Dharma Topic: The Enlightened Samaritan

Dharma Topic: The Enlightened Samaritan

Discussion date: Thu, Feb 03, 2005 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

Our gathering this Thursday evening, February 3rd,,will begin at 6:30 with an Orientation for new comers and friends who wish to ask questions or share experiences about the basic mindfulness practices.

The topic for this week’s program is The EnlightenedSamaritan. Thich Nhat Hanh often says that to truly love, to truly offer compassion, we must transform our sense of individuality.

We have to wake up to the fact that everything is connected to everything else. Our safety and wellbeing cannot be individual matters anymore. If they are not safe, there is no way that we can be safe. Taking care of other people’s safety is taking care of our own safety. To take care of their well-being is to take care of our own well-being. It is the mind of discrimination and separation that is at the foundation of all violence and hate.

My right hand has written all the poems that I have composed. My left hand has not written a single poem. But my right hand does not think, “Left Hand, you are good for nothing.” My right hand does not have a superiority complex. That is why it is very happy. My left hand does not have any complex at all. In my two hands there is the kind of wisdom called the wisdom of nondiscrimination. One day I was hammering a nail and my right hand was not very accurate and instead of pounding on the nail it pounded on my finger. It put the hammer down and took care of the left hand in a very tender way, as if it were taking care of itself. It did not say, “Left Hand, you have to remember that I have taken good care of you and you have to pay me back in the future.” There was no such thinking. And my left hand did not say, “Right Hand, you have done me a lot of harm—give me that hammer, I want justice.” My two hands know that they are members of one body; they are in each other.

– From Thich Nhat Hanh’s Talk to Members of Congress, September 10, 2003.

Ruben Habito, a Zen teacher, former Jesuit, and practicingCatholic, develops a similar theme in the essay excerpted below, TheEnlightened Samaritan: A Zen Reading of a Christian Parable. Our discussionwill focus on our ways of practice that help us develop our compassion, help uslearn ways to live like the Good Samaritan.

You are invited to join us for our orientation, our sitting and our program.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher


The Enlightened Samaritan: A Zen Reading of a Christian Parable.

On one occasion a lawyer came forward to put this test question to him: “Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” “That is the right answer,” said Jesus; “do that and you will live.”

But he wanted to vindicate himself, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was on his way from Jerusalem down to Jericho when he fell in with robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went off, leaving him half dead. It so happened that a priest was going down by the road; but when he saw him, he went past on the other side. So too, a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him went past to the other side. But a Samaritan who was making the journey came upon him and when he saw him was moved to pity. He went up and bandaged his wounds, bathing them with oil and wine. Then he lifted him on to his own beast, brought him to an inn, and looked after him there. Next day, he produced two silver pieces and gave them to the innkeeper, and said `Look after him; and if you spend any more, I will repay you on my way back.’ Which of these three do you think was neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He answered, “The one who showed him kindness.” Jesus said, “Go and do as he did” (Luke 10:25-37).

. . .

. . . if we take this story merely as a moral injunction to help those in need, we easily miss the import of the passage. Such a moralistic reading catches us in a dualistic mentality: separating “I the helper”from “those others in need.”

But this is not quite what the passage is about at its deepest level. Here we meet with the word translated into English as compassion.This word in Greek (the language in which the New Testament is written) issplanchnizomai, and means, literally, “to be moved in one’s gut”(closer to the point, “in one’s bowels” or “in one’s innards”). That is, “being moved to the very depths of one’s being.” The Latin root of the English word compassion means “to suffer with,” which, in the Greek, is rendered in a rather “gutsy,”bodily kind of way-“to feel the pain of another in one’s own gut.” In short, the pain of the person lying there on the road is experienced as my very own pain, right at the core of my own being. It is no longer a case of being upon one’s donkey saying, “Ah, too bad! That poor fellow! Let me come downand help,” as it were from an outsider’s standpoint. The Samaritan was”moved, and felt the pain in his very gut.” At that very instant hesaw through and overcame the barrier of self and other, and the pain of thewounded traveler became manifest as his very own. Jumping off the donkey, treating the wounds, making provisions for shelter and care were but the most natural kind of action to follow. Just as if an itchy feeling arose in my right arm, without even thinking, my left hand would move in its direction, my fingers would start scratching, and when they had done their job by relieving the itch, my left hand would go on back doing whatever it was doing before. And all this, without the right hand even “knowing” what the left hand did.

There is a koan in the collection called the Blue CliffRecord, which goes like this: Yun-men asked Tao-wu: “What does theBodhisattva of Compassion make of all those hands and eyes?” Tao-wu said:”It is like adjusting a pillow with an outstretched hand in the middle of the night.”

We will look [later] at this Bodhisattva of Compassion with a thousand hands . . ., but here our focus is on the answer: an outstretched hand adjusting a pillow in the middle of the night. It is the middle of thenight, the night of emptiness, the night of unknowing. One is asleep. In short, there is no trace of self-consciousness as to what is going on. And in the middle of this, somehow, as my pillow slips off, and my head feels displaced, spontaneously, my hand reaches out to adjust the pillow, and I go back to sleep.That’s all. This koan is saying, “That’s compassion.”

. . .

What we “need to do” to enter eternal life is presented to us in this story. But it is not translated into the prescription to”help our neighbor in need,” though we are certainly not saying that one should not do so. All the Samaritan “did” was simply the most natural and spontaneous action that would follow upon breaking through the dualistic perception of “I” and “other.” It was the pain oft he wounded traveler that, to use a Zen term here, became the “turning word” for the Samaritan, opening his heart and mind to enlightened action, activating the power of compassion.

As we look around us, the world is filled with all kinds of possible “turning words” that can open our eyes to this world of nonduality. The trees, the mountains, the sky, stones, rivers, are all saying,”Look at me, and see!” Can you hear them? For some of us whose hearts have been hardened by our own self-preoccupations, or by idealistic expectations that keep us dissatisfied with what is available, or else for those of us who have come to take these wonders for granted, we need to be thrown off our donkey, as it were, by something a little more jolting, like the very real and concrete pain of the trees of the Amazon being felled, the mountains being leveled by mining companies to get the minerals underneath, the earth being polluted by industrial waste. The pain of the refugees in war-torn countries, the pain of the starving children. The pain of those harassed or treated with discrimination due to ethnic origin or skin color or gender or sexual orientation. Or the pain of a friend who has lost a loved one in death. In the last part of the story, Jesus asked, “And who do you think was neighbor to that man in pain?” The lawyer’s answer was, “The one who had mercy.” Jesus responded, “Go and do as he did.”

– From Ruben L. F. Habito, Living Zen, Loving God(Boston: Wisdom Books, 2004).

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Feb 03, 2005


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