The horse and the pond

It’s been a while since I have posted. Since my practice has changed, and I have been gaining a deeper understanding of what the Heart and Diamond Sutras are saying, I have been experiencing a kind of spiritual crisis (someone has called it a spiritual emergency, with some accuracy).

I’ll write about this another time, but for now, after some considerable family difficulties, I would like to share this short story, or fable. It will probably mean most to those who have found themselves in the role of the horse or the pond. It is essentially a story about what buddhists call idiot compassion (a term coined by Tibetan Lama, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche), selfishness, and the wisdom we can gain from experiencing either.

The horse and the pond

The horse and the pond

Once upon a time there was a young foal. The foal lived in a large field with a large hill in the middle. Where the foal lived there was a deep cool pond that was inhabited by a kindly spirit. The waters of the pond quenched the young horse’s thirst perfectly. The horse always played near the pond because he loved the cool water, and would often talk with the spirit. The spirit was happy because it meant she could always provide the young foal with water.

Then, one day, the spirit realised the foal had grown into a fine stallion, and so the next time he drank from the pond she placed the desire in his mind to go and find a mate. After a few days, the horse went exploring to see what was on the other side of the hill.

The spirit remained in the pond, happy that the horse had become strong and independent.

Some hours later, the horse returned to the pond. He said to the pond, “I have found a mate, and I am going to start a family of my own.”

The spirit replied, “That’s wonderful, I will always be here to listen to you, and provide you with enough water to live.”

The horse replied, “That’s not enough! I want my family to be able to drink from this pond no matter where we live in this field. Can you meet us half way?”

The shallow pondThe spirit, not wanting to believe the horse to be selfish or lazy, agreed to try and help him. It took her some extra effort, but she made the pond spread halfway around the hillside. It was difficult for her, because now the pond was more shallow, and the water became warmer in the mid-day sun.

The horse began to complain that the water was warm in the daytime, and so he only drank from the pond at dawn, then the waters were coolest. The spirit struggled to maintain the pond. The water became more shallow as summer approached.

The horse didn’t consider this however, and thinking only of his own family he then asked the spirit, “I want you to spread the pond right around the hillside. Otherwise my family and I will die of thirst.”

The spirit didn’t know what to do – she didn’t want to believe the horse was selfish, and she knew it would probably mean the end of her, but one night she tried to spread around the whole hillside.

The next morning the horse awoke expecting to find the spirit had met his wishes, but she was nowhere to be seen. “Spirit, where are you? Where is my cool water?”, he called.

He heard the spirit’s voice, “I’m all around you. I am spread so thinly, I am like the morning dew. You will have to lick the grass”.

The horse and his family struggled to lick the grass, but they could not quench their thirst. Then, as the sun rose in the morning sky, the remaining dew evaporated. The grass became dry. The horse called to the spirit, but she was no longer there. The horse and his family became thirsty and suffered as a result. The horse became angry with the spirit for letting him down. He called to the spirit, accusing her of abandoned him and his family. This made the spirit very sad.

Later that day a great cloud gathered over the hillside. It became darker and darker. The pond that had evaporated had become the cloud in the sky. The cloud called to the horse, “I did not want to let you down, but you spread me so thinly I was unable to help”. But the horse and his family were so thirsty, they were busy looking for water in the field and refused to answer her.

Eventually the spirit could bear it no longer, and she burst into tears. The horse and his family watched as a great storm erupted and rain poured down onto the hillside. The water gathered into streams, and flowed back to the place where the pond had originally been.

The horse saw the cloud crying, but he also knew that he needed to drink. So, he gathered his family and together they set off over the hillside to find water. As they crossed over the hillside, they could see the small pond in the distance. It looked full once more.

As they approached the pond, the horse felt awkward. He called to the pond, “Spirit, are you there?” She replied, “I will always be here to provide you with enough water to live, but you must come here to drink in future”.

The horse realised that he had been selfish. By forcing the spirit to satisfy his wants and needs, by asking her to spread herself too thinly, she was ultimately unable to help him at all. He said to her, “I am so sorry for causing you to cry. In future I will always come to you for water, and will not ask you to come to me”.

From then on, the horse would visit the pond with his family to drink the cool water, knowing that it would always be there for them. The spirit had learnt that by remaining as a small pond, she would always be able to offer water. The horse, on the other hand, had learnt to love the pond for what it was, and not expect it to change to suit him. The sun shone in the sky, and life was good.

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