h Phoenix Qi: Daoism on Compassion

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Daoism on Compassion

She whose picture you see is Guan Shi Yin, Bodhisattva of Compassion. For the record, "Guan" means "observe" with the connotation to do something about that which is being observed; pay attention! "Shi" means "world." "Yin" means "sound," and is a completely different Chinese character from the "yin" of "yin/yang." Some people translate her name with great complication and aggrandizement; one that I saw recently went something like: She Who Hears The Cries Of All The Human Beings In The World And Saves Them.

Most Daoists like to keep things simple. Indeed, that is much of what Daoism is about: simplicity, and the natural order of things....so "Observer of the World's Sounds" is the translation I embrace for the name of Guan Shi Yin. Besides, how much time does it leave us to think of others, act compassionately toward them, if we are giving our attention to fancy titles?

The quote below on "Compassion" is from the book 365 Tao by Deng Ming-Dao, ISBN 0-06-250223-9. Compassion seems a timely topic since many sorrowful things have been (and still are) happening in our world. Being aware of them, and practicing Compassion, certainly is in order these days.



Once you've seen the face of god,
You see that same face on everyone you meet.

The true god has no face. The true Tao has no name. But we cannot identify with that until we are of a very high level of insight. Until then, the gods with faces and the Tao with names are still more worthy of veneration and study than the illusions of the world.

With long and sincere training, it is possible to see the face of god. Holiness is not about scientific objectivity. It is about a deep and clear recognition of the true nature of life. Your attitude toward your god will be different than anyone else's god -- divinity is a reflection of your own understanding. If your experience differs from others, that does not invalidate your sense of godliness. You will have no doubts after you have seen.

Knowing god is the source of compassion in our lives. We realize that our separation from others is artificial. We are neither separate from other people nor from Tao. It is only our own egotism that leads us to define ourselves as individuals. In fact, a direct experience of god is a direct experience of the utter universality of life. If we allow it to change our way of thinking, we will understand our essential oneness with all things.

How does god look? Once you see god, you will see that same face on every person you meet.


The word Compassion means "suffering with." When we feel compassion toward someone, we can have empathy with them...we can identify with their feelings, situation, motives....we can see and accept who they are.

In our interactions with other people, who after all are mirrors of ourselves, we should strive to be in a state of compassion. It's easy to connect with people who are not suffering, who are living life to the fullest, who have everything they need to satisfy their needs and desires. It's less easy to connect to people who have less. It's less easy to reach out to them on a personal level. Why is that? Is it because they mirror our shadow side, and we don't want to look at that, we don't want to identify with that?

Oh, we may donate to charities, and maybe even put in a couple hours a month or a week at a shelter for the homeless, but when was the last time we invited one of these people into our lives? When was the last time we offered to take them to lunch (as opposed to giving them money to buy a meal), sat and talked...really talked, shared information and understanding...with one who is less fortunate than we are?

Why is it easier to show compassion in a time of crisis than in a time of not-crisis? Is it because we are usually one of many responding to the crisis, sort of one cell in a larger compassionate being? It may be easier because we are that one-step removed; we are a nameless face in the crowd; the shadow side isn't ours, it's everyone's. We don't have to see it as a reflection of us, it's a reflection of someone else; we're just helping out in a pinch.

The thing we often don't realize is that, for whatever reason, we do find it easier to offer compassion to others than we find it to be compassionate with ourselves. When we do offer compassion to others, it opens a doorway to our Self. Our Self steps through that doorway into the world of the other. Our Self then can empathize and understand that other person. It's more difficult to turn around and walk back through that door, back into our Self, and retain that compassion for what we find within. However, the more frequently we do return through that door, the more we find it possible to be compassionate to ourselves.

We tend to be hard on ourselves. I believe this is why we avoid looking at that shadow side; not because we know we won't like what we see, but because we know we should work to change it. We don't want to change, change is hard, it will turn us into someone else. Strangely enough, we tend to be pretty territorial with our problems. We don't want to change, but we do expect everyone around us to accommodate us while we securely hold to our problems and phobias.

If we could go that extra step with ourselves, be as compassionate and understanding with ourselves as we know we can be with others, I believe we can not only deal effectively with our shadow side, but help others to deal with theirs, also. The more we help them, the more we help ourselves, the more we can help them, and so on and so on. It certainly brings to the light the idea that we are all One. We might even make the world a better place some day!

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