Compassion and Forgiveness

Therefore the sages:
Place themselves last but end up in front
Are outside of themselves and yet survive
Is it not due to their selflessness?
That is how they can achieve their own goals (7.5-9)

In Taoism, the theme of compassion ties directly into the theme of humility. The sages are selfless, and one of the ways their selflessness shows is that they're always giving to others. You might interpret this quote as showing that generosity itself is a goal worth achieving.

End benevolence; abandon righteousness
The people return to piety and charity (19.3-4)

Wait a sec. We thought the sages were supposed to be benevolent—meaning compassionate? How is ending benevolence supposed to help anybody? It could be that this quote is telling us that we shouldn't be self-righteous with our generosity. If we truly give without expecting anything in return, then other people will pick up on our cues.

Therefore the good person is the teacher of the bad person
The bad person is the resource of the good person (27.22-12)

How are bad people good for anybody? Aren't they... bad? What this quote might be saying is that the good ought to help the bad and also that good people can learn from bad people's mistakes. This quote might also combat the notion that everything is relative to Taoists. There is a good way and bad way to live, but the good Taoist accepts even bad people for what they are.

High benevolence takes contrived action
And acts without agenda
High righteousness takes contrived action
And acts with agenda (38.9-12)

Oh, snap. This one seems to prove our point from that earlier quote about benevolence and righteousness. Acting without agenda in this context means that a person gives and is kind without any thought to what they might get in return. If a good sage gives somebody his or her last dime, they'd do it without ever expecting to get paid back.

Those who are good, I am good to them
Those who are not good, I am also good to them
Thus the virtue of goodness (49.3-5)

Sayings like this remind us a whole lot of the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. According to the Bible, Jesus also preached that we should be kind to everyone, whether they're our friends or enemies. These religions may have popped up thousands of miles away from each other, but at their core are they really that different?

Therefore the sages are:
Righteous without being scathing (38.13-14)

If you've ever had a sanctimonious lecture from somebody who thinks they're better than you, then you totally get where these lines are coming from. Taoism is all about self-discipline, but it's totally not about lecturing everybody else about how undisciplined they are. Just to ask a question, though... is there ever a time when a self-righteous lecture from someone has done you any good? Are they always a bad thing?

The sages also do not harm people
They both do no harm to one another
So virtue merges and returns (60.7-9)

This one could be saying that when we're kind to others, others are more likely to be kind to us. It seems to suggest that if everybody out there is being kind, then all of a sudden we'll end up with a kinder world. Is this just wishful thinking? Can kindness truly spread in this selfish world?

The Tao is the wonder of all things
The treasure of the kind person
The protection of the unkind person [...]
Those who are unkind
How can they be abandoned? (62.1-7)

This one looks to the Tao as an example. Whether a person is kind or unkind, it still gives them life and nourishes them, so we ought to follow its example. The Tao is a bit like that overly kind grandparent who helps you out even when you totally don't deserve it. Some might argue that this contradicts other passages in which the Tao seems to almost punish those who behave badly. A Taoist would probably tell you, though, that those people brought it on themselves.

Respond to hatred with virtue (63.5)

This one really reminds of the Christian saying about turning the other cheek. To quote JC: "But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also" (Matthew 7:12). What do you think? How similar or different are these two philosophies on how to deal when people are mean to us?

The more they assist others, the more they possess
The more they give to others, the more they gain (81.8-9)

Okay, this one's also really similar to Christian ideas. Like, oh say, this classic: "Give, and you will receive" (Luke 6:38). The important thing in both religions isn't that giving will actually get you something tangible in return. If you lend your neighbor a cup of milk, they might not necessarily lend you one later on (although they're kind of jerks if they don't). The point here is that the act of giving itself is a gain.

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