There is a famous Tibetan story of the Indian scholar and yogi Asanga. It's quite a long story, so I tell it in a condensed form. Asanga spent many years in caves, meditating. After he had spent about ten years in a cave, he was feeling he had no result at all; nothing good was happening for him, he thought, ‘This is a waste of time.’
So he is walking along, and he sees this man up on top of a hill with a small spoon, digging into the earth and putting the earth into a box. Asanga asks: ‘What are you doing?’ And the man answers: ‘Can you see down there that house that's in the shadow? I live in that house, and this hill blocks the sun. So I'm going to remove the hill so that I get some sun on my house.’ So Asanga thinks, ‘Goodness, if he can do that, I better go on back and meditate.’
So he goes back to his cave and has another ten years.
And again he goes out after ten years because he thinks, ‘No, I really should stop this – it's not my luck, not in this life.’ And walking along he sees a man with a block of iron who is rubbing it with a piece of cotton wool. Asanga asks the man: ‘What are you doing?’ And the man says, ‘You see my shirt? That's torn here. I'm making a needle, so I can repair it.’ And Asanga thinks, ‘Right, if these people can do that, I'm going back to the cave.’
And off he goes.
Another ten years in the cave, and he is really not getting anywhere. So he thinks, ‘I've had it. I'm finished.’ And as he walks along the road, he sees a dog that's sort of limping a little bit and looks as if in pain. Asanga goes up to the dog and looks, and the dog is whining and whimpering. Then Asanga sees that the animal has got a wound in its back, and in that wound there are lots of maggots. He thinks, ‘I've got to take these maggots out of this wound, because that's what's hurting this poor dog.’ So Asanga picks up a twig, a small piece of wood, and he goes to dig the maggots out. Then he thinks, ‘Oh, but if I do that, then maybe I'll hurt the maggots, and they also will suffer. I'll try to just pick them up with my fingers.’ But when he tries to do that, he gets frightened that he's going to squeeze the maggots. Now he is really confused and doesn't know what to do.
And then he thinks, ‘I know, if I put out my tongue, because my tongue is very soft maybe the maggot can come on my tongue.’ So he closes his eyes, puts out his tongue, and he just feels the maggot. And as he feels it, he opens his eyes, and there, in front of him, is Maitreya Buddha.
I think this story is very important, because in the first two parts of the story, when he goes out and sees the person digging on the hill and then the guy rubbing the iron, he has an inspiration which is very much about himself. ‘If they can work hard, I can work hard.’ So he is inspired to do something. But it's a self-reflexive inspiration, solipsistic. But in the third case, with the dog and the maggots, he is completely surrendering to the needs of the other. He is no longer trying to arrange things on his own terms. He makes a gesture out of himself, forgetting himself and putting the other first. This is perhaps the essence of compassion: that it privileges the other. It means that we are open to respond as the servant to the other's need.
[B]y developing wisdom which is the understanding of the openness and the luminous quality of being, the lack of substance in oneself and in the other, one can develop more ability to respond in an open way, without trying to control or manipulate or predict what the outcome will be. That is to say, one surrenders any attempt to establish a territory of control.
So the development of wisdom and compassion together is absolutely vital, and traditionally the image is given that they are like the two wings of a bird, and you have to have both in order to fly.