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《Lessons for Elementary Schools (4)》__ Kong Shiu Loon (53)

Compassion and Selfishness

“We learned two words today,” Nancy tells her Grandpa after school as they do their daily chat on the old rocker at the front porch.

“Why only two?” Grandpa asks.

“One is already a lot, because its meaning covers far and wide, Mr. Shaw told us.”

“Let me guess. It has four alphabets,” says Grandpa. He and Nancy enjoy playing little games.

“I’ll give you one more chance.”

“I would still say the word love, because no other word has more meaning.”

“Wrong again, Grandpa, we learned the word compassion. It has ten alphabets.”

"What is the second word?”

“It is selfishness.”

“OK, what did you learn about the word compassion?

”Mr. Shaw said that compassion knows no bounds, that it is in everyone and exercised everywhere. The word was in Latin originally, meaning commitment. In English it is made up of the prefix com, meaning with, and the word passion, meaning feelings and empathy. All religions consider compassion as the highest virtue, and Buddhism has the clearest explanation, using the actions of Guang Yin the Goddess of Mercy for illustration.”

“Wow, that sounds very deep and difficult to understand.”

“Not so, Grandpa. Mr. Shaw said that compassion is human nature. We respect other people as a way of respecting ourselves. We feel for others who suffer pain and unhappiness, and we reach out to help with words and actions. Like, when I see someone drowning, I would call others to save him.”

“Why would you not do it yourself?”

“Grandpa, you know I cannot swim. And we did have a discussion about it in class. Alfred said just calling for help was not an action of compassion and  that one should jump into the water to help, no matter what. Rose said that would be foolish and that one should know one’s own ability. She pointed out that just jumping into water would mean getting drowned together. And other classmates joined in to take sides. In the end, we had no conclusion."

“Why would Mr. Shaw not tell who was right?” asks Grandpa.

“Mr. Shaw had other things to say. He told us that all the ancient Chinese sages had wisdom about compassion, like Confucius and Laozi and more. In Buddhism, Buddha once asked Guang Yin about her work of compassion and love. The latter replied that, in the Chinese language, a phrase of two-word ci bei (慈悲) means happy with and getting rid of pain or trouble. Guang Yin once lived at Wu Tai Shan, which was a five-mountain territory under the ocean at the beginning of the universe. Over thousands of years, she saw all the ships and junks passing by, some containing happy and successful people, others containing people who were sad and even drowned by waves. She decided to be with them all, and helping whenever there was a need.”

Grandpa was very pleased. He said; “I am glad that your teacher teaches you these things. I remember my mother told me about it in more or less the same way.”

“Was your mom a teacher too?”

“No, she was just a housewife taking care of her family and telling us kids about what she knew from her own mother. You see, we had no school like yours in the old days.”

“But, you know so much, Grandpa.”

“Well, you are a good fan. But, I learned from experience. That means just by doing things that are productive and good. Now, tell me about the other word you learned today.”

“That’s more simple. Mr. Shaw said that a selfish person believes in and cares for only himself. He has no respect for the rights and dignity of other people or living things.”

“Do you know anyone like that, Nancy?”

“May be kind of, like Elaine. She is very possessive of what she knows, and never likes to share things with the rest of us.”

“You mean her being first in all competitions?”

“No, we all know she is smart and all the firsts belong to her. But, like I sometimes ask her to explain something to me, and she just told me to leave her alone. I remember that one time, she even said to me that I was dumb.”

“That is awful,” said Grandpa, “are you annoyed and angry with her?”

“Oh no,” says Nancy, “we are classmates. We play together. I just do not ask her about things any more. I know she is a bit selfish."

“That is my darling Nancy!” Grandpa hugged her tightly. “You have our Chinese heritage. In The Book of Analects, a student asked the Master what was the best way of treating a person who complained about you, like being dumb or pretending. Confucius replied that one should exercise the virtue of forgiveness, and better still, to show your accuser your kindness in accepting different points of view, even if such views were meant to hurt.”

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