|When we are angry, just take a look at ourselves in the mirror. A beautiful or handsome face can change devilish. Our words and actions can also be devilish. Nothing good can possibly turn out. An eye for an eye is almost always the action people take. Both will lose an eye. Can there be a better solution? Cool down, maybe there is!||
The Farmer and the Hunter
by Derek Lin
Once upon a time in ancient
China, there was a farmer who lived
next door to a hunter. The farmer's primary means of livelihood
was raising sheep. He had a small flock that he tended with
One night, the hunter's dogs
discovered a hole in the fence.
They broke through and attacked the sheep, causing much damage.
The farmer was dismayed and notified his neighbor the next morning.
The hunter was apologetic: "I am sorry. I will have my sons keep the
dogs in the house from now on. That ought to fix the problem."
The hunter was mistaken. The dogs
got out somehow and more chaos
ensued. The farmer appeared at the hunter's door the next morning,
tired from lack of sleep and angry: "Is this how you fix your problems?"
Again the hunter was apologetic:
"My boys tell me the dogs got out
by climbing through an open window. I'll have them lock up all the
windows at night from now on."
This still did not stop the
trouble. These hunting dogs were highly
intelligent, and once every few days, they would figure out a new way
to break out of the house. Each time the farmer would confront the
hunter, and the hunter would make promises, but there were just too
many ways for the dogs to get out, so the hunter was not able to cover
all the possibilities. This situation continued for weeks.
One morning, the farmer regarded
his loss from the previous night,
and decided he had enough. Like most Chinese people, he preferred
to resolve disputes privately, but in this case he felt he had no choice
but to go before the judge.
Judges held tremendous power in
ancient China. They could not only
interpret the law, but also conduct investigation, render verdict, decide
punishment, and enforce sentence. In the right hands, these powers
made them extremely effective as agents of justice; in the wrong hands,
such powers could be highly corrupting.
At the courthouse, the judge
probed the farmer with questions and
considered the matter. After a while, he said: "We can solve this
problem in two ways. Certainly I can punish your neighbor and order
him to compensate you. However, this will no doubt turn him against
you. Do you wish to live next door to an enemy?"
"Of course not, your honor," said
the farmer. "But I don't see any
other way out of this problem."
"There is always another way,"
said the judge. "I can point it out
to you. However, if you wish to hear of this alternative, you must
first give me your word to do exactly what I tell you."
Something about the judge's quiet
confidence compelled the farmer
to nod his head in agreement. "Very well," the judge said. "Here are
the steps I want you to follow..."
The judge's instructions were
brief. They were also shocking to the
farmer. He stuttered: "But... your honor! This is preposterous!
Have I not already lost enough?"
The judge's face was stern: "Do
you wish to go back on your word
and risk my wrath?"
"Of course not! Of course not!" The farmer was frightened.
"I will carry out your instructions immediately, your honor."
The farmer went home feeling
depressed. He selected two of the
youngest and most adorable lambs from his flock. Then, still
following the judge's instructions to the letter, he went to the
hunter's house and knocked on the door.
The hunter answered with much annoyance: "What is it now?"
The farmer cleared his throat and
recalled what the judge told him
to say: "For the past few weeks I have bothered you many times,
and you have worked hard to contain your dogs as a favor to me.
I would like to give you something for your trouble. Here are two
of my best lambs for your two sons."
The two boys overheard this and
could hardly believe their ears.
They crowded the doorway and looked at their father with pleading
eyes. The hunter shooed them away, thanked the farmer, and
accepted the gift. As the farmer walked back to his house, he
could hear the excited voices of the youngsters as they eagerly
took their new pets.
Early next morning, the farmer got
up to check the sheep. He
expected more problems, but found none. Everything was peaceful
and quiet. He looked toward the hunter's house, and an amazing
sight greeted his eyes: the hunter had built a large cage outside
his house. The dogs were sleeping in it, locked up and leashed
After several more uneventful
days, the hunter came by the farmer's
house, bringing with him fresh kills. He had selected his best to give
to the farmer as a reciprocal present. The farmer was touched, and
realized that the hunter was actually quite a decent fellow.
"The judge was right," he thought to himself. "There is always
another way - a much, much better way!"
Every now and then, we can run into possible conflicts
people, even if we prefer peace. We are minding our own business,
not looking for trouble, but trouble comes looking for us. The
ever-changing, chaotic nature of life means problems will arise
from time to time.
At first, we may decide to talk it over with the other
party, to see if
we can resolve the issue diplomatically. If that doesn't work, then
many of us will decide to escalate it to the next level, which may
include violence - or perhaps litigation, as was the case with the farmer.
From the perspective of the Tao, this is a bad idea.
Chapter 30 of the
Tao Te Ching says it this way:
place where the troops camp
Thistles and thorns grow
Following the great army
There must be an inauspicious year
At first glance, these lines appear to describe large-scale
perhaps during the Warring States period in ancient China. In
actuality, these lines describe the essence of conflict at any level,
whether between nations or between individuals.
When we wage personal battles against other people, the
the metaphorical troops camp is the heart that harbors hatred. The
thistles and thorns represent the feelings of bitterness and aggression.
Their growth represents the festering of such feelings within.
The crucial point of these four lines is the inauspicious
year of the
aftermath. The land is left in ruins in the wake of the great army.
We can see this pattern clearly throughout history - a nation that
wages war invariably suffers economic depletion long after the
end of military operations.
The same truth applies just as powerfully to our petty
other people. After our army has launched its attack - after we have
lashed out at someone - we continue to suffer, because the festering
feelings that remain behind will keep causing us pain.
This was something that the judge saw clearly and pointed
out to the
farmer. Even if the farmer were to win a verdict against the hunter,
the resulting animosity would guarantee the loss of neighborly good
will. In the long run, this would be a greater loss than any possible
courtroom victory. Lao Tzu might say that the thistles and thorns
would remain behind, regardless of how the army performed
The farmer was lucky that the judge happened to understand
We may not be quite as lucky, because we may not know someone
with that level of wisdom who can help us resolve issues in an elegant
way. What we need to do is to learn what we can from this story, so we
can turn to the sage within ourselves in times of necessity.
We start out with the recognition that our typical response
pattern is to
fight fire with fire. The moment we feel like we are being attacked or
will be attacked soon, our defenses go up and we get ready to
counterattack. We may even launch a preemptive strike,
just to be on the safe side.
This strategy may work well in the animal kingdom, but in
context of human civilization, fighting fire with fire tends to result
in a massive explosion that hurts everyone, including ourselves. This
is why we need the teaching of the Tao, to help us let go of the
instinctive urge to fight, and focus instead on the better way.
Every conflict is unique, so the judge's particular
solution for the farmer
may not work for our own conflicts with others. However, the Tao process
that the judge followed will apply in every case and help us discover our
own solutions. This process can be broken down into the three steps:
1. Maintain an Open Mind
We start out by being open to the possibility that
a creative solution exists.
Oftentimes we are like the farmer, unable to see any other way except to
clash. We tell ourselves that we have no choice, but this is an illusion.
The reality is that there is always a way, just as the judge said. We need
to have faith in this, even when the situation seems hopeless.
2. Focus on Oneness
In the survival-oriented mindset, we see life as a win-lose proposition
or as a zero-sum game where someone has to lose in order for us to win.
The perception of the Tao is not based on this adversarial model, but
based on the essential oneness of all mankind.
The more we understand this oneness, the more we can see that someone
else's loss is indirectly our loss as well, due to the fundamental connection
that binds all of us together. Therefore, in a win-loss scenario, my
opponent's defeat subtracts from my victory in a way that may not
be immediately obvious, but is nevertheless very real. The only way
for us to enjoy a meaningful victory is the win-win scenario, where
everyone benefits, and the other party's gain will add indirectly to
my own, thus transforming the win into a truly satisfying personal triumph.
3. Seek Common Ground
When we are in the grips of the survival instinct to do battle, all we can
see is us versus them. We perceive differences, particularly our goodness
in contrast with the evil of the other side. If we can overcome this
distorted perception, we are likely to discover the reality that most of
us are not so different after all. We're all decent people, with goals and
dreams that are more alike than not.
This suggests a way for us to approach conflict resolution. Seeing the
other side as human, just like us, is the first step toward the discovery
of common ground. Working from this position of commonality and
mutual benefit, we can find a way to fit what we want into what the
other side wants, or vice versa.
The hunter ended up with the same goal as the farmer - protection of the
sheep - and this transformed a seemingly difficult problem into a simple
one that could be easily solved. In the same way, when the goals from
both sides are adjusted into alignment, the conflict that may seem
unavoidable at first will simply dissolve into thin air.
The ultimate lesson we can learn from this story is that
not only is there
another way, but this other way is far more preferable to our typical urge
to strike back at someone who we feel has hurt us. It is based not on
harming, but on giving. It always works because when we give skillfully
in accordance with the Tao, we end up with more, not less.
Next time we run into possible conflicts with other people,
let us turn
our attention inward and recall this story to mind, so we can visit the
judge within. This wise old judge will point out a clear path for us to
follow, a path that will take us toward peace, friendship and joy.
This is the Tao - the much, much better way!