It is said that there are four kinds of horses: excellent ones, good ones, poor ones and bad ones. The best horse will run slow and fast, right and left at the driver’s will, before it sees the shadow of the whip; the second best will run as well as the first ones does, just before the whip reaches its skin; the third one will run when it feels pain on its body; the forth will run after the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones. You can imagine how difficult it is for the forth one to learn how to run!
When we hear this story, almost all of us want to be the best horse. If it is impossible to be the best one, we want to be the second best. This is, I think, the usual understanding of this story, and of Zen. You may think that when you sit in zazen you will find out whether you are one of the best horses or one of the worst ones. Here, however, there is a misunderstanding of Zen. If you think the aim of Zen practice is to train you to become one of the best horses, you will have a big problem. This is not the right understanding. If you practice Zen in the right way it does not matter whether you are the best horse or the worst one.
P38 Zen Mind, Beginner’s mind by Shunryu Suzuki
“Sit and forget everything. When there is not a single thing in your mind, any circumstance can be freely felt with. If you are full of anxiety and constantly fret about this and that, you will never be able to handle anything well.”
P115 The Sword of No-Sword, Life of Master Warrior Tesshu by John Stevens.