Buddhists often speak of compassion. They practice compassion in many ways. It occurred to me recently to look at the life of Buddha to see what he meant by compassion.
For those of you who don’t know the story of Buddha, he was born the son of a king. When he was born, a prophet foretold that he would become either a great spiritual master or a great king. His father was determined that he become a great king, so he decided to hide the world from Prince Siddhartha. (I guess his father knew that the world’s suffering was the ‘kick’ that would put Siddhartha’s feet on the spiritual path.)
Siddhartha was never allowed to go outside the walls of the great palace. Inside those walls, the king made sure Siddhartha had everything he needed for a life of constant pleasure. However when Siddhartha was a young man, he grew increasingly curious about what was outside of the palace walls. His father knew this curiosity had to be resolved, so he arranged for the prince to have a tour outside the walls. The tour was carefully orchestrated so that Siddhartha only saw young, healthy people. The old, the sick and the dying were hidden on back streets that were not part of Siddhartha’s tour.
As it turns out, one curious old man peeked around a corner to get a glimpse of the prince as he passed, and Siddhartha saw him. Prince Siddhartha had never seen old age before and was immediately struck by what he saw. He followed the old man in order to learn more, and stumbled across everything his father had tried to hide from him. Old age, sickness and death.
Prince Siddhartha was overcome with compassion for everyone who suffered from these maladies. Driven by compassion, his quest became the pursuit of the end of suffering.
Now, this is what is important for us to notice. When driven by compassion to end suffering, did Siddhartha decide to be a great king so he could make new laws? Did he decide to become a doctor? A scientist? A social worker? No. He decided to seek enlightenment. Somehow he intuitively knew that the answer to all problems rested with truth realization.
We are practicing true compassion when we dedicate our lives to the pursuit of truth realization. This is because the ego thought system is the cause of all forms of suffering.
Today I have selected a Christmas song for inspiration. It was written by John Lennon. I picked this song because it asks us, “What have you done?” This is not meant as an accusation, but as an internal question that we can each contemplate until increased motivation for spiritual practice arises within us. If we ask, motivation will come