Apr 30, 2022
Jenny Hall

Verses from The Dhammapada 3

Why does compassion naturally arise from Zen training?



‘He reviled me, struck me, defeated me, robbed me. In those who harbour such thoughts hatred will never cease.’

 ‘He reviled me, struck me, defeated me, robbed me.’

 Teachers generally accept that a child who suffers behavioural problems is often insecure. As the verse describes he/she may name all, hit out physically and verbally or steal.

 What the Buddha named the delusion of ‘me’ is like such a child. It expresses its insecurity in similar, albeit more sophisticated, ways. Despite everything being in a state of flux, the ‘I’ strives to cling to what boosts it and attempts to obliterate what threatens. The Buddha taught that ‘I’ is at best a stream of thoughts driven by hate, desire and ignorance. Its natural response to any threat is anger. This perpetuates the cycle of violence.

 ’In those who harbour such thoughts hatred will never cease.’

 This month we have seen disturbing images and reports of war in Europe. Seeing such suffering we may allow anger to fuel hostile thoughts. Behind this anger there is a deep fear. The internet has been awash with people being in the grip of intense anxiety. Ven. Myokyo-ni often said ‘I’ and fear are like the palm and back of the hand.

 Every day we vow to benefit all sentient beings. We may sometimes forget that hate and fear are also ‘beings’ within us. In the same way as an insecure child needs love and gentle discipline, so the fiery emotional energy needs to be recognised and gentled. When its hot churning is met and invited to ‘burn me away’, the delusion of ‘I’ drops off. Fear disappears and Choiceless Awareness, (the Buddha nature), opens. Its wisdom and compassion are revealed. Action is no longer revengeful but appropriate, benefitting all.

 At present, such action is imperative as we collaborate to protect the vulnerable without provoking a wider conflagration.

 There was once a fourteen-year-old who lived on the streets of America. He shot and killed an innocent teenager in order to impress his gang. At the end of the trial, the victim’s mother stood up in the court room and shouted ‘I’m going to kill you!’ The boy was taken to a detention centre to serve a sentence of three years. After six months the victim’s mother came to see him. She was his one and only visitor. Over time she visited more regularly. She brought food and small gifts. After the three years were up, she offered the boy a spare room in her house. She also found him a job in a friend’s company. After his release, the boy lived with her and worked at the job for eight months. One evening she asked him if he remembered what she had shouted in the courtroom. She said ‘I wanted the boy who killed my son to die. That is why I visited you, gave you a home and found you work. The boy who killed my son has now gone. I’d now like to adopt you’. The woman became the mother the boy never had.

 Challenging circumstances can be seen as a valuable training opportunity for wholeheartedly meeting hatred and allowing compassion to respond.

 The Dalai Lama told the story of his friend Lopan-la, a senior monk. Lopan-la was sent to a remote Chinese gulag for eighteen years. He was forced to do hard labour. He told the Dalai lama that, despite intense cold, he had no shoes. Like all the prisoners he was regularly tortured. Out of one hundred and thirty monks there were only twenty who survived. Lopan-la said that during his internment he faced great dangers. The Dalai Lama assumed he was referring to the dangers to his life. When asked to elaborate, Lopan-la said ‘I was in danger of losing my compassion for the Chinese guards. ‘

 Compassion flowers when all judgements, expectations and conditions are emptied out.

 The following story illustrates this.

 There was once a Tibetan boy called Tomi. His greatest desire was to meet Maitreya Buddha. He believed that he would appear if he meditated long enough. He took himself up into the mountains. He sat in a cave for six years in meditation. Finally, he decided he was wasting his time. He left the cave and began his journey home. Suddenly a whimpering pierced his heart. On the path was an injured dog covered in open sores and maggots. Filled with compassion, Tomi knelt down. He tore a strip from his shawl to wipe away the maggots and to staunch the blood. As he moved towards the dog it suddenly vanished and Maitreya Buddha stood before Tomi. Tomi was astonished and said ‘I have been meditating for years but you never came.’ Maitreya Buddha replied ‘I have been with you always but your expectations were in the way. The dog’s suffering opened your heart.’

 When the heart opens, compassion is both unconditional and impartial. A woman who has recently opened her home to refugees expressed it this way:

 “My heart responded.

Their pain is our pain,

We are one family.’


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