Credit: accuracyandaesthetics.com

Credit: accuracyandaesthetics.com

Almost everything we do, our common and uncommon pursuits, our mannerisms, courtesies, behaviour, transactions, the very language of life is governed by the arithmetics of exchange.

”How much do i have to pay”,”I owe him my life”,”We have to repay their kindness”,”That was wonderful, thank you”,”do not be ungrateful”, ”He is deep in debt”, ”They are in love”, ”It is now our turn to invite them”, ”We should return the call”, ”what is the fare?”, ”The contract has been concluded”, ”Nothing comes from nothing”, ”What you sow so  shall you reap”, ”Do  unto others as you would have them do unto you”, ”Fair exchange is no robbery” – and so on the equations of exchange proceed indefinitely.

Thus in the fundamentals of life there is giving and receiving. And this is not only unique to civilized man alone. The simple give and take is evident in fish, as you may observe in an aquarium. We have all seen how monkeys take turns to groom each other, how birds will alternatively and meticulously pick out pests from the heads of their fellows, with the promise that they will receive the same consideration.

Credit: thechowaniecs.com

Credit: thechowaniecs.com

Then of course there is the symbiotic relationships of the clown fish and the anemone, the blackbird and the buffalo, beneficient bacteria and man, bee and flower – the mutual if unlikely assurance of return for valuable services rendered. Then there is the reciprocity of love allowing for the mutual satisfaction of desires.

Thus too may grow a loyalty towards family, club, school or institution. towards whom one may feel a life long obligation for their contribution to making you who you are. similar would be the sense of patriotism towards a flag or an emblem representing country and civilization to which one belongs and which gives one identity and self-esteem.

The foregoing exchanges we may call The Great Equation which governs every facet of our personal, social, political and economic life, our courtesies, mannerisms and relationships, our culture and our ideals. The Great Equation is also inherent in nature.

The Great Equation, however can be violated in two ways. When you receive something and feel no obligation to make a return like an act of  theft or give secretly without an obligation to receive even gratitude. In the one case the violation of the equation is materialistic and in the other altruistic.

Of all human traits it is altruism that does not fit into the causality of action and reaction of the Equation. The quality of kindness and compassion rejects and defies the equation, rising on the firmament of our psyche as an independent star, radiant like the sun, giving limitlessly without return. The most cruel talon, the ruthless beak, the sharpest claw, the brutish brow all dissolve before their tender offspring with a compassion without compare, moved even to sacrifice their very existence in defiance of the law of survival. We give it another name and dismiss it as maternal instinct. But it has more to do with a helpless little thing arousing protective compassion. Any chick foal or baby can bring it forth and for nothing in return. Likewise consideration for someone under the weather, sympathy in bereavement, kindness for the afflicted, charity for the needy and poor, forgiveness for the repentant, succour for the suffering. There is no reward or return here but in the experience itself and in the fulfillment of an altruistic act.

In man compassion grows beyond progeny and camaraderie to spiritual heights. all noble sentiments arise from this primal seed of spirit transcending survival, want, need, reflex, and exchange onto the evolutionary path of grace. It is therefore not surprising that in the Gita, the cycles of birth and rebirth, action and reaction, the very Law of Karma stand abrogated through a life of unattached and altruistic action, the performance of duty without hankering for fruit or reward.

Compassion then is the supreme sentiment, the seat of the spirit, the source of all good, the key to liberation, the recognition of the soul embedded in matter.  Those great spiritual adventurers who spend acts with a unique freedom, derive pleasure in acts of unusual kindness and altruism, who shake free of the orderly equation and graduate to a new level with wonder on their brow, discovery gleaming in their eyes and a fathomless satisfaction, are the ones who have  begun to evolve, taking the first experimental toddlers shaky bandy steps beyond the comfortable and familiar confines of The Great Equation, into a superior unknown.

Avalokiteshwara The Bodhisattva of compassion

Avalokiteshwara – Ajanta Caves
The Bodhisattva of compassion

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