The excellent horse moves before the whip even touches its back

black and white horse close-up

What kind of a horse are you today?

In one of the Buddha’s discourses, he talks about the four kinds of horses: the excellent horse, the good horse, the poor horse, and the really bad horse. The excellent horse, according to the sutra, moves before the whip even touches its back; just the shadow of the whip or the slightest sound from the driver is enough to make the horse move. The good horse runs at the lightest touch of the whip on its back. The poor horse doesn’t go until it feels pain, and the very bad horse doesn’t budge until the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones.

words of the Buddha (lived during the 6th century BC)
The Wisdom of No Escape: And the Path of Loving-Kindness
Chapter 3: Finding our True Nature
by Pema Chödrön (born 1936)
image – Lachlan

Name your Poison

Do you want to be the good horse? I’ll bet that most of us read this and thought of times when we were harder on ourselves or less motivated than we could have been. I think that’s only the first layer here.

Here is another layer: who wants to avoid being the very bad horse? Maybe all of us? But, aren’t there times when it’s best to hang in there, no matter what? Times when letting the whip dissuade us is the wrong choice?

Choice is a layer of its own. If my movement is my choice, there may be times when I hold fast and defy the whip. If I am not free to choose – say I’m unaware of my own power or simply have none – I will do whatever I can to avoid the whip: I become ruled by the lesser evil, instead of motivated by the greater good.

This sutra reminds me of the curse, “May you live in interesting times.” The blessing and the curse are inextricably related.

If the thing is good or bad depends entirely on the situation and the perspectives and choices of those involved.

What do you think?

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