A Lesson In Compassion

     There is a wonderful story told in Tibet about an old lama who would come every day to meditate on a large rock near a calm pond. Yet, no sooner would he cross his legs, settle down and begin his prayers and devotions then he would spot some little insect struggling in the water. Time after time, he would lift up his thin, creaky old body, catch the insect gently in his hand, and carry it to the safety of a nearby plant. The minute he settled down again, the same thing would happen.

     His fellow monks, who also went off every day to meditate in the rocky Tibetan countryside, noticed what he was doing. Some of them became quite concerned. How could the old lama get any meditating done when all his time was spent plucking tiny insects from the placid pool? As Tibetan Buddhists, they also recognized the wisdom in saving the life of any sentient being, no matter how tiny. But still, some of them wondered if the old monk should stop meditating by the pond and move somewhere where there were fewer distractions.

     One day several of them finally approached him to give their opinions and advice. "Wouldn't it be better," one asked, "if you could meditate undisturbed during the day? That way you would find perfect enlightenment more quickly and would then be able to free all living beings from the ocean of conditional existence."

"If you want to meditate by the pond," another suggested, "why don't you do so with your eyes closed."

     "How," one of the youngest monks asked, "can you hope to develop perfect tranquility and deep diamond-like concentration of you keep hopping up and down all day long.?"

     The wise old lama listened quietly. Finally he bowed and spoke. "I'm sure my meditation would be deeper and more productive if I sat unmoved all day, just as you say my friends. But how can an old worthless one like myself, who has vowed again and again to devote this lifetime, and all his lives, to serving and liberating others just sit with closed eyes and hardened heart, praying and intoning the altruistic mantra of Great Compassion, while right before my very eyes helpless creatures are drowning?"

     To that simple humble question, none of the other monks could find an answer.

     When we open our eyes and look around us, we see that many of the planet's creatures are suffering, and need our attention. Helping living beings who cannot help themselves is a time honored way of practicing loving-kindness and compassion. In Tibet, it is said that these practices reverberate back, bestowing manifold blessings. Tibetan lamas teach that saving lives helps extend your own and enhances your health and vitality.

From Awakening the Buddhist Heart by Lama Surya Das

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