The great ocean of compassion

“What can never be held in the single human heart may be held in the great ocean of shared human compassion.” (p. 6, The Buddha’s Wife)

One well-known Buddhist story, commonly referred to as the “mustard seed,” is about a young mother, Kisa Gotami, whose infant son dies from illness. Stricken with deep grief, she’s unable to accept that her son has died, and instead, carries her baby around the village seeking help to bring him back. No one, of course, is able to help her, but one sympathetic villager tells her about the Buddha. She immediately goes searching for him.

Upon finding the Buddha, Gotami, falls upon her knees and begs him to help her son. He instructs her to bring him back a mustard seed from the first home she visits that has not experienced death, and with this mustard seed he can make a remedy. Gotami knocks door after door, visiting every home in the village and surrounding area, and not one was able to give her the sought-after mustard seed…every home and family had experienced death and grief from losing a loved one.

Through this search for the mustard seed, Gotami “wakes up” to the insight that all beings experience death, and the reality of life’s impermanence. She discovers for herself, through the Buddha’s instruction, the wisdom and enlightenment of shared experience and compassion. She is then able to bury her son, and open her heart to life again.

In our book, Yasodhara says the quote above to her circle of women, and its significance is the understanding: we are not alone. When you feel or believe that your heart can no longer “hold” grief, it is an opportunity to reach out to others…and realize how we all share the same life tragedies and pain. Through the pain can compassion enter. Cultivating compassion is a window to another’s heart and life, and ultimately, to our own.

Take a moment today to reflect on how the mustard seed story is relevant to your own life: Is there a grief from loss that feels too enormous to face on your own? Is there someone you might reach out to? A friend or someone you know who might have a shared experience, or finding a circle of people? Perhaps a grief counselor? There are caregiver support groups, Al-Anon, hospice bereavement organizations…take action and show up for your self and it will most likely benefit others too.