The Most Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh (Thây) is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, he once told a story to explain why, in Western Countries, we are usually so unhappy.
Here’s the story:
“One day the Buddha was sitting in the wood with thirty-forty monks. They had an excellent lunch and they were enjoying the company of each other. There was a farmer passing by and the farmer was very unhappy. He asked the Buddha and the monks whether they had seen his cows passing by. The Buddha said they had not seen any cows passing by.
The farmer said, “Monks, I’m so unhappy. I have twelve cows and I don’t know why they all ran away. I have also a few acres of a sesame seed plantation and the insects have eaten up everything. I suffer so much I think I am going to kill myself.
The Buddha said, “My friend, we have not seen any cows passing by here. You might like to look for them in the other direction.”
So the farmer thanked him and ran away, and the Buddha turned to his monks and said, “My dear friends, you are the happiest people in the world. You don’t have any cows to lose. If you have too many cows to take care of, you will be very busy.”
That is why, in order to be happy, you have to learn the art of cow releasing. Cows are preoccupations, there are many things to worry about, to be angry about and there’s no space at all inside us. So you have to release the cows one by one. In the beginning you thought that those cows were essential to your happiness, and you tried to get more and more cows. But now you realize that cows are not really conditions for your happiness; they constitute an obstacle for your happiness. That is why you are determined to release your cows.
That is why to release the cows around us and to let go of these preoccupations inside is a very essential condition for happiness. That is the space we are talking about when we practice. I am space; within and out. I feel free. Freedom is the real foundation of happiness. Sometimes if you don’t know how to love, love will deprive you of your freedom and deprive the person you love of her freedom. That is why space is so essential in relationship.
Space means freedom because you are not busy inside, you don’t have a lot of worries, fears, projects, things to think about. That is space and is the basic condition for you to enjoy life. If you are preoccupied with so many things, you don’t have that condition.
My “out loud thoughts”:
I bet that most people did realize, at least once in life, that we usually give a huge value to material things, or things that deep down we do know aren’t that important, that if happen to not have it makes us sad, but wait… we can happily live so far without it! We are so committed to be in the kind of life we are projected into from the very beginning, that we really are convinced that we do need these things, in order to be happy, in order to be “realized” as persons… that’s sad!
I have my own cows, many cows, they mostly are people, and I’ve experienced it directly, my cows prevents me from being happy… that’s very true! That is why I intend to learn to release my cows. That is why, knowing that sooner or later I’m gonna lose them either way, I consciously let them go, not “all” of them, I’m still working on this but some, I’ve already released and this gave me a complete sense of freedom and lightness.
I know deep down in my hearth that if you let someone go, it really prevents you from being hurt, you don’t have nothing to lose, you already experienced his lost, so you won’t have nothing to fear about… and mostly that loss makes you even stronger!
So everything seems to work perfectly… mmhh maybe not 100%, at least not for me… I still have a conscience problem with my other self, what about “passionate” life, what about caring, what about fighting for love, what about loving fully?
I’m not fully convinced that “let cows go” is always the way I want to live, because it is so near to the “not living deeply” or “not living at all” point of view, I don’t want to live passively, just sit and watch life pass by because to not suffer I’ve already let go everything and I’m not saying this is exactly what this story is about… I’m just afraid that all this “letting go to not suffer” tend to keep us from live fully and truly!