person to whom that compassion is directed. As Portia says in

Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless'd;

It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes ...

Compassion is the wish-fulfilling gem whose light of healing

spreads in all directions.

There is a very beautiful story that I love that illustrates this.

Buddha once recounted one of his previous lives, before he

became enlightened. A great emperor had three sons, and the

Buddha had been the youngest, who was called Mahasattva.

Mahasattva was by nature a loving and compassionate little

boy, and thought of all living things as his children.

One day the emperor and his court went to picnic in a forest,

and the princes went off to play in the woods. After a

while they came across a tigress who had given birth, and

was so exhausted with hunger that she was on the point of

eating her little cubs. Mahasattva asked his brothers: "What

would the tigress need to eat now to revive her?"

"Only fresh meat or blood," they replied.

"Who could give his own flesh and blood to see that she is

fed and save the lives of her and her cubs?" he asked.

"Who, indeed?" they replied.

Mahasattva was deeply moved by the plight of the tigress

and her cubs, and started to think: "For so long I have been

wandering uselessly through samsara, life after life, and

because of my desire, anger, and ignorance, have done little to

help other beings. Here at last is a great opportunity."

The princes were walking back to join their family, when

Mahasattva said: "You two go on ahead. I will catch you up

later." Quietly he crept back to the tigress, went right up to

her, and lay down on the ground in front of her, to offer himself

to her as food. The tigress looked at him, but was so

weak that she could not even open her mouth. So the prince

found a sharp stick and cut a deep gash in his body; the blood

flowed out, the tigress licked it, and she grew strong enough

to open her jaws and eat him.

Mahasattva had given his body to the tigress in order to

save her cubs, and through the great merit of his compassion,

he was reborn in a higher realm and progressed toward his

enlightenment and his rebirth as the Buddha. But it was not

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