Monday, October 18, 2010

Good Luck

Those who mistake their good luck for their merit are inevitably bound for disaster. - J. Christopher Herold

Once upon a time, a poor farmer was dismayed to learn that his horse had died during the night. "That's terrible," his neighbors said, "What a bad luck!" "Maybe," said the farmer to his friends. 

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the village, a certain rich man heard of the farmer's plight and took pity on him. He gave one of his many horses to the poor man as a gift. "That's wonderful! How lucky you are!" exclaimed the farmer's friends. But the farmer only said, "Maybe."

Only two months later, frightened by flashes of lightning and bursts of thunder during a fierce summer storm, the poor farmer's horse lept over the fence and ran away to the mountains. "That's terrible! What a bad luck!" the farmer's neighbors exclaimed. "Maybe." replied the farmer.

In less than three months time, and much to everyone's amazement, the runaway horse returned to the poor farmer. But he did not return alone, for he was accompanied by a magnificent stallion. Now the farmer had two horses! The neighbors marveled at such great fortune. "That's wonderful! How lucky you are!" they said. But the farmer simply replied, "Maybe."

One day the farmer's only son thought this would be a good time to break in the new stallion for riding. But the small, thin boy was no match for the mighty horse. He was violently thrown from the horse's back and severely injured. He broke several bones in his leg and would not walk for a long while. "That's terrible," said the neighbors, "now your son is lame. What a bad luck!" "Maybe," came the answer.

At this time in China there was a war going on between two rival warlords. One day a military officer came to the village to conscript young men. He took with him all able bodied young men to fight the war in a neighboring province. Many of the village's favorite sons would later perish. "How lucky you are that your son is lame, for he is safe with you," the neighbors said. Thanking them for their good wishes, the poor farmer said, "Maybe."


Not too sad and never too overjoyed! This was Taoist way of life. Probably like not many  other people, Taoists believed that the things are in a constant motion. They developed the philosophy of yin and yang which not only suggested the constant flux, but also clarified that everything in the universe has its opposite counterpart.

There is no good without evil, no beauty without ugliness, no joy without distress. Taoism taught that when dreadful things happen to us, extreme distress is improper because things are in constant motion and the energy in the universe flows into its other natural extreme. This is when really good things happen. But once again, extreme joy is improper. Those who understood this natural flow would enjoy their life with all its ups and downs. 

This constant flow of energy between naturally occurring dualities was  expression of the universal harmony between yin and yang forces that govern the universe. 

Since ancient times the Chinese understood that these two dynamic forces do not exist in opposition to one another. They are complementary. Everything in the universe has both aspects - the yin and the yang. Either of the forces may manifest more strongly in an object or a situation depending on the criterion of judgment and observation. The judgements we make depend on our perception of things but they do not reflect the underlying reality that often remains hidden. 

Only a foolish man believes that all that glitters is gold. And only a foolish man believes the opposite.

Dominique Allmon