Today I was driving along, frustrated over some of the issues we face in society, wondering why some people just don't get "it". This story returned to me when I was meditating and I found it answered my questions. Instead of feeling contempt or anger for those who can't seem to understand an enlightened existence, perhaps we should feel compassion for them.
Ryokan was a Japanese Zen master who lived alone in a hut at the foot of a mountain. He lived in abject poverty and his hut was empty. The Master slept on the ground and spent his days meditating on a rock. One evening a thief crawled through the window of his hut, but discovered that there was absolutely nothing to steal.
Awakening, Ryokan startled the robber by greeting him and welcoming him into his home. When the thief wanted to leave, Ryokan said, "You have come so far to visit me and I would be dishonored if you left enpty-handed". Having no belongings, Ryokan gave the robber his own tattered robe.
The thief was completely at a loss for words, and he took the robe and crept away into the night. Later, when meditating on the situation under the full moon, the Master thought, "How unfortunate. The only thing I could offer that man was my tattered robe. I wish I could have given him this beautiful moon."
The story also has another meaning as well; that we should always consider that while things might be bad for us, perhaps there are others who are suffering worse. I said the other day that we should increase our capacity for compassion, and on the fire service front, I guess it could be much worse. You could be faced with a scenario like this one in Kenya.
When you are challenged with a problem, it always helps to maintain perspective.