Once upon a time there was a great and glorious army. One day, this army conquered a neighboring country nestled high in the mountains and enslaved all its people. The Commander of the victorious army threatened to execute anyone who resisted him. The vanquished people suffered greatly. Among them were many farmers and monks.
Quite soon, some worrying rumors reached the Commander’s ear. His soldiers told him, “They say there is one man in this land who is even stronger than you are. He is a wise old monk, respected by all, and they believe he has the power to defeat us.”
Immediately the Commander set out for the large monastery with his men. When he arrived, he ordered them to surround the building and bring the wise monk to him.
“They tell me you are very powerful, old man,” said the Commander to the monk with the long white beard. “Give me one good reason not to have you executed and rid myself of the threat.”
“Very well,” the old monk replied, “I can give you such a reason, but you must remain here with me for three days and three nights.”
“Three days!” the Commander thundered in anger. “Don’t you know that the Commander of an army has no time to spare?” But to himself he thought, “I am somewhat curious... after all, other than this monk there is no danger to me here.” “All right old man, I agree,” he declared.
And so the Commander stayed in the monastery with the wise monk, and for three days and three nights they studied together about the compassionate heart.
On the morning of the fourth day the Commander left the monastery to visit his troops and feel the pulse of the land. But when he watched the soldiers carrying out his commands, his eyes began to perceive strange things.
Every time he saw an old man suffering he beheld his father’s eyes; Every time he saw the suffering of a woman he beheld the eyes of his wife; Every time he saw a child suffering he beheld his daughter’s eyes.
That evening, upon returning to his home, when he saw the picture of his father hanging on the wall, the Commander beheld in his father’s eyes the suffering of all men.
“Are you ready for your evening meal, my dear?” his wife asked. But he could not reply, for when he looked into her eyes, he saw the suffering of all women.
“Father,” his daughter called, “I want to hear about your visit to the monastery." But neither could he look at his child, for in her eyes he saw the suffering of all children.
“What is happening to me?” cried the bewildered Commander. “That old monk is responsible for this!” And he ordered his soldiers to take him back to the monastery, where he had been holding the monk prisoner.
“And so, foolish monk,” the Commander shouted, “you thought you could outsmart me and save your skin through witchcraft! Now I will certainly have you killed, and at the same time escape this curse.”
“If that is your wish you may take my life,” the serene monk replied, “From the outset I was not afraid to die. But know that there is no witchcraft at work here. I simply fulfilled your request.”
“My request! What request?” the commander roared.
“You came to my home, oh Commander, and asked for a reason not to kill. Now you have it.”
The Commander fell to his knees and wept.
His next act was to order his men to release the old monk and to free his countrymen from bondage.