“Maybe” – a Taoist tale

In a small village in rural China, there was a wise and simple man who had a horse, a beautiful horse. One day, the horse ran away. Some villagers paid the man a visit, telling him how sorry they were and how sad it was that he had lost his horse. The man answered: “maybe.”

A few days later, the horse came back with seven beautiful wild horses accompanying him. The villagers went to see the man again and told him how wonderful that was. The man answered: “maybe.”

A few days later, the man’s son who tried to tame one of the wild horses, was thrown on the ground and broke his leg. The villagers who came to visit the injured young man told his father that it was indeed an unfortunate event. The man answered: “maybe.”

The following week, administrative officials came by the house to sign-up the young man into the Imperial Army. Being injured, he avoided conscription. The villagers rejoiced and told the father how lucky he was. The wise and simple man answered once again: “maybe.”


Notes:

On the story: This is an old Taoist story that I just put into my own words. The central idea is the one of not seeing advantages and/or disadvantages in things, in not weighting actions and things, in not qualifying them as good or bad. It is fundamental to Taoism. The great Taoist Master Lieh-Tzu (China 4th c. BCE) who lived a few centuries after Lao Tse (China, 6th c. BCE), the author of the “Tao Te Ching,” use to meditate on the “neutrality” of things as a way to go beyond them. The practicality of it as illustrated in the story, is to avoid anxiety by imposing or bending things with our mind.

As the “Tao Te Ching” says:

“When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
Being and non-being create each other.”
(Ref: No. 2 of the “Tao Te Ching,” trans. by S. Mitchell, 1988)

The gift of words

A king who was very fond of poetry, heard about a poet who taught the gift of words. He inquired and found that the poet lived in a village about half a day away by horse. The next day, he asked his horse be saddled and went to visit him.

“I am the king and I humbly ask you to teach me the gift of words,” the king told him.

The poet was sitting on a simple carpet, surrounded by his students. Some were young and others old. Some were men and others women. Even children were there, along with a black cat with golden eyes attentive to the poet’s every word.

“You are welcome among us,” the poet answered.

The king learned to use metaphors and similes; to find rhymes where he had never looked before; to spread gold dust on simple words and make them enchant. He attended the poet’s sessions everyday for the duration of a moon’s cycle.

As the new moon was about to appear, the king visited the poet and told him: “You have opened my soul to beauty. I am most grateful and I would like to bestow a gift upon you. What would please you most? Just let me know and it will be yours.”

“Thank you Majesty,” the poet answered. “What I would most appreciate is that you no longer attend the poetry sessions.”

The King was dumbfounded.

“Have I offended you in some ways? Have I offended some of your students? Please tell me and I shall change my behaviour. I really want to hear your teachings! You have made me a better king as I see beauty in all and can finally calm anger, negotiate peace and impart justice with the right words.”

“I am grateful my humble teaching has made you a wise king,” the poet answered with a smile, “but understand that since you have started attending the sessions, students no longer praise beauty and simplicity in their poems; now, they praise you, hoping for favours. This is not poetry from the heart.”

The King was devastated and did not know what to say. He left feeling sad and very much alone. A few days later, the poet sent him a poem.

“King and ruler of the land, come with an empty hand.
Undress of silk and gold, and put on a woolen coat that is old.
The pilgrim crossing the desert will sure be left behind
if he insists on adorning his camel instead of filling his gourd.
The secret of words is hidden behind seventy thousand veils.
Come. Please come.
But come with humility and an open heart,
so that the secret may at last be shared.”

Kenza.

The Sufis believe there are 70’000 veils between the ego and the absolute; much akin to the 84’000 dharmas the Buddhists refer to, or the “veil of ignorance” mentioned in the Bible (2 Corinthian)