Wisdom and Compassion


IMG_0337Darkness seems to be a theme in today’s readings. Susannah walked in a dark valley until Daniel in his wisdom vindicated her. Psalm 23 speaks about walking in a dark valley.  Jesus informs the people that he is “the Light of the World” and that his followers shall not walk in darkness.

Darkness is scary. Things go bump in the night. Nightmares cause us to breathe a big sigh of relief when we waken and realize the dream was not real. In abbeys the final act after chanting the last hour of the daily cycle is the abbot’s blessing of the monks as they enter the dark of night. The Phantom of the Opera sings of “The Music of the Night:”

Floating, falling, sweet intoxication

Touch me, trust me, savor each sensation

Let the dream begin, Let your darker side give in 
To the Power of the music that I write, 
The Power of the Music of the Night! (http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/a/andrew_lloyd_webber/music_of_the_night.html)
The darkness of night is scary but dream analysis can set us free from deeply buried fears; however, I want to go in another direction with this reflection.

Mystics speak of darkness and emptiness—the void.  When we let go and descend into and the darkness and emptiness of our deepest being, we discover our true self. The life cycle is samsara suffering and nirvana delight. A sign at the White Sands Buddhist Center reads. “All the way to Nirvana is Nirvana.” Another reads, “Every step of the journey is the journey.” In Buddhism, Nirvana is “The ineffable ultimate in which one has attained disinterested wisdom and compassion.” Wisdom and compassion are the primary virtues in Buddhism. The purpose of all human striving is to come into the light of the true self. Emerging from the darkness of the false self, we gain wisdom, probably only in the second half of life, which must translate into compassion for all sentient beings. Merton further awakened to the light on his Nirvana journey when he beheld the smiling faces of the Buddhas at Polonnawura.

The historical Jesus became the Risen Christ, the fully enlightened being who could rightly refer to himself as the Light of the World. Many consider Jesus to be first and foremost a wisdom teacher. His close union with Abba had initiated him into the second half of life—the wisdom half. He understood the being in the light means loving one another, forgiving enemies and showing great compassion to those on the margins of life. Compassion is the distinguishing virtue of the Bodhisattvas and of Jesus. Faced with the dark depths of human misery, the scriptures tell us that Jesus felt compassion. The word for compassion actually means that his gut twisted within him. He felt and showed deep compassion. The Risen Cosmic Christ is indeed the Light of the World for Christians as the Buddha is the Light of the World for Buddhists. This is what Merton understood when he pierced through the surface and “got beyond the shadow and disguise.” As Matt Fox says so wisely, “Many streams , one River.” God is one and there are many paths to God.  

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