The story of the three little pigs is a well known one, but here is a quick recap:
Mother pig raises three little piglets and as and when they are ready sets them off to start their lives. The first one builds a house from hay and is settling in when the big bad wolf stops by. The wolf “huffs and puffs," blows the house down, and eats up the pig. The second wolf, slightly smarter, builds a house with sticks, but meets the same fate. The third little pig, a hard worker, builds a house of bricks and defeats the wolf when his huffing and puffing will not bring the sturdy home down.
Some versions of this well-known story end at this point while others go on and on to describe the many tricks and ways that the third little pig outsmarts the big bad wolf.
Going by just the basic story itself, I find it full of metaphor and deep meaning.
To begin with, the number three itself seems archetypal. Third time lucky is an oft repeated theme whether it is with the three little pigs, or the three bears in Goldilocks, or the third daughter in the Beauty and the Beast and many other similar tales.
The Christian traditions honor the Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. In Western psychology, we have the three major components of man’s personality as postulated by Freud: id, ego and superego. The energy systems of the East also believe there are three energies inherent in Nature and this is expressed in Hindu mythology as the Trinity of Bramha, Vishnu and Shiva: the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer aspects of God.
In scientific circles there is the theory of the Triune Brain put forth by neuroscientist Paul MacLean which talks about three different brains that co-inhabit the human skull and that they evolved at different stages of human life on the planet. Although not all scientists agree with the theory, it is an interesting idea and offers a tangible explanation to the three approaches to life that a single person is capable of taking.
Given all of this, we could interpret the story of the three little pigs to mean that we are all three little pigs rolled into each one of us, and “the wolf” is life and its uncertainties that knock at everyone’s door, stirring up our deepest fears and insecurities.
When Mother Nature sets us off to start life, we begin our quest for happiness, as the first little pig, blissfully unaware of the dangers that lurk out there. The inner emotional home that we build for ourselves is fragile, its walls transparent, its structure simple and basic, like the house built by the first little pig. Then we meet “the wolf” - in the form of our earliest disappointment, failure, or rejection, thereby experiencing fear for the first time. This part of us, our ignorance and naivete, is our first casualty and is permanently scarred in the process.
The person who rises from the ashes, the “second little pig,” has a strategy, a plan to defend against uncertainty and prevent its occurrence. The walls of this “pig’s” house are made of values and regulations, in an attempt to keep the wolf out.
Although this house is sturdier than the first, its conditional walls of rules and hard work do not stand up to the inevitable storms of life and once again, we are defeated. This time it is our illusion of permanence and control that is impaired forever by the wolf.
Rebirthing ourselves a third time, we arrive at the wisdom that Gautam Buddha declared through his teachings: that “dukkha” or strife is an inevitable part of being human. Perfect happiness and certainty are not impossible, just impermanent. The best way to live our lives is to embrace reality and face life with joy and fearlessness knowing that our spirit is bigger than the things that scare us.
This acceptance is the foundation for the house built by the third pig. It takes a long time. We must let each nugget of wisdom bake and create a brick for the inner home, cementing it with faith, getting over the temptation to settle for old ways of escaping or coping with reality instead of facing and transcending it.
This takes time because we are rewiring our brain to think and respond differently, and according to the theory proposed by Maclean, to use a different brain from the one that has been called upon generationally.
When such a house is finally done and the wolf knocks at our door, our faith will prevail, even as the ego holds fort, anchored in the wisdom that says, “this too shall pass.”
To quote T.S. Eliot on this, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive at where we started and know the place for the first time.”