Friday, June 3, 2011

True Compassion

My aunt has a big rock (it's a novelty rock, probably not even rock but it's big, gray, hard and cold...) that has two sides.  On the top it says "Please turn me over," and on the other "Thank you."

Now it used to bug me that people would keep turning it back over having "gotten the joke" since it obviously preferred to be on the "thank you" side.  But recently I've been thinking about it, wondering if it's not that it prefers a side, but that it enjoys being turned over.

Yes, it's a damn rock.  I know it doesn't have feelings, just what we project on to it.  But I have long felt a sort of animistic connection to many objects for a long time and these are things that I think about.  Animals have preferences that they express in different ways.  Plants express preferences in how they thrive.  Just because all life doesn't experience the world through the same sense gates as we do, doesn't mean that their experience is any less vibrant or real.  As all things are transient and interconnected, who is to say that a rock or any other form of inert existence isn't alive?  It was created, exists in this moment, and will pass into another form eventually.  Where do we draw the line of what life is?

Part of this viewpoint stems from an interesting source.  There's an anime I like a great deal for many reasons called Trigun.  There's an episode where a child version of the hero is having a conversation with the influence of his life and she tells him about how trees are just as active and full of life as we are, using all of their life's force and effort just to grow tall and be green, to reproduce and fulfill their function.

This perspective stuck hard and fast with me.  It also has a great deal on how I view life as a food source, but I promise I'll get around to that post eventually.

My point is, in our limited view, we think we know what's right for others and ourselves.  We think that the commonly held viewpoint of compassion as "a feeling of distress and pity for the suffering or misfortune of another, often including the desire to alleviate it" ( is alleviated through being nice and forgiving and all those other positive things associated with compassion.

The truth of the matter is, sometimes we're wrong.  And we can be very wrong.  Sheltering and pampering can cause someone to become weak and unable to fend for themselves in the real world.  Just as a pet animal can never be released into the wild, the pampered will require that for survival.  Even if they don't they'll have to suffer a great deal in order to regain their instincts.

The world is full of frustrated little dogs treated like children instead of like dogs and a handful of people are making a living reminding their owners of that fact.

This doesn't mean we should kick people to the curb and shut down homeless shelters or food pantries.  This is not a call for an end to altruism, just a call to attempt to understand that what we think someone needs is not necessarily what they need.

I think we all need a certain amount of suffering to get us moving.  If we were perfectly comfortable during zazen it would be harder to stay in the moment.  Without suffering we wouldn't have the need to practice.  Isn't that the whole reason living in the realm of the devas isn't all it's cracked up to be?

Suffering, whether physical, emotional, or intellectual, is the fuel of our practice.  It is the reason we seek to make ourselves better.  Sometimes being compassionate is allowing an individual to suffer just the right amount.  I'm sure I'll revisit this and refine my view, but I doubt it will wander far.

Let us be grateful to experience suffering so that we may seek to go beyond.


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