A bit of background: Maha Ghosananda is considered to be the most holy person in Cambodia. Even the Dalai Lama actually prostrates himself on the ground when he visits the Venerable Maha. An elderly monk, he has played an unparalleled role in the modern history of Buddhism (which is my new fascination; leave me alone). He resisted the Khmer Rouge during their rule of starvation, execution, and forced labor, resulting in the death of 1.5 million. (The Khmer Rouge were Pol Pot's communist psychopaths; one of their mottos was "To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss.") He constructed makeshift temples in refugee camps, led peace marches throughout Cambodia, and helped to fight the spiritual demoralization of Buddhists from the 1970s to this day. The parable he relates, horribly paraphrased below, describes the need to balance compassion with wisdom; you should strive for tolerance, openness, and compassionate acceptance, but you shouldn't be stupid about it.
A violent dragon meets a bodhisattva* on the road one day. The bodhisattva tells the dragon that he shouldn't kill anymore, and instead adopt the Five Precepts** and care for all life. This inspires the dragon, and afterwards the dragon becomes completely nonviolent. But now the children who tend to the animal flocks nearby, seeing that the dragon has become gentle, lose all fear of him. They begin to torment him, stuffing stones and dirt into his mouth, pulling his tail, and jumping on his head. Soon the dragon stops eating and becomes very sick.
When he encounters the bodhisattva again, he complains: "You told me that if I kept the precepts and was compassionate, I would be happy. But now I suffer, and I am not happy at all." To this the bodhisattva replies: "My son, if you have compassion, morality, and virtue, you also must have wisdom and intelligence. This is the way to protect yourself. The next time the children make you suffer, show them your fire, after that, they will trouble you no more."
~~~This little story applies not only to the personal quest for that middle ground between tolerance and self-defense, but to he Buddhist cultural response to Christian missionary zealots (who are a serious problem in Southeast Asia; honestly, we don't need anymore Mormons in the world, no offense).
The message is simple: don't let people push you around, even if you're a Buddhist.
*Bodhisattva: One who seeks Enlightenment; also, all the previous incarnations of the Buddha.
- 1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
- I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
- 2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
- I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
- 3. Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
- I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
- 4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
- I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech (lying, etc).
- 5. Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
- I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.