Jos Slabbert, a poet, author and teacher in Vineta, Namibia, Africa comments on portions of the Te-Tao Ching(Tao Te Ching)
I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion.
(Te-Tao Ching(Tao Te Ching), Chapter 67)
This essay is an effort to discuss some of the qualities of compassion which are described in Te-Tao Ching(Tao Te Ching). It would be almost impossible to cover every aspect of compassion in the text, and to do this great masterpiece full justice.
Even though this essay is a verbal effort, acquiring compassion should not be seen as an intellectual exercise.
The true meaning of compassion will only become clear if one lives a life of compassion. There is no other way.
When people see some things as beautiful,
Other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
Other things become bad.
(Te-Tao Ching(Tao Te Ching), Chapter 2)
The beauty of this passage from Te-Tao Ching(Tao Te Ching) is that it clearly shows what goes wrong if you insist on thinking dualistically on a spiritual level. The moment you distinguish between beautiful and ugly, you become prejudiced, and this inevitably influences your attitude and your actions.
Let me give you an example. If you really believe that being thin is beautiful, you will find obese people ugly. Research has shown that obese people are confronted by a lot of prejudice. They are prejudged by people as being anything from self-indulgent and greedy to selfish and plain stupid. The high instance of eating disorders among younger women and the billions earned from pushing dietary drugs testify to this.
In fact, seeing the world in terms of beautiful and ugly is exploited to manipulate people. The industry will make you believe that only the latest fashion is beautiful, in this way manipulating you into buying. It is a source of fear as well.
Beauty the source of fear? Of course it is. In a world where only the youthful are accepted as beautiful, and old age is rejected as ugly, particularly women, but increasingly also males, live in perpetual fear of rejection. The "beauty industry" is an industry based on the fear of becoming ugly - it is indeed a hideous industry.
Now what is the solution? Simple. Live a life of the spirit. Where there is no discrimination. Where the "beautiful" and "ugly" are neither beautiful nor ugly, but sentient beings filled with emptiness. Where the superficial does not count. Only then will true compassion be possible, for compassion is not real if it is only reserved for what is considered to be "beautiful". If it does, it becomes ugly.
The Master doesn't take sides;
She welcomes both saints and sinners.
(Te-Tao Ching(Tao Te Ching), Chapter 5)
This passage takes the idea of non-discrimination a step further. It deals with tolerance. What it is in fact saying is that one should not judge people according to their spiritual development, nor according to the rights or wrongs they have done.
You have probably read those headlines which emphasize that so many "innocent" people have died in some terrible war somewhere.
Is it worse when "innocent" rather than "guilty" people die? Or to go one step further: Is death for the less innocent more justifiable? Are the lives of the innocent worth more than the lives of the guilty? To take it another step further: Is there such a thing as a justifiable death for the guilty?
If your answer is yes to the last question, you may probably agree with millions of people arguing for the death penalty, or who even propose televised executions. Many movies also work on this ingredient of vengeance against the guilty. They would manipulate audiences into actually enjoying it when guilty villains get their "just punishment" in the form of being murdered by a "righteous hero".
Does our enjoyment of the deaths of the guilty bring out the worst or the best in us? Are people, who vie to eye-witness murderers being executed, part of the solution, or part of the problem?
The cry for no tolerance easily becomes a cry for no mercy. Make no mistake: it is essential to maintain law and order. Real peace is not possible without it. But neither is peace possible without mercy, which is the basic ingredient of forgiveness and compassion, the true basis of a civilized society. We may take sides against crime, but we should be careful that we do not take sides against the "sinners".
In our effort to establish law and order, we could easily become as cruel and inhuman as the criminal, and in the process destroy the very basis of civilization, which is compassion and wisdom.
The supreme good is like water, which nourishes all things without trying to. It is content with the low places that people disdain. Thus it is like the Tao.
(Te-Tao Ching(Tao Te Ching), Chapter 8)
I do not know how many times I have read and quoted this text, because it expresses almost perfectly what I feel about humility. It is so clear, isn't it? Humility is not something negative, but it is a source of tremendous power.
It is an amazing text, for it is one of those texts that seem to change with your own development. Every time I read it, it seems to acquire new meaning.
The first thing that strikes me when I read it now is that the "supreme good ... nourishes ...all things". It does not discriminate.
The second thing is that it does so "without trying". It is effortless, for it is part of its nature. It is very true, isn't it? When you first try to be "better", it can easily feel a bit contrived. It should not upset you too much. If you have lived an egocentric life for a long time, being compassionate will not come "naturally" to you at first. What this actually means is that your emotions will clash with or object to what you are doing at first. Do not let that worry you too much. Compassion is first and foremost a commitment, isn't it? Your emotions and the "natural" part will follow sooner or later, often later if you have been a hardened egotist. If you are willing to suffer in the process, you will have an even better chance. Remember: Being truly compassionate starves the ego, and the ego gives you hell in the process.
The third line of this passage explains a tremendous quality of compassion:
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Now, again, being in "low places" is painful to someone who has been craving for attention and recognition. It is torture to someone dependent on status. If you are truly compassionate, you will be willing to lose status for the sake of serving others. You will get into a position or situations "people disdain". It would be something your family might beg you not to mention when friends come for dinner. It would not be anything that could put people in awe of your qualities or commitment. It would be something they could find nauseating. They might not even want to know you because of this. You might even lose your chances of promotion because of it.
The amazing quality of true compassion lies in the third word of the line: "content". Not only is the truly compassionate person willing to do something other people disdain, but she is "content" to do so. Contentment is a strong word. That is what so many materialists or idealists search for in vain, for the more you have, the less contented you seem to be as an egoist. True compassion allows you to live with contentment as a social outcast.
The implications of this passage are tremendous. This contentment would only be possible if you have rid yourself of your ego and have become independent of the opinion of society.