I was on a meditation retreat in the south   of France when a visiting master was  introduced to the group. An audience of over three hundred Western   students of  Buddhism waited quietly for him to speak. He was  about forty years old, quite tall and broad-shouldered for a Tibetan,   with an  enormous presence likea mountain, though he barely smiled. As he began   to talk  he repeatedly wiped at his draining right eye, as if something  in him was constantly crying, but his voice remained  strong. Soon his personal story unfolded.

      For  fifteen years, as a young man, this Rinpoche and  his elderly master had been imprisoned inside Tibet  as victims of Chinese persecution. Although he did  not go into details, the conditions they had had to  endure were of the roughest sort, with many days spent  chained together in their dark, dirty cell. The Chinese,  he said, not content with normal torture, had been  determined to persecute devout Tibetans in the worst  possible way by denying them the right to meditate; every time their   eyes  closed they were beaten.    But   because  the Chinese did not understand that Tibetans actually  meditate with their eyes open, the two were able  to continue their prayers and meditations in secret. Unfortunately,  as the years went by, the abuse only got  worse; in fact, Rinpoche’s constantly tearing eye was  the result of beatings from that time. He had even had  to endure the loss of his master, who died next to him  one night in their cell. After many years of torture, escape  from this living hell had come to seem impossible. But  then one day, out of the blue, two of the jailers addressed  him directly: “What are you doing?” they said.  “No matter what we do to you, now matter how we  hurt you, nothing moves you.” Apparently the jailers had  practiced all sorts of martial arts, but they had finally met  a power they didn’t understand. “You   know something we  don’t,” they told him, “and because we are the jailers,  we must learn it in order to become stronger than you.”

So  because he had no other weapon, he taught his jailers  the very practice he and his master had been doing—the  Tibetan meditation called Tonglen, which is  the practice of breathing in the suffering of others and  breathing out light. It was the same practice that many  of us had been learning at this retreat with some struggle,  for to actually take on the suffering of others with  no sense of martyrdom or resentment is a great affront  to one’s ego.

So, to   imagine that this monk and his  elderly master had found the inspiration to not only practice  compassion but to teach it in the middle of hell  to the very beings who were the agents of their suffering  . . . well, that was a level of compassion that transcends  the ordinary mind. And  yet, that is the essence of Buddhist compassion. And  as a result, as Rinpoche told it, the unbelievable happened. One  day, some time later, the Chinese jailers suddenly announced   to  their Tibetan captive that they were  releasing him from jail. No reason. Just his time was  up. And they set him free.And  that is how he came to be before us on that bright  sunny day in the south of France, with his eye running  like a persistent rain of remembrance, his gaze brilliantly  clear, his posture immovable like a warrior’s.

In  fact, as I remember it now, there was not even a trace  of resentment in his voice, only perhaps the bittersweet   irony  that his master had not lived to see that somewhere  between the in-breath and the out-breath,the  boundary between persecutor and persecuted had finally  dissolved.

—Pamela  Bloom

An  effortless compassion can arise for all beings who have not realized   their true nature. So limitless is that if tears could express it, you   would cry without end.

—Nyoshul  Khenpo Rinpoche

From THE POWER OF COMPASSION: Stories that Open the   Heart, Heal the Soul, and Change the World (Hampton Roads, 2010).

A visual experience of   this story can be found on YouTube:

www.YouTube.com/thepowerofcompassion under the video "From Victim to Liberator.