I first heard this parable from the coach who was leading a spiritual retreat I was at, in the spring of 2012. It impacted me so much that I remembered it. I just found it again online and wanted to share it here (with some modifications to more closely reflect the version I had heard):
One day in late summer, an old farmer was working in his field with his old sick horse. The farmer felt compassion for the horse and desired to lift its burden. So he let his horse loose to go to the mountains and live out the rest of its life.
Soon after, neighbors from the nearby village visited, offering their condolences and said, "What a shame. Now your only horse is gone. How unfortunate you are! You must be very sad. How will you live, work the land, and prosper?"
The farmer replied: “This could be good. It could be bad. Who knows? We shall see.”
Some time later the old horse came back, now rejuvenated after meandering on the mountain sides while eating the wild grasses. He came back with twelve new younger and healthy horses which followed the old horse into the corral.
Word got out in the village of the old farmer's good fortune and it wasn't long before people stopped by to congratulate the farmer on his good luck. "How fortunate you are!" they exclaimed. “You must be very happy!"
Again, the farmer softly said, “This could be good. It could be bad. Who knows? We shall see.”
At daybreak on the next morning, the farmer's only son set off to attempt to train the new wild horses, but the farmer's son was thrown to the ground and broke his leg.
One by one, villagers arrived during the day to bemoan the farmer's latest misfortune. "Oh, what a tragedy! Your son won't be able to help you farm with a broken leg. You'll have to do all the work yourself. How will you survive? You must be very sad,” they said.
Calmly going about his usual business the farmer answered, “This could be good. It could be bad. Who knows? We shall see.”
Some time later a war broke out. The Emperor's men arrived in the village demanding that young men come with them to be conscripted into the Emperor's army. As it happened the farmer's son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg.
"What very good fortune you have!!" the villagers exclaimed as their own young sons were marched away. "You must be very happy."
“This could be good. It could be bad. Who knows? We shall see,” replied the old farmer as he headed off to work his field alone.
As time went on, the broken leg healed but the son was left with a slight limp. Again the neighbors came to pay their condolences. "Oh what bad luck. Too bad for you!"
But the old farmer simply replied; “This could be good. It could be bad. Who knows? We shall see,”
As it turned out, the other young village boys died in the war and the old farmer and his son were the only able bodied men capable of working the village lands. The old farmer became wealthy and was very generous to the villagers. They said: "Oh how fortunate we are, you must be very happy," to which the old farmer replied, "Who knows? We shall see!"
The story made so clear to me that we often respond to events in the moment, from who we are or what our lives are like, from the point of view that we have in that moment.
We judge events and try to lean towards a positive outcome, but in the end, we are tethered to our beliefs, expectations, or wants. This story tells us to be unattached to those. To lose our false notions and to be free from suffering by rising above our mind’s thoughts. To restrain from being too quick to judge.