The story of the Chinese farmer and a verse of the Qur’an

There is part of a verse of the Qur’an (chapter 2, verse 216) that says “…But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.” (Sahih International translation). In other words, things happen in life and we don’t really understand the full and proper effects of what just happened.

With this in mind, below is a story read by the late philosopher Alan Watts, about such matters. Further below is the full transcript to the video, which is less than two and a half minutes, but to me it brilliantly describes how weird and wonderful life can indeed be, and how we often get it so wrong when assessing whether or not things are going well or otherwise. Enjoy!

The Story Of The Chinese Farmer

From Sustainable Man.

A parable narrated by Alan Watts, animation by Steve Agnos, and with music by Chris Zabriskie, words by Alan Watts.

Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer who lost a horse, ran away. And all the neighbors came around that evening and said, “That’s too bad.” And he said, “Maybe.”

The next day the horse came back, and brought seven wild horses with it. And all the neighbors came around and said, “Why, that’s great. Isn’t it?” And he said, “Maybe.”

The next day his son was attempting to tame one of these horses and was riding it and was thrown and broke his leg. And all the neighbors came around in the evening said, “Well, that’s too bad. Isn’t it?” The farmer said, “Maybe.”

The next day the conscription officers came around, looking for people for the army and they rejected his son, because he had a broken leg. And all the neighbors came around that evening and said, “Isn’t that wonderful?” And he said, “Maybe.”

[Laughing]

The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity and it is really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad. Because you never know what will be the consequences of the misfortune, or you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.

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