A story by Jeff Polson
In the early winter months of 1979 I was asked to set up a fish tank for Adi Da Samraj in His Residence at the Mountain of Attention in northern California. In my enthusiasm, I claimed that I knew “all about” fish and aquariums, having had vast experience in the field. Actually, I had only kept a twenty-gallon tank for about a year with a few small tropical fish!
I jumped right in. I immediately bought and installed a fifty-five gallon aquarium with all the necessary accoutrements. When I was finished setting it up, I received a message from Adi Da: “No fish is to die.”
No fish is to die?! I thought back on the number of fish that had perished in my limited and brief career. I had pulled many lifeless bodies from the water. Everybody who has kept fish has lost fish. I was taken aback, but I doubtfully acknowledged this edict.
Soon I added another tank, then two more. Before long there were nine tanks (marine, tropical, and goldfish) in Adi Da’s Residence under my care. Needless to say, the casualties were soon to begin rolling in.
Indeed, it was not long at all before I was called over to the house to remove a dead fish from one of the tanks—the first of many. I was told that Adi Da wanted to know why the fish had died. I took the two-inch corpse in hand and studied it – no wounds, no signs of disease or distress. In fact, it was still quite beautiful. But it was dead. I replied that I did not know why.
One day I was called to tend to yet another sick fish. I found a dwarf gourami floating on the surface of the tank, his body already frozen in a rigid arc, indicating death was near. I was told that Adi Da wanted me to “save this fish”.
“Save this fish?” I thought. “Nothing can save this fish!”
Still, I removed the fish from the tank and took him to a hospital tank in my cabin. There I treated the water with medication. I watched the fish for a few minutes, hoping there would be some sign that he would recover. I placed a hand on either side of the tank and prayed for him. But the moment I had seen the fish, I had known that he would not survive. In twenty minutes he was dead.
I took his body from the tank and flushed it down the toilet.
During this period a friend had been with me, watching while I tended the fish. After I had disposed of him, I said, “Well, there goes another one.”
My friend looked at me. “Don’t you feel anything for him?” he asked.
“No,” I said, “it’s just a fish. Do you?”
“You do?” I was really surprised.
“Do you think most people would?”
This was a revelation to me. I had felt nothing for these fish. I had no emotional connection to them. That was the point—I felt no emotion. I had approached the matter intelligently and with a good deal of energy. But I did not care about the lives of the fish. I had not given my heart. And I saw that this lesson was not just about fish. It was an indication of how I lived my life.
The following day, Adi Da Samraj asked how the fish was doing. I realized that He had truly expected the fish to be healed. I saw that I would have to engage this service in a new way.
I should interject here that I hadn’t taken lightly His edict that there should be no dead fish. I was constantly studying the subject, reading books, talking to experienced aquarists, university professors, and anyone I thought could help. But now I intensified this study.
One morning not long afterwards, I was again called to tend a fish that was very special to me. Adi Da Samraj had noticed his lack of energy and had sent for me.
The fish was a “blue-faced angel”. When I had first begun setting up aquariums for Avatar Adi Da, I was taken by the beauty of this fish and immediately decided to buy it as a gift for Him. But blue-faced angels are so delicate that I had to wait many months, allowing the tank environment to stabilize completely, before I had felt it was possible to present this gift. So when the blue-faced angel, which I had only recently given to Avatar Adi Da, took ill, I felt a real desire to keep him alive. I am certain that Avatar Adi Da intuitively felt my connection to this fish, because He took a strong interest in its welfare.
I stood beside the tank with Adi Da, considering what to do with the angelfish. The diagnosis and treatment of fish diseases is a little-researched and inexact science. Many times the symptoms are not specific enough to indicate a particular treatment. Quite often any treatment is a shot in the dark.
I elected to leave the angel in the tank. Moving a fish causes stress, often worsening the condition of the one already ailing. I told Adi Da that this was what I was going to do. He accepted my decision and left the room. I then treated the tank with a wide-spectrum antibiotic. When I had finished, a devotee arrived with a message to me from Adi Da. He said:
“You should do everything possible to save the angelfish. Find out everything you can, do everything you can, to heal him. When you have done everything that you can do, then go to the Communion Hall and pray.”
I received Avatar Adi Da’s communication very profoundly, and my resolve to save the angel deepened. I called the Marine Biology Department at the University of California at Davis, and spoke to an expert there. I also called some knowledgeable aquarists and aquarium shop owners I had been in contact with. Everyone agreed with my handling of the fish, and no one had any new information to give me.
Then I went to the Hall for an hour and a half, and prayed for the angelfish. I breathed deeply, feeling how much I wanted the fish to live.
Throughout the day, I kept my attention on the fish, at the same time feeling Avatar Adi Da with my heart, and directing toward the fish the healing energy I contacted through my communion with Adi Da. That evening I returned to the house to observe the patient again. His condition had worsened. I decided to move him to a tank in my cabin.
I placed him in a hospital tank and added small amounts of some empowered sacred healing elements—living water and ash. I again placed my hands on either side of the tank and prayed. His condition worsened further. As he weakened, I put my hand in the water and gently cradled him, praying for him. I was filled with compassion for this being, and I stayed with him until he died at three the following morning. Then I took his body to a pond on the sanctuary, said a prayer, and threw him into the water.
Later that morning, I went to Adi Da’s Residence to feed the fish. I went into the dining room where Heart-Master Da was eating breakfast. As I prepared to feed the fish in the tank from which I had removed the blue-faced angelfish only hours before, He asked me how the angel was doing. I told Him that he had died that morning. It was hard to give Him the news, because I had really felt the loss of the fish.
Adi Da Samraj looked into my eyes and quietly said, “It was his time.” I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect that. I was at once perplexed and undone by the tenderness of His compassion. I know that Adi Da wanted that fish to live also, but it was my heart that He cradled in His hands and soothed in this moment. There was no miraculous recovery to thrill about. Not as far as the fish was concerned, anyway. But I learned how to bring life to another, how to serve death, and what it means to be feelingly present in both. And the greatest thing that I learned about was the love and compassion my Spiritual Master has for me, and for all.