I had intended to write about something else entirely, but I experienced something that reminded me that compassion is seeing beyond actions and understanding that all people have problems and are trying to be happy, and I wanted to share this story.
To set the context to some extent: I am an American expat and Buddhist practitioner currently residing in Prague, the Czech Republic. Prague is known to be one of the safest large-cities on the planet, and certainly ranks near the top of the safest cities in Europe list. I always feel safe in this city, regardless of time of day or location.
On my way back home from some errands, around noon, I witnessed an old woman become the victim of a purse snatcher... in Prague, on a large residential street, far from the tourist parts of town, and in broad daylight. Not in my years living in NYC, LA, Paris, Honolulu, Barcelona, or anywhere else I've have lived have I seen that happen before my eyes, and certainly not since I've adopted a compassion-first lifestyle; I've been fortunate.
I first became aware of the event by the sound of a loud shriek. I quickly scanned the area to see what was the bother and before I realised that it wasn't teenagers playing--as is commonly the case with random street-side shrieks and shrills--and that it wasn't a game; and that the person who screamed was an old lady who shrilled in fright; and that she didn't know that person whom I could now see was running away from her with her purse.
By the time all the pieces clicked to form the scenario in my mind, the thief was a full city block away from me and too far for me to chase down. No one; not a single person stopped to helped her, or tried to stop the guy who was running away with her purse.
As I stood there in momentary judgement and disbelief of the people who allowed the guy to just run past them, I quickly drew my attention to the old woman. Another old woman was approaching her. Thank goodness. She was to be comforted in the immediate moment. I don't speak the local language so all I could do was to send her my love and compassion-filled eyes.
I am sad for her.
She is likely on a fixed income. Her money, her ID, her phone, her transportation pass, her keys, and possibly some important personal keepsakes and mementos... are probably gone. Life in the Czech Republic can be difficult, especially for the elderly and disenfranchised. Four Czech people commit suicide every day, and with things are they currently are, that number has sharply increased.
As I processed what just took place and seeing that someone had stopped to console the old woman, who was now in tears, my mind quickly drew to the assailant. Oh... my... dear. I stood there on the street, looking at the space on the street where I had last seen him running... the compassion I felt in my heart seemed to overflow from every cell within my body. As if, like in the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, my heart grew several times in-size in that very moment, and my heart went out to him too.
I am sad for him.
He put himself at great risk doing what he did, and he must sleep tonight with the memories and echoes of what he has done. He must be experiencing unthinkable things in his life to feel that he would need to do something like that in order to survive. And as I drew more deeply into the mind-space of someone who could do that to another human being, I knew deeply, that of two direct-victims of that event, that his suffering may in fact be much more pervasive and long-term. That the contents of the purse he acquired in such fashion will do little to alleviate his long-term suffering, and instead will only serve to increase it.
I am sad for everyone.
No one stopped to help. No one stopped to intervene. No one saw themselves in the old woman. No one saw themselves in the young man. And everyone must sleep tonight with the echo of her shrill and the memories of what they saw.
We live in an imperfect world, with imperfect people, trying to be happy imperfectly; and humanity as a whole suffers as a result. But I am tremendously hopeful that as more and more people start down a path of Mindfulness, Meditation, and most importantly, come to understand the powerful--and reliable--effects of the laws of Cause and Effect, that we will all come to live in greater harmony and help one another along the path.
May some good come from this today. May all involved find compassion, understanding, and love. And may we all learn to help one another, to understand that it's together, as a group, not as individuals, that we are safe, happy, and secure.
The time I spent dedicated to my Dharma and meditation practice have contributed to my growth and progression along the path. I don't know how I would have reacted to this event long before I started down the Path, but I can tell you that years ago, I would have chased him down---increasing his suffering, and likely adding to my own.
I've learned a lot during my time on Earth, but there remains so much more to learn.
Thank you for taking the time to read these words; and for having provided me with your support and encouragement. I greatly wish you peace, love, and well-being throughout endless time.
I offer authentic and transformative meditation training and dharma coaching and I encourage you to message me to learn more.
The Sagacious Buddhist Blog
Michael Turner is a deeply accomplished and realised enlightenment trainer and pre-monastic dharma life coach. He emphasises and teaches the practical application of Buddhism in our everyday lives to make real progress toward Enlightenment and is particularly adept at explaining them in ways that can be easily understood and practiced by Western Buddhists. He has been meditating and cultivating the techniques to generate indestructible happiness and inner-strength for more than 25 years and has helped countless numbers of people enhance their capacity for resilience and happiness in real life.