There is a small group of diehard Buddhists who believe there is no absolute beyond this world—no refuge. In my many years on the Internet, even before the advent of the Netscape browser, they would challenge my view of a real absolute which transcends our conditioned world. They would ask really dumb questions like, "What is this transcendent reality, of which you speak, made of?" Other such questions went something like this: Does this absolute have a location? Does it have dimensions? How about size? Does it have density? Is is a kind of matter? Is it plural or just one?" To all these questions I answered, no. This brings me to the Buddhist story of the turtle and the fish. Bhikkhu Bodhi tells the story.
There was once a turtle who lived in a lake with a group of fish. One day the turtle went for a walk on dry land. He was away from the lake for a few weeks. When he returned he met some of the fish. The fish asked him, "Mister turtle, hello! How are you? We have not seen you for a few weeks. Where have you been? The turtle said, "I was up on the land, I have been spending some time on dry land." The fish were a little puzzled and they said, "Up on dry land? What are you talking about? What is this dry land? Is it wet?" The turtle said "No, it is not," "Is it cool and refreshing?" "No, it is not", "Does it have waves and ripples?" "No, it does not have waves and ripples." "Can you swim in it?" "No you can't" So the fish said, "it is not wet, it is not cool, there are no waves, you can’t swim in it. So this dry land of yours must be completely non-existent, just an imaginary thing, nothing real at all." The turtle said that "Well, may be so" and he left the fish and went for another walk on dry land.
As we might guess, the turtle was a metaphor for the Buddha who realized supremundane reality which is unconditioned and transcends the all-too-human world which sentient beings live in and thirst for. The fish represents such worldly people (prithagjana) who only wish to know of the finite world; who can’t see beyond this limitation.