A Tortoise and two Geese shared a pond for many years and became close friends. At last there came a drought and the pond dried up. One of the Geese said to the other, “We must seek a new home quickly, for we cannot live without water. Let us say farewell to the Tortoise and start at once.”
When the Tortoise heard that they were going, he trembled with fear, and pleaded with them not to desert him.
“Alas,” the Geese replied, “If we stay here, all three of us will die, and we cannot take you with us, for you cannot fly.”
Still the Tortoise begged not to be left behind. After thinking for a while one of the Geese finally said, “Dear friend, if you promise not to speak a word on the journey, we will take you with us. But know beforehand, that if you open your mouth even to say one single word, you will be in instant danger of losing your life.”
“Have no fear,” replied the Tortoise, “I will be silent until you give me leave to speak again. I would rather never open my mouth again than be left to die alone here in the dried-up pond.”
So the Geese brought a stout stick and asked the Tortoise grasp it firmly by his mouth. Then they took hold of either end and flew off with him. They had gone several miles in safety, when their course lay over a village. As the country people saw this curious sight of a Tortoise being carried by two Geese, they began to laugh and cry out, “Oh, did you ever see such a funny sight in all your life!” And they laughed loud and long.
The Tortoise grew more and more indignant. At last he could stand the jeering no longer. He opened his mouth to explain the situation but before he could say anything he had fallen to the ground and was dashed to pieces.
“The Tortoise and The Geese” is a fable that appears in the Panchatantra, a collection of Sanskrit tales believed to date back as far as the 3rd century BCE. The story appears in the earliest English translations of the Panchatantra, dating back to 1570. Like other fables, this one is known in a number of different versions in different cultures.
The story has been preserved for so long and has made its way to so many cultures because it shows us the wisdom in patience and silence. Like the tortoise, too often we compound our problems by opening our mouth when silence would be a more appropriate. Yoga provides us with space to see the situation from outside ourselves. This helps us better determine if a response is appropriate. Let us resolve to make better use of silence in our lives as recommended in an age old folk saying:
“Silence is the fence around wisdom” -German Quote
Note: The picture is a water colour “La tortue et les deux canards” by Gustave Moreau, 1879
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