Happy Fishes


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I’ve been a student of philosophical taoism/daoism for several years now.  Two of the main texts studied are The Tao Te Ching/Dao De Jing and the Chuang Tzu/Zhuang Zi.  The Dao De Jing (DDJ)’s main speaker is an old guy named Lao Tzu/Lao Zi, and the Zhuang Zi (ZZ)’s main character in the parables is a guy named the same (self-titled). 

Where the DDJ mostly uses a proverbs-like format, the ZZ uses parables.  One of the parables in ZZ is what is sometimes known as Happy Fishes.  It is found in Chapter 17, Autumn Floods, in section 7, the last section in the chapter.  Taken from Victor Mair’s translation of the ZZ, called,  Wandering on the Way, here is the story of the happy fishes.

Master Chuang and Master Hui were strolling across the bridge over the Hao River.  “The minnows have come out and are swimming so leisurely,” said Master Chuang.  “This is the joy of fishes.”

“You’re not a fish,” said Master Hui.  “How do you know what the joy of fishes is?”

“You’re not me,” said Master Chuang, “so how do you know that I don’t know what the joy of fishes is?”

“I’m not you,” said Master Hui, “so I certainly do not know what you do.  But you’re certainly not a fish, so it is irrefutable that you do not know what the joy of fishes is.”

Let’s go back to where we started,” said Master Chuang.  “When you said, ‘How do you know what the joy of fishes is?’ you asked me because you already knew that I knew.  I know it by strolling over the Hao.”

Last week, I went with my two sons and daughter in-law to Fredrick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

Towards the back of one of the edges of the park is a waterfall with koi leisurely swimming in happiness.  There was no Master Hui to question whether or not the fish were happy.  We all just knew they were.  We and the fish were enjoying the day and each others’ company.  Where philosophy and reality merge is indeed a priceless convergence.


Happy Fishes

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