Sai Weng Shi Ma

Sai Weng Lost his Horse

English translation:

Good luck and bad luck create each other
and it is difficult to foresee their change.
A righteous man lived near the border.
For no reason, his horse ran off into barbarian territory.
Everyone [people] felt sorry for him.
[But] His father spoke [to him]:
"Who knows if that won't bring you good luck?"
Several months later
his horse came back with a group of [good, noble] barbarian horses.
Everyone [people] congratulated him.
[But] His father spoke [to him]:
"Who knows if that won't bring you bad luck?"
A rich house has good horses
and the son mounted with joy/loved riding.
He fell and broke his leg.
Everyone [people] felt sorry for him.
[But] His father spoke [to him]:
"Who knows if that won't bring you good luck?"
One year later
the barbarians invaded across the border.
Adult men strung up their bows and went into battle.
Nine out of ten border residents were killed,
except for the son because of his broken leg.
Father and son were protected/both survived.
Hence: Bad luck brings good luck
and good luck brings bad luck.
This happens without end
and nobody can estimate it.

The parable tells the story of a farmer who lives with his father close to the border to the barbarian territories. Without his fault and without being able to influence them, the farmer goes through various situations which all have important consequences for him:

His horse, a considerable part of his property and livelihood, runs away.
After weeks, his horse finds its way back and brings along other horses from the barbarian territories, thus increasing the farmer's property. Trying to ride one of the wild horses, the farmer falls and breaks his leg - which reduces his physical capacities. When the barbarians attack the borderland, the injured farmer is not drafted and does not have to join the battle to help with the defense - whereby he and his father survive and escape death. These events are spontaneously judged by the neighbors, but the farmer's old father relativizes these judgments of the situations with his knowledge of Dào (i.e. The Right Way): Everything is an interplay of Yin and Yang, of light and shadow, of happiness and unhappiness, whether in the smallest details or in the great events of life. But since in the framework of human perception it is impossible to recognize the future consequences of an event (and thus to know what is really 'good luck' or 'bad luck'), the old man's reaction to these events is a stoic equanimity, and thus the appropriate reaction. He reacts with wu wei (Chinese: 無爲; pinyin: wú wéi; i.e. 'not intervening', 'not acting') but this term should not be confused with apathy. In this knowledge he finds his calm and lasting, true happiness: he accepts life as it is.

The wisdom in the parable does not come from a teacher, a monk or a king, and it is not discussed at length. It comes from a simple, old man who shows this wisdom in very short sentences - repetitions, since there is nothing to add. This indicates that the knowledge of Dào is accessible to everyone.

Through the introductory and concluding sentences it is made clear that the parable shows only a small part of an infinite sequence: before the loss of the horse there were other lucky/unlucky situations and after fending off the barbarians, there will be others. E.g. the farmer can't use his injured leg properly and will depend on his old father to help and support him – and so on.

夫禍富之 (auch 夫禍福之) 轉而相生,
人皆吊之.(auch 人皆弔之.)