By John Lee Pendall
Kindness isn’t something we develop along the way, kindness is the way.
Kindness and compassion are the wisdom of emptiness, of shining silence. When you’re intimately aware of profound interdependence, what else is there to do but be kind? Kind and grateful.
The only reason Siddhartha taught was out of compassion. He could have been perfectly happy chilling under the Bodhi Tree for the rest of his life, never speaking with anyone. Instead, he got up and traveled 50 miles on foot to help five people who had rejected him and scolded him before.
If it wasn’t for compassion, there would be no Buddhism. Or it would’ve developed later than it did.
I tend to think—and this is just my haphazard opinion—that Siddhartha didn’t fully Wake Up that night under the Bodhi Tree. I think he experienced an Awakening, but he wasn’t done growing yet. A woman’s compassion once brought him back from the brink of starvation, after he spent months going through harsh ascetic practices to cleanse his mind and body. I think compassion is what also eventually pointed him toward complete awakening.
“Are we kind and compassionate because we’re all one, all part of a whole?”
We could say that, sure, but we can’t take Oneness or Wholeness too seriously either since it’s so easy to cling to. Really, this is another sign, another pointer. It comes close to what Awakening is all about, but there is still some leftover discrimination and clinging in it. A rule of thumb is, “The Truth is incomprehensible.”
That means if we think, “I’ve got it!” and then feel like we have adequately explained it, then we’re off the mark. It’s something we know but can’t communicate with words. We communicate it with our vibe, receptivity, tolerance and actions.
“How do we know when we’re really being compassionate and when we’re just pretending?”
If we think we’re compassionate, then we’re not. If think we’re not compassionate, then we’re not. Ha-ha. True compassion doesn’t have any discriminating thoughts bound up with it; there’s no I-me-mine center. A tree doesn’t think about how it provides oxygen for other beings, it just does what it does, and what it does naturally fits. That’s true kindness and generosity. It doesn’t think about how it helps birds by providing limbs to nest on. That’s compassion.
“Is there a difference between kindness and compassion?”
Kindness is active, compassion is receptive. Kindness is like speaking, compassion is like listening. Without compassion, our kindness is going to be hit or miss, since we can’t help someone if we don’t empathize and listen to their problems. Giving someone food might be a kindness, but that doesn’t help all that much if they really need water.
People won’t usually tell us what they need, even if we ask them directly. They might say, “I need this,” but when they get it, then they’re still dissatisfied.
Bodhisattvas respond to both needs, spoken and unspoken. That requires a high level of awareness and empathy. It sounds impossible, but we all have it in us. The second we stop thinking about ourselves, it’s already fully in bloom.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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