Enlightened beings are magnanimous givers, bestowing whatever they have with equanimity, without regret, without hoping for reward, without seeking honor, without coveting material benefits, but only to rescue and safeguard all living beings.
Buddhism. Garland Sutra 21
There are so many phrases that characterize these times such as, “Only the strong survive,” and, “People mistake kindness for stupidity”. “It is a dog eat dog world”. It seems that there has been a consistently growing trend against being nice. Today if one is too nice, they either need to join some religious order or seek a therapist’s couch.
When I was young, I was deeply affected by the emotional pain experienced by the people around me. I was especially sensitive to the fact that it was not inescapable pain but really self-inflicted. The greatest pain seemed to be caused by those we care for and sometimes even by those who care for us. My reaction to the pain of those around me and to my own, was to determine to live my life in a way which would focus on helping those in pain, and trying not to be the cause of pain for others. I was naive enough to want to see people happy. I grew up in an environment so devoid of trust and faith that I was going to carry enough for everyone. To me, it was so important to trust and to be trusted. Although I was often hurt or disappointed, it did not stop me from being true to the person that I believed I should be.
One day, in my early twenties, I was with a group of co-workers, speaking openly and honestly, when a friend pulled me aside and told me that everyone was not laughing with me they were laughing at me. She told me that I was kind and trusting, and people just saw it as stupid. She said that I had to change to protect myself.
A few years later, I had a friend who started calling me a weak ass. It bothered me but I wasn’t comfortable confronting her about it at first. I knew she thought I was too nice especially to people she didn’t feel deserved it. One day, I asked her why she called me that and she told me that if everyone in the world was like me—it would be a beautiful place, but since everyone was not, I was a weak ass. I respected her honesty and I also knew that in her way, it was a compliment. In the end, my being what she called, a weak ass was the reason she had chosen me as one of the few people that she really trusted.
During my early twenties, I did a great deal of soul searching. The truth was, that people were very difficult for me to deal with. I didn’t find it easy to make friends, because most people saw me as someone to take advantage of. Each group was somehow formed around its sense of superiority to other groups. I didn’t feel superior to anyone, and that affected my ability to fit in. At some point, probably during one of those painful times, I thought of the ways in which I could change and so avoid the endless hurts and disappointments that seemed to be a permanent part of my life. I realized that I could put up a cold wall, I could expect the worst from others, and take before I was taken. I could choose my friends based on how much they had to offer me, or how good it made me look to be with them. I could do those things that I had for so long been advised to do—or I could accept that who I was, was who I had always wanted to be. Because I realized that I was the person I would have wanted as a friend, and that, was the highest goal that I ever wanted to achieve within myself. I would rather have been who I was—alone—than to have allowed the experiences of my life to control me and to determine who I was as a person.
This is what is called dharma. It is living the life that is truly natural to your soul. It is really being your true self and living in accordance with that true self. There is a story of a Bodhisattva who was sitting by the water’s edge. A priest who was approaching him heard him saying “ouch” repeatedly. As he drew nearer, he noticed there was a scorpion that was drowning. As he watched the scorpion and the Bodhisattva he was astonished to see that each time the scorpion began to drown, the Bodhisattva reached into the water and pulled it out. And each time after each time it was being pulled out of the water the scorpion would sting the Bodhisattva’s hand. Afters it was pulled out the scorpion would return to the water and the scenario would be repeated.
The priest looked at the Bodhisattva in frustration and asked, “Master, you know that the scorpion is going to sting you, why do you repeatedly lift it out of the water?” The Bodhisattva responded, “It is the dharma of the scorpion to sting—and it is my dharma to save.” In this lifetime “to save” is not everyone’s dharma. There are even those humans whose dharma is to “sting”. Yet many, whose dharma it is to save, to help, and to love his fellow man—hold back out of fear of rejection or ridicule. So instead, they do what others do and, in acting against their dharma, they sadly create unnecessary karma.
It is my belief, and this is very personal, that it is the innate desire of each person to be loved unconditionally and to be allowed—regardless of past actions—to be the best one can be. I once read somewhere that loving is giving what you most need to receive. And this is why I say that this is personal, because it is what I would want to be given to me. So I chose to give others an opportunity to be trusted, even if they had not shown themselves to be trustworthy in the past, and to create a non-judgmental space for people to feel safe enough to change if they chose to do so. Perhaps, eight out of ten times this proved disastrous for me, but it wasn’t a personal loss because, having given something consciously, it was not taken from me. When I claimed my power, I claimed my right to give, to love, and to succeed in what I measured as success which was to be the best human being that I could. I no longer perceived myself as being a victim because I made the choice. I no longer perceived myself as being used or taken advantage of because I made a choice. Regardless of the perceptions of others, within myself I was becoming successful and that feeling was empowering.
Someone said that there are no bad people—only bad choices. I believe that because society is so fearful and so judgmental that some of us become forced into living out the persona of those bad choices in spite of an inner desire to rise above them. This is what happens to us during the Christmas season. It is a frozen moment in time when we may safely, without fear of loss or judgment, bring out what is best within us. We may experience the joy of giving and of sharing without feeling foolish, without fearing that we will be used or taken advantage of. The fears of our society have made those for whom giving and loving are the source of joy feel weak and defective. We have equated kindness not only with stupidity but with what this society considers to be the most detestable fault that one can have—that of weakness. My own father went to his grave fearing for my survival because of those exact traits that most endeared me to him.
For too long, people who do really care about the welfare of others have been made to feel ashamed of that feeling. They are either labeled, “Bleeding Heart Liberals”, or made to believe that they suffer from some form of inferiority complex. And to a large extent they do suffer from a complex. This is because there has been no place in the everyday world for good people. Even hearing the word in my head as I write makes me almost feel as those I am describing a leper. Good people have to find their own path and fight the world, their loved ones, and even themselves so as to stay on it. It has been very difficult after goodness lost favor with the general public in response to the sixties. So, unless one fits into the category of being an aged hippy, or a left over love child—good people have little or no support for their beliefs about life and the way to live it. I found that it is easy to feel confident when you believe in who you are. It was the believing that took some time, but it always does when you are swimming against the tide. The thing to remember is that it only takes one person to make a path—anywhere—and everyone else will eventually follow. It takes belief to develop confidence, and a willingness to walk alone to make that path, but once the path is made, you are not alone for long.
Now, it is time for all of the bleeding hearts to be proud that their hearts are not too cold, or too hard to bleed. It is time that we acknowledge that it is neither bad nor stupid to be good. It is spiritual. And one does not have to join an order to be spiritual and to live a life that exemplifies the spiritual principals taught by every Light that God has sent down to earth to lead us. For too long, we have bought into that dog eat dog world. We are not animals we are spiritual beings. We are meant to rise above survival of the fittest and that dog eat dog belief. We are meant to love, to care, and to be our brother’s keeper. We don’t have to wait until it becomes cool or in, to be good we have to be good long enough, and with enough courage and conviction that it becomes cool. There are no catchy phrases which praise being a good person. There are only phrases denigrating it. If someone is too good—then they are not true, or they are a stupid, a wimp, an easy mark, or a sucker. It actually amazes me that one can’t be too thin, or can’t be too rich, but one can be too good! We have gone so far down the wrong path that when someone does something right or is too decent, or humane, either their motives or their intelligence are immediately suspect.
It is time to lift ourselves out of the jungle where only the strong survive. It is time to leave the kingdom where dogs eat dogs and enter the kingdom where mankind can love and care for all living things. It is time for us to rise to the position that is befitting those who were created in the image of God, that image of the loving, caring, and forgiving caretaker that God is. How can we speak in His name, when we ourselves celebrate the animal in us and demean the God in us? God is goodness. If enough people find the courage to be proud of caring, proud of giving, and proud of trusting, then others will find it wise and cool to do the same. The world is in sore need of all the loving, giving, caring people it can support. And that does not mean confined in a religious order, but out in the world living an example that others can be encouraged to follow. There is an infinite distance between nowhere and the first step, but once that first step is taken, we find that the universe takes our hand the rest of the way.