Old Man’s Horse – A Spiritual Story by Osho

Old Man’s Horse - A Spiritual Story by OshoI will tell you a small story. It happened in the days of Lao Tzu in China, and Lao Tzu loved it very much. For generations the followers of Lao Tzu have been repeating the story and always finding more and more meaning in it. The story has grown; it has become a live factor.

The story is simple: There was an old man in a village, very poor, but even kings were jealous of him because he had a beautiful white horse. Such a horse had never been seen before — the beauty, the very grandeur, the strength. Kings asked for the horse and they offered fabulous prices, but the old man would say, `This horse is not a horse to me, he is a person, and how can you sell a person? He is a friend, he is not a possession. How can you sell a friend? No, it is not possible.’ The man was poor, there was every temptation, but he never sold the horse.

One morning, he suddenly found that the horse was not in the stable. The whole village gathered and they said, `You foolish old man. We knew it beforehand, that some day the horse would be stolen. And you are so poor — how can you protect such a precious thing? It would have been better to sell it. You could have fetched any price you asked, any fancy price was possible. Now the horse is gone. It is a curse, a misfortune.’

The old man said, `Don’t go too far — simply say that the horse is not in the stable. This is the fact; everything else is a judgment. Whether it is a misfortune or not, how do you know? How do you judge?’

The people said, `Don’t try to befool us. We may not be great philosophers, but no philosophy is needed. It is a simple fact that a treasure has been lost, and it is a misfortune.’

The old man said, `I will stick to the fact that the stable is empty and the horse is gone. Anything else I don’t know — whether it is a misfortune or a blessing — because this is just a fragment. Who knows what is going to follow it?’

People laughed. They thought the old man had gone mad. They always knew it, that he was a little crazy; otherwise he would have sold this horse and lived in riches. But he was living like a woodcutter, and he was very old and still cutting wood and bringing the wood from the forest and selling it. He was living hand to mouth, in misery and poverty. Now it was completely certain that this man was crazy.

After fifteen days, suddenly one night, the horse returned. He had not been stolen: he had escaped to the wilderness. And not only did he come back, he brought a dozen wild horses with him. Again the people gathered and they said, `Old man, you were right and we were wrong. It was not a misfortune, it proved to be a blessing. We are sorry that we insisted.’

The old man said, `Again you are going too far. Just say that the horse is back, and say that twelve horses have come with the horse — but don’t judge. Who knows whether it is a blessing or not? It is only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read one page of a book, how can you judge the whole book? You read a sentence in a page — how can you judge the whole page? You read a single word in a sentence — how can you judge the whole sentence? And even a single word is not in the hand — life is so vast — a fragment of a word and you have judged the whole! Don’t say that this is a blessing, nobody knows. And I am happy in my no-judgment; don’t disturb me.’

This time the people could not say much; maybe the old man was again right. So they kept silent, but inside they knew well that he was wrong. Twelve beautiful horses had come with the horse. A little training and they could all be sold and they would fetch much money.

The old man had a young son, only one son. The young son started to train the wild horses; just a week later he fell from a wild horse and his legs were broken. The people gathered again — and people are people everywhere, like you everywhere — again they judged. Judgment comes so soon! They said, `You were right, again you proved right. It was not a blessing, it was again a misfortune. Your only son has lost his legs, and in your old age he was your only support. Now you are poorer than ever.’

The old man said, `You are obsessed with judgment. Don’t go that far. Say only that my son has broken his legs. Who knows whether this is a misfortune or a blessing? — nobody knows. Again a fragment, and more is never given to you. Life comes in fragments, and judgment is about the total.’

It happened that after a few weeks the country went to war with a neighbouring country, and all the young men of the town were forcibly taken for the military. Only the old man’s son was left because he was crippled. The people gathered, crying and weeping, because from every house young people were forcibly taken away. And there was no possibility of their coming back, because the country that had attacked was a big country and the fight was a losing fight. They were not going to come back.

The whole town was crying and weeping, and they came to the old man and they said, `You were right, old man! God knows, you were right — this proved a blessing. Maybe your son is crippled, but still he is with you. Our sons are gone for ever. At least he is alive and with you, and, by and by, he will start walking. Maybe a little limp will be left, but he will be okay.’

The old man again said, `It is impossible to talk to you people, you go on and on and on — you go on judging. Nobody knows! Only say this: that your sons have been forced to enter into the military, into the army, and my son has not been forced. But nobody knows whether it is a blessing or a misfortune. Nobody will ever be able to know it. Only God knows.’

And when we say only God knows, it means only the Total knows. Judge ye not, otherwise you will never be able to become one with the Total. With fragments you will be obsessed, with small things you will jump to conclusions. And Sufis are very insistent on this: that you never bother that there are things which are completely beyond you, but even about them you make judgments. Your consciousness is on a very low rung of the ladder. You live in the dark valley of misery, anguish, and from your darkest valleys of miseries you judge even a Buddha. Even a Buddha is not left without your judgment. Even a Jesus is judged by you — not only judged but crucified; judged and found guilty; judged and punished.

Osho – “Until you Die”

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What Is the Spiritual Moral / Meaning of Osho's “Old Man's Horse” Story?

The parable of the old man's horse and the series of events that unfolded in his life beckon us to contemplate the essence of non-judgment, the art of surrendering to the flow of life's unfolding mysteries.

The heart of this parable reveals the dance of perception, the constant urge within us to label events as blessings or misfortunes. The old man, a beacon of wisdom, traverses a journey strewn with unforeseen twists and turns, each event seemingly birthing judgments from the collective consciousness of the village.

The story unfolds like pages of a sacred manuscript, revealing fragments of existence, urging us to contemplate the transient nature of events. The loss of the horse, initially deemed a misfortune by the villagers, evolves into a blessing as the horse returns with a dozen companions. Yet, the old man, embodying a depth of understanding, refrains from embracing judgment, inviting us to consider the vastness of life's unfolding mysteries.

The villagers, quick to label events, swing from one judgment to another as the old man's son encounters a mishap with the newly acquired horses. Again, the old man implores them to withhold judgment, to pause and consider the enormity of life's fragments.

This cycle reaches its apex when war ravages the land, claiming the young men of the village. The old man's son, spared due to his infirmity, elicits the villagers' tears, prompting them to declare this as a blessing in the midst of their sorrow. However, the old man, steadfast in his wisdom, persists in his refrain from judgment, invoking the unknowable vastness of existence.

The spiritual essence of this parable lies not in the events themselves but in the wisdom of non-judgment—the ability to recognize the limitations of our perceptions. It beckons us to transcend the habitual labeling of events as either good or bad, blessing or misfortune.

In the dance of life, events unfold as fragments, never revealing the entirety of the narrative. The old man's teachings remind us of the inherent mystery within each fragment, each moment being just a thread within the intricate tapestry of existence.

Through the Old Man and His Horse parable, we are invited to embrace humility and surrender to the enigma of life's unfolding. It urges us to relinquish our need to judge and label, recognizing that what appears as misfortune might carry hidden blessings, and what seems as a blessing might conceal unforeseen challenges.

The essence of this story is not to dissolve into apathy or indifference but to cultivate a deeper understanding—a perspective that acknowledges the transient nature of events and allows for a profound surrender to the wisdom inherent in life's unfolding mysteries. It calls us to gaze upon life's fragments with a sense of awe, acknowledging that the totality of the cosmic story remains beyond the grasp of our limited perceptions.

In essence, this parable is an invitation—an invitation to embrace the vastness of existence, to refrain from premature judgments, and to immerse ourselves in the sanctity of the present moment, where the true depth of life's mysteries resides.

Personal Reflection Questions

Spiritual stories are an opportunity to reflect on your own life. Here are 10 questions you can use to go deeper with the teachings in this story:

  1. Reflect on a moment in your life where an event occurred, and people around you were quick to judge it as either a blessing or a misfortune. How did their judgments impact your perception of the situation?
  2. Consider the old man's perspective of viewing events without immediate judgment. How often do you find yourself passing quick judgments on situations without knowing the entirety of the story? How might your life change if you embraced a more open and non-judgmental approach?
  3. The old man insists on sticking to the fact that the stable is empty and the horse is gone without labeling it as a misfortune. Can you recall a situation in your life where you faced a loss, and rather than immediately labeling it as negative, you chose to remain open to the unfolding events?
  4. Reflect on the idea that life comes in fragments, and judgments are about the total. How does this perspective challenge the way you usually approach events in your life? Are you willing to let go of the need to judge and instead allow life to reveal its totality over time?
  5. Explore moments in your life where an apparent misfortune turned into a blessing, or vice versa. How did these experiences shape your understanding of the unpredictable nature of life? How can you apply this understanding to your future encounters?
  6. Consider the tendency of people to judge even when they possess only a fragment of information. How has this collective tendency influenced society's perception of individuals and events? In what ways can you contribute to creating a more open and understanding community?
  7. The old man's refusal to be disturbed by judgments showcases his commitment to a non-judgmental stance. How might adopting a similar attitude positively impact your mental well-being and overall life satisfaction?
  8. Reflect on a situation where you found it challenging to withhold judgment. What were the consequences of your quick judgments, and how might the outcomes have been different if you had approached the situation with more patience and openness?
  9. The story emphasizes the limitations of human consciousness and the understanding that certain things are completely beyond our grasp. How does this perspective align with your spiritual or philosophical beliefs? How might embracing the unknown contribute to your personal growth?
  10. The Sufi teaching urges individuals not to judge even enlightened beings like Buddha or Jesus. How can you apply this teaching in your daily interactions and relationships, allowing others the space to be understood without the weight of your judgments?