The Parable Of The Onion - Fyodor Dostoevsky - The Brothers Karamazov - Woman - Hell - Greed - Salvation

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Salvation Is Inclusive

Recounts "The Parable of the Onion," a story from Fyodor Dostoevsky's, The Brothers Karamazov.

Through a single act of selflessness an old woman nearly raised over one million people from hell up into heaven. God had extended an onion to the old woman and began to draw her up into heaven, and as He did so, countless others fixed their grasps upon her ankles and legs, and the ankles and legs of each other in an endless chain extending to the very bowels of hell. Despite the great weight, the onion held fast, as if sustained by supernatural force. However, as the numbers of people grew, the woman became fearful that the onion she held -- and upon which the salvation of countless others depended -- would snap due to this tremendous weight. So the woman began to kick the people who had grabbed upon her. As people started falling back into hell, so the onion also began to fray and soon snapped, sending the woman back into hell as well. Sadly, because of the woman's selfishness no one was saved -- not even herself.

The moral of the parable of the onion is that love and a whole-hearted commitment to the salvation of all beings is a necessary precondition for peace, happiness and, ultimately, spiritual enlightenment.

Cultural Criticism - August 9, 1998

I like to tell people about "The Parable of the Onion" in Dostoyevsky's, "The Brothers Karamazov." Though my recounting of the parable is somewhat embellished, its heart remains the same: We can only help ourselves by helping each other. The story goes like this:

Once upon a time there was an old woman who had died and found herself in hell. She complained to Satan that her assignment to the netherworld was a mistake.

Satan told her, "You've been a greedy, selfish woman all your life. Surely, this is where you belong."

The woman thought a long time, trying to recollect some shred of altruism in her life. After several minutes she exclaimed, "Aha! I did a good deed once! I gave an onion to a beggar."

Satan replied, "Oh, yes. That is right. You pulled an onion out of the ground in your yard and handed it (bulb, stalk, and all) to a beggar at the fence."

At that very moment, God's hand descended into hell, holding the onion out for the woman to grasp. Holding onto the onion with both hands, the woman found herself miraculously being pulled up and out of hell.

As she rose, to the woman's horror, dozens of people began to grasp at her legs and ankles, and as they were pulled up along with her, yet more people grasped onto the lower-most people's own legs and ankles, until it seemed that the bowels of hell clung like an endless chain from a single woman's body and the onion to which she clung.

Though there was great weight tethered to the onion, the connection remained secure and God's hand continued to lift eveyone up out of hell. Remarkably, the onion held; it did not fray.

More and more people who had previously been doomed for eternity found themselves slowly, miraculously, being raised from hell by way of the woman's firm grasp on the onion. There were soon thousands, and after several minutes millions of people hanging from the onion.

Yet the onion held fast.

Halfway to heaven, which is a long distance up from hell, the woman looked down at the vast human chain following her.

She was angry and resentful that these people -- who may have done even less good in their lives than herself -- should be so easily redeemed by virtue of simply clinging to her spindly old legs. She was also afraid, and so excaimed in a great shout, "If all of you grab on to me like this, the onion will surely break and I will not get to heaven!"

So, resolving not to allow anyone to harm her chances for redemption, the woman began to kick and smash the people hanging from her legs and ankles and toes. One by one as she struck them they fell, with each loss of a handhold causing tens of thousands of people to plunge back into hell.

But with each kick -- though the physical load grew lighter -- the onion began to fray. And as the onion frayed, the woman, in her anger and haste, began to kick more ferociously still, thinking that it was the weight of hell's denizens -- and not her anger and selfishness -- that tore at the onion.

She kicked until but one person remained clinging to her left big toe, with yet another endless chain of people dangling from him. Millions of people hung from that precious, single toe. Still, the onion held though it was severely frayed. But the woman couldn't bear the risk of losing her only chance to join God in heaven, so she kicked at the last remaining person; and as the person lost his grip, the onion snapped, and the selfish old woman -- from a great height, having made it almost all the way to heaven -- fell back into hell.

Comment

I love this story, and I offer the following interpretation: In terms of one's spiritual path, you have to be committed to the salvation -- not just of yourself -- but all people. You have to love -- you have to desire to save -- everyone.

All people, regardless of their age, sex, race, religion, or past behaviors deserve the opportunity to gain spiritual insight. Every person -- no matter how heinous and harmful his or her past actions -- should have access to spiritual redemption. You can argue that the very worst people -- those who have caused emotional and physical harm to others -- need God's mercy the most.

So, when the spiritual aspirant feels God's might flowing in her veins, her intention must be the salvation of all beings. Any less universal or selfless a desire becomes the pawn of ego and self-aggrandizement, sending you assuredly back to "hell."

Greed and selfishness lead to every kind of distortion in the spiritual process. Hatred and exclusivity are the most offensive of spiritual impediments.

You can't find heaven, let alone relative peace, holding onto such feelings within your heart.

 

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