Sugimori Nobumori 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 wise 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 lied 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 three days later.
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, every one you meet is a holy person. Every one is wholly human. Every one is a teacher. Every one 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.
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.
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. Therefore, 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.
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 your brother or sister. Until that time, it is still night."
© Chuck Gallozzi
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