‘How do you know?’ A Chinese parable by Hermann Hesse


An old man called Chunglang, that means ‘Master Rock’, owned a small estate in the mountains. One day, it so happened that he lost one of his horses. And so his neighbors came to express their condolences for Chunglang’s misfortune.

But the old man asked: ‘How do you know that this is a misfortune?’ And lo and behold: a few days later, the horse returned and brought a whole pack of wild horses along. Again, the neighbors arrived and wanted to congratulate him for his good fortune.

The old man from the mountains thus spoke: ‘How do you know that this is good fortune?’

Since there were so many horses at his disposal now, the son of the old man began to develop a liking for horse-riding, and one day he broke his leg. And again they came, the neighbors, to express their sympathy. And again the old man said to them: ‘How do you know that this is a misfortune?’

In the following year, the commission of the ‘Langen Latten’ appeared in the mountains to draft strong men to serve the emperor as palanquin bearer and for other lowly works. The son of the old man, who still had damage on his leg, wasn’t taken.

Chunglang smiled.



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