At the heart of symbolism

Just for a smile

The frog of Edo and the one of Kyoto

The frog of Edo wants to visit Kyoto and the one of Kyoto wants to visit Edo. Meeting halfway, they looked into each other's eyes. The frog of Edo sees Edo in the eyes of the frog of Kyoto; The frog of Kyoto sees Kyoto in the eyes of the frog of Edo. Understanding the uselessness of the journey, each of them returns home.

The frog and the scorpion

Wishing to cross a river, a scorpion asked a frog, “Take me on your back and help me to cross.”

“You must be kidding. If I take you on my back, you will sting me !” Replied the frog.

“Don't be stupid. If I sting you, you will sink and I will be drowning with you.”

After a long exchange of arguments, the scorpion was so convincing that the frog gave in. The scorpion could not be so insane. The frog took him on her back and started to cross. Having reached the middle of the river, she felt a sharp pain and, before losing consciousness, shouted, “What have you done ? You will die with me.”

“I know, but I can't help it. It is my own nature.”

And both animals vanished into the water.

The turtle and the scorpion

Wishing to cross a river, a scorpion asked a turtle, “Take me on your back and help me to cross and join my brothers.”

“I don't think so. You are far too dangerous,” replied the turtle.

“Don't be silly. I want to cross, not to drown.”

After never ending discussions, the turtle decided that the scorpion really wanted to join his brothers. She took him on her back and started to cross. Having reached the middle of the river, the scorpion tried to sting the turtle without succeeding to pierce her shell. Then, the turtle shouted, “What in a hell are you trying to go through ?”

“Probably, deep down into my nature.”

“Well ! I will reveal you the bottom of mine”, cried the turtle before sinking into the depths.

Where does God reside ?

One day, a man passing by said to a Master, “I give you ten rupees if you tell me where God resides.”

“And I give you twenty rupees if you tell me where He does not reside,” answered the Master.

The line

Akbar, the great Mughal Emperor of India, traced a line on the ground with a stick in front of a big crowd.

Then, he asked if any person in the crowd could make this line shorter without touching it or erasing part of it.

A person moved forward, took the stick and drew a longer line next to the first one.

When people are getting on in age

What to answer to people blaming the pains appearing with age ?

“It is the privilege of the age, failing to be the advantage.”

The child and the bow

A child is playing shooting arrows with his bow.

“Why are you shooting all your arrows in water ?” asked the father.

“To hit the bull's-eye each time,” answered the child.

The power of dreams

A miserly, stingy man accumulated as much as he could to assure his future beyond this world. Returning home a winter evening, he saw an inflated icebound purse. “What a god send !” He told himself and he pulled as much as he could to get the loot. After plenty of effort, he decided to melt the ice enveloping the precious goods by passing water on it. Succeeding in his goals, he woke up in a fine wet mess.

Wisdom spirit

A disciple asked his Master one day:

“When does a human being know that he has reached the supreme wisdom ?

- When he stops asking the question.”

Smoky spirit

Two monks living in a monastery were obsessed with fulfilling one last desire, to smoke. Their devotion to the cigarette elicited only scoffing and jeers among the other monks. One day, the Master of the place decided to summon them separately.

“Can I meditate when I am smoking ?” Asked the first monk. Hearing these words, the Master showed his anger and sent him away abruptly.

Later on, the monk saw his partner in crime smoking peacefully. Amazed, he questioned him, “Didn't you see the Master ?”

“Yes, I did.”

“And he didn't get angry ?”


“What did you ask him ?”

“If I could smoke while I was meditating.”

The old man and the Death

On the verge of dying, an old man called his three sons to his bedside and said to them, “As I can't divide the little I own, I have decided to give all I possess to the most shrewd and intelligent of all of you. On the table, you will find three coins. Take one each. The son who will be able to buy enough to fill up this room with this money will get everything.”

The three sons thought about it carefully. The first came back with straw, but could hardly fill up half the room. The second brought back feather bags, but could hardly do better. The third bought only a small object and flooded the room in the evening with candlelight.

The painting

The Emperor had commissioned a painting from a Master. Each time he requested to see it, the Master replied, “Be patient. Wait a little.”

After several years of patient waiting, the Emperor became irritated.

“What is going on ? When will this painting be ready ?”

“It has been ready for a long time. It is you who is not. So, how could you see it ?” Replied the Master.

Fathers and sons

A very rich and a very poor man lived somewhere in the East. They had a son each.

The very rich man and his son climbed to the top of a hill. Having reached the summit, the man showed, with a large gesture, the whole landscape that stretched around them and said to his son:

“Look! All this will be yours one day.”

The very poor man and his son climbed to the top of the same hill. Having reached the summit, the man showed his son the surrounding landscape and simply said:


Hell here below

An old dying man asked if his last wish could be granted: to visit Hell and go to Heaven afterwards. As his life was honest, his wish was accepted.

Having reached Hell, he discovered tables filled with delicious dishes. Placed to two metres away from the table, the guests seemed to be starving. Provided with long spoons, they could not reach to carry the collected delights to their mouths.

The man later went on to Heaven where, on the same tables, the most delicate courses were displayed. Although provided with the same spoons, the guests sitting at the tables breathed health and joy for life. Surprised, he asked, “Why do the people look happy here and not there below ?”

“Because we feed each other,” replied a host.

The price of the chairs

An Englishman staying in India during Gandhi's time discovered a superb chair in the workshop of a craftsman and asked:

“How much do you want for this chair ?”

“For you, it will be 25 rupees,” replied the craftsman.

“Well, could you make six of it for me ?” asked the Englishman.

“Yes, but in this case each chair will cost you more,” said the craftsman.

“Why ?” retorted the astonished Englishman.

“Because I will have to do six times the same job,” replied the craftsman.

The dawn

A rabbi asked his students, “How can you recognize the moment when the night comes to an end and the day is beginning ?”

“When we can distinguish a sheep from a wolf ?”

“No, this is not the answer,” replied the rabbi.

“When we can tell the difference between a fig and an olive tree ?”

“No, this is not the answer,” replied the rabbi.

“Then how ?” Asked the students in chorus.

“When seeing a stranger, we recognize in him a brother, then the day begins and the night comes to an end.”

The ideal woman

One day, a man went to see a Master and told him, “All my life I have been looking for the ideal woman.”

“And did you find her ?” Asked the Master.

“Yes, I did,” replied the man with eyes full of sorrow.

“Then why all this sadness ?” Questioned the Master.

“She was also looking for the ideal partner.”

Crossing over

Two monks, going to a neighbouring monastery, walked side by side in silence. They arrived at a river they had to cross. That season, waters were higher than usual. On the bank, a young woman was hesitating and asked the younger of the two monks for help. He exclaimed, “Don't you see that I am a monk, that I took a vow of chastity ?”

“I require nothing from you that could impede your vow, but simply to help me to cross the river,” replied the young woman with a little smile.

“I...not...I can...do nothing for you,” said the embarrassed young monk.

“It doesn't matter,” said the elderly monk. “Climb on my back and we will cross together.”

Having reached the other bank, the old monk dropped the young woman who, in return, thanked him with a broad smile. She left her side and both monks continued their route in silence. Close to the monastery, the young monk could not stand it anymore and said, “You shouldn't have carried that person on your back. It's against our rules.”

“This young woman needed help and I dropped her on the other bank. You didn't carry her at all, but she is still on your back,” replied the older monk.


An old man devoted all his days and nights to reading, lit up by the sunlight or the glimmer of a candle. One day, a young man told him, “What's the point of reading like that, day and night ?”

“To discover Heaven,” answered the old man.

Several years later, when the old man was dead, the young man became an adult and undertook a journey to discover the truth. During his voyage, he overcame thousands of tests, so intense was his desire for truth. He succeeded to reach the summit of the mountain where all the ways of beings in quest of revelation end. Great was his surprise to find the old man in front of a cave and still reading. The young man approached and, with a voice full of respect, asked him, “Did you find Heaven ?”

“Yes, I did.”

“And you continue to read ?”

“As you can see.”

“Nothing has changed then ?”

“Oh yes, a lot.”

“What has ?”

“Before I read to understand. Now, I understand what I am reading.”

The farmer and the bull

A farmer was being examined by a doctor before taking out an insurance policy.

“Have you ever had a serious illness ?” asked the doctor.

“No,” replied the farmer.

“Have you ever had an accident ?” continued the doctor.


“Never had a single accident in your whole life ?” insisted the doctor.

“Well, not really… Last spring, I was out in the meadow and a bull tossed me over a fence,” said the farmer.

“And you don't call that an accident ?” exclaimed the doctor.

“No, I don't. That damn bull did it on purpose.”

The white cow and the black one

An old taciturn peasant spent most of his time to look after two cows quietly grazing in a meadow. Another peasant passing by, came near and sat next to him. After a long moment of silence, he asked:

“Do they graze well ?”

“Which one ?” replied the old peasant.

Somewhat puzzled, the other peasant said from the top of his head:

“The white one.”

“The white one does,” said the first peasant.

“And the black one ?”

“The black one too.”

After that first exchange, the two peasants remain silent. Then, the second said:

“Do they give a lot of milk ?”

“Which one ?” asked the old peasant.

“The white one.”

“The white one does.”

“And the black one ?”

“The black one too.”

A new silence followed the conversation. Finally, the second peasant said:

“Why do you always ask which one ?”

“Because the white cow belongs to me,” replied the old peasant.

“And the black one ?”

“The black one too.”

Have a chat

Two Jewish tailors worked without stopping in a small stall of a poor area of the London suburbs, while talking now and then about this and that. One day, one of them asked, “It's a long time we had a vacation. Do you intend to take some this year ?”

“No, I don't,” answered the other tailor after a while.

The room felt silent again. They were sewing when suddenly the second tailor said, “I once took holiday, a long time ago.”

“You took a holiday ?” Asked the other amazed.

The first tailor, who could not remember such an event, continued, “And where did you go ?”

“To India.”

“To India !”

“Yes, hunting the tiger in Bengal.”

“You, you have been hunting the tiger in Bengal ?”

The first tailor stopped to work, the news seemed so incredible. Very calm, the second tailor continued, “I made the acquaintance of a Maharajah who let me ride a magnificent white elephant. Equipped with a silver rifle and accompanied by a beater army, I ventured into the forest. Suddenly, a huge tiger jumped in front of the elephant and roared. Never in elephant memory had such a big animal ever been seen in the region. Terrified, the elephant stumbled and I fell into the bushes. Before I could move or call for help, the tiger jumped on me and ate me.”

“Totally ?”

“Yes, totally until the last inch of flesh.”

“What's this you are telling me ! No tiger ate you. You are still here, still alive.”

The second tailor picked up his piece of material again and went back to his work under the stunned gaze of his colleague. Then, with a heavy gesture, he added, “You call this a life.”

The old teacher

Once upon a time, an old teacher was hired for a training course dealing with the effective time management, which had to be given to a group of fifteen leaders of big companies. The course was one of five workshops of their training day and the old teacher had only one hour to present his subject.

Standing in front of this first rate audience, ready to take note of every word, the old teacher looked slowly at the faces, one after the other, and said, “We will create an experience.”

From underneath the table, which separated him from the bosses, the old teacher took out a big glass jar of about four-litre capacity and gently laid it down in front of him. Next, he took out a dozen stones, as big as tennis balls, and put them carefully, one after the other, into the big jar. When the jar was full of stones, he slowly raised his eyes towards the audience and asked, “Is this jar full ?”

“Yes”, replied the audience unanimously.

He waited a few seconds and said, “Really!”

Then, he bent down and, from underneath the table, took out a receptacle full of gravel. With caution, he poured the gravel on the big stones and gently mixed the content of the jar. The gravel went slowly between the stones to the bottom of the jar.

The old teacher raised again his eyes towards the audience and asked, “Is this jar full ?”

This time, the bright audience saw through his little game and one of them answered, “Probably not !”

“Good,” said the old teacher.

Once again, he bent down and, from underneath the table, took out a bag of sand and poured it carefully into the jar. He filled little by little the gaps left by the big stones and the gravel and asked again, “Is this jar full ?”

All replied in chorus, “No, it's not.”

“Good,” said the old teacher.

And as expected by the bright audience, he took the water pincher standing on the table and filled the jar to the brim. Then, the old teacher raised his eyes towards the audience and asked, “Which great truth can we learn from this experience ?”

Remembering the lecture subject, the most daring of the assistants answered, “This demonstrates that, even when our diary is completely filled up and if we hardly would wish to, it is always possible to add another appointment or other thing to do.”

“No, this is not what this experience teaches us,” said the old teacher.

Then, after a moment of deep silence, he added, “The great truth of this experience is the following: if we don't put the big stones first into the jar, they will never be able all to go in.”

Dumbfounded, the audience did not breathe a word, each of them realizing suddenly how obvious this conclusion was. After some long seconds, the old teacher asked, “And what are the big stones in your life ?”

Facing the silence, the old teacher put forward, “Your health, your family, your friends; the realization of your dreams; doing what you would like to; learning, knowing, teaching; defending a cause that is important to you; taking your time; or anything else close to your heart. What we have to remember from this experience is to put first ones BIG STONES in our life; otherwise we risk to spoil it. If you give the priority to small things (the gravel and the sand), they will fill up your life and there will not be enough of this precious time to be devoted to the essential aspects of your existence. So, ask yourself the main question. What are the BIG STONES in my life ? And most important, don't forget to put them first into your jar.”

The old teacher stared again, one after the other, at silent faces, greeted the audience with a friendly gesture and went slowly out of the room.


  • The best stories are anonymous and come from all over the world. Some of the stories presented here are extracted from the books written by:
  • Jean-Claude Carrière:
  • “Philosophical tales from the entire world. The circle of liars 1”. Plon Publisher, 1998.
  • “Philosophical tales from the entire world. The circle of liars 2”. Plon Publisher, 2008.