Tag Archives: compassion

“Catching the Lizard by the Tail” by Nissim Amon

buddhastatue

This morning, after meditating, I perused a magazine called Watkins Mind Body Spirit and read an inspiring article on Buddhist meditation. The article tells the story of a monk named Potila who lived at the time of the Buddha. The Buddha encouraged the well-respected monk to seek guidance on meditating from a younger monk, who provided the following sage advice on how to be attentive to one’s thoughts:

The young monk then gave the following example: “Suppose you want to catch a lizard hiding in an anthill that has six entrances. The lizard can escape through any of them. The best way to catch the lizard is to block off five holes and wait patiently outside the sixth. The five blocked holes are the five senses. When we sit motionless in meditation with our back straight, we are not engrossed in sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch. Generally consciousness escapes through these openings.

“When the five openings are blocked, silence diffuses inside and it’s possible to hear the lizard running around. Then, when it tries to escape, we can catch it immediately.”

I love this analogy, and I can completely relate to the image of consciousness escaping through my senses. One of my biggest challenges when meditating is turning off the mind chatter, but during those rare moments when I do, and my senses are silenced, the experiences are profound.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 28” by Lao Tzu

YinYang

Know the masculine,
Keep to the feminine,
And be the Brook of the World.
To be the Brook of the World is
To move constantly in the path of Virtue
Without swerving from it,
And to return again to infancy.

Know the white,
Keep to the black,
And be the Pattern of the World.
To be the Pattern of the World is
To move constantly in the path of Virtue
Without erring a single step,
And to return again to the Infinite.

Know the glorious,
Keep to the lowly,
And be the Fountain of the World.
To be the Fountain of the World is
To live the abundant life of Virtue,
And to return again to Primal Simplicity.

When Primal Simplicity diversifies,
It becomes useful vessels,
Which, in the hands of the Sage, become officers.
Hence, “a great tailor does little cutting.”

The key to understanding this passage is to understand the basic symbolism of the yin and yang. The yin is the dark part of the symbol, while the yang is the light half. Yin is feminine and passive, while yang is masculine and active. While both aspects are requisite to be whole, Lao Tzu stresses the importance of focusing on the yin rather than the yang.

It is important to understand the audience to whom Lao Tzu was writing. He was writing to the leaders of China at a time when there was instability, and the usual way to deal with this would have been to attack it aggressively. Lao Tzu recommends the opposite approach. The sage leader does not rule with an iron fist, but is nurturing, calm, in tune with Nature, and at one with the flow of life through the world. A wise leader must understand strength, but rule from a place of compassion. That is the primary message contained within this passage.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a blessed day.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 27” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

Good walking leaves no track behind it;
Good speech leaves no mark to be picked at;
Good calculation makes no use of counting-slips;
Good shutting makes no use of bolt and bar,
And yet nobody can undo it;
Good tying makes no use of rope and knot,
And yet nobody can untie it.

Hence, the Sage is always good at saving men,
And therefore nobody is abandoned;
Always good at saving things,
And therefore nothing is wasted.

This is called “following the guidance of the Inner Light.”

Hence, good men are teachers of bad men,
While bad men are the charge of good men.
Not to revere one’s teacher,
Not to cherish one’s charge,
Is to be on the wrong road, however intelligent one may be.
This is an essential tenet of the Tao.

This is an interesting passage and begs the question: what does it mean to save? It appears that a sage is efficient at saving both people and things.

The saving of things is something dear to me. In our consumer society, things are too often used and discarded. Items have built-in obsolescence so that they break and cost more to fix than they do to replace. Unfortunately, this path is not sustainable, and if we do not change how we use and reuse our valuable and limited resources, we will reach a point where we will no longer be able to continue with our current economic model.

The other act of saving regards people, and this immediately kicked up negative associations of proselytizers knocking on my door and attempting to convert me to some form of religious doctrine. But I do not think that is the kind of saving that Lao Tzu was talking about here. I suspect that he is instructing the sage to practice compassion and empathy, to not be judgmental of others, and to serve as an example of how to live in balance with nature and spirit.

Essentially, I can sum this passage up as an instruction to help other people while not being wasteful.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 7” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

Heaven lasts long, and Earth abides.
What is the secret of their durability?
Is it not because they do not live for themselves
That they can live so long?

Therefore, the Sage wants to remain behind,
But finds himself at the head of others;
Reckons himself out,
But finds himself safe and secure.
Is it not because he is selfless
That his Self is realised?

It’s kind of an oxymoron that self-realization only occurs when you shut off your self-importance and self-obsession. You must lose the ego in order to find your true self.

This makes me think of the spiritual principles of charity, compassion, empathy, and service. When you turn away from the cycle of chasing after personal gains and shift your focus to things outside yourself, something happens internally. There is a spiritual kindling and you realize that you are more than just your self; you are part of a larger whole that existed before you were born and will exist after you are gone. And you become aware of a deeper meaning to your existence. I think this is the key to finding meaning and fulfillment in your life.

In our crazy lives, it is increasingly difficult to step outside our small world of the self. But doing so is of utmost importance, especially in these turbulent times.

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“I Believe in Father Christmas” by Greg Lake

FatherChristmas

I awoke this morning to the sights and sounds of a thunderstorm here in the Appalachian Mountains. It dawned on me that it was Christmas Eve and that I generally like to read and write about something appropriate for the holiday. But with the stresses of my relatively new job and being engrossed in reading the very long and dense Infinite Jest, I failed to look for something to read that was seasonal. So I gave it a little thought and decided that I would read the lyrics to one of my favorite Christmas songs and analyze it as a poem.

They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on earth
But instead it just kept on raining
A veil of tears for the Virgin’s birth
I remember one Christmas morning
A winter’s light and a distant choir
And the peal of a bell and that Christmas tree smell
And their eyes full of tinsel and fire

They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a silent night
And they told me a fairy story
’till I believed in the Israelite
And I believed in Father Christmas
And I looked at the sky with excited eyes
’till I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And I saw him and through his disguise

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish, pain, and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear

They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on Earth
Hallelujah, Noel, be it Heaven or Hell
The Christmas we get, we deserve

What I find most amazing about this poem (yes, I will refer to it as a poem instead of a song) is the expression of contradictory emotions. On one hand, there is disillusion and a touch of sadness, yet this is contrasted by feelings of hope and optimism at the possibility for happiness and spiritual joy. And it is done in such a way that I cannot say which side of the emotional spectrum is most strongly expressed. The result is that you connect to this poem based upon your own emotional state when you engage with it. So if you are feeling sad, you connect with the sadness but then get touched with a sense of hope. Conversely, if you are brimming with joy and happiness, you get that from the poem too, but tempered with the knowledge that there is still sadness in the world and that all things, even the joyous, will pass.

We have all heard the old cliché, that we create our own Heaven and Hell. I believe this, and I love the way it is expressed at the end of this poem. The choices we make and the thoughts that we choose to latch on to directly impact our feelings and the reality around us. If we choose the path of spirituality and happiness, then we deserve the blessings that accompany those conscious decisions and should celebrate those blessings. But if we choose to focus on the negative and the path of hate and fear, then we also deserve the life that we are burdened with and must accept responsibility for the reality which we helped create.

I wish all of you many blessings for the holidays and New Year, regardless of which holiday you observe or whether you observe a holiday at all. For myself, I am going to focus on my family and spreading more happiness, love, compassion, and understanding, because I think the world could use a little more of that right about now.

Cheers!

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“On Anothers Sorrow” by William Blake

OnAnothersSorrow

This is the last poem in the Songs of Innocence. It is fairly long, so rather than include the text within the post, I’ll just provide a link to the online version for those who need.

On Anothers Sorrow: www.bartleby.com

I can sum this poem up with one word: empathy. And I think that it is important to note that this is a transitional poem, marking the shift from innocence to experience. For most people, that shift occurs when we become aware of the suffering of others and feel empathy for the first time. As innocent children, we are the center of our own universes. It is difficult, if not impossible, to free ourselves from our self-encapsulated egos and consider the inner turmoil of others. Once we do, we experience spiritual growth. It is an important moment in a person’s spiritual and psychological development and marks the transition into the world of adulthood.

At the end of the poem, Blake establishes a correlation between human empathy and divine empathy. If we as humans can share the suffering of others and support them in their times of anguish, then it stands to reason that God will be there for us in our times of need.

Think not, thou canst sigh a sigh,
And they maker is not by.
Think not, thou canst weep a tear,
And they maker is not near.

O! he gives to us his joy,
That our grief he may destroy
Till our grief is fled and gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

I would like to take this idea a little bit further. Personally, I feel that the ability to connect with another person, to share a person’s suffering, to feel empathy and compassion, and to unconditionally help that person is the most divine act that we as human beings are capable of. All the great spiritual teachers emphasize compassion and unconditional love as the key to spiritual growth. I feel that Blake is reinforcing that idea with this poem by stressing the importance of empathy for another person’s sorrow and by relating that feeling of empathy to God.

I confess, even though I had read these poems before, some numerous times, reading them again slowly and contemplating each one has given me a deeper insight into myself. I look forward to exploring the Songs of Experience now, as I am sure they will force me to take an even deeper look into myself and the world around me.

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“Holy Thursday” by William Blake: From Songs of Innocence

HolyThur-SOI

Twas on a Holy Thursday their innocent faces clean
The children walking two & two in red & blue & green
Grey-headed beadles walkd before with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Pauls they like Thames waters flow

O what a multitude they seemd these flowers of London town
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own
The hum of multitudes was there but multitudes of lambs
Thousands of little boys & girls raising their innocent hands

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of Heaven among
Beneath them sit the aged men wise guardians of the poor
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door

I confess that when I read this, I was lost as to the meaning of the poem, mainly because I had absolutely no idea what Holy Thursday was. So I did a quick search and discovered that Holy Thursday, in Catholic tradition, is the Thursday before Easter when Jesus held the last supper. At that point, the poem began to make sense to me.

The scene that Blake describes seems innocent enough, but as is the case with most poems in The Songs of Innocence, there is a sense that below the surface, something is wrong. In this case, it is the hypocrisy of the church. The children are paraded into St. Paul’s cathedral in a display of charity and kindness, but it is really just a show and does not appear to be genuine. The children are poor and probably homeless, which can be determined by the fact that Blake points out in the first line that their faces are clean, implying that this is not how they normally appear. I got the impression that to show how charitable the church is, they cleaned and fed a group of homeless children just to show them off.

At the end of the poem, Blake entreats the church elders to practice what they preach, to have pity on the poor, hungry children who crowded London’s streets and to not drive them from their door, but instead offer them comfort and food. Just as Christ fed the poor and starving, so should the church.

Once I was in a car with a co-worker going out for dinner, which was being paid for by the company we worked for. On the corner was a homeless person with a sign begging money for food. The person I was with callously yelled out, “Get a job!” I lost all respect for that person. I understand that you cannot give to every starving person, but you can at least have sympathy for those who are less fortunate. And that is the message in this poem: cherish pity. You may not be able to help everyone who needs help, but at least have compassion for another human who is suffering.

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