Episode 17: Good Luck Or Misfortune?

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In our lives there are always ups and downs. Today we are going to tell a story about sometimes it’s hard to tell if it is a up or a down. This is definitely one of my favorite stories of all time and I always remind myself of it like a motto. This story is more like a fable than a myth and is from the book HuaiNanZi 淮南子, an Chinese test consisting of a collection of essays from sometime before 139 BC. It is a kind of a philosophy book which has Taoist, Confucianism and Legalist concepts. This story we are talking about today definitely conveys the idea of Yin-Yang.

There was a guy living at the border between China and the regions of Hu, which is a general name for the minorities or barbarians next to China. Since border is BianSai边塞 in China, we call him SaiWeng塞翁. Weng means old men. In the book it says he is good at fortune telling. One day, his horse crossed the border and ran away. Everyone came to comfort him and expressed their sorry for him. SaiWeng said,” Who knows? It could be a good luck” After a few months, the horse came back and even brought another nice horse. Everyone came to congratulate how lucky he was. SaiWeng said, “ who knows? It could be a misfortune” SaiWeng’s son liked horse riding and one day when he was riding this new horse he fell from the horse back and broke his leg. Everyone came to visit and felt bad for his son. You know what SaiWeng said this time. He said, “who knows? It could be a good luck” After a year, the barbarians crossed the border and started to invade. All the young and strong men joined the war and nine out of ten of them died. However, SaiWeng’s son survived since he was crippled and couldn’t join the army.


It is like the text in the book ZhuangZi 庄子, a book from the late Warring States period 战国时期around 3rd century BC which contains Taoist stories and anecdotes named after the main author ZhuangZi. I need to say it in the original text cause I just love how simple and beautiful the sentence is in ancient Chinese. It says 安危相易,祸 福相生,缓 急相摩,聚散以成meaning Safety and danger alternate with each other. Good fortune and bad fortune come with each other. Fastness and slowness interact with each other. Getting together and separation are related to each other. It is like the moon gets bright or dim, wax or wane. It is a philosophical way to see the world as changing like the Greek philosopher Heraclitus’s theory. He said, you could not step twice into the same river. I guess in Taoist, the idea of Yin-Yang is more extreme, which focuses on how the opposite can transform into each other. There is an ancient Chinese article written in the year 1044 I learned it in Middle school called YueYangLouJi岳阳楼记, there is a sentence in the end I always love is 不以物喜,不以己悲, which means not pleased by the external gains and not saddened by personal losses. From this perspective, it is more close to the Buddhism. If it is hard to understand, you can think about the word “inner peace” in the movie Kungfu Panda. It is never easy since we are not the Buddhas but ordinary people. But for me it is like a sword and shield for me to accept ups and downs in life.


淮南子 HuaiNanZi

庄子 ZhuangZi


Kungfu Panda

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