Image above actually refers to a different Golden Goose, but…slim pickings
Compassion is one of those words that has gotten lots of play since Americans of my demographic (white educated American middle class liberal spiritual seeker) imported Buddhism into their popular culture. As usual, the concept is often subjected to our cultural bias towards “thingness”. Thus, some end up believing that compassion is some stuff we give to someone else; a cosmic box of chocolates, if you will.
However, compassion is not a thing at all. It is a state of being, the state of unity consciousness, which is free of judgment. When we hold self and other in a compassionate manner, we actually enter, to the best of our ability, unity consciousness, oneness. In that state our separate self and the separate self of the”object” of compassion, are experienced as one. I notice that the common definition in my culture now is more like “empathy”. This definition then naturally becomes very other-focused (i.e.: blocks unity consciousness) and narrowed down to empathizing with folks who are obviously suffering. However, suffering is a focus that gets us in trouble. Do we ignore people who seem pretty well-off? They don’t deserve our loving attention since they’re not suffering enough to earn our compassion? How about ourselves? When do I “deserve” compassion from myself and/or others? I have everything I need, so why am I (more or less and sometimes) miserable, and do I deserve love in the cosmic sense? Or even in the worldly sense?
It’s a very tangled web, I’m just sayin’. Too complicated for my pea brain.
This meme is the only of many on compassion I found on line that I can actually agree with:
How do we know we’ve slipped down the slippery slope of separation in relationship with our “fellow man” (usually the most challenging object for our compassion-ability; less complicated animals like dogs would be easier in theory) ? Easy weezy. We are judging that some folks (Trump? People with dark skin? Muslims? Rich people?) are not worthy of our compassion. In other words, we are refusing to “join” with them in unity consciousness, owing to a negative judgment we hold against them. We believe that they are their actions, another slippery slope. We maintain our conditioned separation. We may use one of my unfavorite words, ‘deserve’, to explain our behavior. These others haven’t done anything to please us, so- off with their heads! They can damn well work out their lives without MY awesome light-shining skills! They’re not in my club, no sir. I don’t even want to be vaguely associated with such sinners. They deserve only punishment, so I’m gonna castigate them at every opportunity, verbally or probably more often, just at that special private party in my mind.
I can go on at length on this subject (can you tell?) but instead I’ll wander into the wisdom story zone with it. This recent exploration of compassion on my part (it did dovetail with Easter) made me think of the Grimms’ collected story titled The Golden Goose. Goose starts with a common trope in these wisdom tales, the simpleton, for there are three brothers and the youngest is “despised, laughed at, and neglected, on every occasion.” This neglected and scorned one represents our cosmic selves, our soul and spirit selves, the aspects that are indeed despised, however surreptitiously, and neglected in mundane society. The person who lives from the seat of soul and spirit, who prizes connection rather than worldly ambition, often gets nothing from the world in the sense of “deserve”. Simpleton is the part of us that gets left behind in childhood, as we create our separate self identity and learn suffering and struggle and goal orientation and all that good adulthood stuff.
This despised young man’s two elder brothers go out, one at a time, to gather some firewood. One at a time they are approached by a little man who asks for a share of their cake and wine. The first lies: “Give you my cake and wine? I haven’t got any; be off with you.” He ends up chopping his arm with the hatchet (we can see this symbolically as a pointer towards his lack of unity or wholeness). He is refusing to treat this little man as a part of the whole, as a part of himself, on a nonphysical level.
The second says “What I give you I lose myself, so be off with you.” This guy chops his own leg by seeming accident. Obviously his world view is incorrect, for he thinks he can protect himself by withholding what he has, a common behavior for humans, surely; Ebenezer Scrooge’s MO. The story wants to tell us that true good fortune follows from the Simpleton’s love and unity, not judging who deserves what we have, and withholding from the “undeserving”.
I won’t get fancy with the symbolism here, for reasons of brevity, but the words of the elder brothers express separation consciousness. The first is completely unaware of soul and spirit (symbolized by the cake and the wine) and therefore is the guy who is ignoring it (or ‘neglecting’ it in the first words of the story I quoted). The second is not sharing because he thinks there is a limited supply; a pretty constant investment in physicality instructs us thusly. And THAT is exactly the problem with imagining someone “deserves” compassion; from the perspective of the personality, we may imagine love can actually be put into containers and therefore that it can also run out, the “thingness” we are heavily trained to in my culture. This orientation towards the physical attributes of objects is why we believe we should give to one and not another, for there is seemingly not enough for everyone to get what they want and need. However, this conservative effort at being “prudent” (the adjective used for the eldest brother) may be approved of by my society, but it’s a whole different reality from unity consciousness.
The Simpleton ends up not only getting his crummy lunch magically transformed by the little guy (Mom obviously did not feel that he deserved the high quality grub she gave her elder sons) but he is also gifted the golden goose of this story’s title. Because, of course, he is more than willing to share. The Simpleton or Fool character has somehow managed to escape buying into social conditioning, so he offers enlightening contrast to his “normal” brothers. The golden goose is a metaphor for an otherworldly sort of abundance (could be compassion) that can be found in our soul-and-spirit ordered reality, where we experience some level of unity, oneness, divine love, etc. This is abundance that is not parceled out, for the goose will keep on laying golden eggs of joy, abundance, and divine connection with regularity or whenever its owner requires it.
Now comes a fun metaphorical teaching, as the golden goose will expose a few folks for another spiritual faux pas popular in Western imported Buddhism circles, that of attachment. First, three daughters of the innkeeper desire the golden feathers of the goose, and stick fast to it and then each other. They are still attached in a row when Simpleton tucks the goose under his arm and sets off in the morning “unmindful of the three girls that hung onto it”. For he is mindful of other matters besides these materialistic ones and their attachment to gain! The girls are inhabiting another reality, in a sense, another worldview, that physically oriented one. They are stuck on seeing love and “all good things” as being physical objects to grab at.
Next comes another form of attachment in the form of a parson “who, when he saw the procession, said, ‘Shame on you, girls, running after a young fellow through the fields like this.’” He grabs at the last girl in line and is held fast. He is attached to his role as moral arbiter or judge; sometimes these identity attachments are the most difficult to drop, for they give us a shallow sense of purpose, of importance.
Next comes the sexton, who’s also busy bossing folks, in this case the parson. He attempts to restrain the parson, for there’s another christening that day; more commentary on the social conditioning that sometimes overwhelms the average religious institution. Our spiritual lives are sometimes coopted by social obligations, in any case. This pair is forced to follow along, and attract two more, for that matter. They call out to two peasants hoeing in the fields to save them, but of course that doesn’t work. I suppose the peasants are attached to the church and its seeming authority, in this case. They could also be attached to the whole idea of rescuing another from their attachments, which cannot be successful. It is our own task to step outside of our attachments.
Illustration above seems to be a different version of the tale, but it’s nice artwork!
The so-called simpleton (our antihero) next happens to a town where dwells a king and his daughter, the daughter being ill in the sense that she is too serious. I suppose she is what we call these days “depressed”. Father has said that whoever can make her laugh can have her hand in marriage. Simpleton and his hangers-on go to the castle, and she goes into uncontrollable fits of laughter. We could see this reaction on her part as an experience of enlightenment, right?
From the symbolic standpoint, the princess is an inner feminine aspect of the king’s. When she witnesses the attachments, it’s symbolic of a person understanding the nature of their own attachment and therefore the nature of attachment in general. That’s the cool thing about understanding your own motivations, you can develop compassion for all the other idiots in the world. Witnessing the physical portrayal of human attachment, she sees how silly it is, all the grasping and striving, the judgment and the social conditioning. And in that moment of understanding, she is free of her seriousness, which is often the result of attachments, actually. “Serious” and its close brother “grave” imply dire consequence, and therefore mortal concern, from the smallest of small failures to the ultimate failure from the ego perspective: death. If it’s all a game, in a beautiful sense, we can relax our seriousness, for death and all its subtext loses its horrid sting. We realize we won’t get out of here alive, anyway; fear of Death is always a losing game. We can open to learning the game of true compassion that wants and needs nothing AT ALL of self or other. We can relax our grip on life, even if it means we appear foolish in the eyes of some.
The story does go on with more symbolic-alchemical education, common in these wisdom tales; tasks that are usually symbolic of learning about elements (earth, air, fire, water) and/or the nature of the divine masculine or feminine. For the story-king does not want to relinquish his attachment to his daughter to a man the whole world judges as silly and no account! However, the point concerning attachments has been made in a playful and lovely manner, and the larger subject of oneness, unity, and compassion addressed.