May i “do a great deal of good without ever knowing it.”

In “The Sovereignty of Good”, published in 1970, the Irish-British novelist Iris Murdoch who, the New York Times tells us (in her obituary) was unaffected by “neither criticism nor praise”, writes of “the attempt to pierce the veil of selfish consciousness”, and “defeat” the ego.

Iris argues that this “unselfing”, where the “brooding….vain” self has disappeared, is central to living a moral life.

We get a sense of what Iris means in this story narrated by Rachel Naomi Remen, Professor at the Osher Center of Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, in “Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal”.

“There is a Sufi story about a man who is so good that the angels ask God to give him the gift of miracles. God wisely tells them to ask him if that is what he would wish.

So the angels visit this good man and offer him first the gift of healing by hands, then the gift of conversion of souls, and lastly the gift of virtue. He refuses them all. They insist that he choose a gift or they will choose one for him. “Very well,” he replies. “I ask that I may do a great deal of good without ever knowing it.”

This is worth reading again — May i “do a great deal of good without ever knowing it.”

Rachel continues: “The angels were perplexed. They took counsel and resolved upon the following plan: Every time the saint’s shadow fell behind him it would have the power to cure disease, soothe pain, and comfort sorrow. As he walked, behind him the shadow made arid paths green, caused withered plants to bloom, gave clear water to dried up brooks, fresh color to pale children, and joy to unhappy men and women. The saint simply went about his daily life diffusing virtue as the stars diffuse light and the flowers scent, without ever being aware of it. The people respecting his humility followed him silently, never speaking to him about his miracles. Soon they even forgot his name and called him “the Holy Shadow.””

Peace 😊

“If we could see the whole truth of any situation, our only response would be one of compassion.”

In an essay titled “Empathy with the Enemy”, the philosopher and writer, Roman Krznaric writes of visiting Guatemala some years after the civil war during which “the military had killed an estimated 200,000 indigenous people, mostly Mayans, in their attempts to uproot leftist guerrillas.” The Guatemala that Roman now saw was a country ruled by “thirty or so” oligarchs “families of European origin who dominated the economy and politics, and who kept Guatemala impoverished.”

As Roman endeavoured to understand the oligarchs’ “mental outlook” through conversations with some of them, he found their ideas and “opinions detestable. These were the kinds of attitudes that had made possible the tortures, rapes, and murders of so many thousands of indigenous people during the civil war, a tiny fraction of which I had heard about first-hand during my earlier stay in the jungle village.”

But he also discovered that “You can gain an understanding of somebody’s worldview without having to agree with their beliefs or principles” — indeed, it is vital to do so.

As Roman’s conversations progressed, he found that during the civil war, families of the oligarchs had also suffered with members being “assassinated and their children kidnapped by the guerrillas and other armed groups.” Roman writes: “I suddenly found myself empathising with the enemy – seeing the war from their perspective –and felt genuine compassion for them.”

Roman makes the deep point that while it is important to emphatise with the “dispossessed or disadvantaged”, it is equally necessary to “extend our empathetic imaginations….also to those whose views and actions we might oppose or disdain, from wealthy bankers to bombastic politicians to racist work colleagues – even the sibling who broke a favourite toy.”

In “The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness”, Mingyur Rinpoche teaches: “If we could see the whole truth of any situation, our only response would be one of compassion.”

Peace 😊