A Pearl

Nin sat on the rocky shore. He had been drawn by the crashing waves, but now lazed idly by the side of a tide-pool, making pleasant conversation with an oyster and a starfish who lived in the shallows.

“I have often thought,” said the oyster, “that beings are ignorant of the true nature of the soul.”

The starfish just laughed. “Oh, not this again.”

The oyster opened its shell to reveal a pearl. “Very pretty, yes?” it asked. “People covet pearls like these. People kill for them. They buy and sell and trade and sink into despair if their pearls are lost or stolen.”

“A soul is like a pearl?” asked Nin excitedly. He had often been told that the soul was the most precious thing of all.

The starfish laughed. “Little rabbit, tell me, where on the body is the soul located? In your head? In your heart?”

Nin flattened his ears. “I don’t know,” he admitted.

“If we tore you apart, down to the smallest piece, we would never find it, no one has ever been able to find it.”

“I suppose,” said Nin, “but most beings feel strongly of its existence.”

“Do you know how a pearl is made?” asked the oyster.

“I do not,” replied Nin.

“A foreign contamination—perhaps a grain of sand—enters into the body. The grain of sand is gritty, it itches and irritates. In response, the oyster deposits layer upon layer of material over the irritant, building up, over time, the pearl you see before you. Somebody comes along, and they see this iridescent thing in the centre of my body, like I’m cradling it, like I exist for the sake of the pearl. They think it is a precious thing, but a pearl is nothing but a defence against the world.”

“If not a soul, what is the pearl, then?” asked Nin.

“Ego,” replied the oyster.

“It is no surprise that people covet pearls, and mistake egos for souls—at least they are easy to see!” The starfish laughed. “But this fool of an oyster has it all wrong. A grain of sand is not a foreign contaminant, why, it is practically made of the same stuff as his shell!”

The starfish flapped an arm in the general direction of the oyster. “The fact that you do not recognize this is the true source of your irritation!”