Near the gate of an old Chinese city there stood an equestrian statue of stone. Nobody could remember the one who had ordered its erection, so very ancient it was. Close to the horseman of stone was a poverty-stricken cottage, in which a man and his wife lived their simple but honest life.
It so happened that the country was invaded by a terrible winter, with snow and ice and unendurable cold. Just after Christmas one evening the cold was so intense that even the birds died, and the dogs yelped from pain. This poor couple were lying under a warm blanket inside their cottage, listening intently as the wind howled and the storm cracked and rent the air. How the snow beat down upon the cottage. They thought: he who has no roof above his head now and cannot warm his frostbitten fingers at a fireplace is indeed badly off. They were kind and compassionate folk, with a warm place in their heart for all creatures. Suddenly they thought of the horseman of stone outside their door, and imagined how the cold must surely crawl in to the very core of his heart. Then they thought of the horse that had stood there for hundreds of years, motionless, patiently bearing its rider. The thought so filled them that they could not bear to be warm themselves while they felt another suffered. They gathered their blankets and woolen robes and went outside to shelter, at least from the worst cold, both horseman and horse. The blizzard but charged with greater force, more furiously than ever. But lo! as they went to place their protective blankets, who can describe their amazement, and even fright, when stepping out where but a moment before had once stood that statue of stone, now horseman and horse had disappeared!
Long after it came to be known in the city what had occurred that cold winter night. For years learned men had pondered on the mystery, but no one, not even the Emperor sitting on his throne, could remember once having read in all the ancient books the like of this. Therefore messengers were sent to a sage who lived at the end of the Western mountainous regions to ask him to solve the mystery. The answer they brought was as simple as it was logical: "Even stones may be softened by compassion." The kind and compassionate thoughts of that poor yet warmhearted couple had flowed through the body of the horseman like a hot and golden river, and reached his stony heart. Fired with the love of humanity, he gave spurs to the horse which had awakened too, and at a bound they had set off to the land of their birth.
The Emperor thereupon sent for the cottagers dwelling by the city-gate, and bestowed upon them a gorgeous palace, knighting them for their distinguished service to mankind. Later, he promised, when he should pass away, they were to rule over the entire kingdom.
But in the open field a horseman galloped toward the western mountains, toward the abodes of the Gods. At his side, the knightly sword was clashing while his polished shield sparkled like the full disk of the bright moon, and the clatter of the horseshoes seemed like heavenly music. As he rode along the street, the white flakes drifted down and soon covered the footprints of the horse, so that only the wind-tossed snow still roars over the plains, wild and cold.
Some say he was charged by the gods to ride round the world to stimulate all who foster a spark of compassion in their hearts. Maybe a horseman will gallop one day down your street to knock at your door?
(From Sunrise magazine, December 1951; copyright © 1951 Theosophical University Press)