One day Richard stumbled upon a leper colony. Dozens of them surrounded Richard, pressing their deformed bodies against his, and demanded charity. Their rotting flesh was oozing blood and the stench was unbearable. Richard was angry and disgusted, but simultaneously felt compassion for them, understanding that their misery justified the behavior. After twenty minutes he was spared, and then he saw an old leper woman, in whom Richard could perceive a deep longing to give motherly love. He placed his head under her palm and received her blessings. Her face lit with joy on seeing Richard and he lost all fear of contamination by seeing her affection. Richard felt the previous suffering at the hands of so many lepers was a small price to pay for this unforgettable blessing. Richard pondered that although the woman was plagued with a despicable disease, beneath the surface she was a beautiful soul who only wanted to love and be loved. Later gazing down the rushing current of Ganges, Richard reflected,
“Today the river is exposing how we have the tendency to judge others by their surface appearance, and to find only their negative qualities. But if we search beneath the surface we discover that a myriad of strains mix together to create a particular person’s nature. The faults we perceive are likely to be the effect of circumstances, the psychological response to trauma, abuse, rejection, heartbreak, insecurity, pain, confusion, or disease. I thought of the people who had nearly killed me in Istanbul, the racists that hated the Blacks during the civil rights movement, the people who had mistreated me because of my long hair, and even myself, how I had judged the generation I’d rebelled against, thinking older Americans wrong to be so concerned with money and security when, in fact, they had lived through the Great Depression, a hardship I couldn’t fathom. If we understand the underlying cause of what we think of as bad in someone, instead of being hateful, we will be compassionate. For is not every soul inherently good? A saintly person will hate the disease but love the diseased.”
To see those who are evil and externally wicked as victims of their circumstances requires spiritual vision. Richard got this realization on seeing this old woman, and he could then see even his potential killers at Istanbul as victims, rather than being inherently bad. On the contrary he now began to see them as potentially good souls, servants of God.
Radhanath Swami loves to narrate the story of Lord Nityananda, the incarnation of God who appeared five hundred years ago. He was compassion personified, and in his desire to serve and love all, he approached two of the greatest ruffians of the time, Jagai and Madhai. Both were brothers and together performed the most abominable activities; they burnt houses, indiscriminately killed men, and raped women. Everyone in the State feared these evil brothers, as they were the law unto themselves. Nityananda felt compassion, and despite the warnings of everyone, approached the brothers and pleaded with them to to give up their despicable activities and chant the Holy names of God. In their drunken condition, they attacked Nityananda, but the Lord’s persistent appeals, touched their hearts, and they reformed. They went on to become the most saintly devotees in Bengal, India, of that time.
Our daily interactions may not be with such hardened criminals; rather it could be with loving and saintly people, sincerely endeavoring in their spiritual practices. However the tendency to find faults is so deep rooted, that we often can’t appreciate those we are living with, despite them being decorated with many saintly qualities. Our narrow view of life and standards of behavior blinds us to others’ good qualities. Radhanath Swami tirelessly trains his students to see people for their primary quality-each one is a servant and lover of God. All other qualities, behavior and lack of virtues are secondary, and they shall develop over a period of time. He appeals to all to abandon seeing others from our individual frames of reference, but rather see each person as how God would see them- with love and compassion.