I'd like to know the origin of the story I heard/read long ago (translated to English here) so that I can perhaps have a more accurate version and quote it.

I did several searches on the Internet using some keywords and even asked ChatGPT, etc. but I couldn't get any satisfactory results.

The master and his disciple were walking in the countryside, chatting. When they came across a highway, the disciple picked up a turtle that was crossing the road and placed it on the ground when he crossed the road. The master then asked: – Why did you do that? – Since the turtle was moving very slowly, I felt like helping him in case a vehicle came and got crushed. – How did you know that a vehicle would arrive before the turtle crossed the road and that the wheels of that vehicle would land right on the turtle? – I didn’t know, but I thought I would make sure the turtle stays safe this way. – Well, are you sure that by pushing forward the time for the turtle to cross that road in this way, you are not causing the turtle to encounter a mortal danger that he would not have encountered otherwise? – No, unfortunately, I don’t know that either. – Then, wouldn’t it be better not to intervene in his life?..

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    Never heard it before, but it's the same thinking one might use to refrain from disarming a gunman, because some eventual result if you don't intervene may end up being less harmful. Or to just sit at home instead of going to work because maybe that somehow gets you more money, to never talk to anyone because maybe somehow that could be the best way to form relationships, or to not eat because somehow that could be how you don't starve. No-one consistently thinks like that, and you can't function on any level if you do. It mostly sounds like an excuse to absolve oneself of moral responsibility
    – NotThatGuy
    Feb 5 at 11:17
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    Doesn't the story over-simplify the situation? Suppose the disciple had not intervened and the turtle got squashed. Wouldn't he have to accept responsibility? The problem is that once he has noticed the turtle, he is responsible for his decision either way.
    – Ludwig V
    Feb 5 at 11:42
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    I haven't heard the turtle story, but the reasoning is similar to Kant's infamous murderer-at-the-door scenario:"If you have by a lie prevented someone just now bent on murder from committing the deed, then you are legally accountable for all the consequences that might arise from it. But if you have kept strictly to the truth, then public justice can hold nothing against you, whatever the unforeseen consequences might be", see What is the basis for Kant's misquote "If the truth shall kill them, let them die"? (Ayn Rand's paraphrase).
    – Conifold
    Feb 5 at 15:23
  • What language did you hear this in? You should do searches in that language with google or ngram or google books. It looks like it probably didn't originate in English as there are no results for it. You could use keywords such as "turtle cross road master disciple parable" (no quotes, and translate them). Also I agree with @NotThatGuy
    – causative
    Feb 5 at 15:39
  • Thanks for the suggestions although they aren't very helpful I'm sorry to say. I heard or read it in Turkish but I'm (almost) sure it was translated from English or some other language, and the origin was associated with Eastern philosophies/faiths such as Buddism and, perhaps more likely, Taoism, although the moral of this story, I admit, might be open to misinterpretation and misuse by the likes of Ayn Rand.
    – Sadi
    Feb 6 at 12:41

2 Answers 2


I have found no reference to such a story, parable, or koan.

The "master's" advice is directly contrary to that of turtle and wildlife experts: https://turtlerescueleague.org/emergencies/turtle-in-road/

The only major philosophical "movements" I know of that argue against helping others are the "Will to Power" thinking in Nietzsche, the Darwinian "Nature bloody in tooth and claw" thinking in Jack London, and the "selfishness is the height of morality" thinking in Ayn Rand. Of these, perhaps this could be a rewrite of a story in "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" to bring it up to date, or could be a derivative Randian parable (I am pretty sure Rand never wrote against helping turtles, but maybe a follower did).

The message of the parable is -- so contrary to the judgement of most of us, that it is not usefully convincing. Perhaps it is a failed parable, that convinced nobody of anything other than the "master's" lack of wisdom, and has now been abandoned by its original author, and that is why you can no longer find it?


Sounds like a rewiring (and flip) of this classic Buddhist story of the master-disciple pair and the girl in distress trying to cross a stream.

  • An interesting - and quite thought-provoking - idea. At least it was clear that the girl wanted to cross the steam. Perhaps the disciple should have paused to make sure that the turtle wanted to cross the road. It could be a case of the enthusiastic helper who carried a blind person who did not want to cross the road across the road.
    – Ludwig V
    Feb 6 at 10:43
  • I vaguely remember the story I quoted in the question is associated with Eastern philosophies/faiths but I very much doubt that the story referred to in this answer is a true Buddhist story. :-D
    – Sadi
    Feb 6 at 12:34

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