Home > Buddhism, India, Meditation, Monks, Tibet > An Accident in Compassion

An Accident in Compassion

We had just left the Root Institute and the sun had disappeared below the horizon in Bodhgaya. The dirt track was visible in front of us under the soft moonlight. I saw him coming; a single full beam headlight raced towards me as I moved myself and Hazell to the left. The majority of the road was now available for the driver to pass us safely. I saw him approach and he must have seen me in his headlight; I felt no fear until the last second when I realised he wasn’t going to pass me, he was going to go through me. He made no attempt to prevent a collision as I started to leap out of the way to the left. I took the blow with my hands and right leg while spinning off into the ditch. The first thing I heard was Hazell’s voice, ’oh my God, oh my God; Carl are you OK? Carl?’

I picked myself up and checked I could move all my limbs. I was fine, only a few bumps and scratches and a stunned though objective thought, ’Oh, right, I just got hit by a motorbike.’ I reassured Hazell and the shocked Indian onlookers that I was OK and then turned, expecting the driver to be in attendance, checking that his victim was still alive. All I saw was a tail light speed off around a corner into the dark distance. Hazell yelled, ’are you not even going to stop you bastard?’ There was a murmur of tutting and incredulity from the Hindi speaking contingent. I brushed myself down and as the shock subsided my mind got to work. ‘You f****** Indian t***. I want to smash your f****** face in…….


I quickly had a word with myself. Now is the time. This is the very moment you can put into practice everything you have been learning. A crossroads has been reached where you can increase your suffering or develop the mind of wisdom.

Option number one. I choose to increase my own suffering and strengthen the illusion of a separate, ’wronged’ self who requires justice and revenge:

I adhere to the commands of the despotic ego and rant and rage at thin air. ’I have been wronged. Justice must be served, the perpetrator must be punished. I fucking hate India, it’s people and it’s culture. Yesterday I even discovered the place had given me Typhoid and Hook Worm. They’re filthy, inconsiderate animals, and I must tell the whole world this. I must denounce them to everyone I know because ’I’ the non existent ego have been wronged by ’them’.

Option number two. I choose the approach of wisdom and compassion which will minimise my suffering and weaken the strangle hold of the ego:

Firstly I’m OK, no serious damage is done. Secondly I reassure the people around me that I’m OK. A series of causes and conditions resulted in an accident, the most important thing now is to minimise any further suffering, and this can all be achieved with the mind. Firstly I have compassion for myself and reassure the screaming ego that I am OK, there is no need to wrestle. By choosing the route of anger and hatred I will only increase my sense of separation and strengthen my destructive emotions; in essence this is self harm. Instead I feel these emotions flow through me but I don’t follow them or fuel the fire with further thought. It is human to feel aggrieved, but I can turn this moment into a learning process. I consider my approach to the perpetrator who would usually be positioned as the ‘enemy’. If the reason he hit me was because he was intoxicated, then he is in a state of mental delusion which in itself is suffering. If he hit me intentionally with the purpose to harm me, he is suffering from a very painful state of mental aggression, counter to happiness and peace. Furthermore, he drove off and will never know whether he killed me or not; this is a terrible mental burden to carry and will likely cause him prolonged mental unrest. At the very least, if he feels no guilt or remorse his mind is in a state of severe detachment and isolation from his fellow man, and this is a primary cause of suffering. I was left with only a few bumps and scratches, so who suffers more?

I then went home and meditated on developing compassion for this man who had just hit me with a motorbike. His sufferings are, and will continue to be, far greater than mine, and therefore opening and wishing him freedom from his pain was the wisest response. To close and tighten with anger and resentment would have increased my own suffering and the generalisations I would make about India and it’s people would reduce my enjoyment of travel in this country. These mental approaches are an example of Tibetan mind training, or ‘Lojong’; turning situations on their head to open the heart. They are concrete, practical methods for developing compassion and wisdom in any situation, rather than viewing the world as a set of experiences that are ‘for or against’ our illusory ego. These are not ‘hippie’, idealistic concepts based on apathetic detachment; they are practices which disarm situations and can encourage non-violent resolution.

Powerful examples of these techniques in action have been displayed by Tibetan Lamas. On release, many Lamas have relayed their stories of imprisonment at the hands of the Chinese. The Dalai Lama often sites one such story; a fellow Lama was subjected to unthinkable and prolonged torture at the hands of the Chinese and told His Holiness that he ‘nearly lost it’, during his imprisonment. ‘What do you mean? You nearly resorted to violence?’, ‘No’, he replied, ‘I nearly lost compassion for my torturer’. The Lama in question knew from the depths of his being that his torturer was suffering; suffering from the pain of anger, aggression, delusion. Physical wounds will heal, but mental ones last much longer, and this realisation generated great sorrow in the victim. These Lamas who practice in this way have been evaluated by modern ‘psychologists’, and commonly suffer no forms of post traumatic stress or lasting mental anguish. Their torturers were not enemies, but fellow human beings experiencing acute mental pain. The highest practitioners are even thankful for such events, as they are the most powerful teachers. This approach is an inspiration to us all and a lesson in the power of human compassion.

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