Bankei Yōtaku was one of the great Japanese Zen masters, he lived for years as a hermit and when he finally reached enlightenment, he refused an honorable position inside the monastery and preferred to continue to help in the kitchen. However, the fame of his wisdom was so great that students came from all over Japan to listen to him.
It is said that during one of those meditation weeks, one of the disciples was caught stealing. The young man was reported to Bankei to expel him. But Bankei ignored the case.
A few days later, they surprised the disciple again by committing a similar act but, once again, Bankei ignored the question. This situation angered the other disciples, who wrote a petition asking that the thief leave the monastery because they did not consider him worthy to be there. If the Zen master had not expelled him, they would have left the monastery.
When Bankei read the petition, he gathered all his disciples and said to them:
“You are wise people” he told them. – You know the difference between right and wrong. You can go to another monastery to continue your apprenticeship, if you wish. But this poor young man does not even know how to distinguish the good from the evil. Who will teach him if I don’t? I will keep him close to me until he learns.
A river of tears flooded the face of the disciple that had stolen. At that precise moment, all the desire to steal was gone.
Everyone can criticize, few can forgive and be compassionate
Sometimes, a simple story can teach us much more than a philosophy book. The enormous power of the stories is due to the fact that overcome the barriers of rationality, touching the emotional fibers, which are those that generate the deepest knowledge.
In fact, in Buddhism it is stated that everything worth to be learned cannot be taught. It means that the most important lessons, those that change and transform the way we see the world, come from within.
Bankei offers us a great lesson through this simple story and reminds us of something that a large part of our society seems to have forgotten: critics say more of those who criticize, rather than those who are criticized. If we want to be remembered and really build a better world, we should practice much more forgiveness and compassion.
Bankei invites us to reflect on the ease with which we can turn our backs on people who are wrong, to those who do not share our views or behave in a way that is contrary to our values. Instead of building a bridge, we prefer to label them as “toxic people” and flee.
At the social level, sometimes occur authentic media lynching, which reinforce the idea that it is right to criticize, even if we do not know the person, his motivations and we do not even have the certainty that he acted wrongly. We do it because it comforts us to think that there are evil and good absolute, this idea gives us an illusory sense of order and security.
When we judge the other we pretend to put ourselves on top of him, making sure that we are “better” because we would never act in the same way. So we deny the duality that exists within us and, in a certain way, we project it onto the other. We deny the negative values and attitudes that frighten us and we believe to see in the other.
Of course, it is not about rewarding bad behavior, there is no doubt that society must maintain a certain order, and therefore there are rules and punishments for those who do not respect them. Nor is it a matter of taking a masochistic position by turning the other cheek, in some cases, getting away from some people is the only thing we can do to preserve our emotional balance. But before criticizing the others and exclude them from our lives, it would be appropriate to take the time to try to help them.
Feeling compassion for a vulnerable or suffering person is a natural response, our brain is “programmed” for this. Forgiving those who have made mistakes and trying to help them change is much more complicated, because it requires a conscious act in which we must be able to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. This act requires not only a great effort but also a huge self-confidence.
However, if we stopped for a moment to look deeper, beyond behavior, we could see the person. A study conducted at the University of California revealed that the most critical and fierce people are also the most vulnerable from an emotional point of view, because they use criticism as a defensive strategy to hide their fragility.
This beautiful Zen story encourages us not to rush judging people and learn to forgive, to compassionately help those who do not have the same tools that we have. Sometimes, to help, it is enough to give example and demonstrate that we are able to forgive, feel compassionate and be tolerant.
Schriber, R. A. et. Al. (2017) Dispositional contempt: A first look at the contemptuous person. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; 113(2): 280-309.