It's simplistic to divide spiritually-inclined people into two types. But I love to do it! So I will!
There, I embraced my wild horse nature. I thought of a rule that seemed to make sense. I considered throttling my inclination to do something. Then...
Screw it. I'll do what I feel like doing.
I don't want to be a well-trained horse. That's a familiar image in some spiritual, religious, meditation, and philosophical circles.
The horse is our untamed sensous, craving, lustful, thought-obsessed self. The trainer or the rider is...
Well, that's a good question. If the wild horse is one part of me, who is the part that controls the wild horse? How many of me are there, anyway?
And why do I want to be controlled, if I'm the one who is both the controlled and the controller? Seems like this introduces more confusing complexity to my psyche than I need, or want.
Read Will's essay in its entirety. Probably one of the two horse-training approaches (one being the lack thereof) will appeal to you more than the other.
Which will tell you quite a bit about yourself. (And if what I just said makes sense, it probably shouldn't, because who are you to tell yourself about something anyway!?)
Here's some Buddhism vs. Taoism morsels to whet your appetite for a full devouring of the essay.
The moral is clear: the Buddha goes on to liken the well-trained horse to the well-trained monk, who is “worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, worthy of reverential salutation, an unsurpassed field of merit for the world.” If you want to have those kingly qualities, if you want to prance and gallop, then you have to suffer a bit of contortion and writhing and vacillation. Bhaddāli is convinced by this argument, and goes away “satisfied and delighted in the Blessed One’s words.”
In many ways, this rings true. Certainly when I first learned to practice Buddhist meditation, I writhed and vacillated and contorted myself a whole load; but—having said this—over time found that I became “peaceful in that action.” And many of the things I have done in my life that have required a degree of training, or that have involved learning new things, have sometimes felt rather like this, involving a measure of writhing or vacillation or contortion in the process of learning to prance and gallop and charge with the highest fleetness and highest gentleness.
But I also can’t help wondering: are writhing, contortion and vacillation always necessary or desirable? Can one do pretty much the same thing, but without all this writhing about? Or—to go further—is this obsession with kingly heritage and fleetness something that should be resisted, precisely because of the writhing and vacillation that it involves? Let me try a counter-thought, moving from India to China, which I rediscovered the other day as I was rambling through the Zhuangzi.
...Then along comes the sage, huffing and puffing after benevolence, reaching on tiptoe for righteousness, and the world for the first time has doubts; mooning and mouthing over his music, snipping and stitching away at his rites, and the world for the first time is divided… When horses live on the plain, they eat grass and drink from the streams. Pleased, they twine their necks together and rub; angry, they turn back to back and kick. This is all horses know how to do. But if you pile poles and yokes on them and line them up in crossbars and shafts, then they will learn to snap the crossbars, break the yoke, rip the carriage top, champ the bit, and chew the reins. Thus horses learn how to commit the worst kinds of mischief. This is the crime of Bo Le.
I love this passage from the Zhuangzi. I love the image of the sage “huffing and puffing after benevolence, reaching on tiptoe for righteousness”, because it is both funny and, I think, insightful. And whilst I recognise some truth in the Buddhist story, at the same time I can’t help thinking that when it is held up to scrutiny in the light of the Daoist story, there is a case to answer here. Indeed, I can’t help reflecting that I, too, have been guilty of “huffing and puffing after benevolence”, and that the results of this huffing and puffing have not always been very pretty.
...I don’t have any firm conclusion to offer here; but I wonder if, between the two stories, it might be possible to navigate a path in which training and education become matters of delight and fascination rather than the burden of the pole, yoke, crossbar and shaft. I wonder if it might be possible to think about a form of learning that harnesses our proclivities and tendencies, rather than one that attempts to supersede them. I wonder if we are too in love with the habit of difficulty when it comes to learning.
And here—because it might seem that the Buddhists are coming off somewhat for the worse in this tale of two conflicting tales—let me finish with another story. Back when I was attending classes on elementary Pāli language, I studied with a monk in Birmingham. A small group of us would meet every week to get our heads around Pāli grammar. We’d practice our conjugation of Pāli verbs out loud, reciting together. And before we started our recitations, the monk in question would give a grin and say, ‘OK, let’s play…’