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The Horseshoe Crab Dilemma by Jeremy Lehrer

In a class, one of my teachers spoke about taking his daughter to the New Jersey shore. During a certain time of year, there would be horseshoe crabs on the beach, and his daughter would get particularly upset when she saw the ones that were turned upside-down. A horseshoe crab in that state is indeed a particularly miserable thing to see—these creatures are very ill-equipped to turn themselves over.

My teacher noted that our compassion is sparked by the horseshoe crab that is turned upside-down but not necessarily by those that are right-side up and trudging along in the sand or the water. Yet they are in a similarly fragile and precarious state, as we all are. The basic nature of samsaric existence—when we are driven forward by desire, ignorance, and all the rest of the negative mental states, subject to all sorts of unpleasant experiences—is that it is all unsatisfactory. Unless we make significant spiritual progress, we are all going to suffer illness, unhappiness, fear, anger, separation from the people we love, etc.

Even if we are not turned upside-down on our backs in the sand at the New Jersey shore, our seemingly hunky-dory situations should not allow us to be sanguine. We are all in an unenviable predicament, whether we realize it or not. This can be helpful in expanding our hearts with compassion for everyone we encounter and in generating inspiration for the path: Your spiritual teachers, and everything they teach you, can get you out. And then you can help everyone: right-side up, upside-down, and everything in between.

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