I learn and develop much more through living a compassionate life than through studying (including meditating on) compassion, and I expected that most Buddhists would be similar, since practical practice would seem to be more dynamic than theoretical. However, at the end of last year I went to a Buddhist retreat for a week, and in one of their main meditation halls there were large windows with lots and lots of flies trapped. Now, at home when I see a fly trapped on a window I catch it and let it out, and I began to do so there, but with so many flies I decided to ask for help thinking that all the Buddhist monks and nuns there would leap at the chance to practice their compassion... So, at lunch time I asked a large group of residents, including monks and nuns, who would like to help me catch the flies, and not one person offered, instead they all put their heads down and looked away, until one girl recognising the awkwardness of the situation offered to help (she didn't help however).
Leaving aside the perils of me projecting my expectations onto others, I was really surprised and, somewhat, disappointed. I understand when I am at home why my parents, friends, colleagues do not catch flies, because we do not live in an overtly compassionate society, and most people do not seem to consider insects as living a worthwhile existence (something that makes my brain twitch!), but to go to a Buddhist centre with real nuns and monks and see them reject such a simple chance to practice their compassion made me wonder about the merits of their teachings.
I understand that being a monk or a nun is no measure of personal development, it simply reflects their present dedication, but it wasn't like they were being presented with child abusers or rapists or seriel killers to express compassion to, whereby I can accept that this could be a significant challenge to their compassion, instead these were innocent lifeforms trapped in a tortuous situation that will lead to their death, and for the sake of spending a bit of time with a cup and a piece of paper and doing a little bit of chasing around, it hardly seems like much to be asked of. And I say 'asked of', but to me - and again I am projecting - they cannot not have been aware of the flies, and so to not desire to help and help on their own volition is surprising enough.
So, what does everyone else think? Do you personally find more value in studing, contemplating and meditating on compassionate action, or by simply getting on with expressing compassionate action? Of course, both go hand in hand, but hypothetically speaking, would you place more value on experiencing a profound loving-kindness meditation where you feel great love for all living creatures but are not in that moment actually acting on that love, or on, for example, saving flies from their window trappings?
Thank you. :)