The Soul of a Thousand Shapes
Once there was a Koi fish that swam gracefully in its clear blue pond. Its scales shimmered with the colors of a rainbow, and people from all around the village came to peer into the pond in order to see the beautiful, multicolored creature sparkle in the warm rays of the sun.
But the fish wasn't happy. She longed for excitement. She disliked swimming all day, and living such a dull, slow-paced life. She took little notice of the admiration all showed her, for she did not want their admiration, but rather their lives.
"I may be beautiful, but being gazed upon, doing nothing, that is not a life," she bemoaned. "Take the Bird that peers into the waters to look at me — she can zip and soar through the skies, and with such speed! Can you imagine the feeling of winds carrying you through the skies, every day? I cannot even swim half as fast as she can fly. Oh, if only I were born a Bird!"
"Oh, no, no!" Her fellow koi cried. "The Bird is an undisciplined creature, ungraceful and simpleminded. It eats worms from the ground, and is lucky if its parents don't throw it out of the nest as a chick. Its life is short and purposeless. Not one even compares to your superior beauty and elegance. You do not want to be a stupid and wild creature like the Bird, do you?" they asked.
Now, the beautiful Koi couldn't argue with that, so she stopped complaining to the other koi about it. But her desire to be a bird was always there, in the back of her mind, until the day she died.
The Buddha knew of this and took pity on the poor lovely Koi. So when she died, he reincarnated her as the bird she had always wanted to be. The Bird was strong, agile, and the fastest of all her friends. Her feathers were soft and forest green, the color of luck and wealth, and she played fast-paced, exciting games all day long. She was exactly what the Koi had always wanted to be.
But she couldn't remember the dreams of her past life, and soon she began to take special notice of the humans. They were sophisticated and intelligent, and the more she watched them the more she realized that she lacked these qualities. She coveted their ability to make food grow out of the ground with refined techniques she never could have imagined. All she did was take bugs and worms from the dirt for meals; she never created anything from the dirt.
As she watched the people below her, her heart filled with a longing that felt strangely familiar, though she could never remember having such a feeling before. She began to feel that she was of no worth compared to the humans, and she shared these thoughts with her friends.
"I may be able to fly with the winds at unbeatable speeds, but simply flying and playing and never contributing anything, that is not a life," she complained. "Why can I not be like the Human, whose mind is sharp as a stick and who can accomplish magnificent deeds? Humans put tiny seeds into the ground, and huge trees filled with sweet fruit burst from the soil! Oh, if only I were born a Human!"
"Oh, no, no!" Her fellow birds cried. "Humans toil all day and have two layers of skin, one they are born with and the other being sweat and grime from working all day long. They may contribute to harvests and allow many fruits to flourish, and they may think up elaborate plans, but they do not get to play all day like us; their lives are hard and filled with bone-breaking work and heartache. You do not want the anguish of humanity, do you?"
Now, the speedy Bird did not want anguish, so she kept her mouth shut. But she always thought, in the back of her mind, that it must be truly wonderful to be a human being, filled with purpose and a thousand brilliant ideas. So filled her thoughts for the rest of her life until she died, always wanting to be a human.
The Buddha felt this upon her death and took pity on the Bird, whose blurry form speeding across the skies had pleased him during the duration of her life. So they decided to reincarnate her as the human she had always wanted to be. But because she had been so sad in life he chose to give her something even better than simple humanity. In an effort that would surely satisfy her little soul this time, he made her a princess.
The Princess had all the purpose in life that the Bird had never had; she was intelligent and came up with the solutions to many of her people's problems, and she took great satisfaction in her own responsibility and helpfulness to her people. Subjects from all corners of her kingdom spoke proudly of her cleverness. She was beloved for her brilliant mind, and she truly was so accomplished that there was not a thing others could possibly consider her to be lacking in.
But soon she grew tired of her life. Her mind was always filled with ideas, so many that she couldn't even begin to fulfill them all. When she tried to act on or share an idea, a person would speak to her and change her mind, giving her more thoughts and more ideas. Her head started to hurt with all the concept and opinions whirling around her brain, and soon she longed to be a simple creature like her pet rabbit, who did nothing but chew carrots and hop around all day.
Sometimes she wanted to share her secret desire to have her rabbit's easy life with her friends, but she knew they would think she had gone mad. These were the only thoughts that the creative and complex-thinking Princess ever kept to herself, and she died, still wishing for a simpler life.
When the Buddha came across her soul, still longing for more, he scratched his mighty head in confusion. He had given this little soul all she had ever wanted, and yet she still wanted more? He decided to give her the simple Rabbit life she had so longed for. But when the soul became a Rabbit, it longed for the strength of a Dog, and when he gave the soul a Dog body for her next reincarnation, she longed to be a Horse. This went on and on until the soul finally wanted to be an oak tree, so once again the Buddha granted her wish. He put her soul into an oak tree in the middle of a large forest, and through this he achieved the results he had been wanting for her for so long.
As a tree, she was surrounded by others exactly like her. For once in her thousand lives the soul found nothing to want that she didn't already have.
And the soul was happy.