Tales from the Dao

The Horse Breeder (from Lieh Tzu)

by Solala Towler

Pen Lo had bred horses for the Duke for many years. Now he was getting old and the Duke asked him if there was anyone in his family who would be able to take over for him.

Pen Lo said, “You can tell a good horse by looking at its muscles and appearance. But the best horses are the ones that cannot be judged by their appearance only. You must be able to see their inner nature. No one in my family has this ability. But I do know of one man who might be able to help you. He is a poor man who hauls wood and vegetables for a living. But he has the ability to differentiate the superior horse from the merely great.”

The Duke was happy then and sent for the man and asked him to find him a special horse. The man was gone for three months and then sent word to the Duke that he has found such a horse.

“What kind of horse is it?” asked the Duke.

“It is a yellow mare,” was the answer.

So the Duke sent for the horse and it turned out to be a black stallion. The Duke was angry then and sent for Pen Lo. “This man you sent to me knows nothing about horses,” he said. “He cannot even tell a mare from a stallion never mind yellow from black.”

Pen Lo’s face lit up. “Ah,” he said. “It is even better than I had hoped. His ability is now ten thousand times greater than mine. He has completely transcended judging a horse by its appearance and sees only its inner nature. When he looks at the horse he does not see a male or female or what color it is but looks instead to its very essence. In this way he can see the potential for greatness in a horse.”

Indeed, when he had sent for the horse, the Duke found that it was the greatest horse he had ever seen.


[Solala has been involved with Daoist practices such as taiji, qigong and meditation for almost 23 years now. He has been publishing The Empty Vessel: The Journal of Daoist Thought and Practice, for almost 18 years. He has written a number of books on Daoist thought and practice (including Cha Dao: The Way of Tea and the Inner Chapters of Chuang Tzu) and has been leading tours to China to study qigong and other Daoist practices in the sacred mountains of China since 1997. In addition, he has recorded four CDs on meditation/relaxation/movement music using Tibetan singing bowls, both Chinese and Native flute and harmonic overtone singing. He can be reached at solala@abodetao.com or at his website at www.abodetao.com ]



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