Sewing Royal Oats: Back to Basics on a Royal Outing

Kevin J. Rice,,

Religion Paper 5, Operative question: Explain "The Wise Tender of Horses" from a Taoist perspective.

The first major concept with which this story deals is that of being a busybody. The Emperor and his attaches are on a quest, which is generally known to involve a lot of running around searching for something, and when they find IT, they get a Reward. Precious little of these quest endeavors involve stopping by the roadside and smelling the roses, getting married to local women, or in general being relaxed about the whole matter. Unless I am mistaken, it is this picture that is criticized first by the quest being for an object called the Tao, which is supposed to be near/on a mountain. Any Taoist would know that this is silly; the Tao is a path, not a destination like a mountain or an object to be fondled. Entirely besides that issue, the way to find it definitely doesn't involve lots of running about hastily.

The second point of the story is that when the group get to the deep woods, they get lost (can't find the one path anymore) and don't see anyone around to ask where to go. I'm not really sure about this point, but it seems that it might be saying that the closer you come to wild nature the closer you are to the Tao. Or, that the Tao is not one path, rather a different path for every different person.

In any case, the group comes upon a boy grazing horses, and upon asking, find that he knows of both the Tao and the mountain. The group then asks him how to govern the empire. The boy replies that he would do it the same way as he looks after his horses. It appears to me that the group was trying to ask a complex question, and were expecting a complex answer from the boy. The boy instead gave a simpleminded, but not stupid, answer. The sages were committing the error of seeking knowledge for the appearance of it, for the sake of being cleaver.

The boy's answer is Taoist insofar as it shows that the boy would do things the way it is his nature to do them, not in any conniving, cleaver way, just the way that they needed to be done, however that occurred to him at the time.

The emperor is not satisfied with this answer, and wants to know REALLY how he would govern the empire. The boy says, again in a simpleminded fashion, that governing the empire and looking after horses is the same in that you just need to see that no harm comes to the horses. After all, custody is custody. The emperor realizes this is the fundamental he had forgotten amidst all the frills, esoterics, and cleverness that were undoubtedly the current state of affairs (all bureaucracies do have some things in common). The Taoist reader is meant to realize that complex thoughts sometimes make you lose sight of the Inner Nature of Things.

Thus, the boy did not give the emperor an answer consisting of esoteric, abstract, and arbitrary rules about how to govern. He pointed out that things that in their natural form, uncarved blocks that they are, have power to them, and if we try to force things to work in ways they were not intended to work, we bring trouble on ourselves. I understand that this is a theme that could be of use in today's complex world, but my finding time away from being a busybody is difficult. Maybe next week sometime...

Sewing Royal Oats:
Back to Basics on a Royal Outing

by Kevin J. Rice

Tuesday, October 16th, 1990

Introduction to World Religions

Professor Derfler

Tues & Thurs 9:30 am

Fall Semester, 1990

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