Chinese and Indian Parables of the Turtles and Frogs (Post No.2854)


Compiled by london swaminathan


Date: 30 May 2016


Post No. 2854


Time uploaded in London :– 9-43 AM


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The philosopher Chuang Tzu was fishing on the bank of a river when a messenger appeared with an invitation form the king of Ch’u offering him the post of prime minister.

Without taking his eyes from the river, the philosopher replied,

“They say that the King has in his treasury a shell of a supernatural tortoise. If the tortoise had been allowed to choose, would it have preferred to adorn a king’s treasury or to continue to wag its tail in the mud of its native marsh?”

“It would have preferred to remain wagging its tail in the mud”, said the messenger.

“And I, too”, answered Chuang Tzu, “Prefer to live obscure but free. To be in the office often costs a man his life and always costs his peace of mind. Go back to the king and say that I will continue to wag my tail in the mud”.



turtle frog, croc

Tuttle and Frog on the back of a Crocodile


The Frog and the Turtle


A certain frog lived in an abandoned well.

“How you must envy my delightful existence!”, he said to a Giant Turtle of the Eastern Sea. “When I go into the water I can make it hold me up under the armpits and support my chin; when I jump into the mud, I can make it bury my feet and cover my ankles.  As for the baby crabs and tadpoles, none of them can compete with me………..To have at one’s command all the delights of a disused well, that surely is the most that life can give.”


The Giant Turtle tried to get into the well, but before his left foot was well in, the right got wedged fast. So he wriggled free and retired, saying, “As you have been kind enough to tell me about your well, allow me to tell you about the sea. Imagine a distance of a 1000 leagues, and you will still have no idea of its size; imagine a height of a thousand times man’s stature, and you will still have no notion of its depth. Not to be harried by the moments that flash by nor changed by the ages of the pass; to receive much, yet not increase, to receive little, yet not to diminish; this is the Great Joy of the Eastern Sea.”

—-Chuang Tzu (China)


Compare it with the Frog in the Well story of Swami Vivekananda’s Chicago Address at the Parliament of Religions.


Why We Disagree: Swami Vivekananda (from my post  ‘The Blind men and the Elephant: known Story, Unknown Facts’ (posted on 14 March 2014)

Swami Vivekananda expressed the somewhat a similar theme through his story Frog in the Well in the very second lecture in Chicago about 125 years ago:

I will tell you a little story. You have heard the eloquent speaker who has just finished say, “Let us cease from abusing each other,” and he was very sorry that there should be always so much variance.

But I think I should tell you a story that would illustrate the cause of this variance. A frog lived in a well. It had lived there for a long time. It was born there and brought up there, and yet was a little, small frog. Of course the evolutionists were not there then to tell us whether the frog lost its eyes or not but, for our story’s sake, we must take it for granted that it had its eyes, and that it every day cleansed the water of all the worms and bacilli that lived in it with an energy that would do credit to our modern bacteriologists. In this way it went on and became a little sleek and fat. Well, one day another frog that lived in the sea came and fell into the well.

“Where are you from?”

“I am from the sea.”

“The sea! How big is that? Is it as big as my well?” and he took a leap from one side of the well to the other.

“My friend,” said the frog of the sea, “how do you compare the sea with your little well?”

Then the frog took another leap and asked, “Is your sea so big?”

“What nonsense you speak, to compare the sea with your well!”

“Well, then,” said the frog of the well, “nothing can be bigger than my well. There can be nothing bigger than this. This fellow is a liar, so turn him out


Green Sea Turtle. Chelonia mydas. Maui, Hawaii, USA.

Green Sea Turtle. Chelonia mydas. Maui, Hawaii, USA.

Appar’s Turtle Story!

Appar, Tamil Saint of seventh century, saw another scene along his travel route. In a village he saw people boiling turtle for their food. It was a big vessel with cool water. The turtle is swimming happily, but below the vessel firewood is just lighted. The flames are growing bigger and bigger. The happily swimming turtle is going to be boiled and eaten in an hour. Stupid turtle does not know the danger to its life and enjoyed the momentary pleasure. Such is our impermanent life, he says.


My previous posts:–

Frog in the mouth of a snake (posted on 9 March 2014)

In Tamil

கிணற்றுத் தவளை: அப்பரும் விவேகாநந்தரும் சொன்ன கதைகள் (9 மார்ச் 2014)