Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > Equanimity & Compassion


She Burns Down the Monk's Hut

Equanimity & Compassion

Oct 10, 2021

Even when alone, the world can live within our hearts.

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Equanimity is an aspect of true love. It is far from indifference. Practicing equanimity, we love everyone equally.

*Thich Nhat Hanh. The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching.

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An older woman in China had supported a monk for over twenty years. She built a little hut for him and fed him while he was meditating. Finally, she wondered what progress he had made in all those years. To find out, she obtained the aid of a woman of great sexual desire. "Go and embrace him," she told her, "and ask him, 'What now?' "

The woman came upon the monk and caressed him, asking him what he would do about it. The monk said, matter of factly, "An old tree grows on a cold rock in winter. Nowhere is there any warmth."

The woman returned and shared what he said. "To think I fed that fellow for twenty years!" exclaimed the benefactor. "He showed no consideration for your needs, no disposition to know of your condition. He didn't need to respond to passion, but he should have shown some compassion."

The monk's patron proceeded to the hut. She burned it down.

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This old Zen tale shares how orthopraxy - right practice - can be an end in itself - a dead end (as with orthodoxy, or correct belief). The monk coldly voiced a koan-like reply, displaying his detachment and dispassion. Yet, in his detachment, he was detached from compassion.

The monk's expertise was more important to him than the well-being of the woman who appeared to seduce him. He did not seem interested in what suffering led her to do so. And he can be seen to assume something good about him was seductive to her.

Spiritual practice leads to emotional equanimity. However, this calm is not a lack of compassion. The detachment arising from spiritual practice opens us up; it does not close us down. The more we let go of attachment to others, the more we can love them. Letting go expands compassion. Our heart opens wider and wider, and more and more beings find a home there. Even when alone, the world can live within our hearts.

We turn outward to others through turning inward. Outward and inward are one movement. We are interested in the lives of others. In theistic terms, we find union with God is completed in union with others, while union with others is completed in union with God.


Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > Equanimity & Compassion

©Brian Wilcox 2021