What is our nature?

The tale about the yogi Ramakrishna rescuing the scorpion from the river is deeply instructive. We sometimes see this level of compassion in children, who live closer to the ground than adults do, and therefore are more likely to spot worms and other small creatures in difficulties. In certain seasons, a walk in nature with a child may be completely taken over by a baby bird fallen from a nest, or a bee caught in a spider’s web. When we are taller, and supposedly more mature, we often pass these small dramas unaware.

But the explanation given by Ramakrishna to his students is also a lesson to learn. The scorpion stung him because it was in distress, and in that condition it is the nature of a scorpion to sting. But the nature of a Ramakrishna, devoted to the Divine, is to help those in distress – and why should that be denied before a different kind of nature?

We cannot expect anything different from the frantic scorpion, for it behaves as it has been made. The human being, though, has been given a few grains of free will, and with those we can make choices. One might say that it is the nature of our physical body to avoid pain, but if Ramakrishna had heeded that message, no doubt the pain of his compassionate heart would have been greater for him than the sting of a scorpion.

Not everyone shares their environment with scorpions, but in every part of the world there are people who, distressed by the difficulties of life, may sting or wound those around them. We need not seek this pain, if it can be avoided, but neither should we be deterred from offering our neighbours whatever our true nature urges us to give.

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