Wooden fish is a wooden percussion instrument. It’s often used by monks in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition during rituals involving the recitation of sutras, mantras, or other Buddhist texts. The wooden fish is mainly used by Buddhist disciples in China, Japan, Korea, and other East Asian countries.
The legend has is that when a monk crossed a river on a ferry boat. A fish swam to him, telling people to throw the monk – its master, overboard for misleading the fish in its previous human life. The monk reasoned with the fish, telling it that it wasn’t his fault that the fish didn’t took Buddha’s teachings seriously, and it had to repent for its ways – the reason which caused the person to turn into an animal after death. “What’s good in eating me if there’s no one to help you realize your misdeeds and ascend to Heaven.” The fist immediately dove back into the water upon hearing what the monk said.
After seven days of chanting, the first re-emerged in front of the courtyard, looked into the temple and show its gratitude to the monk, who helped it understand the teachings. Before its ascension to Heavens, the fish wished to leave its body behind so other disciples can learn from the example. Since then, the wooden instrument for monks is carved after the shape of fish and takes up the name “wooden fish.”
The sound may vary depending on the size and material of the instrument. It makes rituals become more solemm and creates an atmosphere that captures all attention.