In her book, The Force of Kindness , Sharon Salzberg tells the story of a therapist friend who was approached by a man for therapy. She found his politics totally opposite hers, his attitude towards women repulsive, and his behavior annoying in general. She suggested he find another therapist, but he wanted her.
She realized she had to change her attitude to one of compassion instead of shutting him off. “She began to see all the ways in which his life was difficult,” Salzburg says. Over time, rather than trying to change his views to her liking, she had the goal of releasing him from his suffering. He became “hers”.
It reminds me of the story of “The Little Prince” by Antoien de Saint Exupery which I read years ago.( http://home.pacific.net.hk/~rebylee/text/prince/1.html tells the story…see it for yourself when you have time.) Just as the therapist changed her attitude and sought the client’s happiness, the Little Prince did so for a lone and pretentious rose. The rose in this sense, became his.
Salzberg suggested that this relationship reminded her of the role of bodhisattvas. “In Buddhist tradition, a bodhisattva is one who aspires to enlightenment, dedicating her or his transformed mind and actions to the liberaton of all beings. When we aspire to be a bodhisattva, everyone becomes ‘ours’ in a way. Our goal becomes the release from suffering of all beings, and so we view ourselves as working on behalf of everyone.”
Reading this, I thought about the people I meet in my day to day events. One day while shopping, I encountered a woman at the checkout whose child was putting up a rather loud fuss for want of something or another. The woman spoke softly to her, reminding her that they were here for groceries only. I said, “Good job, mom.” I think this is what Salzberg was talking about. The woman in the store is one of mine, so to speak. Her progress is important enough for me to give a word of encouragement. It is true that the people working in the deli are “mine” and the boy loading my groceries into the car. Words of gratitude may alter their attitude toward customers a bit. A friend may be struggling in a difficult marriage. This person becomes “mine” if my goal is to relieve her suffering.
I guess I am a bodhisattva. Oh, and so are all of you who seek to lesson the suffering of others.