Introducing Treasure Troves: Lao ZiNovember 20th, 2009 by Wei Djao
From the Book of Lao Zi,* Chapter 58:
Misfortune, happiness leans on it;
Happiness, misfortune crouches under it.
Fable from the book of Huai Nan Zi: The Old Man Who Lost a Horse
Among those who lived near the northern borders with the Hu people** there was a man who practised Lao Zi’s teachings. One day, his horse without any reason went to the Hu territories. People around him all commiserated with him. But he said, “This could yet turn out happily.”
A few months later, the lost horse came back, accompanied by a fine steed of the Hu people. His neighbours congratulated him. But he said, “Who knows if this will not turn out to be a misfortune.”
His son was a keen horseman. While riding one day, he fell and was severely injured. Everyone commiserated with the father but he just said, “Who knows if this will not turn out to be a blessing.”
A year later, the Hu people launched a massive invasion south of the border. All the young men had to fight in the war. Nine-tenths of those living in the border areas perished. The man and his son survived because the son was lame and could not join in the battles.
* Lao Zi lived towards the end of the Spring and Autumn period (770 – 476 BCE) of the Eastern Zhou dynasty. The book Lao Zi, also known as Dao De Jing, was compiled over a couple of centuries in the Warring States period (475 – 421 BCE) during which survival, not to be caught in the endless bloody conflicts, was of paramount importance to many people. A common misconception, particularly in the West, is that Lao Zi is a book about mysticism. Actually, Lao Zi, contains political philosophy and provides a theory of survival, within a larger theory of the universe and human existence. Lao Zi’s philosophy was named in the Han dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE) as the school of dao, the way. The best translation of this short book is still Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching by D.C. Lau. It is available online.
** “Hu 胡” is a generic name used by the Han Chinese (汉 人) for all non-Han ethnic groups.
(Translations of selections from Lao Zi and Huai Nan Zi by Wei Djao)