The Buddha taught that in order to realize enlightenment, a person must develop two qualities: wisdom and compassion. These two qualities are sometimes compared to two wings that must work together to achieve flight, or two eyes that work together to be able to experience depth perception. What does being nice to others have to do with personal enlightenment? The wisdom of compassion comes when we understand that the idea of “others” vs “self” is mistaken. Everything is interconnected. When we see someone suffering and we feel their pain as if it were our own, and we strive to lessen or heal that pain, we are experiencing compassion. Sharing, comfort, sympathy, concern, and caring, are all manifestations of compassion. The ability to feel compassion for others comes from first understanding what is means to have compassion for oneself. To truly understand the pain and suffering of others, we must understand pain and suffering ourselves. When we finally understand that others suffer in the very same way that we suffer, we can start to develop true compassion.
Parable of the Good Samaritan
This parable in the bible (Luke 10:29-37) is typical of Jesus’ provocative speech in which conventional expectations are inverted. It all starts with a question being asked by a lawyer: “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” In this exchange, the lawyer correctly answers that one must love God with all his heart and also love his neighbor. “Who is my neighbor?”, the lawyer asks. Jesus then tells the story of the good samaritan: an injured man lays on the side of the road, a priest and a levite pass by without helping the man but then comes a samaritan who stops and helps the man. Portraying a Samaritan in a positive light would have come as a shock to Jesus’ audience. Jews hated Samaritans and vice versa.
One important detail we often overlook in this story is the fact that strict adherence to the teaching of the Talmud (central text of mainstream Judaism, considered second to the holy written Torah) teaches that because life is so valuable, you are not permitted to do anything that may hasten death, not even to prevent suffering. The Talmud states that you may not even move a dying person’s arms if that would shorten his life. An understanding of these teachings reveals that perhaps the levite and the priest were not just passing by because they were “jerks” or because they were insensitive to the man, they were strictly observing the teaching of their religion. At the risk of possibly hastening this mans death, it was best to just avoid him all together. The simple moral of the story in this parable is: don’t be a jerk. But perhaps a more thorough analysis of the parable would teach us: DONT LET THE DETAILS OF YOUR RELIGION GET IN THE WAY OF LOVING OTHERS.