to current ideas of overpopulation. However, the Buddha was speaking on a macrocosmic level: “there are more…intestinal bacteria in your colon at this moment than there are human beings who have ever lived” (NYT Magazine, 18 April ‘99, p. 87).

I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to feel very lucky or very depressed about this situation. Lucky because I am a human who is learning about the teachings of Buddha. Depressed because the turtle (and me in turn) has so little chance of coming up through the yoke of the golden ring. I choose to feel lucky about this now, but the feeling of helplessness did cross my mind.

Strangely (or not) a few years ago when Jen2 and I were in Pichilemu on the coast of Chile we saw a great greenish-gray something swimming north along the shore. It seemed very big and didn’t move like a sea mammal. We decided it might have been a sea turtle. Maybe the great sea turtle decided to reveal himself to us.

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