Struggling With Compassion

Zhuangzi dreams of a butterfly

Once, there lived two monks. Deep within the forest, they sought solitude from worldly troubles and spent each day in quiet contemplation of the Great Mystery. The elder of the two, a venerable and aged man, had always upon his face an expression of equal parts joy and sorrow, a sad smile that perplexed his young apprentice.

While out one day, wandering the arboreal paths, gathering nuts and berries, fallen branches for firewood, roots, and medicinal herbs, the old monk sat down to rest and meditate beneath the shadow of a great tree. The apprentice, impetuous in his youth, resolved to explore a bit of the forest and to wonder at the marvels of the natural world.

The day slipped away, and the younger monk found himself intently studying a cocoon that he found hanging under a broad leaf. To his amazement, the cocoon began to shudder and stir, the fledgling moth within struggling to break free. The young monk carefully, gently, prized the cocoon open and held out his hand to the open air. “There!” he said, beaming proudly. “Not to worry, little brother! I’m here to help.”

The moth only shivered in the breeze, clinging to the boy’s hand. No matter how he tried, the monk could not persuade the moth to fly away, and, quite troubled by this, he returned to his master.

By the time the young monk entered the clearing from which he’d come, tears were streaming from his eyes. “Please, help!” he cried. “I only wanted to help, but…”

He opened his hands to show the old monk, and there, timidly shuffling back and forth, was the moth, stunted and deformed. The elder nodded in understanding and sighed sadly.

“Mei ban fa,” he said. “There is no help for it. A moth must free itself from its own prison if it is to take wing, for it is the struggle to be free that quickens it. The ichor has grown stagnant, and its body has grown hard. Such is the way of things.”

The young monk cared dearly for the moth until it left this world in its own time. From that day, his smile held a certain sadness of its own.

JC Augustus Lai Andurin
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JC Augustus Lai Andurin

J.C. Augustus Lai Andurin is an Irish-American author and philosopher. Having spent much of his life traveling the U.S., Europe, and Asia, he has a fierce wanderlust and thirst for knowledge. Despite his adventurous spirit, he is a husband and father, first and foremost, with three wonderful children.
JC Augustus Lai Andurin
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