Seeds of Compassion


     There was once a small village in a mountain town who had fallen on hard times. All of the towns crops refused to grow and the village sunk into starvation and depression. The village was in despair, until they caught word that the wisest old man on the earth was to visit them. They hoped desperately he would help them to give life to their ailing crops.

     The old man arrived a few weeks later and he asked the villagers to create a garden of mindfulness. He gave little explanation as to what this was and as quickly as he appeared he was gone. The villagers diligently tilled at their soil for several weeks tending to nearly every patch of soil with the utmost of care. They thought perhaps if they were just more mindful of what they were doing, their food would grow.  They tended to their gardens tirelessly but still nothing grew. They hung their heads in disappointment and called the old man a fraud.

     Several weeks later the old man returned and this time he came with a small pack of seeds. He explained that what he brought were magical seeds called seeds of compassion. He warned the villagers that only someone who was the utmost expert in compassion could plant the seeds or there could be terrible consequences. He asked the villagers if anyone among them was an expert in the art of compassion and not one raised their hands. The old man took into his hand a small seed and said, “So I shall show you.” He planted one of the seeds and asked for a place to rest for the night.

     The following day the old man was no where to be found. The villagers rose from their beds and noticed that where the old man planted the seed there was a large mirror planted firmly in the soil. They stared at their reflections in the mirror wondering why this had grown in place of the crops they desperately desired. Each morning they rose early in the morning and returned to the mirror only to see their own reflections and no crops.

     The villagers began to lose faith in the old man, but on the fifth day, they again returned to the mirror and on this day their reflection was quite different. When they stared in the mirror they saw a bird with brilliant red feathers that preened at them as they stared into the mirror.  “I have heard of such a bird that lives in a cave up on the mountain, we must need to visit this bird and it will teach us how to grow our crops,” one of the villager exclaimed.

      The villagers packed their things and began the trek up the mountain, a fierce growl rumbling in their hungry bellies as they slowly journeyed towards the phoenix. When they reached the cave several days later they were greeted by a large bird with brilliant red feathers and it greeted them warmly. “I know why you have come, the seeds of compassion yes?” The villagers nodded and explained to the wondrous bird that they needed to become experts in compassion or they could not plant the seeds and surely starve. “A most worthy goal, I will help you on your quest,” replied the phoenix.  The room suddenly became very hot and the villagers began to uncomfortably sweat. Then, out of thin air, a fire surrounded the brilliant phoenix and it burst into flames quickly, leaving nothing but ash on the cave floor. The villagers were immediately furious that the bird died before revealing how to plant the seeds the compassion.

     Sullen with despair they climbed down the mountain back to their humble village. Still standing in the middle of their garden of mindfulness stood the mirror from the old man. The villagers hung their heads except for one young villager who returned to the mirror each day. After a few days a curious thing began to happen. The villager began to smile at the reflection in the mirror.  The reflection began to change and it would make a sweeping motion towards the ground even though the villager made no such motion. Following his instincts and in an act of boldness, the villager grabbed the seeds of compassion and planted them firmly in the soil. Fear that he had made a grave mistake filled the villager, but in a few days time sprouts could be seen coming up from the soil in the garden and the old man returned to the village.

      He called all the villagers over to the garden to behold the sprouts that had grown in the garden. The old man explained that the seeds of compassion would have grown from the moment he had given the seeds to them. Some of the villagers reacted with anger at his deceit.  “Then why did you tell us we needed to be experts in compassion or something terrible would happen?” asked a villager.  

     “You are all experts in compassion, and so any of you may have planted these at any time, but you needed to believe for yourselves that you had expertise in this matter.”

        Another villager chimed in, “Then why did a mirror grow when you planted the seed?”

        The old man added, “You first needed to give compassion to yourself before it could grow outside of you.”

        A third villager asked, “Then why did you send us to the phoenix?”

     “The phoenix showed you the courage it takes to change, in his act of transformation he
did indeed answer the question you asked,” the old man replied.  The old man handed each of the villagers a pack of the seeds of compassion. Each one planted the seeds and crops grew that fed the villagers for many years to come.