Here, There and Everywhere

Let the Worms Go

An excerpt from the ever irreverent Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

There was no difference between one life and another to Mistress Toshiba. She respected all with equanimity, love, and tender care. The story of her compassion for the worms is legendary.

The nuns were walking with their Mistress, on their way to market to sell their organic vegetables, when they passed some fishermen who were taking worms out of a bucket, putting them on their hooks, and casting them into the river.

“Oh my!” Mistress Toshiba yelled. “What are you doing?”

“We are fishing,” replied one of the fishermen.

“But these?” She held up the bucket of worms. “What are you doing with these?”

“Those are worms Venerable One,” the man explained. “That is what catches the fish.”

“Not any longer,” Mistress Toshiba said, as she dumped out the bucket of worms onto the earth. She knelt beside them and said, “Crawl, crawl away before these men sacrifice your precious bodies upon their metal barbwire.”

After the men closed their astonished mouths, they ran to gather the worms and put them back in the bucket. “What are you doing?” they cried.

As she held up her hand for them to stand back, she replied, “I am setting our friends free.”


“But we spent hours digging for them this morning,” one man said angrily. “This is how we feed our families!”

“You must find another way,” retorted Mistress Toshiba. “These are our gentle brothers and sisters. We have no right to cut short their short lives.”

“What do you expect our families to eat tonight?” said an old man. “This is how we’ve provided nourishment for our wives, husbands, daughters, and sons for generations.”

The Mistress smiled calmly. “There are other ways, ways that do not cause suffering to our living family. Worms help the soil breathe. And the poor fish; have you ever thought of their life energies, of their feelings and families?”

“Tell you what Venerable One,” the old fisherman grumbled. “You give us that food you’re carrying for market and teach us how to make more like it and we’ll let the worms go and meet to discuss changing our livelihoods. We aren’t going to starve because of your worm fetish.”

Mistress Toshiba felt the eyes of the nuns and fishermen upon her. She closed one eye, pointed her finger towards the sky and said, “You’ve got a deal.” She turned towards the sisters with the baskets of food and said, “Let them have it all.” They did as they were told. She then turned towards the fishermen and added, “We will see you tomorrow morning and show you our ways.”

The fishermen happily took the baskets of food from the sisters, grinned, and bowed their thanks. They could be heard laughing as they took their leave.

As the sisters began walking home empty-handed, Sister Hamilton couldn’t restrain herself any longer. “They got what they wanted, but what are we supposed to use for grain, tools, and supplies? The money and food from the market was all we would have had for months.”

Without breaking stride, Mistress Toshiba replied, “There are much more important things than money and food. All life is precious, especially the lives of our wonderful worm friends. Trust me sister. All that is needed will be provided. We have our ways.”

“And our rich admirers,” Sister Jenkins whispered to Sister Hamilton.

More bizarre koans, stories, & tales, at Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

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