The Shramana's kindness is an essential teaching and recurring theme in the Buddha's teachings. This is clearly shown in the important instructional talk the Buddha gave during one of the most unprecedented events in his teaching career. This event occurred several years after the Buddha's Great Awakening, when he had already sent out many holy monks to spread his teaching, the Dharma, throughout northeastern India. Without any prior appointment or announcement, 1250 of these holy enlightened monks came to where the Buddha was in the Bamboo Grove in Rajagriha at the same time.
At this rather unusual and auspicious gathering, the Buddha spoke a very concise summation of the Buddhist path in a set of three verses. This instruction was specifically meant for the Buddha's Shramanas, those who renounced the householder's life to devote themselves completely to the religious life. The Buddha indicated that these verses had also been spoken by other Buddhas in the past. The second set of verses is quite well known throughout the world at this present time. It is as follows:
Not doing any evil, upholding the good,
purifying one's mind—
This is the teaching of the Buddhas.
The first set of verses, less known, is as follows:
Patience is the highest austerity.
Nirvana is supreme, say the Buddhas.
He is not one who has "gone forth" who harms another.
Nor is he a Shramana who afflicts others.
In reading this one can't help but recognize the importance the Buddha placed on being kind towards others. Here the Buddha mentions twice, how a monk or nun should never afflict or harm others. This is what is meant by the Shramana's kindness.
Those who had the good fortune to spend a lot of time with our late Venerable Teacher saw that he exemplified the Shramana's kindness continuously throughout his daily life. To see and experience that kindness over and over again was more significant and influential than any other teaching. The following are some examples which should cause all of us to ponder and consider the deeper significance and meaning of the Shramana's kindness.
There once was a middle-aged Spanish woman who visited the old Gold Mountain Monastery to bow and pay her respects to the Venerable Master at least once or twice every week. It was rather unusual to see this woman, who did not understand much at all about the Buddha's teachings, show such devotion to the Master--as if he were the incarnation of a Catholic saint. She came faithfully to the monastery like this for about a year. Then suddenly she stopped coming. After about a month went by, one day the Master asked where she was. I responded that she hadn't come for a month now, and I did not know why. The Master then said: "Well, did you call her?" I was quite surprised and told the Master that I didn't think it was appropriate for a monk to be calling a lay person just to see how she was. I mean, monks are supposed to be detached from the world, right? And, in addition to that, she was a woman. The Master compassionately instructed us about the importance of having empathy for people. She was very sincere and came regularly. Her not coming might indicate that there was something wrong and she might need some help. I did call, and I discovered that she was indeed undergoing difficulties in her life. There were some serious family problems, and the call helped her, in the end, to get through it all. A few weeks later she was back in the monastery paying her respects to the Master again.
There are so many instances like this. Another time, another monk and myself had accompanied the Master to Indonesia (1986), where the Master was invited to stay for one week and give some Dharma talks. When we first arrived, our gracious hosts were going over the schedule with us, and they included on the venue some sightseeing. I, of course, said that we were not interested in sightseeing, thinking that first, we weren't interested in wasting our time in this way, and secondly, it would be inappropriate for monks to be going sightseeing. Later, when we told the Master about this, he said we were quite mistaken. They were our hosts, and we should comply with their wish to show us a few sights, as that would make them happy and was not necessarily inappropriate for monks. When the other monk and myself complied with our hosts' wish, it was a very eye-opening experience to see how happy they were and just how important it was for them to do this for us. It was as if they were fulfilling some important duty on their part.
In Indonesia, every day about fifty to a hundred devout Buddhists would come to see the Master. Each one wanted the Master to bless them individually. As each one took a turn to kneel before the Master and be blessed, I thought to myself, "Isn't this kind of superstitious? Why does the Master go along with this?"
To be continued