Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Idiot Compassion

Attributed to Gurdjieff and popularized by Chogyam Trungpa, the phrase “idiot compassion” or at least the meaning behind those words probably goes back as far as insight and understanding in human consciousness. True compassion can’t be defined in an unambiguous way or with detailed description because it requires intelligence and understanding of the specific situation. We tend to be lazy though and want assurance that we’re doing the right thing by having highly defined definitions. This creates compassionate intentions with results of just more pain and suffering.

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Quotes (79)

“murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses, hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls, great fighters' souls, but made their bodies carrion, feasts for the dogs and birds.”

Homer 1
Primogenitor of Western culture
from Iliad

“Do not let any sweet-talking woman beguile your good sense with the fascination of her shape. It's your barn she's after.”

Hesiod 846 – 777 BCE
“History’s first economist”
from Works and Days

“Saving a villain's life, you risk your own.”

Aesop 620 – 546 BCE via Oliver Goldsmith
Hero of the oppressed and downtrodden
from Aesop's Fables, the Aesopica

“The excessive increase of anything often causes a reaction in the opposite direction.. the most aggravated form of tyranny arises out of the most extreme form of liberty.”

Socrates 469 – 399 BCE
One of the most powerful influences on Western Civilization

“what a lot of fuss and upheaval the benefactors of humanity have caused.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE

18. The Sick Society

“Destruction of Tao and character in order to strive for humanity and justice—this is the error of the sages.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Lin Yutang

from Zhuangzi

“The way of sinners is made plain with stones, but at the end thereof is the pit of hell.”

Koheleth 1
from Ecclesiastes קֹהֶלֶת‎

“Let your eyes see what they see, not what others want you to see.”

Lie Yukou 列圄寇/列禦寇/列子 1 via Eva Wong
(Liè Yǔkòu, Liezi)
from Liezi "True Classic of Simplicity and Perfect Emptiness”

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

Anonymous 1 via Henry G. Bohn
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history

“The attempts to heal enflame the fever more.”

Virgil 70 – 19 BCE
(Publius Vergilius Maro)
from Aeneid

“the descent to hell is easy (facilis descensus Averno)”

Virgil 70 – 19 BCE
(Publius Vergilius Maro)
from Aeneid

“When a man's eyes are sore his friends do not let him finger them, however much he wishes to, nor do they themselves touch the inflammation: But a man sunk in grief suffers every chance comer to stir and augment his affliction like a running sore; and by reason of the fingering and consequent irritation it hardens into a serious and intractable evil.”

Plutarch 46 – 120 CE
(Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus)

79. No Demands

“Other people's views and troubles can be contagious... It is not a demonstration of kindness or friendship to the people we care about to join them in indulging in wrongheaded, negative feelings.”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος 55 – 135 CE

“if you attempt to adopt the affairs of others as your own, your pursuits will be thwarted and you will become a frustrated, anxious, and fault-finding person.”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος 55 – 135 CE via Sharon Lebell
from Discourses of Epictetus, Ἐπικτήτου διατριβαί

“How do you think you can help mundane beings with gold? It will only cause greater conflict and strife, greater sin and evil.”

Nagarjuna नागर्जुन 1 via Keith Dowman

“Paradise is surrounded by hardships, and the Fire is surrounded by desires.”

Muhammad محمد‎; محمد‎; 570 – 632 CE via Hadith
from Koran

“Why are you not using your gifts for the benefit of those below?”

Kambala ཀམྦ་ལ་པ། 1 via Keith Dowman
("The Black-Blanket-Clad Yogin")
Mahasiddha #30
from Masters of Enchantment

67. Three Treasures

“When a mischievous horse is allowed to run free, the rider will be thrown to the ground.”

Gesar of Ling གེ་སར་རྒྱལ་པོ། 1
from Gesar of Ling Epic

“To bear with patience wrongs done to oneself is a mark of perfection, but to bear with patience wrongs done to someone else is a mark of imperfection and even of actual sin.”

Thomas Aquinas 1225 – 1274 CE

“We should put our trust in nothing at all. It is because foolish people are deeply trustful that they know hatred and anger... If you put trust in neither yourself or others, you will rejoice when good comes, and when evil comes you will not grieve.”

Yoshida Kenkō 兼好 1284 – 1350 CE via Sir George Bailey Sansom
Inspiration of self-reinvention
from Essays in Idleness

“Many people are good at talking and bad at understanding,”

Teresa of Avila 1515 – 1582 CE
from Way of Perfection

2. The Wordless Teachings

“Works of charity negligently performed are of no worth.”

Miguel de Cervantes 1547 – 1616 CE
One of the world's best novelists
from Don Quixote (1605-1615)

“Never hurt yourself to please another, better that they suffer now than you later and in vain.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

“One person's misfortune is another's luck, for one cannot be lucky without many being unlucky... There are people who always consort with the unlucky, and he that yesterday flew high and happy today stands miserable at their side. That reveals nobility of soul but not worldly wisdom.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

“Trying to suppress delusion is delusion too. Delusions have no original existence; they’re only things you create yourself by indulging in discrimination.”

Bankei 盤珪永琢 1622 – 1693 CE
(Bankei Yōtaku)

19. All Methods Become Obstacles

“I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it... I observed in different countries that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”

Benjamin Franklin 1706 – 1790 CE

“Egypt became the mother of philosophy and the fine arts; soon she was conquered.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712 – 1778 CE
from The Social Contract

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity, but to their self-love”

Adam Smith 1723 – 1790 CE
''The Father of Economic Capitalism"
from Wealth of Nations

“soft phrases, susceptibility of heart, delicacy of sentiment, and refinement of taste, are almost synonymous with epithets of weakness and will soon [make the woman] and object of contempt”

Mary Wollstonecraft 1759 – 1797 CE
Seminal feminist
from Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

“Live no longer to the expectation of those deceived and deceiving people with who we converse... I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you... I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism
from Essays

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.”

John Stuart Mill 1806 – 1873 CE

“if I repent of anything,it is very likely to be my good behavior… Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so. Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something.”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from Walden or Life in the Woods

18. The Sick Society

“As for doing good, that is one of the professions which are full… There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted… If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from Walden or Life in the Woods

67. Three Treasures

“There is a mercy which is weakness, and even treason against the common good.”

George Eliot 1819 – 1880 CE
(Mary Anne Evans)
Pioneering literary outsider

from Romola (1863)​

“See how elastic our prejudices grow when once love comes to bend them.”

Herman Melville 1819 – 1891 CE
from Moby Dick or The Whale

“I find to my amazement that the more I love mankind as a whole, the less I love man in particular.”

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский 1821 – 1881 CE
from Brothers Karamatzov

“To do good is noble. To tell others to do good is even nobler and much less trouble.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
America’s most famous author

67. Three Treasures

“Among helpful and charitable people, one almost regularly encounters that clumsy ruse that first doctors the person to be helped... With these fancies they dispose of the needy as of possessions... One finds them jealous if one crosses or anticipates them when they want to help.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE

“I pray that I may never meddle, dictate, interfere, give advice that is not wanted, nor assist when my services are not needed. If I can help people, I will do it by giving them a chance to help themselves”

Elbert Hubbard 1856 – 1915 CE
from A Thousand and One Epigrams

“If you lend a willing ear to someone's troubles, you make them your own. You do not lessen theirs.”

Elbert Hubbard 1856 – 1915 CE via Shan Dao
from A Thosand and One Epigrams, 1911

“He who is too busy doing good finds no time to be good.”

Rabindranath Tagore 1861 – 1941 CE

52. Cultivating the Changeless

“No possible reform will make existence adorable or fundamentally just... So much tension is hysterical and degrading; nothing is ever gained by it worth half what it spoils”

Santayana, George 1863 – 1952 CE
(Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás)
Powerfully influential, true-to-himself philosopher/poet
from War Shrines

“I distrust official charity. All charity should be done by stealth.”

Romain Rolland 1866 – 1944 CE
“The moral consciousness of Europe”

“A 'No' uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”

Mahatma Gandhi 1869 – 1948 CE

“The most awful tyranny is the proximate Utopia where the last sins are currently being eliminated and where, tomorrow, there will be no more sins because all the sinner will have been wiped out.”

Mahatma Gandhi 1869 – 1948 CE
from Non-Violence in Peac(1948)

“Most of the greatest evils that man has inflicted upon man have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false.”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”
from Unpopular Essays

“Tolerance becomes a crime when applied to evil.”

Thomas Mann 1875 – 1955 CE
Deep, psychologically insightful author
from The Magic Mountain (1924)

“We must, therefore, never succumb to anything at all—not even to good. A so-called good to which we succumb loses its ethical character.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE via Richard and Clara Winston
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Memories, Dreams, Reflections

“whoever uproots his instincts uproots his strength—for with time, satiety, and discipline this dark matter may turn to spirit... if you wish to conquer temptation, there is only one way: embrace it, taste it, learn to despise it.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE via P. A. Bien
from Report to Greco

“When liberty exceeds intelligence, it begets chaos, which begets dictatorship.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.”

T. S. Eliot 1888 – 1965 CE

67. Three Treasures

“A devotion to humanity … is too easily equated with a devotion to a Cause, and Causes, as we know, are notoriously blood-thirsty.”

George Seldes 1890 – 1995 CE
Pioneering investigative journalist and champion of the exposé

“Somehow I had learned from Thoreau, who doubtless learned it from Confucius, that if a man comes to do his own good for you, then must you flee that man and save yourself.”

Pearl Buck 1892 – 1973 CE

67. Three Treasures

“He who talks about truth injures it; he who tries to prove it thereby maims and distorts it; he who gives it a label and a school of thought kills it; and he who declares himself a believer buries it.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE

“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald 1896 – 1940 CE
Prototype of "Jazz Age" exuberance
from Rich Boy (1925)

“I see now more clearly than ever before that even our greatest troubles spring from something that is as admirable and sound as it is dangerous — from our impatience to better the lot of our fellows.”

Karl Popper 1902 – 1994 CE
Major Philosopher of Science
from The Open Society and its Enemies

“But to manipulate men, to propel them towards goals which you — the social reformer — see, but they may not, is to deny their human essence, to treat them as objects without wills of their own, and therefore to degrade them.”

Isaiah Berlin 1909 – 1997 CE
"the world's greatest talker"
from Five Essays on Liberty (2002)

“First we build the tools, then they build us.”

Marshall McLuhan 1911 – 1980 CE

80. A Golden Age

“The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”

Albert Camus 1913 – 1960 CE

“philanthropists, like martyrs, missionaries, and apostles of the Good, have never been noted for their experimental spirit; they are philanthropists precisely because they know what is good and how to accomplish it... Their difficulties came, not from lack of a plan, but from too much of one... Their essential weakness was a frame of mind which stifled the spontaneous and experimental spirit which were the real spiritual wealth of America.”

Daniel J. Boorstin 1914 – 2004 CE
American intellectual Paul Revere
from The Americans (1958)

“The patron saint of American philanthropy is... Benjamin Franklin, the man with a business sense and an eye on his community. For Franklin, doing good was not a private act between bountiful giver and grateful receiver it was a prudent social act.”

Daniel J. Boorstin 1914 – 2004 CE
American intellectual Paul Revere
from Hidden History (1987)

“Chuang Tzu drily observed that the pursuit of the ethical Tao became illusory if one sought for others what was good for oneself without really knowing what was good for oneself.”

Thomas Merton 1915 – 1968 CE

26. The Still Rule the Restless

“‘official psychotherapy’ lacks integrity and becomes the obedient tool of armies, bureaucracies, churches, corporations, and all agencies that require individual brainwashing… the therapist who is really interested in helping the individual is forced into social criticism.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“There is absolutely no point in clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and healing the sick if it is just that they may live to be naked, hungry, and sick again, or live merely to be able to do the same for others.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“you don't have to be a bad guy to depress somebody—you can be a good guy and do it. All you have to do to depress somebody is give than a lot of phony advice.”

J. D. Salinger 1919 – 2010 CE
from Catcher in the Rye

“You begin saving the world by saving one person at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics.”

Charles Bukowski 1920 – 1994 CE
"Laureate of American lowlife”
from Women

67. Three Treasures

“To do any good at all, just believing you’re right and your motives are good isn’t enough. You have to… be in touch.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE
from The Lathe of Heaven

67. Three Treasures

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

Martin Luther King Jr. 1929 – 1968 CE
Leading world influence for equality, peace, non-violence, and poverty alleviation

“societies develop the belief that they can eliminate thievery by guaranteeing a certain amount of property—the impulse behind much social welfare legislation. But putting a coin into the pocket of the Artful Dodger will hardly convince him that he is no longer a legitimate contender for the coin in mine.”

James P. Carse 1932 – 2020 CE
Thought-proving, influential, deep thinker
from Finite and Infinite Games

“True change is within; leave the outside as it is.”

Dalai Lama XIV Tenzin Gyatso 1935 CE –

67. Three Treasures

“Idiot compassion is a great expression… In some ways, it’s whats called enabling, the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering.”

Pema Chödrön 1936 CE –
(Deirdre Blomfield-Brown)
First American Vajrayana nun

“Save the planet? We don't even know how to take care of ourselves.”

George Carlin 1937 – 2008 CE
One of the most influential social commentators of his time

67. Three Treasures

“Then there is the other kind of compassion that Mr. Gurdjieff calls idiot compassion, which is compassion with neurosis, a slimy way of trying to fulfill your desire secretly. This is your aim, but you give the appearance of being generous and impersonal.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Illusion's Game

67. Three Treasures

“If you go to a shop and the shopkeeper cheats you and you go back and let him cheat you again, that doesn’t seem to be a very healthy thing to do for others – only a self-indulgent way of thinking that you are creating a compassionate situation when in fact you are feeding the other person’s aggression.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE

“You can’t try to change people without inflicting violence on them… Hitler and Stalin, in their own opinions, were acting for the benefit of humanity.”

Stephen Mitchell 1943 CE –
from Second Book of Tao

67. Three Treasures

“if you are deluded about your own nature, who you are, and act on the basis of that delusion, you will constantly suffer repercussions.”

B. Alan Wallace 1950 CE –
(Bruce Alan Wallace)
from Buddhism with an Attitude

“Saving fish from drowning... saving people for their own good... killing them as an unfortunate consequence of saving them... like Vietnam, Bosnia... you can't have intentions without consequences. The question is, who pays the consequences”

Amy Tan 1952 CE –
Rock and roll singer, bartender, and insightfully talented author
from Saving Fish From Drowning

“In the real world, equal respect for all cultures doesn't translate into a rich mosaic of colorful and proud peoples interacting peacefully while maintaining a delightful diversity of food and craftwork. It translates into closed pockets of oppression, ignorance, and abuse.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali 1969 CE –
Powerful voice for Islamic reform
from From Islam to America

“People everywhere try so hard to make the world better. Their intentions are admirable, yet they seek to change everything but themselves.”

Mingyur Rinpoche 1975 CE –
Modern-day Mahasiddha

from In Love With the World

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