The Well of Compassion is Full of Emotion

When we get to the core of any emotion, even anger, we discover a wakeful energy free of drama, unattached to any situation. We have come to the well of compassion into which all emotion empties eventually. No longer do we thirst for we drink what we once found undrinkable.

It is a story we relive all our lives.

Immersed in our own drama, we exhibit behaviors to hide the heart of our anger. It is only when we strip away the story we have told ourselves—perhaps for years—that we discover the core of our anger. Once revealed, we empty ourselves, slaking our thirst with a cup of compassion.
Hawk 3

Not surprisingly, I am thinking of a story about the Buddha and an angry, young man. As the Buddha was walking through a village, he was approached by a young man who screamed at him. He taunted the Buddha, calling him stupid and a fake. The Buddha, the young man declared, had no right to teach anybody anything.

The Buddha quietly considered the young man before asking him a question. “’Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?’”*

The question was not what the young man expected, and he readily replied, “’It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.’*

“The Buddha smiled and said, `That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.’”*

That the Buddha did not react to the young man is anticipated yet in not accepting one gift, the Buddha offered another, the compassionate response: “If you want to stop hurting yourself, you must get rid of your anger and become loving instead. When you hate others, you yourself become unhappy. But when you love others, everyone is happy.”*

The story ends with the young man giving up his anger and deciding to follow the Buddha. Stories are illustrative, sometimes metaphorical, but always they enrich our lives with what is possible. Compassion is always an option, which is not to say it is an easy response. Anger confines, love expands—our choice.

Anger is not easily eschewed either, whether it comes from within or whether it is offered to us. Like love, anger has survived and evolved with us. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche observed: “Meeting anger with anger is like following a lunatic who jumps off a cliff. Do I have to go likewise? While it’s crazy for him to act the way he does, it’s even crazier for me to do the same.”**

In the 21st century, opportunities abound as daily we crisscross our planet and the paths of others. Each meeting is an opportunity to drink a cup of compassion or to go crazy with the craziness.

*Buddha and the Angry Young Man

**Reacting With Anger

11 thoughts on “The Well of Compassion is Full of Emotion

  1. Love the image of a cup of compassion. Yes, if we don’t accept/react to others emotions, they keep them for themselves. Rick Hanson quotes AA: Revenge is like drinking poison and waiting for your enemy to die. Love the lunatic jumping off a cliff analogy because hurtful emotions are like jumping off a cliff–We go straight to our reptilian brains. {{{hugs]}} Kozo


  2. This is great wisdom, Karen. I wish more people understood and practiced it. By writing a post like this, you inspire us to pay attention and remember in times of stress. I enjoyed my tour of your interesting blog.


    1. Thank you so much for taking a tour, Shirley. Compassion sustains each and every one of us and to know that is always available means in any moment everything can and will change. Only in my later years do I appreciate impermanence.


  3. You are so right. I was recently talking about forgiveness with a friend. That, too, can be a very difficult emotion, especially when immersed in lifelong wounds. I’d told this friend the lesson I learned a while back. The forgiveness may or may not help the person being forgiven, but it definitely helps the person who gives it. By forgiving we give ourselves permission to let go of the things holding us back (the anger, hurt, betrayal…whatever it may be) and finally move forward with peace and more space in our hearts for the better things like love.

    Thanks! I’d never heard that Buddha lesson, but it definitely spoke to me.


    1. Forgiveness is more than afterthought, as Mark Twain wrote: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” In forgiveness, we accept what was for it is no longer, and that, I think, is the loveliest of fragrances. We get to the core of our pain, and compassion allows us to heal. Thanks for such a lovely comment.


  4. I have a very weak anger response. but I think this story applies to any intense emotion that masks a calmer truth. One thing I have noticed is that when faced with the most devastating situations (terminal illness, immanent death) many people are surprisingly Buddha-like. They understand when something is irrevocable and accept what-is with grace–even if they fight and flail like the dickens when it looks as if there is a chance to punch their way out. Perhaps the light comes when we most need it.


    1. There were years I was angry but I left them. I agree that the calm at the core of emotion breaks through all appearances and what is left is life, the light that will take us where we need to go as well as show us right where we are. It is as if we finally grasp what it is to be, and that is enough.


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