Maybe so, maybe not

There is an old Zen Buddhist story about how we tend to see events as either good or bad, not simply neutral happenings in life as a bigger whole. I have copied the story at the end of this post and I encourage you all to read it because what happened to me today was literally the same.

I was supposed to go to S’-Hertogenbosch today to visit the headquarters of the company who I am doing my thesis for. This means I had to take a train in the morning. I bought a cheaper kind of a train ticket that allowed me to travel during off-peak hours that start from 9 a.m. I got ready earlier than I had planned for, so I decided to leave my apartment before 9.

For some strange reason, I reached the train station in 2 minutes instead of the planned 6 minutes. Great! Maybe I could even take an earlier train?

Maybe so, maybe not.

I tried going through the gates to the platform, but since my ticket was valid on off-peak hours, the gates did not open. Damn, now what am I supposed to do? Just stand here with all these other people waiting for time to pass? Well, this sucks!

Maybe so, maybe not.

I decided to explore the station a bit more thoroughly. I had always just rushed in and out of the gates and I did not even know what was on the other side of the station.

As I walked around the corner, a young lady handed me a cardboard cup with yoghurt. Apparently they were doing promotion for some plant-based yoghurt at the station. Woop-woop! Free breakfast! I was thrilled. Had I not been to the station early and had I not been denied by the gates I would never have walked around the corner and been given breakfast. So these were good things after all!

Maybe so, maybe not.

I waited a bit more at the gates after having circled the station until it was 9 o’clock and I could officially enter the platform. The train arrived soon, I got a seat and dug out a spoon from my bag.

Mm, yummy-yummy free breakfast yoghurt. How lucky I was!

Maybe so, maybe not.

I ate the yoghurt and had a bit of the breakfast I had packed myself. When I bent over to put the leftovers back in my bag, I noticed, while returning to the upright position, that my computer screen suddenly had yoghurt on it! Uh-oh, this can only mean one thing…

I bowed my head down to discover that I had spilt some yoghurt on my scarf. There was a white line of it on my bright orange scarf running down from my chin and towards my chest. “It is stained now and I will arrive at the office with dirty clothes!” How dreadful!

Well, maybe so, maybe not!

I licked the yoghurt off and unwrapped my scarf. When I tried to find the stains again, I almost could not. So everything was fine after all?

Maybe so, maybe not.

How this story ends, I do not know. It is an ongoing story that started before I was here and will probably continue when I am not around anymore. It is simply life – a bunch of events happening to us. Neither good nor bad unless we assign those values to them ourselves.

The story of the farmer

There once was a village that had amongst its people a very wise old man. Everyone in the village looked up to this man and sought his advice. One summer day, a farmer came to him in panic and said, “Wise sage, I don’t know what to do. My ox has died and now I’m unable to plough my fields. This is the worst thing that could ever have happened.”

The sage looked him in the eye and replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.” In disbelief, the man returned to his family and told them how the sage was no sage after all and that he had lost his mind because surely the death of the ox was the worst thing that could have happened.

The next morning the farmer went on a walk to think about how he would manage without the ox, and in the distance, he saw a strong young horse grazing in the field. Immediately he thought that if he could catch the horse, his troubles would be over. Eventually, he succeeded and brought the horse back. He realized how blessed he was because ploughing was even easier than before. This reminded him of the sage, and at his first opportunity, he went to see the sage and told him, “Please accept my apologies. You were right. If I hadn’t lost my ox, I wouldn’t have gone on that walk, and I never would have captured the horse. You have to agree that catching this horse was the best thing that ever happened.”

The old sage looked into his eyes and said, “Maybe so, maybe not.”

“Are you kidding me?” the farmer thought as he turned to leave. “This guy is a nut. I don’t think I’ll be coming by here again.” A few days later the farmer’s son was riding the horse and was bucked off. He broke his leg and was unable to help on the farm. “This is the worst thing that could ever have happened,” thought the farmer. “How will we get by?”

Realizing that the sage had spoken wisely in the past after all, the farmer went back to the sage and told him what had happened. “You must see the future. How did you know this would happen? I don’t know how we’ll get all the work done now. This time you have to admit, this is the worst thing that could ever have happened.”

Once again, calmly and with love, the sage looked into the farmer’s eyes and replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.” The farmer was infuriated by this response and stormed back to the village.

The next day, troops arrived in the village to enlist all healthy young men to fight in the ongoing war. Because of his broken leg, the farmer’s son was the only young man not taken, and thus he was spared from an almost certain death.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.