I once heard the great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh tell this story:
In one of his early trips to the United States, he greatly enjoyed his first taste of a peanut butter cookie. After asking how it was made and then reflecting on the process, he imagined the cookies talking to each other as they baked.
“Hey, I’m browner than you.”
“Yeah, but I’m taller.”
And so on.
They were under the illusion that they were different, but they were all made from the same dough.
Buddhists use various images to describe how we are all one. Nhat Hanh used peanut butter cookies that time. Some compare our misleading sense of individual differentiation to waves and ripples on a lake, all made of water. My blogging honorary granddaughter, Amie Zor, says we are starlings, made from the same stardust. I sometimes talk, less poetically, about us as various clumps of cosmic dust.The point is the same, as we are the same.
We are all combinations of the same subatomic particles, and my tiny stuff dances with your tiny stuff. Once we know that, loving kindness and compassion for others follow naturally from loving kindness and compassion for ourselves. It may take practice to feel that oneness with others who look different, but knowing that we are one will get us there.
Some people see the early, Theravada Buddhism as selfish because it focused on individual enlightenment. Later, Mahayana Buddhists elevated the importance of compassion for others. But while there are differences between the two waves of Buddhism, some early practitioners understood the Buddha’s core message — ending needless suffering for all sentient beings. While the practice may start with the individual, the goal was loving kindness for all.
Some early practitioners did in fact dismiss “good works” as not terribly important, but I think that was, and is, a misreading of the Buddha’s teachings.
I tend to believe that we help others most by focusing first on awakening our own Buddha within. Compassion for others is part of how we do that, but true compassion comes not from doing compassionate things but by being compassion. When we accept and love ourselves, and when we recognize the oneness of existence, then we become compassion.
As my teacher, Lama Surya Das, often says: “We are human beings, not human doings.”
— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)
Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine