“Water which is too pure has no fish.”

13th November 2021

This typically paradoxical Zen proverb about water being ‘too pure to have fish’ mirrors Lao Tzu’s words in the Tao Te Ching (verse 38) which state: ‘Highest virtue is not virtuous and that is why it is virtuous.’

What both these phrases teach is that purity, like virtue, or love, cannot be ‘contrived’ or artificial. To have meaning and value, such words have to be spontaneous, intrinsic, authentic, simple expressions of who we truly are; and not a carefully elaborated image of who we’d like to be, or who we would like others to think we are.
Water that is too pure for fish is not real water. ‘Too’ pure water is de facto manufactured, artificial, sterile and thus lifeless. Virtue that strives to be virtuous is not real virtue because true virtue is the product of a spontaneous mind, not a deliberate fabrication of an egotistic mind.

Our airwaves are crammed with meaningless, sterile statements purporting to be pure and virtuous, but which, on reflection, are neither honest nor spontaneous.
What Lao Tzu points out, as have so many of the sages of the past, is to beware of false prophets and those who are too pure and virtuous for their own good…as well as ours!

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