Compassion: The Wish-Fulfilling Jewel


Rinpoche, Sogyal


Short Story


Sogyal Rinpoche, born circa 1950 in Kham, Tibet, is a religious scholar as well as the founder and spiritual director of Rigpa, a chain of over 100 Buddhist centers in 23 countries. Encountering the tradition of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is recited over people as they are dying, he wrote The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, a text now widely consulted by medical professionals and other experts who find themselves in regular contact with people facing end-of-life issues. This story of Asanga, a Buddhist saint, appears in that 1992 book. Asanga has gone on a solitary retreat into the mountains with one goal: a vision of the Buddha Maitreya. He meditates “in extreme hardship” for years, but gives way to doubt several times, and despairs that his efforts will ever be rewarded by the vision he seeks. Upon abandoning his retreat, however, he finds he is able to see a number of things that other people cannot – among them, a dog whose pitiable state evokes Asanga’s compassion. The story raises questions about the nature of compassion: What is its source? Can compassion be learned? Or can it only be practiced?

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The Civically Engaged Reader, eds. Adam Davis & Elizabeth Lynn (Great Books Foundation, 2006), pages 206-207.




Connection and RelationshipLove and CompassionWisdom and Contemplation

Big Questions

What kinds of relationships matter the most?Why is connection important? What does it enable? What does it impede?How do we define love? How do we show love?How does a person learn compassion?How do we become wise?What is wisdom? How do we learn how to make wise choices?


Civically Engaged Reader

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What do you make of the three figures on the side of the road?
  2. What do you think of Asanga's act of compassion?
  3. Should we be detached from the people we serve? Who or why not?
  4. Do you think that Asanga's engagement with the dog is appropriate or relevant today? Why or why not?
  5. What does it mean to be truly present?
  6. What is compassion?
  7. In your own work, where are the opportunities for compassion? Do your modern day acts of compassion resemble Asanga's?
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