Three Oriental Tales With Stoic Wisdom That Blew My Mind

Essential life lessons for happiness and success.

We spend our days chasing mirages.

  • The fancy car.

Without realizing that nothing is ours. Not even our body. We lose everything while we live.

We come into this world crying, and we leave it, making those who remain to cry.

People who once loved us.

We become a bittersweet memory that sticks in their chest.

We live in an imperfect world, and yet we obsess over finding the perfect partner or the perfect job.

Let me tell you something: In an imperfect world, there is no such thing as perfect. Stop chasing chimeras.

If you realize this, you will be able to accept your own limitations and weaknesses. And if you recognize yourself as you are, you can be happy and help others.

Remember,

In a world ruled by suffering, alleviating the pain of others is the most revolutionary act of all.

That’s why in today’s article, I want to share with you three oriental fables that blew my mind and changed my life completely.

Let’s dive in.

I. The Story of the Chinese Farmer

The first time I heard this fable was from the mouth of Alan Watts. It seems simple, but it holds a complex truth.

The story tells of a Chinese farmer who was tending his land when suddenly a horse ran away. When the neighbors heard about it, they told him he had been unlucky.

The farmer told them: “Good luck or bad luck, who knows?”

Within a week, the lost horse returned to the farm accompanied by twelve wild horses. Thanks to that, the farmer had more horses than anyone else in the village. The neighbors, when they heard about it, told him that he had had good luck.

The farmer told them: “Good luck or bad luck, who knows?”

One fine day the farmer’s son set out to break in the new horses and had an accident. He fell off a horse and broke his leg. The neighbors, when they heard about it, told him he had been unlucky.

The farmer told them: “Good luck or bad luck, who knows?”

Within a week of the accident, the army came to town, taking all the healthy young men to war. And since the farmer’s son still had a broken leg, he was spared from going.

Lesson

You never know if something is good or bad.

The escape of the horse ended up preventing the farmer’s son from going to war.

That’s why you have to take life as it comes. Sometimes we believe that life blesses us with a good job, with an attractive partner, with a stroke of luck, and we end up suffering.

The other way around also happens to us: we believe that something is a tragedy, but adversity transforms us into the person we always wanted to be.

The Stoics were like the Chinese farmer in the fable: they took things as they came without judging whether they were good or bad. They called this “Amor fati” which could be translated as “love your fate.”

“Amor fati” describes an attitude towards life in which one understands that everything is for something, even pain and loss have their meaning so that everything fits together.

Emperor Marcus Aurelius believed that man was only a tiny portion of the universe that has been allotted a short interval of time set by fate. Therefore, we should not torment ourselves. But just live our lives accepting things as they come.

These three sentences by Marcus Aurelius describe perfectly what the farmer’s fable means.

  • Everything that happens as it should, and if you observe, you will find this to be so.

II. Fable of the gift

An old Buddhist fable tells that Buddha was talking to his disciples under his bodhi tree when someone approached them.

This person had heard of the Buddha, but the master did not know them.

Far from showing him respect, he began to insult and mock him, his way of thinking, the clothes he wore, his way of life, and so on.

For a long time, he insulted the master.

The disciples watched helplessly as their master was unmoved by the insults he received.

Buddha remained silent with a peaceful smile on his face during the time he was bothering him.

Eventually, he got tired and left.

When it was all over, the disciples asked Buddha why he had not defended himself.

Buddha replied,

“If you come to my house with a gift and I do not accept it, whose gift is it?”

The disciple said:

“If you don’t accept it, it is still mine.”

“Well, that’s what just happened,” said Buddha.

Lesson

As the saying goes, there is no better contempt than not to show appreciation. But Buddha didn’t do it for that reason. He did it because he was aware that the only thing he could control in that situation was his attitude.

He could not get into the heads of the one who insulted him. He could only react to his bad words. He had many options: to get angry, to fight, to shout, to insult him, but he chose to remain silent and not allow his words to hurt him.

Buddha knew what he could control (his attitude) and what he could not (the person who insulted him). And chose to maintain a stoic behavior and not enter into conflict.

Buddha acted intelligently. By doing so, he succeeded in

  • That the problem did not escalate.

Another great teacher who acted similarly to the Buddha was Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism.

According to legend, he allowed everyone to attend his philosophical classes and even insult him if they were against his arguments.

According to Zeno, the best way to achieve happiness is to avoid passions, hatred, and contrariness. That is why one must never lose one’s temper.

The Stoics knew that the best strategy to achieve progress in life and be happy was understanding the difference between what is under our control and what is not.

These three sentences from Epictetus (another great stoic) describe perfectly what the fable of the gift is trying to say.

  • There is only one way to happiness. And that is to cease worrying about things that are beyond the power of our will.

III. Ananda and Buddha’s story

One sunny day Buddha went for a walk in the countryside with his disciple Ananda.

They walked for a long time in the midday sun, and Buddha, who was already an old man, asked Ananda to fetch some water to quench his thirst.

Half an hour ago, they had passed a stream, and Ananda told him that he would give him water from any source they found, as the stream was far away.

Buddha insisted that he wanted to drink the water from the distant stream.

Without contradicting his master’s wishes, Ananda took a bowl and went to get it.

When he reached the stream, some farmers had just crossed the river with their horses.

The water was murky and muddy due to the number of animals that had crossed its waters.

Ananda, seeing the water so dirty, returned with the empty bowl and told Buddha that it was better to look for another place because the water was not clean.

Buddha smiled kindly at him and said, “I want you to go to the stream again. And if the water is dirty, don’t worry, just sit on the bank and see what happens.”

Ananda went back to the stream. And as the water was still cloudy, he sat on the bank as his teacher had instructed him.

After a few minutes, he was surprised to see how the water cleared up as if by magic.

He filled the bowl and ran to take it to his master.

He explained to Buddha what had happened. And Buddha said:

“It was not magic. You just waited long enough for the mud to settle and the water to run clear again.”

Buddha gave him a great life lesson in exchange for the bowl of water. He said to him:

“In life, it is the same. When the waters of your mind are troubled, and you feel upset, don’t go into the river of your thoughts. Wait on the shore. Observe your thoughts without doing anything, and you will see how with time, your mind will clear.

Your emotions and thoughts are like mud in the stream, and if you wait long enough, they will eventually return to the bottom. And you will regain your calm.”

Lesson

Buddha taught Ananda what Mindfulness was. He taught him to observe his thoughts without judgment and to wait long enough to process them. This lesson is so important that it alone is life-changing.

We all know the benefits of Mindfulness and meditation. So I won’t dwell on them, but I want to stress the importance of having a calm mind.

A harmonious mind is more balanced and less reactive to the circumstances that irritate us every day.

A calm mind makes better decisions, and it doesn’t matter if they are small decisions. Because of the compound effect, they define who we are.

If your mind is always upset, you will make worse decisions. And by accumulating these bad decisions, your life will end up getting worse.

On the contrary, if every time you get angry, you don’t go into your mental river and calm down before making any decision.

The number of positive decisions you will make over time will be greater than the negative ones, and your life will end up getting better.

This fable has a lot to do with two Stoic concepts: “Apathéia” and “Neutrum Moralis”.

Apathéia

For the Stoics, “Apathéia” is an attitude of mind. Not allowing to be influenced by thoughts and emotions, to find peace and objectivity.

The important thing is to find harmony. Because for a stoic, finding that middle ground guarantees happiness.

Apathéia allows us to properly manage our emotions by recognizing and accepting them. Just as in the fable of Buddha and Ananda.

Neutrum Moralis

For the Stoics, “Neutrum Moralis” means that we must learn to take things with neutrality, without judging whether they are good or bad. In the same way that when we meditate, we do not criticize our thoughts.

Epictetus said that it is not the facts that disturb us but the opinion we have about them.

It is the same as the Buddha’s fable when he tells Ananda to stay on the shore and do nothing. What he means is to be neutral and don’t judge yourself.

These three sentences by Marcus Aurelius describe perfectly what the story of Buddha and Ananda is all about.

  • External thoughts are not the problem. It’s your evaluation of them.

Final Thoughts

As we have just seen, throughout history, the wise men of the East and the West have thought similarly.

Perhaps some used stories to transmit their ideas, and others gave formal classes, but in the end, they all tried to do the same thing: to help others to live better.

Buddha and the Stoics agree that alleviating suffering is the key to a better life.

That is why they sought harmony in everything they did and avoided excesses.
Because they knew that desire only begets suffering.

Buddha practiced detachment from material things, from desires, from people, from ideas. He lived without needing great luxuries, focusing on the present moment.

The Stoics practiced detachment through their concept of “Memento Mori.”

Memento Mori

Memento Mori is a Stoic principle that encourages us to reflect on the brevity of life.

Reflecting on our death helps us to establish priorities and make decisions. It also helps us understanding that nothing is ours, that we are only passing through this world, and that the only certainty in this life is change.

That is why we should not be attached to anything.

This stoic principle also helps us to live life to the fullest.

As a result of these reflections on death, Seneca left wrote for posterity the following sentence.

“Let us live as if the end of life had come.”

You heed the sages of antiquity and…

  • Live your life to the fullest.

If you have read to the end of the article, I want to thank you for your support. I hope this article has helped you. If so, let me know in the comments. I really appreciate it.

If you have read to the end of the article, I want to thank you for your support. I hope this article has helped you. If so, let me know in the comments. I really appreciate it.

Thanks for reading.
Alberto García (Malafama1981).

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The Philosophical Inn

Welcome to the philosophical inn, a place where you can take things philosophically.

Alberto García 🚀🚀🚀

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Alberto García (Malafama1981) is the author of the books "Incommensurable. El libro encantado" and "Desde dentro" (Published by Editorial Planeta).

The Philosophical Inn

The Philosophical Inn is a publication dedicated to philosophy and its application to modern life. A place where every week you can enjoy entertaining articles that will make you reflect on the great unknowns of life.

Alberto García 🚀🚀🚀

Written by

Alberto García (Malafama1981) is the author of the books "Incommensurable. El libro encantado" and "Desde dentro" (Published by Editorial Planeta).

The Philosophical Inn

The Philosophical Inn is a publication dedicated to philosophy and its application to modern life. A place where every week you can enjoy entertaining articles that will make you reflect on the great unknowns of life.

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