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Compassion as a Path

field of flowers

How does compassion
lead to enlightenment?

Many spiritual practices use meditation and mantras to cultivate compassion. Taoism approaches compassion as a type of living meditation, where everything on our path is an opportunity to return to a state of innocence.

Like a newborn babe who has not yet learned to smile.
No reaction - just a sense of wonder on arrival.

We sometimes need the actual experience of conflict and/or suffering to fully understand compassion.

When meeting contention in another,
it would be wise to look within. (Confucius)

Compassion can be viewed as energy because it can completely transform our lives.

Dragging the adversary about
when there is no adversary
will cost you your inner treasure.

Through projection, we can color our experiences with the attributes of our inner condition.

And we give nothing away when we forgive another – when we let go, we return to innocence. This unbiased outlook seeks to understand how we are brought together propitiously on the path in a way that forgiveness is never necessary.

Three Treasures of Taoism

Compassion is one of the three treasures in Taoism that can lead to enlightenment, and return us to joy.

I have three treasures,
which I hold and protect:
The first is called compassion;
The second is being malleable like an uncarved block;
The third is not daring to take the lead in the empire. (TTC)

The uncarved block is the practice of not holding to how the past transforms into the present. Subsequently, the present becomes the future and then becomes the past again. Why classify? We only exist in this moment.

Judgment is how the mind views experience in terms of the past. Our mental outlook can become trapped in the illusion that time is something more than an ever-unfolding moment.

Remove the Red Dust

We can be shaped by the vicissitudes of our experiences, but we ‘remove the red dust’ that can accumulate from our journey. Being malleable, we remain open to the perpetual present.

We give our uncarved block to the woodcarver (Tao) and allow the vicissitudes to carve away what blocks our authenticity. No matter the challenge, we are being shaped into the unique expression of what we were created to become.

We must remember that life continuously brings elements together in its pursuit of a better way. Even while we may share a similar DNA combination with our siblings, our version will be different. We cannot hold our parents in contempt because a part of them exists within us too.

In the contrast of our differences,
the family gives definition to our true character.

Compassion replaces judgment and defensiveness with the possibilities that arise from our interactions. Anything other than compassion will erode our inner treasure. Cleansed from the past and open to the present, life becomes a place of endless discovery.

We can observe life’s version of its pursuit of perfection through malleability and recombination in any given moment. We are not left on the sidelines.

We can see malleability in the world around us,
yet, believe we do not change.

The red dust is best viewed in hexagram 56, The Wanderer, where the greatest wanderer does not know where they are going. I envision Grasshopper from the Kung Fu series of the 1970’s.

David Carridine portrays a Shaolin monk who wanders through the American old west, using only his spiritual training to keep the present in perspective.

In that sense, the red dust or lessons of the past must be cleansed from our shoes. In many religious trainings, one performs an ablution or washing in preparation for worship.

When we are cultivating malleability in the present, we wash away how the mind wants to classify, organize and defend.

Not Taking the Lead

Not daring to take the lead in the empire is the same as choosing to be the guest and not the host. I imagine waking up to a carriage ride through a day that has been specifically designed to unleash our pollen. All of our interactions are life’s cross-pollinations that are meant to release our authenticity and make each of us whole.

The changing environment can guide us when it is time to blossom, and turn us inward when it is time to rest and renew. The only time we lose our connection to joy is when we forget that we are the guest here.

We need only observe how we have adopted a more controlling perspective. We have fallen prey to the illusion that we are the host.

This can include removing preconceptions and desires that may not be appropriate for our path. It also embodies the non-attachment to the outcome so that we can truly enjoy whatever has arrived on our path.

In these ideas, we see the importance of malleability, and how giving up control allow us to arrive in a state of perpetual joy.


While compassion is considered a virtue in many spiritual practices, Taoism would view virtue as a type of conformity. Taoism is a philosophy of removing boundaries and learning how to unleash our ‘te.’ Our te encapsulates the blueprint of our unique design, similar to how are DNA shapes who we become.

This is to say, in Taoism, it is more important to be naturally ourselves, rather than adjust our behavior to how society would shape us into what we are not.

Compassion is the desire to leave the world in a better place than how we found it. We can only serve when tapping our unique nature. Sometimes being placed in a position to serve another is how we discover our gifts.

A desire for authenticity opens us to the opportunity to be guided in tapping our unique nature. We are brought together propitiously to learn and shape one another. We can be unique, but we are also part of an intricate web of interaction.

Compassion in Taoism arises from releasing the illusion of boundaries. We may witness anger in one who is suffering, and while we don’t own their condition, we might seek to understand why this particular situation has presented itself on our path.

If we consider how nature is constantly bringing opposites together to balance out extremes, it would make sense that one who if full of compassion might have a role in helping one who is deficient.

High and low pressure systems are brought together, and energy is released in similar ways through atomic processes.

Just as the I Ching is founded on the idea of malleability and change, we are never complete. Being full can block us from being fulfilled anew. We don’t have to have an answer as to why – we need only be present for the opportunity to open and learn.

Today, we are full of compassion and tomorrow we may be brought to our knees. Living in perpetual malleability requires a willingness to change. Giving up control is not easily mastered.

This is where we see the power of compassion at its highest expression. Nothing comes to separate our willingness to release all boundaries and judgments. Whether ideas, feelings or fear, there is no reason to hold to anything that would block our return to original sincerity.

We can watch a summer swarm of insects reflecting the sunlight on their wings, or listen to a bird singing its throaty and shrill territorial song that is almost Gaelic.

We might watch salmon swimming upstream because it is in their Te to do so. We can observe a tender shoot pushing through the dirt and rocks just so it can fulfill its te of transforming the sun’s energy into food.

All are variations of nature’s expression of perfection in the moment. Today represents the best of what it might be, after billions of years of trial and error. Yet, tomorrow will be even better and we learn to trust that nature is designed this way.

Forgiveness is the remedy when compassion is deficient. Compassion opens the doors that judgment would prefer to close. When judgments come to block our joy, compassion leads to faith....and faith leads to perpetual joy.

Celebrate life's newness in every moment, and its pursuit of a better way. Open to how it is guiding your te to blossom.