The parable of the lily pond and the fishes

I have been to India upon a number of occasions. The primary purpose of these memorable journeys was not only to revel in India’s spiritual and magical energies, but also to observe and experience the techniques and examples of the Masters. Many of the profound parables I share with you here are my versions of stories based from the lips of those Masters. The stories are pregnant with meaning. I wrote this story around a short parable that devotees in India are often told.

The Parable of the lily pond and the fishes

Prince Abdullah was a most fearsome warrior in battle, and a wise and intelligent ruler over his people. His magnificent marble palace, gleaming in the sunlight, was centered in over two hundred acres of majestic gardens. An outer walled fortress protected the peaceful sanctity of these gardens from the noise of the bustling city, over which Prince Abdullah ruled.

The fragrant gardens were a meditative retreat for the Prince, away from the heavy responsibilities and burdens of state. Many exotic trees and plants, ordered by the Prince from the far reaches of the world, thrived in the garden. Prince Abdullah was particularly fond of his large circular lily pond. The ancient pond not only contained the Prince’s beloved exotic fish, but also his wife’s favorite colorful lilies that the Prince had brought back especially for her as a gift from a distant land.

The Prince’s daily early morning routine was to walk around the lily pond seven times reciting verses from the various Holy Scriptures of the world’s great religions. This practice, he considered vitamins of the soul and helped him to understand the varying cultures and religions in the lands over which he ruled.

On one such early morning walk the Prince happened by chance to notice a problem.

The lilies in the pond appeared to be doubling in area daily. The prince realized that the fish, being mainly from the warm shallow waters of the tropics, needed sunlight. If the lilies were to eventually spread over the entire surface of the pond, they would shut out the light and the fish would surely die.

The problem posed a dilemma for the Prince. He neither wanted to offend his wife, nor lose his prized fish.

The Prince called for his top horticulturist and his most gifted mathematician. After several days of studying the plants the horticulturist confirmed the Prince’s observations. The lilies, were indeed, doubling in area every twenty-four hours.

The mathematician meticulously measured the circumference of the pond and the rate of the lilies growth. He made his calculations and after carefully checking his results, requested an audience with the Prince.

“My noble Prince, I have measured the circumference of the pond and the rate of growth of the lilies. The area of the pond is very large and my calculations show that it will be quite some time before action is needed to divide the lilies.”

The Prince was visibly relieved. “Master mathematician, your news pleases me. How long may I wait before I instigate action?”

“My noble Prince, my calculations show that in three years, three months and three days the pond will be completely covered. However my respectful advice is that you instigate action well before this time to ensure against the unexpected.”

The Prince was delighted. “ Ah, three years, three months and three days - such a long time. I accept your wise counsel. I will regularly observe the pond and take action, as and when needed.”

Prince Abdullah continued his daily routine of walking seven times around the pond studying and reciting scriptures. His knowledge of religion steadily increased. The seasons came and went. The lilies doubled in area daily, but their combined area still did not appear to pose a threat to the fish. The pond was vast and the lilies so small. The prince rightly observed that even more than 99.99% of the surface of the pond was still covered by water.

The Prince, over the ensuing months, became fascinated with the teachings of the world’s great religions. He noticed that they all taught certain “pillars of truth”. For example, each religion claimed that there was one God and that the one God was all encompassing. Each religion also taught the virtues of love, peace, non-violence, right conduct and detachment. Each religion spoke of the continuance of the existence of the “soul” in some higher state of consciousness, after the physical death of the body. The founder’s of each religion, each in their own way, had attempted to convey these “pillars of truth” to the masses.

And the lilies kept on doubling in area.

The Prince became bewildered. He was the warrior Prince who had fought valiantly and without mercy for the religion that he had been born into. He posed the question to himself that if all the religions proclaimed the same truths, why do humans butcher each other in war, each side fighting in the name of their God, or to uphold the truths of their particular religion. On some mornings he would spontaneously laugh at the absurdity. On other mornings he would cry with compassion.

And the lilies kept on doubling in area.

Three years and two months passed, as if time itself was surreal. The Prince noticed that the total area of the lilies, in relation to the water surface area of the pond, was rapidly increasing. However, the lilies were still covering only a very minute surface area. The prince began to doubt the mathematician’s calculations. He murmured softly to himself, “Over three years has elapsed and the lilies are yet to cover even one percent of the pond! Not even one percent. Ridiculous! The mathematician must surely be wrong. I will continue to wait before I take action”

The final four weeks drew to a close.

The Prince was now an “expert” on the dogma of all the great religions. His mind was filled with parables, psalms, quotes and verses. He could argue with the local religious leaders as valiantly as he once fought on the battlefield. He also proclaimed non-violence, violently. He also discussed the concept and immensity of the one God without ever experiencing that which he was discussing.

And in the meantime, the lilies kept on doubling in area.

The Prince knew it was now nearly three years and three months since the mathematician’s prophesy. It was early morning and he chuckled when he studied the pitiful growth of the lilies. Only a mere six to seven percent of the pond was covered with the plants. The mathematician’s calculations had been proved wrong. After that day, only four mornings remained. The lilies had taken nearly three years and three months to get this far and only four mornings remained. Surely, it would be many more years before he would have to act.

The Prince began his seven rounds of the pond, philosophizing on the philosophical truths of existence. He brooded upon the tragedy that the leaders of the world’s major religions, instead of uniting under a banner of love and truth, competed against each other for the hearts and minds of potential followers. This competition created conflict amongst his subjects and often boiled over into physical violence.

It was at that instant the Prince had a profound and dangerous revelation. He stopped and spoke out loud to his fish and the lilies. “Why am I brooding? I am the great Prince Abdullah, the warrior Prince. I will summon all the leaders of the religions, along with the other leaders of my lands, to a grand celebration. There, I will make a surprise royal pronouncement. We will together celebrate the unification of all religions. If there be one God, there must also be only one religion. I will call this new religion, “the religion of love”. I will order all of them to love each other in the name of God and Prince Abdullah. Those who choose to resist my edict will be banished from my lands.”

The Prince excitedly hurried back to his palace and began issuing the relevant orders. The celebration was planned for four days hence. He’d have to work fast. The Prince was practical. He knew there would be opposition. By giving only four days notice, his potential dissidents would have less time to hear the rumors that would surely abound, and more importantly, less time to hatch their plots to unseat him.

There was much to arrange. Many details had to be taken into consideration. Every important citizen of his lands would be invited. The hundreds of guests would need to be housed and fed. Varying entertainment would have to be arranged at short notice. So much to do. No time to be. In fact the Prince became so busy that he did not have the time to take his regular morning garden walk.

The four days flew by.

And in the meantime, the lilies kept on doubling in area.

It was two o’clock in the afternoon. The worried guests were seated in the grand hall awaiting the Prince’s arrival and announcement. The religious leaders were present along with the generals, the politicians and the business leaders. The tension in the hall was electric. All were impatient to hear their Prince’s impromptu announcement. Rumors abounded! Each and every one of the guests were vitally concerned of their own respective futures. Their wealth, their egos and their positions were threatened.

The drums rolled and the trumpets sounded. The gathering stood in unison as the Prince entered the room and took his place at the regal podium. He beckoned his audience to sit.

The silence was apprehensive rather than peaceful. The Prince began to make his announcement. “My lords and honored guests, as you know I have a special proclamation to announce. This edict is sure to affect each and every one of you.”

At that split second the Prince noticed his master mathematician standing, sullen faced, at the rear of the hall. The Prince immediately realized why the great scholar was there.

“Oh no,” the Prince cried out. “My fish, the lilies have killed my fish!”

To the mutterings of his surprised audience, the Prince leapt from the podium and ran to the garden. He gasped as he reached the pond. The pond was totally covered by the lilies. His rare tropical fish were all dead.

The Prince cried out in anguish. “Oh God, how can this possibly be. I have been absent for just four days. After so many years of being “alert”, just four days of absence and my fish are dead. The mathematician was right after all.”

The Prince began to do the sums. “The combined area of the lilies doubles each day. Five mornings ago I observed that only 6.5 % of the pond was covered. Therefore, four mornings ago in my absence, 13% of the pond was covered. Three mornings ago 26%. Two mornings ago 52%. This morning the pond was totally covered. In just four days of absence the lilies increased their area by a further 93.5% of the pond’s surface area.”

The Prince felt shattered. He sat humbly on the edge of the pond and began to meditate and offer a prayer to the ethers. His meditation flowered and his prayer became the fragrance. For the very first time in his life he was able to drop his obsessive ego mind. He finally realized that his thoughts, however noble and well intended, had created the thinker. He’d always assumed the opposite. That he was the creator of his thoughts. Now without thoughts the thinker or the ego was also absent. There was a space and that illumined space was his true self.

For the first time, he was now able to truly observe the lilies. He felt their presence expanding once more, as if they were reaching out to his soul. All about him began to shimmer, to vibrate. The trees, the flowers, the grass and the clouds, vividly colored – all pulsated in a celebratory rhythm of love. The pulsations merged. The Prince became the pulsations and experienced the bliss of totality. At that instance, a soul became enlightened.

After a lifetime of absence or sleep, less than a minute of true alertness led to enlightenment.

Back in the grand hall the plotting was well advanced. The religious leaders and the generals were arguing vehemently with the business moguls and the politicians. “The Prince must surely be insane,“ they shouted. “His grand announcement was that the lilies have killed his fish. He must have gone mad. Such a leader is highly dangerous. He must be stopped!”

And the high priests murmured, “And, of course, there are those rumors of heresy. He even had the audacity to think that he could begin a new religion. How dare he threaten our positions?”

The business moguls and the politicians wanted to imprison the Prince in one of his own dungeons. They reasoned that the Prince would command a high ransom. Most of the religious leaders and the generals preferred a more permanent solution. They argued to have the Prince executed. To them, a living martyr is an embarrassment. On the other hand, the memory of a dead martyr can be turned into a powerful asset.

The religious leaders and the generals finally won the argument, but only after agreeing to pay a suitable monetary consideration to the others as compensation.

The meditative Prince, sitting crossed legged and facing the pond, was not aware of the approach of the assassin. He was not aware of the blade slicing through the back of his neck as his physical body fell into the lilies. His space now contained all.




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