Who Knows What is Good and What is Bad… (Taoist Story)

Most of us divide-up our life experience into those we like and those we don’t. But the Taoist masters teach us to look deeper. In the flow of yin and yang everything is constantly changing into its opposite. The more we live with awareness of the inevitable tides of the Tao, the more it seems superficial and misguided to reject some experiences and try to hold onto others. It is better to accept the wholeness of life.

A traditional Taoist story illustrates these teachings.

“When an old farmer’s stallion wins a prize at a country show, his neighbour calls round to congratulate him, but the old farmer says, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”

The next day some thieves come and steal his valuable animal. His neighbour comes to commiserate with him, but the old man replies, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”

A few days later the spirited stallion escapes from the thieves and joins a herd of wild mares, leading them back to the farm. The neighbour calls to share the farmer’s joy, but the farmer says, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”

The following day, while trying to break in one of the mares, the farmer’s son is thrown and fractures his leg. The neighbour calls to share the farmer’s sorrow, but the old man’s attitude remains the same as before.

The following week the army passes by, forcibly conscripting soldiers for the war, but they do not take the farmer’s son because he cannot walk. The neighbour thinks to himself, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” and realises that the old farmer must be a Taoist sage. ”

(From “The Tao Book and Card Pack” by Timothy Freke)


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  • Charles Samuels

    Sometimes it is hard to tell good news from bad news.

  • sean

    Sometimes life is like an old house thats slowly falling to pieces. We keep repainting to make it look good on the outside, but inside has become so disastrous we will not let anyone in due to such embarrassment. Soon we cant live with it ourselves and seek refuge elswhere (alcohol, drugs, love affairs). We keep trying and trying to fix things but the rotting house within stands only by the paint. Until one day it collapses (mid life crisis, nervous breakdown, rock bottom)
    A spiritual awakening is that gentle voice within that tells you that your life/house has no walls, needs no paint and is beautiful even on your darkest days.

  • Here, here Sean!