"If a carp ever succeeds in climbing up the Dragon Gate, the fish will turn into a dragon."

Dragon Gate

Once there was a small lake in a forgotten land beyond the seas. The lake was surrounded by tall trees. The trees stood straight and side-by-side to shield the lake from the bright expanse of an outside world. Blue sky canopied the lake with tranquility. There was an open space in the line of a dense and uniform thicket, where white clouds could be seen from time to time. The soft bellowing streamers and the clear azure sky effused a boundless expanse that lay just beyond the grasp of the cool dark trees; and in the shadows below, the stillness of the lake stood as if rhythm of time had ceased.

In this lake many carp lived; nonetheless, they were rarely seen. The shapes of the fish were evanescent; they easily dissolved into the blue murky shade of the trees. Occasionally, the tranquility of this world was jolted by small sounds of puffing and splashing… it was Ryu, a young carp full of bouncing energy. He enjoyed pushing himself out of the water as he came up to gulp thin air. He liked feeling the fresh air bathing his upper body as he skipped across the water’s surface. The spunky carp enjoyed the sensation of a bright airy palette of light setting his scales ablaze in vibrant colors. Ryu swam in the water as if the world belonged to him. He jumped above the water with a dream that someday he would jump high enough to swim in the colors above.

Indeed, it was a quiet and peaceful world for Ryu. There was always enough to eat, and there was no worry about predators, for the lake was hidden in a deep forest. Yet, there was one place for which Ryu felt uneasy. It was a spot at the end of the lake where the water bubbled into white foam.

Ryu had happened to visit this spot not long ago. He was swimming happily as usually on that day, and ended up reaching all the way to the end of the lake. He knew it was the end of the lake because there was a waterfall there. The little fish watched and listened to the frothy singing falls chortle the deep chords of rushing water. Soon Ryu started feeling a strange power pull him toward the cascade; an urge to enter the foam enveloped him. Before he knew it, Ryu was pushing himself against the water’s force. In a second he lost balance and tumbled in a wash of bubbles and was pushed back into the lake. Ryu wasn’t sure what had happened to him – but he was frightened and in awe. Never in his idyllic life had Ryu experienced fear. This deeply troubled him, and for a while Ryu was unable to go above the mirrored surface of the lake. In dark, quiet recesses of the lake, Ryu sought something beyond his comprehension. In this struggle, Ryu began to change.

Eventually, Ryu went back to the cascade even though he felt great fear. He did not want to go there, but something obliged him to go to the end of the lake. As he watched the roiled waters, Ryu thought about his fearsome battle with the angry falls. Each time Ryu approached the waterfall the fear of this turbulent force would grab him and he would stay transfixed before the crashing foam. The young carp experienced fleeing moments of sheer terror, but could not resist returning to this mysterious place of wonderment.

Ryu craved the secret of what lay beyond the tempest. He occasionally saw older carp disappear into the rapid waters. What was beyond this cascade? Where and why did those carp go? Ryu was curious. He wanted to follow the carp that went into the falls; yet, he cringed at the thought of the opposing current that had forced him back into the lake.

Days went by. His curiosity continued to swell. He swam near the spot countless times. He asked other carp about the world beyond the waterfall. Many carp told him to not think about such things, and that the world outside the lake was not safe. These carp were afraid of uncertainty and felt secure in their everyday lives. They wanted to stay in their visible world where things were well predicted and patterned. They told Ryu that he should not worry about the outside world. He was sad and lonely because nobody shared the many questions he had about the world beyond the pond.

One day as Ryu was watching the force of the water at the troubled stop; he saw something round and translucent on the bottom of the lake, under the waterfall. It was a clear water pearl. It was beautiful. At first he felt a sensation of uncontrollable trembling. As he observed the pearl longer, this sense of terror became very subdued, and a distinct physical sensation sprang from his lower abdomen and took hold over him. Ryu was assuaged of his inner-self doubt. He felt fragile gentle feelings and potentials yet to be born in himself. The pearl had touched his soul, and Ryu was overwhelmed with a feeling of peace..

Finding the pearl, Ryu was no longer afraid of the waterfall, and he often returned to his spot – the center of his sacred world. He would swim about the gushing water and look at the pearl.

One early morning an old carp swam up to him and said, “Exciting sight, isn’t it?” The young carp didn’t say anything. “The world beyond this darting water is also every exciting,” the carp said, looking at the current as if he could see through to the world beyond the water. “What’s beyond this water?” The young carp questioned. With a smile the adult answered:

“There is a stream beyond this hurrying water. There are countless small waterfalls in the stream. If you climb these cascades and continue swimming, you will come to a waterfall called the Dragon Gate. This is not the same as the waterfalls you swam up in the stream; the water of the Dragon Gate rage with forceful and rapid currents. At the bottom of the waterfall you will find your brothers and sisters who are hoping to climb up the falls. If a carp ever succeeds in climbing up the Dragon Gate, the fish will turn into a dragon. However, only a handful of carp out of a hundred, a thousand or even ten thousand can climb the falls. Many fail, even after ten or twenty years. Some are swept away by the strong waters, eagles, hawks and owls, catch some and other are caught by fishermen who stand on either bank of the wide falls. With these difficulties, we still believe that someday, some of us will climb to the top of the waterfall and will be greeted by a maelstrom of thunder, ice and rain. Then, in a tumultuous upheaval of earth, water and fire we are turned into dragons.”

Gazing at the pearl on the pebbled bottom, the young carp listened to the older brother’s story. The old one gave a warm look toward the young carp and swam past the portal and disappeared into the falls. Since that day, Ryu has not been seen in the hidden lake.

Dragon Gate © Ikuyo Conant, 1994