Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Teacher Who Came Dresses as a Monster

“A great teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.” ~ Author unknown

A few months ago, I read somewhere that the two greatest teachers of compassion the world has ever seen are Hitler and the Dalai Lama. Being a huge fan of the Dalai Lama but personally not too sold on Hitler, this statement struck me as strange – how could anyone compare a holy man whose life purpose is to spread peace and compassion, to a military figure whose intent seemed to be one fed by hatred?

The question hovered around my thoughts the whole day, until that night when one of my children misbehaved, and I had no choice left but punish him by not letting him attend an event he had his heart set on. Now, if you were a fly in my house, you would know that my two boys argue over anything under the sun, and sometimes even about something above it; any chance they have to get the other in trouble they jump on it like a cowboy on a horse. But, this time, one brother had gotten in trouble all on his own, with no trickery necessary, so the natural order of things was upset.

Suddenly, one would have thought that I had given an innocent man a death sentence – not just one kid was mad at me…they all were, including Morgan who normally gets stumped by her big brothers and thrives on seeing them get what they deserve! Never had I seen so much love and compassion among my kids as I saw that night – they talked kindly to one another, and went overboard with small pleasantries that were, until that fateful day, a mother’s wishful thinking.

That’s when the meaning of that statement made it home. Certainly Hitler and the Dalai Lama are very different people, and they affect others in their own unique ways, but the teaching behind their actions is similar in the end – one inspired the world to feel compassionate toward people who had suffered from his heinous acts, while the other inspired his followers to be compassionate because compassion is part of the truth our collective soul must embrace.

We are conditioned to think of a teacher as someone who will lead through knowledge and wisdom alone, but sometimes teachers come masked in strange clothes. And, oddly enough, we tend to learn more, and much more quickly, since our attention is instantly seized from explosive events and actions. It might take us a lifetime to learn to appreciate a sunrise, or a kind smile, but if we find out our days are threatened by illness, that awareness will surface with light speed, as we feel we don’t have any time to lose.

Before going to bed that night, I thought again about the comparison between the two men, and about my children instantly pulling together after one was “too harshly” punished. In my children’s situation, anger and resentment toward the external force that had thrown one of their own into the dungeon, had caused them to choose love over sibling rivalry. I closed my eyes, feeling satisfied; though in their eyes I had momentarily morphed into Hitler, they had embraced the qualities of the Dalai Lama I admire so much. Only for one evening, mind you, but that was good enough for me.