Enjoy these Taoist stories and parables intended to help you learn English and teach you a few lessons.

The Chinese Taoist Farmer


There was once a farmer in ancient China who owned a horse. “You are so lucky!” his neighbors told him, “to have a horse to pull the cart for you.” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

One day he didn’t latch the gate properly and the horse ran off. “Oh no! This is terrible news!” his neighbors cried. “Such terrible misfortune!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

A few days later the horse returned, bringing with it six wild horses. “How fantastic! You are so lucky,” his neighbors told him. “Now you are rich!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The following week the farmer’s son was breaking-in one of the wild horses when it kicked out and broke his leg. “Oh no!” the neighbors cried, “Such bad luck, all over again!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next day soldiers came and took away all the young men to fight in the war. The farmer’s son was left behind. “You are so lucky!” his neighbors cried. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

I Left Her At The River

Two celibate monks, forbidden from even glancing at a woman were traveling to a monastery when they came to a river. The river was very flooded and was impossible to cross without getting wet. They had just decided which would be the shallowest path across the river when the monks noticed a woman a little way along on the same bank, also trying to find a way to cross.

Since the woman was having great trouble and being the gentleman that he was, one of the monks offered to carry her across on his shoulders. She accepted and they began to wade across; they reached the other side where he set her down, she thanked him and went her own way. The monks carried on in silence.

‘Why did you carry that woman across the river?’ The monk asked the other in dismay, ‘We are not allowed to talk to, touch… even let our eyes fall upon a woman let alone carry her!

What were you thinking?’ The other monk listened with a smile upon his lips, then softly said. ‘But I put her down when I crossed the river. Why are you still carrying her?’

Working Very Hard

A martial arts student went to his teacher and said earnestly, “I am devoted to studying your martial system. How long will it take me to master it.”

The teacher’s reply was casual, “Ten years.” Impatiently, the student answered, “But I want to master it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice every day, ten or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?”

The teacher thought for a moment, “20 years.”

It Will Pass

A student went to his meditation teacher and said, “My meditation is horrible! I feel so distracted, or my legs ache, or I’m constantly falling asleep. It’s just horrible!”

“It will pass,” the teacher said matter-of-factly.

A week later, the student came back to his teacher. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It’s just wonderful!’

“It will pass,” the teacher replied matter-of-factly.

Keep The Coffin

A farmer got so old that he couldn’t work the fields anymore. So he would spend the day just sitting on the porch. His son, still working on the farm, would look up from time to time and see his father sitting there.

“He’s of no use anymore,” the son thought to himself, “he doesn’t do anything!” One day the son got so frustrated by this, that he built a wood coffin, dragged it over to the porch, and told his father to get in.

Without saying anything, the father climbed inside. After closing the lid, the son dragged the coffin to the edge of the farm where there was a high cliff.

As he approached the drop, he heard a light knocking on the lid from inside the coffin. He opened it up. Lying inside peacefully, a father looked up at his son and said: “you are going to throw me over the cliff, but before you do, may I suggest something?” “What is it?” angrily said the son “Throw me over the cliff, if you like, but save this good wood coffin. Your children might need to use it.”: said the father.

Moving to a New City

There was a person coming to a new village, relocating, and he was wondering if he would like it there, so he went to the zen master and asked: do you think I will like it in this village? Are the people nice?

The master asked back: How were the people on the town where you come from? “They were nasty and greedy, they were angry and lived for cheating and stealing,” said the newcomer.

Those are exactly the type of people we have in this village, said the master.

Another newcomer to the village visited the master and asked the same question, to which the master asked: How were the people in the town where you come from? “They were sweet and lived in harmony, they cared for one another and for the land, they respected each other and they were seekers of spirit,” he replied.

Those are exactly the type of people we have in this village, said the master.

Right And Wrong

When Bankei held his seclusion-weeks of meditation, pupils from many parts of Japan came to attend. During one of these gatherings, a pupil was caught stealing. The matter was reported to Bankei with the request that the culprit is expelled. Bankei ignored the case.

Later the pupil was caught in a similar act, and again Bankei disregarded the matter. This angered the other pupils, who drew up a petition asking for the dismissal of the thief, stating that otherwise, they would leave in a body.

When Bankei had read the petition he called everyone before him. “You are wise brothers,” he told them. “You know what is right and what is not right. You may go somewhere else to study if you wish, but this poor brother does not even know right from wrong. Who will teach
him if I do not? I am going to keep him here even if all the rest of you leave.”

A torrent of tears cleansed the face of the brother who had stolen. All desire to steal had vanished.

Man And Wife On A Donkey

A man and his wife were traveling with their donkey.

On the first day, both rode on his back. In town, they heard people whispering: “What a mean couple, putting all that weight on the donkey.”

On the second day, the man rode and the wife walked beside. People whispered: “What a cruel man, forcing his wife to walk while he rides on the donkey.”

On the third day, the man walked, the wife rode the donkey. People said: “What a careless man, letting his wife ride alone on the donkey.”

On the fourth day, both walked beside the donkey. Again, people whispered: “What a stupid couple! Why walk if they could ride on the donkey?”

A Learned Man

A scholar wise man who was widely known for his keen intellect visited a Tao Master at his humble abode.

The Master graciously serves him tea, just like what he does to every visiting guest.

While the Master is pouring tea, the scholar talks to him about Tao.

The Master continues pouring, even while the cup is filled to the top. Soon, it starts to overflow, and the scholar can no longer pretend not to see it.

“It’s overfull, Sir!” Exclaims he. “No more tea will go in!”

“You are like this cup,” says the master. “How can I show you Tao unless you first empty your cup?”

Cheap Tricks Never Last: The Donkey of Guizhou

“Thousands of years ago, donkeys were not found in Guizhou province. But meddlers were always allured by anything. So they shipped one into this area.

“One day, a tiger was walking around to find something to eat, when he saw the strange animal. The huge newcomer frightened him quite a bit. He hid between the bushes to study the donkey watchfully. It seemed all right. So the tiger came near to the donkey to have a close look. ‘Hawhee!’—a loud noise burst upon, which sent the tiger running away as fast as he could. He could not have any time to think before he settled himself home. The humiliation stung in him. He must come back to that strange thing to see it through, even though he was still haunted by the terrible noise.

“The donkey was enraged when the tiger got too close. So the donkey brought his unique skill to bear on the offender—to kick with his hooves. After several bouts, it became very clear that the donkey’s power was too much. The tiger jumped upon the donkey in time and cut its throat.”

This story shows that there is a limitation to trickery and deception.

Is That So?

There was a Zen master who enjoyed a good reputation in his community. One day the neighbors came to his door enraged and furious, accusing him of having fathered the child that their teenager was about to bear.

The Zen master said: “Is That So”? The rumors ran wild and the master lost his reputation. A few months later the child was born and the baby was brought to the Zen master, who accepted and cared for him or her.

A year later the daughter of the neighbors admitted that the father was actually the butcher of the town. The parents, mortified, went back to the Zen master’s house and confessed, apologized, and asked for the child back. The Zen master said: Is that so? – then returned the baby.

The Fox and the Lion

Once there was a man who fervently prayed for the awareness to understand and be able to practice the meaning of life. One night he dreamed of going into the forest and finding all the answers to his questions. So the next day, he set out into the woods in search of the truth.

Soon he came across a clearing where something was moving between the rocks. He hid behind some bushes and stopped to watch. The creature was none other than a fox with no legs. The man sat back. But how could a fox with no legs survive in this cruel world? He had to find out. And so he made himself comfortable and sat there until twilight.

When the light began to fade the man saw an extraordinary thing. Out of the bushes across the clearing from the man, a lion came lolloping out of the thicket with a generous serving of meat in his jaws that he lay before the fox. The man crept home and lay awake in his bed puzzling over the meaning of his sighting.

Could it be, thought the man, that the meaning of this sign was actually simple? All I have to do is trust in God the creator’s great design and understand that he will always lay everything I need at my feet. All I need to do is surrender.

Two weeks later, close to death from lack of food and water the man – in his bed again, dreaming – felt something hard and meaningful painfully whack him over the head followed by a voice that hissed. ‘You idiot… the meaning of the sign is in the lion, not the fox.

‘Be like the Lion!’

Gates of Paradise

A soldier named Nobushige came to Hakuin, and asked: “Is there really a paradise and a hell?”

“Who are you?” inquired Hakuin. “I am a samurai,” the warrior replied.

“You, a soldier!” exclaimed Hakuin. “What kind of ruler would have you as his guard? Your face looks like that of a beggar.” Nobushige became so angry that he began to draw his sword, but Hakuin continued: “So you have a sword! Your weapon is probably much too dull to cut off my head.”

As Nobushige drew his sword Hakuin remarked: “Here open the gates of hell!” At these words the samurai, perceiving the master’s discipline, sheathed his sword and bowed.

“Here open the gates of paradise,” said Hakuin.

An Insolent Wayfarer

In ancient times it was customary for a traveling monk seeking lodging at a Zen monastery to engage in dharma combat with the abbot or head monk. If the wayfarer won the debate, he could stay. If not, he had to seek quarters elsewhere.

One day a master instructed his pupil – who interestingly only had one eye – to engage in such an encounter with a traveling monk who was seeking lodgings at the monastery. The traveler had one stipulation; a silent debate.

Soon the traveler sought out the master insisting that the monk was too good for him and that he had not earned a bed for the night after all.

First I held up one finger to symbolize the Buddha, but he held up two to symbolize both the Buddha and the Dharma. Then I held up three fingers to symbolize the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha but he held up a clenched fist to indicate they are One… and so, defeated and realizing I was no match for him, I ran.’

And so the traveler moved off, eager to get on to find another monastery to lay down for the night, for the day was getting on.

Much bemused the master bid his goodbyes only to see the pupil running towards him searching the gates; out of breath and angry. ‘Where has he gone?!’ He barked.

‘The Cretin had the gall first to insult me by holding up one finger pointing out that I only have one eye. Then, when I tried to practice compassion by holding up two fingers congratulating him on being blessed with two he held up three to mock me.’

But how did that mock you?’ asked the master in disbelief.

‘By stating that there were only three eyes between us!’ Exclaimed the pupil. ‘I went to hit him with my fists but he ran away. Where is he?!’ And with that, he ran off in the direction of the gates.

Ask a Fox for Its Skin

“Long ago, there lived a young man, called Lisheng, who had just married a beauty. The bride was very willful. One day, she had an idea that a coat of fox fur would look pretty on her. So she asked her husband to get her one. But the coat was rare and too expensive. The helpless husband was forced to walk around on the hillside. Just at the moment, a fox was walking by. He lost no time to catch it by the tail. ‘Well, dear fox, let’s make an agreement. Could you offer me a sheet of your skin? That isn’t a big deal, is it?’

“The fox was shocked at the request, but she replied calmly, ‘Well, my dear, that’s easy. But let my tail go so that I can pull off the skin for you.’ So the delighted man let her free and waited for the skin. But the moment the fox got free, she ran away as quickly as she could into the forest.”

It is hard to convince someone to go against their own will and desires.

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