The three treasure of Taoism:
Compassion, Frugality and Humility
Karine Martin, PhD
French Daoist Association Chairman
2nd Christian-Taoist Dialogue Colloquium
Christian and Taoist Ethics in Dialogue
4-8 November 2018 in Singapore
Fourth Session: Spiritual Development and Self-Cultivation
In the daodejing chapter 67, Laozi the founder of Taoism tells us that he has three treasure compassion, frugality and humility; he holds them dear and keep them consistently with him. He adds that it is why people considers his Dao great.
The reason everybody calls the Dao great
Is because there is nothing quite like it
It is exactly because it is great
that there is nothing quite like it
if there were something that were consistently like it
how could it be small
I have three treasures that I hold and cherish
The first is compassion
The second is frugality
The third is not daring to put myself ahead of others (humility)
Having compassion, I can be brave
Having frugality I can be generous
Having humility I can take the time to perfect my abilities
Now if I am brave without compassion
Generous without frugality
Go to the fore without putting my own concerns last
I might as well be dead
If you wage war with compassion you will win
If you protect yourself with compassion you will be impervious
Heaven will take care of you
Protecting you with compassion
In our modern society where the main message diffused consistently by ways of advertisement is over consumption and excessive competition the usefulness of those three qualities seem outdated and out of place.
How can my child succeed at school if he does not compete? How can my husband rise up to the top in his field if he stays humble and compassionate? May a householder ask herself.
For many, while having these qualities sounds nice, fear of failing or falling below others by using them grasp one heart. How can we get the motivation to apply those three qualities in our life if we fear that they do not serve us well?
Our Original nature is Good and benevolent
First it is important to observe within oneself that indeed the thought of having those qualities feels nice. Why does it feel nice? Because the Taoist teachings tells us that indeed that kind of qualities mirror those of heaven and as such are part of our naturalness; they are the qualities of our true nature. According to Taoism, man is born good, his original nature is good, and it is the conditioning of society that leads him down the stray path of fear, competition and other defects.
Furthermore, in Taoism, we believe that to be happy, one must stay closer as possible to its original nature. It is in this natural state that Man feels most at ease and can find delight in life.
Desires and environment meddle with our original nature
In the Qingjing (Classic of Pure and Tranquil), Laozi tells us that the heart spontaneously likes clarity and tranquillity, but that desires meddle with it. According to such a concept, we thus are inherently born with the positive qualities of compassion, frugality and humility.
The society we live in based on consumerism has very early on understood the power of desires and how to make use of it to generate more money.
When our stomach is full we are naturally meant to stop eating, but then desires meddle with us and that nice picture of that creamy dessert on the menu overstimulate our senses and makes us believe that we need more food….so there goes our frugality, victim of marketing advertisements.
In the same way, we spontaneously lead towards compassion, but fear of the competitive atmosphere in the company we work for meddle with it. When our colleague asks us for help on a project our first movement is to answer yes, but then the fear that he might get better appraisal than us or the fear of loosing our job strikes us… and there goes our compassionate nature.
The list of such examples is long, and the power of desires to leads us down stray lanes is not to be undervalued; nor is the power of advertisements and other marketing tools.
This kind of conditioning starts very early on in one s life. At school, the youngsters are trained to be better than their classmates to get higher marks. Competition to enter good university is getting harder every year. Helping one’s friends in such an environment becomes then a risk to see the friend get a higher score then his. That environment of competition leads the child away from is natural state of compassion and fraternity.
This description is all well interesting but then what are we to do? Changing society is not a matter of simply observing and discussing about it and does not depend on the brief speech of a Taoist such as myself.
Changes starts within each individual’s heart
Well, we could summarize the solution by the simple sentence: “change starts within one’s heart”. For people to be able to live in a society that mirror the cosmic harmony, each must first get reconnected to their innate benevolent nature. This means overcoming the fear of lacking. It is the fear of lacking material sufficiency that very often drives one to competition, lies and malevolent action. The fear meddles with the heart.
How to overcome fear in for example an environment of competition, rivalry at work or in business?
Improving one’ condition or career is not about competing against other but competing against one’s fear, desires and malevolent thoughts. Laozi tells us that:
“clever is the man who understands others but even more wise is the man who knows himself and thus is able to control himself”.
To know oneself is to understand the mechanism of our thoughts and emotions and then be able to transcend them to reconnect to our pure and benevolent nature.
The whole process of marketing is based on a deep understanding of man thoughts process. A car sells better when it is publicised through family pictures, associated with nice music and natural background. Marketers spends a lot of time studying people’s mind to create the best advertisement campaign. If each and everyone would starts taking a few minutes a day observing their thoughts and emotion, gazing inwards instead of outwards, they would then be able to appease their heart and recover their natural blissful state. A peaceful heart and mind do not crave the latest car or the highest position in the hierarchy. True contentment is within and the mind stays still when faced with external temptations.
Laozi, in the Classic of tranquillity and Purity (Qingjing jing) tells us:
The human spirit is fond of purity, but the mind disturbs it; the human mind is fond of stillness, but desires meddle with it. If the mind can be constant without desires, then the mind will become still; when the mind has settled, then the spirit will be pure. Naturally the Six Desires will not be born, and the Three Poisons will perish. Those who cannot accomplish this have minds not yet settled and are not yet rid of desires.
Therefore, it is impossible for living beings to attain the true Dao with deluded minds. Since they have deluded minds, their spirits are frightened; because their spirits are frightened, they are attached to the myriad phenomena. Because they are attached to the myriad phenomena, they give birth to greedy seeking; due to the birth of this greedy seeking, they encounter confusion and anger.
Compassion, frugality and humility are indeed the three treasures of Taoism; more so because they are the reflection of the innate nature of Man on the clear water of a tranquil mind.
While greedy companies entice us to ever more consume and compete by playing on our fears and desires, a simple method of turning inwards would bring a halt to their strategies.
A tranquil heart feels complete and content by itself. Tranquillity appears through inner observation and meditation. These techniques do not belong to Taoism alone; most religions including Christianity do have their own form of inner observation, may it be through prayers, meditation and confessions. If religions such as Taoism and Christianity are to participate into solving the problems that society is now facing, they should bring forward their ancestral technique of appeasing the mind and comforting the heart of each individual.