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3 Life lessons to be learned from this simple zen story.

Abraham Lincoln once asked one of his secretaries, “If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a horse have?”.
“Five,” replied the secretary.
“No,” said the President, “The answer is four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

If you like reading short stories, you must go through the zen stories at least once. They convey the deepest meanings in just a few words. The important thing about them is that you do not understand their meaning through analysis, but you touch the depth of their meaning in an instant moment, when you read the punch line.

The story above is one of my favourites and very relevant to the society today. I can ‘feel’ three very important meanings of this story:

1.) We must face our life situations as they are:

Many people avoid facing the real situation in life by trying to define it in a a way which is comfortable to them. Our ego wants to keep things in a way that is less threatening to it, and therefore it drives us into creating and eventually living into an illusion. The best example of this is a childhood story of fox and grapes:

Do not be like this fox. Face your life situations for what they are! Because calling them something different will not change what it is. If you are going through some hard times, accept them for what they are and take responsibility of your life. Without facing the real situation as it is, you will never be able to change it. That leads to the second important point.

2.) Be aware of your perceptions!

We always see the world through our own perceptions. Our beliefs are based on these perceptions. But we must realise that our perceptions are not the reality. They only help us make appropriate decisions and live a practical life. The reality can only be seen if we can blow a hole through our way of seeing things and see things as they are, without names and definitions.

” Times and again, we should go outside of ourselves and try to view the situation objectively, through our critical mind to make sure that the way we are approaching the situation is appropriate for us and all those affected by it.”

Going outside of yourself allows you to think from others point of view, which is important.

So, next time you face a difficult situation, go in a silent place away from distractions and try to think from outside of yourself. Your perception of the situation will change. The emotions will fade and you will be able to identify the actual problem and think it through with the most appropriate tool: analytical mind.

3.) Do not get trapped into the web of words

Words are the best tool for us to communicate. But that is where it should end. When the words start taking places of the meanings behind them, we are under the most vicious illusion of the mind. When we call the tail a leg, it’s okay. But when we start believing that it is a leg, then we are trapped.

It happens to us more than we realize in the everyday life. To give you one example:

  • We believe that time is what we see in the clock and our phones. Time is illusion. There is no such thing as time. It is a psychological construct. If you think about it, there is no past and future. The only time is now. But look how we define time, in terms of numbers which never let us be in the present moment!

“When we call the tail a leg, it’s okay. But when we start believing that it is a leg, then we are trapped.”

Think about some other examples like these where you confuse the words with their meaning. It can be fun, and sometimes very enlightening! Here is an interesting post if you want more of BREAKING THROUGH WORDS


The story is very simple, and many ignorant minds will take it only as a joke. But such simple words has very deep and profound meanings to it. In a nutshell, the three ideas that I have inferred are these:

  • Face your life situations as they are. Do not try to call them something else just to feel comfortable. It is what it is. If it is painful, accept it. If you can not accept it, try the best you can to change it. being straightforward with life can help you save a lot of time, which otherwise you would end up spending explaining.
  • Be aware of your perceptions and know that you could be wrong. Go outside of yourself frequently and analyze the situations with your critical mind.
  • Do not get trapped in language. Do not confuse the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself.

If you can think of some other meanings of this story, or any interesting ideas regarding this post, I would love to hear them 🙂 Thank You.

11 thoughts on “3 Life lessons to be learned from this simple zen story.

Add yours

  1. I like the quick tale and how you analyzed its meaning. I think it’s difficult for many people to get out of the ego mind and move into observing their situations from a different perspective but it’s something that we all should do as situations aren’t often as bad as we first think, or there is a way forward when we believe there isn’t. Time is indeed an illusion and most of the time we get trapped in our past, going over and over again what has happened which leads us to believing things are a certain way and will go in a certain way. Likewise we’re also constantly thinking of the future and what we should do rather than purely living in this moment and making the most out of every present moment. This was a great post and thank you for sharing soemthign so interesting 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

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