raven song

February 8, 2011

Mercy and prisons a measure of our society

prison barskuan yin 01shakespeare 01 web

A thought kept pinging in my brain space , ‘let the quality of mercy not be constrained’. I was thinking about the need for a public discussion on prison reform during the lead up to the coming state elections in NSW Aust. Our 11,000 prisoners are often the forgotten ones. I wondered whether our seeming inability too look with compassionate and kind eyes on the rehabilitation of prisoners reflect on the quality of mercy in our society. Maybe  prisoners fulfil a psychological need in many to appoint a convenient scapegoat representing the demons responsible for our own suffering. I was talking with a friend about the pinging thought ‘let the quality of mercy not be constrained’ and my knowing it was part of our literary heritage, maybe the bible. Friend said, I think it is Shakespeare maybe Merchant of Venice. Later he emailed the quote:

“The quality of mercy is not strained,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blessed;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.”
Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1(lines 181-6)

Shakespeare speaking five hundred years ago, maybe repeating the call 2500 years ago  of the goddess of compassion in Buddhism Avalokitesavara who it is said has the supernatural power of assuming any form required to relieve suffering and  is better known in her later Chinese manifestation as Kuan Yin, she who listens to the sounds of suffering. This call has echoed through the ages from Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha and most poets. In contemporary times we have Gandi, Mandela and the lesser known  Maha Ghosanda . Is it yet time to think that we can use this view to look at a more useful, functional and compassionate prison system. I would like to draw our potential new leaders attention to Shakespeare’s quote that mercy ‘becomes the throned monarch better than his crown’  – perhaps join in the call.


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