Thursday, June 15, 2006

Buddhist Parable

I've become intrigued by teaching stories of late. I've always enjoyed the aspect of folktales that teaches some cultural value, but parables are even more precise methods of teaching life lessons. Here is a short piece on the power of compassion.


In a time long past, there was an old monk who, through diligent practice, had attained a certain degree of spiritual penetration.

"He had a young novice who was about eight years old. One day the monk looked at the boy's face and saw there that he would die within the next few months. Saddened by this, he told the boy to take a long holiday and go and visit his parents. 'Take your time,' said the monk. 'Don't hurry back.' For he felt the boy should be with his family when he died. Three months later, to his astonishment, the monk saw the boy walking back up the mountain. When he arrived he looked intently at his face and saw that they boy would now live to a ripe old age. 'Tell me everything that happened while you were away,' said the monk. So the boy started to tell of his journey down from the mountain. He told of villages and towns he passed through, of rivers forded and mountains climbed. Then he told how one day he came upon a stream in flood. He noticed, as he tried to pick his way across the flowing stream, that a colony of ants had become trapped on a small island formed by the flooding stream. Moved by compassion for these poor creatures, he took a branch of a tree and laid it across one flow of the stream until it touched the little island. As the ants made their way across, the boy held the branch steady, until he was sure all the ants had escaped to dry land. Then he went on his way. 'So,' thought the old monk to himself, 'that is why the gods have lengthened his days.'
The message in this story is clear, but how often do we take a moment to perform the smallest act of compassion. One of the many books I am reading right now mentions that the smallest compassionate act performed with purity of heart is more meritorious than the largest act performed with only a moderately pure heart.

But we are not seeking merit. We seek the end of suffering for all beings. The young boy didn't want the ants to suffer, and through his compassionate act he healed himself.

Now, I tend to scoff at energy medicine (just ask Kira), but how many times have you done one small, nice thing for someone in the midst of a bad day and felt so much better? Studies show an objective benefit (change in biochemistry) to our subjective experience (happiness) in doing something kind for another person. Maybe this is how merit works in the real world.

Imagine how much different we might feel if each day we do one small act of kindness for another being, human or otherwise. We must do it with a pure heart, from a place of true compassion, and not from a sense of "this is my compassionate act for today." It will require us to live with an open and tender heart.

I'm going to try this for a while and see what happens.

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