Compassion stands for lenity which emerges from love, while animosity and tyranny appear from lust and covetousness, writes Ravi Valluri

A Zen Master assembled his tutees at the Temple of Knowledge. The monks had completed a vigorous session on meditation were suffused with efficacious thoughts. It was time to question their cerebral robustness. ‘What do you mean by compassion?’ he posed. Replies from the disciples varied from love, generosity, affection, care, kindness to liberality.

The Zen Master went on to narrate a story. Once near a Temple of Knowledge lived a mendicant. One day an old lady dropped a coin in his begging bowl. A little later a propertied Prince happened to pass by and looking at his pitiable condition dropped in five gold coins and walked away in a haughty manner.  Subsequently a small monk who lived with-in the precincts of the Temple of Knowledge emerged. He was carrying a few coins to buy flowers for a function in the Temple. On his way back, he handed over the bunch of flowers to the mendicant.

‘So friends, who was the most compassionate of the three?’ In unison, the tutees proclaimed that it was the opulent prince since he had parted with five gold coins as alms. The Zen Master shook his head in disagreement and remarked, ‘The old lady gave a coin as an act of pity, the deep-pocketed prince brazenly displayed his haughtiness, while the young monk was deeply touched at the pitiable condition of the individual and gave the flowers meant for a ritual to be performed in the Temple of Knowledge. He felt a deep empathy within his being and parted the flowers without a degree of hesitation and could invoke a smile on the face of the alms-seeker.

‘Compassion springs from the fountain of love, while lust is the bedrock of passion,’ exhorted the Zen Master to the assembled disciples. Aeons ago lived a young prince named Siddhartha, belonging to the fearsome Sakyan kingdom, a noteworthy republic of the period. Sage Asita however, forewarned King Suddhodhana that his son would indeed become the emperor of the world, but not in battle fatigues rather by donning ochre robes as compassion was in the very DNA of the child.

This forewarning acted on the overwrought Sakhyan sovereign. He encircled Siddhartha with a luxuriant life, inciting carnal passion in him, simultaneously goading him to be brawny enough to take part in warfare.

 The monarch assumed that matrimony and parenthood would veer the mind of the strapping youngster away from monkhood. However, Emperor Suddhodhana could never truly encircle the mind of Siddhartha, as the Prince pined for the quintessential truth. One fine day, without any warning, the young heir abdicated all gross and corporeal things in life and plunged headlong into a life of tapas. The Sakhyan prince not only discarded his battle fatigues but also transfigured his mind. The robust and intrepid mind had to sift through the nugatory thoughts of sorrow and happiness, logic and feverishness to become pristine, full of compassion, love and non-violence.

The transmutation of his mind and self was an arduous journey of deep introspection. It was not largesse bestowed by the Universe. Non-violence became the springboard to complete the transformation into a compassionate human being. Planet Earth hosts myriad life-forms. It is the only planet which nourishes life, deriving vital prana from the Sun. Degradation of the environment and ecology on account of man’s avarice and rapacious covetousness is torpedoing the process of exterminating life. We are no longer compassionate to ourselves, or to the flora and fauna or even the rivers, seas and farmlands. Humans spewing negativity will soon turn the host of creation into a ghost land.

Once, Buddha was in the midst of an assembly. Those present were engrossed in meditation. A raging and wrathful businessman reached the spot. The magnate hailed from an opulent family and

was distraught that his wife and children had given up the luxuriant ways of life and spent hours meditating at the conclave. He saw Buddha sporting a beatific and serene smile. Wrenching his fists in vexation, he spat at the compassionate one’s face much to the chagrin of all present before rushing out.

But it was a tumultuous night for the entrepreneur, barely snatching a few winks. He recalled that this was the first occasion in his life that a person on whom he spat maintained remarkable poise and equanimity. His body shivered and he felt that there was an earthquake in his mind.

Deeply distraught, he reached the conclave the next morning, apologising profusely. ‘Holy Sire, please forgive me. I did not know what I was doing.’ Buddha, maintaining his calm demeanour merely remarked, ‘I cannot excuse you.’

The assembly was taken aback. Buddha looked intensely into the eyes of the industrialist and merely stated, ‘Why do you ask for pardon? You did nothing counterfactual.’ ‘Holy one! I was the mentally wrecked person who had the temerity to spit on your face.’ The businessman added, ‘And for this wanton act I am devastated.’

Buddha parried the question, dexterously stating, ‘Oh! That individual is no longer in our midst.’ In case I ever meet that gentleman, I shall ask him to pardon the person who is currently amidst us. Son, you have done no wrong, remove the heavy stone of repentance from yourself and heart.’

Compassion never mushrooms from not pardoning someone or making a person feel the victim or inducing guilt. The act of forgiveness is so subtle that the individual granted clemency is unaware of the charitable act.

Compassion stands for lenity which emerges from love, while animosity and tyranny appear from lust and covetousness. Love exudes warmth and embraces all animate and inanimate objects, while lust embarks an individual on the path of sabotage and often self-destruction.

‘If you want others to be happy practice compassion. If you want to be happy practice compassion,’ says the Dalai Lama.

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