Compassion and Emptiness
"Listen," She said, as if resigned that I wouldn't get it, "Listen. There are many universes, of which we inhabit only one. But in each universe, the goal of Being, the goal of capital 'B'-Being is compassion. That's it, pure and simple. It's the fundamental, spiritual orientation of things.
"When you look out even into this universe, there are 100, maybe 200 billion stars in just our galaxy alone, but it's just emptiness between this and yet another star-filled galaxy. The insight into emptiness is enshrined right out there, in the very structure of the universe itself. Just emptiness. Plain emptiness. That's all there is to real wisdom. Acting with compassion, and recognizing emptiness. Nothing else. No metaphysics, no deep doctrines, all logically connected into some semantic super-structure. Just those two things: compassion and emptiness."
I looked at the woman beside her, thinking she might have some comment to kick-in. She didn't. Until now, she hadn't spoken the whole time.
"Who's that?" I asked.
"She's best thought of as my sister," the woman began, "though that's about all you could make sense of. The real truth is worrisome, is complicated--." She trailed off. The talking had stopped now, and she was staring ahead, seemingly not waiting for anything, much less a reply from me.
"So, why are you two here today? I mean -- do you regularly pray at this time or what?" I was trying to keep the conversation going. This lady seemed interesting, different than I'd expected. "And your, uh, sister comes regularly with you, I take it?"
"It's not that she's regularly with me, it's that she never leaves."
"Okay," I slowly said, drawing it out. I found myself thinking I was standing a bit closer to this woman than I probably should be.
"If I move, she moves. If I'm still, she is still. when I am meditating, it should be on her. So in meditating or acting, she should be my focus. She has come to teach me compassion."
The pseudo-sister, or whatever she was, didn't seem bothered by our talking about her, she just smiled, perhaps as if thinking of some happy but insignificant moment in her private past.
"Some time ago, she presented herself, and without any words I knew what her role was -- that when I died, she would also die. I had no reason to live, I was alone. I didn't have things badly, but I was just in the habit of rising each day because I was in the habit of eating, and tilling my garden, and then of going to sleep, and of living my regular life -- again, by pure repetition without exception. I had no reason for being, nor did I chose to 'be', I just 'was', going on day after day thru the same kind of life."
She watched me. Perhaps she was assessing me, evaluating whether it was worth going on. Well, that's how I took it, anyway. So I tried to relax. And I tried to simply show that I was giving her my attention, all of it. It's rare to pay attention to somebody, and not just for later evaluation, or just for a break to get some words back in as soon as possible. Or just to summarize what somebody else has said in order to satisfying them that you really did listen. So I simply gave her my attention. That was enough. She went on.
"Now I live out of compassion -- compassion for her. My life may or may not be worth anything. But how can I say of her, that her life isn't worth anything? My life is worth at least hers, that much I'll say. So I take care of myself. And not because I seek a long life, but because I seek her long life, and my life is now her life. Before she presented herself, I had emptiness but no compassion. But now I have both emptiness and compassion. This is the sole meaning a person will find in this universe."
The women stayed-on a bit longer at the temple, but eventually a smile and a silent nod indicated that they would both be taking their leave. And soon enough, both emptiness and compassion were again found outside the temple.
[image] focajonathan "Women praying in front of the Jokang temple" Flickr Oct. 8 2006 (Accessed 12/22/2008)