Bankei Yōtaku was one of the great Japanese Zen masters, lived for years as a hermit and when he finally achieved enlightenment, he rejected an honorable position within the monastery and preferred to continue helping in the kitchen. However, the fame of his wisdom was so great that students came from all over Japan to listen to him.
It is said that during one of those weeks of meditation, one of the disciples was caught stealing. The young man was reported to Bankei for expulsion. But Bankei ignored the case.
A few days later, they surprised the disciple again by committing a similar act but, once again, Bankei ignored the claim. This situation angered the other disciples, who wrote a petition demanding that the thief leave the monastery because they did not consider him worthy to be there. If the Zen master did not expel him, they would leave the monastery.
When Bankei read the petition, he gathered all his disciples together and said:
“You are wise people who know the difference between right and wrong. They can go to another monastery to continue their learning, if they wish. But this poor young man doesn’t even know how to tell good from bad. Who will teach you if I don’t? I will keep him close to me until he learns. “
A river of tears flooded the face of the disciple he had stolen. At that precise moment, all the desire to steal was gone.
All can criticize, few can forgive and be compassionate
Sometimes a simple story can teach us much more than a philosophy book. The enormous power of stories is due to the fact that they overcome the barriers of rationality, touching the emotional fibers, which are those that generate the deepest knowledge.
In fact, it is stated in Buddhism that everything that is worth learning cannot be taught. It means that the most important lessons, those that change and transform the way we see the world, come from within.
Bankei offers us a great lesson through this simple story and reminds us of something that a large part of our society seems to have forgotten: the critics say more than the critics, than the critics . If we want to be remembered and truly build a better world, we must practice forgiveness and compassion much more .
Bankei invites us to reflect on the ease with which we can turn our backs on people who are wrong, on those who do not share our views or behave contrary to our values. Instead of building a bridge, we prefer to label them “toxic people” and run away.
At the social level, authentic media lynchings sometimes occur, reinforcing the idea that it is correct to criticize, even if we do not know the person, their motivations and are not even sure that they acted incorrectly. We do it because it consoles us to think that there is evil and absolute good, this idea gives us an illusory sense of order and security.
When we judge the other we try to put ourselves on top of him, making sure that we are “better” because we would never act in the same way. So, we deny the duality that exists within us and, in a way, we project it onto the other. We deny negative values and attitudes that scare us and we think we see in the other.
Of course, it is not about rewarding bad behavior, there is no doubt that society must maintain a certain order, and therefore there are rules and punishments for those who do not respect them. Nor is it a matter of adopting a masochistic position “turning the other cheek”; in some cases, getting away from some people is the only thing we can do to preserve our emotional balance and peace. But before we criticize others and exclude them from our lives, it would be appropriate to take the time to try to help them.
Feeling compassion for a vulnerable or suffering person is a natural response, our brain is “programmed” for this. Forgiving those who made mistakes and trying to help them change is much more complicated, because it requires a conscious act in which we can put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. This act requires not only great effort but also great self-confidence.
However, if we stopped for a moment to look deeper, beyond the behavior, we could see the person. A study conducted at the University of California revealed that the most critical and fierce people are also the most emotionally vulnerable, as they use criticism as a defensive strategy to hide their fragility.
This beautiful Zen story encourages us not to rush to judge people and learn to forgive, to compassionately help those who do not have the same tools as us. Sometimes, to help, it is enough to set an example and show that we are capable of forgiveness, compassion and tolerance.