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Lions Roar : July 2010
the wall. We do not speak, reach out, touch, or listen to the trou- bles of others. Certainly, we do not offer consolation or turn to others for support. In fact, what we thought of as support is taken away. If someone is having trouble on the cushion, experiencing sorrow or pain, we do not interfere. Their experience is precious and they are now being given the opportunity to face it fully. The support we offer is silent and profound, just sitting strongly be- side them, facing our own experience and not moving. This silent support, this sitting in zazen, is considered one of the greatest kindnesses of all. is needed. The mitzvot point us to them. There are actions we might be inadvertently taking, or refraining from taking, that might be causing harm. The mitzvot alert us to these. For example, it is a big mitzvah to pay a worker immediately after the work is done. Many might not realize this, or be aware that this person needs the salary to take care of himself and his family. He might feel ashamed to ask for it. It is forbidden to shame another person, to leave them wanting or hungry in any way. Therefore the money must be paid immediately. It is a mitzvah to immediately return a lost object to the per- son who has lost it. Each object we have is considered to be part of our soul. When something is lost, a part of ourselves goes with it. It is of the ut- most importance to be ready to return what an individual has lost, whether it be an object, a sense of self-worth, or anything else. It is a tremendous mitzvah to welcome a person when they ar- rive, and accompany them when they leave. In this way an indi- vidual feels cared for, uplifted, and valued, not someone who can be tossed aside. Some of the greatest rabbis would accompany their guests all the way home. Nature and animals are included. For instance, it is a mitzvah to take a mother bird away before we take her young from the nest. This protects the mother bird from suffering. If we are so careful to protect a mother bird from suffering, how careful must we be to protect one another? Here are some of the other mitzvot related to kindness: We are forbidden to ever talk ill of another, or to listen to gossip or slan- der of any kind. We are instructed to give charity to our family, friends, and the world. We are told to judge everyone favorably and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Daily prayer is a cen- tral mitzvot, in which we pray for others and also give ourselves the great kindness of being connected to our Source. All these mitzvot can and must be done, no matter how we feel. We may do them with a scowling face, and yet, even so, the actions themselves will bring benefit and well-being to the world. And by bathing our lives in the mitzvot, the scowling face will turn to smiles. In Zen practice, "The great need before our eyes does not al- low us to go by the rules" (Book of the Zen Grove). Instead, we sit, sit, sit. As we do, a deep trust develops in our original nature, which is not only filled with kindness, but knows instinctively exactly what action is needed, when. As we practice, this original nature emerges and spontaneously offers its gifts to the world. These gifts do not necessarily take a specific form, but arise freely as a spring wind, refreshing all it touches. There is a story of a ripe Zen student-the Zen Fisherman. It is said eventually this practitioner comes down from the moun- tain and mixes with the world. If you look for him, you cannot In Zen, the greatest kindness is to help others to practice and discover their own profound and unfailing strength. As we read the stories of ancient Zen masters and we work with teachers of our own, we see that kindness has many faces. Zen masters shout, yell, kick, and reject their students blatantly, in order to break their leaning, whining, dependent mind. "Look at my great kindness;' one Zen master shouted as he hit a sleeping student with the stick. "I am thoroughly exhausting myself for your benefit. Wake up!" Zen masters push students to see how deep the desire for practice is, to see whether the student will climb back up on the cushion despite the rough treatment. Is the student seeking can- dy from the teacher or is she seeking the real thing? Jewish practice views kindness differently. Like Zen, it agrees that no individual is wise enough to know the consequences of their deeds. They do not have the breadth of vision to know what action will produce benefit and exactly when and where it is needed. As in Zen, kindness in Jewish practice is not necessarily manifested in smiles or emotional displays. True kindness arises from observance of the mitzvot, specifically delineated thoughts and actions that are to be used at the appropriate times. These actions are to be taken whether we want to or not. Our passing moods and desires mean nothing. We are not enslaved by them. Even if resistance and negative emotions arise, we can always take the appropriate actions; we can always perform the mitzvot. There are 613 mitzvot; these include actions to be taken and actions to be refrained from. No one is asked to do all 613 mitz- vote Some are only for men, others only for women. Some are to be performed only in Israel and others only on certain occasions. Some are to be performed during the day, others at night. Taken all together, these mitzvot are an infrastructure for living a life of protection, benefit, and true meaning. They are all concerned with the practice of kindness, and to- gether provide a mindfulness practice for all aspects of everyday life. Some guide us to take actions that we would never think of. There are situations in which we have no idea that kindness 32 SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2010