Once upon a time, a heron was hungry and hunting for fish on a riverbank. At that time, a bull arrived and started to cross the river. The bull’s scrotum hung halfway into the water and noisily splashed from side to side as the bull walked through the water. The heron had never seen a bull before and mistook the bull’s scrotum splashing in the water for a saphari fish (a small minnow that swims along the surface of a river and splashes water loudly).
The heron thought, “If I could dart between the legs of that animal, I could eat the fish! What’s the use of waiting here any longer when I see a fish right over there? I should chase after it right now.”
The heron did exactly that. But as the heron followed behind the bull and pecked at what it thought was a saphari fish, the bull repeatedly kicked and severely bruised the heron. Still, the heron did not give up its ‘pursuit of the fish’.
The heron represents a soul conditioned by maya: the deluding energy that offers us the opportunity to pursue selfish happiness within material existence. The heron’s hunger represents the conditioned soul’s desire for selfish happiness.
The ‘fish’ that the heron ‘sees’ is selfish happiness itself: like the ‘fish’, it is not at all what it appears to be, and in fact is not even there at all.
The bull represents maya, whose purpose is to teach us that the pursuit of selfish happiness is not our best interest. The beating that maya gives the heron is our karma: for every selfish action we perform, we incur an equal and appropriate reaction in the form of suffering.
Just as the heron doesn’t give up its chase after the ‘fish’ even when it is being kicked, so we don’t stop pursuing selfish happiness even when we experience the suffering that results from it. We seek pleasure and find pain, we seek peace and find unrest, and yet we don’t stop and reflect on why we are experiencing the opposite of what we aim to.
Such is the delusion this story can free us from.