The concept of compassion in Taoism is very different from the traditional Western view that is more clearly seen in the phrase "taking pity on someone." When we pity someone else, we judge them to be less than ourselves in some way. We may be tempted to think we know better than they do what is best for them. We may think of compassion as tied to the idea of self-sacrifice, wherein we must give up something important to us in order to feel good about helping someone else.

A teacher of Zen recently illustrated the difference between the traditional Western attitude toward compassion and a more Taoist approach. He said that he knows people who will buy food for beggars or panhandlers but will not just hand them money, fearing they will get liquor or drugs instead of food with it. In contrast, he says that he gives those asking for money the money and a blessing. It is not respectful to the recipient, he feels, to set conditions on the type of assistance and how it is used.

In the book of Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi), Lao Tzu (Laozi) admonishes Confucius (Kong Fuzi) about using compassion as a permanent base, instead of "a path which he took on loan" or a temporary "place to lodge for a night":
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If we are to truly exhibit compassion, it cannot be an effort and it cannot be conditional. As in all things, a Taoist would try to value effortless action (wu wei) and no judgments.

"Benevolence and righteousness, when forced upon us, disturb your heart and produce great distress."

-- from chapter 14, Palmer & Breuilly (trs.)
Lao Tzu also describes how we must release all judgment in order for our actions to be truly helpful:
"Thus the Master is available to all people and doesn't reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations and doesn't waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

"What is a good man but a bad man's teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man's job?
If you don't understand this, you will get lost, however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret."

-- from chapter 27, Tao Te Ching, S. Mitchell (tr.)