Sugimori was hunched over the corner table, slurping a bowl of noodles. Behind him he could hear the crowd in the noodle shop excitedly discussing the sighting of a holy man. The sage had come to town for supplies and then returned to his home in the wilderness.
Finishing his noodles, Sugimori turned to face his fellow villagers and asked, “Does anyone know where he lives?” “I do, said the fishmonger, “the holy man lives in the northeastern part of the forest.” Thanking his friend, he left for home. As he was lying on his futon that evening, Sugimori reflected how few people would have the opportunity to visit a holy man.
So, the next morning he decided to set off and call on him. The trip was difficult because the outskirts of villages were not developed in seventeen-century Japan. Despite the hardships he faced, however, Sugimori found the house in three days.
He stood before the door, and, as was the custom, shouted, “Excuse me!” (Is anyone home?). Within seconds, a servant in tattered garments slid open the door and asked how he could help. “I want to see your master;” Sugimori said, “take me to the holy man.”
“Very well, follow me.” Sugimori was led through the three rooms of the house and finally through the back door and into the garden. As his tattered clothes billowed in the breeze, the servant bowed and said, “Thank you for coming. Good-bye.”
“Wait a moment,” Sugimori protested, “I want to see the holy man!”
“You already have.” came the reply. “Every person you meet, whether in rags or well dressed, rich or poor, young or old, learned or uneducated, male or female, sick or healthy, attractive or plain, well-mannered or ill-bred, boisterous or soft-spoken; everyone you meet is a holy person. Everyone is wholly human. Everyone is a teacher. Everyone is your sister or brother. Once you learn and live this truth, you, too, will be a wise, holy man.”
Those who treat everyone they meet as a holy person, live in peace. For their lives are free from conflict, impatience, or jealousy. How wise they are who treasure their fellow human beings, for the source of our strength and power are other people.
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At first it may appear that I am independent, working alone at home. But my computer was designed, manufactured, distributed, and sold by people. If it breaks down, people service it. My software was programmed and my frozen lunch manufactured by people. The list goes on and on. We are completely dependent on one another.
We not only need one another to exchange our services, but to learn from each other as well. We learn and develop our skills by working together. And the good examples and mistakes of others teach us what to imitate or avoid. Less obvious, however, is how important the weaknesses of others are for our spiritual growth. After all, how can we practice patience, acceptance, and compassion unless others are irritable, rude, or thoughtless?
To put it in another way, we need others because it is through interacting with them that we discover and create who we are. When we act kindly toward others, we become kind. When we forgive others, we become forgiving. When we try to understand the thoughts and feelings of others, we become understanding. And when we feel the pain of others, we become compassionate.
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After they were both finished eating, Martha started clearing the table and said, “That was a great lunch, Sue. Let me help you with the cleanup. As they washed, rinsed, and dried the dishes, Sue pointed at the window to the bed sheet drying in her neighbor’s yard. “Look,” she said disgustedly, “did you ever see such a dirty bed sheet? My neighbor has no shame!” “But Sue,” said Martha appalled, “it’s not the bed sheet, but your kitchen window that’s dirty!”
That brief story is an excellent metaphor for how we project our own failings on others. In other words we blame them for our own shortcomings. This is another way we can learn from others, not by THEIR behaviour, but by OUR feelings. So, whenever we are tempted to belittle or criticize another, it is a sign that there is something we do not like about ourselves. When we have such an urge, we should bite our tongue and remember to work on improving ourselves. For the happier we are with ourselves, the happier we will be with others, and the easier it will become to realize that everyone is a holy person. Remember, to belittle is to be little. It is to be small hearted and have little confidence. Learn to open your heart to everyone and you will open the doors to endless opportunities, friendships, and learning.
– – – – – –
Her eyes fluttered. Just before drifting into sleep, Hazel wondered what it would be like in Heaven. Suddenly she found herself in an ordinary small town. Yet, something told her that she was in Heaven. Puzzled, she approached a handsome young man who shone as brightly as an angel. “Excuse me,” she said,” but is this Heaven?”
The handsome being said, “You can find Heaven in any of the homes on this street.” So, Hazel entered the nearest home. But all she saw were ordinary people doing ordinary things. Confused, she returned to the luminous being. “I looked in the house,” she said, “but the people don’t seem to be in Heaven.” The handsome man smiled and said, “No, you misunderstand. They are not in Paradise, but Paradise is in them.” When we open our hearts to others by seeing them as holy, we also open our hearts to Paradise. But those who demean and ridicule others have constricted hearts that prevent Heaven from flowing in.
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Hasidic Jews have a rich repository of instructional tales. In one such tale, a Rabbi asked his pupils how they could tell when night turns into day and darkness into light. “It is when there is enough light to distinguish between distant olive and fig trees.” said one pupil. Another volunteered, “It is when it is bright enough to tell the difference between distant dogs and cats.” After they all had a chance to speak, the Rabbi said, “All were good answers. But the answer I want you to remember, comprehend, and live by is simply this: it is when you can look at the face of any man or woman and see them as holy people or your brother and sister. Until that time, it is still night.”
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The passengers on the bus watched sympathetically as the attractive young woman with the white cane made her way carefully up the steps. She paid the driver and, using her hands to feel the location of the seats, walked down the aisle and found the seat he had told her was empty. Then she settled in, placed her briefcase on her lap and rested her cane against her leg.
It had been a year since Safiya, thirty-four, became blind. Due to a medical misdiagnosis she had been rendered sightless, and she was suddenly thrown into a world of darkness, anger, frustration and self-pity. Once a fiercely independent woman, Safiya now felt condemned by this terrible twist of fate to become a powerless, helpless burden on everyone around her.
“How could this have happened to me?” she would plead, her heart knotted with anger. But no matter how much she cried or ranted, she knew the painful truth that her sight was never going to return. A cloud of depression hung over Safiya’s once optimistic spirit. Just getting through each day was an exercise in frustration and exhaustion. And all she had to cling to was her husband Meraj.
Meraj was an Air Force officer and he loved Safiya with all of his heart. When she first lost her sight, he watched her sink into despair and was determined to help his wife gain the strength and confidence she needed to become independent again. Meraj’s military background had trained him well to deal with sensitive situations, and yet he knew this was the most difficult battle he would ever face.
Finally, Safiya felt ready to return to her job, but how would she get there? She used to take the bus, but was now too frightened to get around the city by herself. Meraj volunteered to drive her to and from work each day, even though they worked at opposite ends of the city.
At first, this comforted Safiya and fulfilled Meraj’s need to protect his sightless wife who was so insecure about performing the slightest task. Soon, however, Meraj realized that this arrangement was not working — it was hectic, and costly. Safiya is going to have to start taking the bus again, he admitted to himself. But just the thought of mentioning it to her made him cringe. She was still so fragile, so angry. How would she react?
Just as Meraj predicted, Safiya was horrified at the idea of taking the bus again. “I am blind!” she responded bitterly. “How am I supposed to know where I am going? I feel like you are abandoning me.”
Meraj’s heart broke to hear these words, but he knew what had to be done. Meraj promised Safiya that each morning and evening he would ride the bus with her, for as long as it took, until she got the hang of it. And that is exactly what happened. For two solid weeks, Meraj, military uniform and all, accompanied Safiya to and from work each day. Meraj taught her how to rely on her other senses, specifically her hearing, to determine where she was and how to adapt to her new environment.
Meraj helped her befriend the bus drivers who could watch out for her and save her a seat. Meraj made her laugh, even on those not-so-good days when she would trip exiting the bus or drop her briefcase. Each morning they made the journey together and Meraj would take a cab back to his office. Although this routine was even more costly and exhausting than the previous one, Meraj knew it was only a matter of time before Safiya would be able to ride the bus on her own. Meraj believed in her, in the Safiya he used to know before she would lose her sight, who was not afraid of any challenge and who would never, ever quit.
Finally, Safiya decided that she was ready to try the trip on her own. Monday morning arrived, and before she left, she threw her arms around Meraj, her temporary bus riding companion, her husband, and her best friend. Her eyes filled with tears of gratitude for his loyalty, his patience, his love. Safiya said good-bye, and for the first time, they went their separate ways.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday… Each day on her own went perfectly and Safiya had never felt better. Safiya was doing it! She was going to work all by herself!
On Friday morning, Safiya took the bus to work as usual. As she was paying for her fare, the driver said, “Sister, I sure envy you.”
Safiya was not sure if the driver was speaking to her or not. After all, who on earth would ever envy a blind woman who had struggled just to find the courage to live for the past year? Curious, she asked the driver, “Why do you say that you envy me?”
The driver responded, “It must feel so good to be taken care of and protected like you are.”
Safiya had no idea what the driver was talking about, and asked again, “What do you mean?”
The driver answered, “You know, every morning for the past week, a fine looking gentleman in a military uniform has been standing across the corner watching you when you get off the bus. He makes sure you cross the street safely and he watches you until you enter your office building. Then he blows you a kiss, gives you a little salute and walks away. You are one lucky woman.”
Tears of happiness poured down Safiya’s cheeks. For although she could not physically see him, she had always felt Meraj’s presence. Safiya was lucky, so lucky, for he had given her a gift more powerful than sight, a gift she did not need to see to believe — Gift of Love that can bring light where there had been darkness…
(This beautiful story of two beautiful people was taken from this beautiful Muslim website.)
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Yes, the world is filled with beautiful people, but not everyone can see that. You see, some divide the world into us and them, into good and bad people, into right and wrong people. Those who divide the world like that are unwilling to work with others unless they can first change them to their way of thinking. Their rigid way of thinking prevents them from hearing what others have to say. Rather than learn from others, thereby expanding their understanding and worldview, they view foreign ideas as threats, thereby further entrenching themselves into their limited beliefs.
Do we see people as beautiful or do we divide the world into fragments? We don’t divide the sky into good and bad sky, but see it as a whole. Why can’t we do the same with humanity, accepting each person as wholly human? Are we willing to listen to what others have to say? Can we break through the barriers of fear and mistrust of people who are ‘different’? Aren’t the differences we share no more different than the clothes we wear? Underneath, aren’t we all the same?
I believe all people are good, all are beautiful. All are doing the best they can under their circumstances. Some have been deprived of love and abused in childhood. And through no fault of their own they have suffered greatly. We don’t blame plants for growing twisted and weak if they have been denied water and the necessary nutrients. Why, then, do we blame the victims of abuse for growing violent? Their violence is the only way they know how to protect themselves from what they perceive as a hostile world.
Many of the world’s ‘bad’ people have been completely turned around because some caring person offered them love and understanding for the first time. For some of the abused, however, it may be too late. They have been so severely scarred that there’s little or no likelihood of being healed. Although they are victims deserving of our understanding, they may pose a threat to the public. So, the duty of an advanced society is to rehabilitate these lost souls where possible and to separate them from the public when it is not possible. The purpose of prison should not be to punish them (after all, they are victims too), but to protect society. And rehabilitation should always be a goal.
Many travel to church, the synagogue, temple, mosque, or shrine to pay homage to Our Creator.
Yet, He lives in the heart of our neighbor, coworker, boss, spouse, or children. Of what value is it to act piously in a building (church), yet neglect the dwelling place of Our Creator (the hearts of everyone we meet)?
Don’t you agree with the following words of Buddha, Ramakrishna, and Thomas À Kempis?
“However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act upon them?” (Buddha, 563-483 BC)
“Many good sayings are to be found in holy books, but merely reading them will not make one religious.” (Ramakrishna, 1836~1886)
“Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life… I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace…” (Thomas À Kempis, 1380~1471)
When dealing with religious people, if we are not religious, or when dealing with religious people when we are of another religion, do we see them as ‘wrong’ or as wholly human? When we see them as wholly human, we see them as beautiful, worth listening to, and worth learning from. But we won’t discover their beauty until we first learn to listen with an open mind and heart.
In the story of Safiya, the blind lady, which do you suppose she valued most: the gifts of her lover (husband) or the love of the giver? We have received a gift greater than any Safiya received from her husband, for we have received the gift of life. Imagine the love that accompanied that gift. Let’s share a little of that love with everyone we meet. After all, everyone is beautiful.