Often we get asked the meaning of that “three fish” symbol on all of Allen’s HarperCollins books, as well as in the frontispiece of Indian Journals, and for the most part only had the simple answer – It’s the Buddha’s footprint that he saw while in Bodh Gaya in 1962 – but couldn’t really say much more. Recently however we unearthed this paragraph he wrote for the Catholic Worker back in 1967, which is the most thorough and complete description we’ve been able to put our fingers on.
“I saw the three fish one head, carved on insole of naked Buddha Footprint stone at Bodh-Gaya under the Bo-tree. Large – 6 or 10 foot size – feet or soles made of stone are a traditional form of votive marker. Mythologically the 32 signs – stigmata, like—of the Buddha include chakras (magic wheels symbolic of energy) on hands and feet. This is a sort of a fish chakra. So antique artists used to sculpt big feet as symbolic of the illumined man – before Greeks brought in human-face representation of Buddha. They never used to have statues of him – umbrellas, Bo-trees, or feet instead – before Alexander came to India.”
(letter from Allen Ginsberg, (accompanying illustration) Catholic Worker May 1967)