The Parable of the Taoist Chinese Farmer

Once upon a time there was a farmer in ancient China who owned a horse.

“You are so lucky!” his neighbours told him, “to have a horse to pull the cart for you.”

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

One day he didn’t latch the gate properly and the horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate.

They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.”

The farmer said, “Maybe.”

The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses. Now you are rich!”

The farmer again said, “Maybe.”

The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg.

The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.”

 The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army due to an upcoming war, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg.

Again all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!”

Again, he said, “Maybe.”

Hundreds of thousands young men died in the war.

The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad — because

you never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or,

you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.


What is good arises with the bad. What is bad arises with the good. There is no in without an out or an up without a down. Each depends upon the other, follows the other, is within the other, changing from extreme to extreme, and from nuance to nuance, in an intricate web.

Life is a changing process with no definite end. Things happen to people and then people judge those events as right or wrong, good or bad. They make divisions in the world of symbols and act as if those divisions are true. Separating the whole into an innumerable number of parts and clinging to specific parts, while denying the rest of life.

It is easy to make judgements about life. When something unpleasant happens, a person claims that it is terrible, clinging to an idea of terribleness. When something appears to be good, then someone will claim it as good and cling to an idea of good, but will suffer when it goes away.

Those who are wise are not attached to ideas of good and bad, right and wrong, ugliness and beauty. They patiently watch without judgement, aware of change, and open to what may come. They are not as fixed on conclusions about the answer in life, but rather, live in the mystery. They listen in stillness, not overflowing with opinions about how something appears, or should be, or what they believe about it. Mindfully, they accept what is arising and passing. They do not hide from their fear or anxiety or uncertainty. They flow with what comes, not stuck to their thoughts, open to unfolding nuances.

1 thought on “The Parable of the Taoist Chinese Farmer”

  1. Read my own real life stories under About Me / Life Challenges. Many times I have faced "negative" events, which turned out as new opportunities and successes. The problem is that you don't perceive it that way when you are in the midst of experiencing the negative event. It's sometimes very difficult to get over it and positively set your mind on experiences and new events that will come next. In similar way, failure can be a consequence of success. Do you have any example, from your on experience? What about the faith of some celebrities and pop stars...?

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