Chinese parable narrated by Alan Watts

alan watts the chinese farmer


British-born American philosopher Alan Watts used the Chinese parable, The Story of the Chinese Farmer, to illustrate the way of life where nothing is experienced as either an advantage or a disadvantage.  He argues that it is the source of enormous empowerment and liberation.

The farmer does not see life in terms of gain or loss or advantage or disadvantage, because we never really know whether an event is fortune or misfortune.  Only change is constant.

The story is brought to life in this lovely animation, created by Steve Agnos and the Sustainable Human project, narrated by Alan Watts:

Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose 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!” 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, 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.”

Just like what Lao Tzu said:

Happiness is rooted in misery.
Misery lurks beneath happiness.
Who knows what the future holds?
There is no honesty.
Honesty becomes dishonest.
Goodness becomes witchcraft.
Man’s bewitchment lasts for a long time.

Lao Tzu 58

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