Circumstances vs Choices

On Sunday a member of my congregation shared the story of the Taoist Farmer. I love it. I’ll share here as I love many things about Taoism.

A farmer who had only one horse lost it one day when it ran off into the countryside. His friends gathered to bring their condolences for his bad luck. “Who says it’s bad?” replied the farmer.

A few days later the horse returned, bringing with him two wild horses who were fit and healthy to work. His friends gathered to share their happiness at his good fortune. “Who says it’s good?” the farmer said peacefully.

While working to train the wild horses, his only son was thrown and broke both his legs. His friends gathered to mourn his bad experience. “Who says it’s bad?” the farmer responded.

A short time later a military leader rode through the town, conscripting all the young able-bodied men for a war from which they would not return, sparing his son. His friends gathered to congratulate him on his good break. “Who says it’s good?” the farmer predictably echoed his standard reply.

In Hindu tradition, karma is defined not as what comes to us but what we send out and detachment is the practice of concentrating on our own power and not over-thinking our circumstances. We know in every part of our lives that vital behaviors are more important than measurable results, even in the field of management where a goal has long been considered a good goal only if it’s measurable.

This doesn’t mean that there is no longer good and evil, that we surrender to relativism. It means that we judge good and evil based on our choice, not what happens. If we made judgment calls based on choice instead of results, we would see the world change.

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