SIMPLICITY, PATIENCE and COMPASSION: The Greatest Treasures – Andrew Rooke.

One of the most famous Chinese spiritual teachers, the founder of Taoism, Lao Tze, (571-531BC) said it is in the simple things that we can find spiritual principles worth following. In his ‘Tao Te Ching’ (The Book of the Way) he says that he came to teach only three simple truths:

Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.

I have just three things to teach:
Simplicity, Patience, Compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

  • Tao Te Ching. Book 67.

Simplicity: Simplicity seems to be an essential quality of the spiritual life advocated by all the great spiritual teachers.  Not a simplistic life but ‘simple’ in the sense of one unencumbered by material considerations as the primary focus of life leaving the student clear-headed and humble so that he/she can devote themselves to others without being diverted by a lot of material possessions.

Jesus was a simple carpenter, his followers came from common professions of the time, like fishermen, living a simple village life. He always demanded of his followers that they give up their material possessions before they followed him.  The founders of Christian orders, such as St Francis of Assisi, followed his example by demanding their monks live a simple and holy life ‘clearing the decks’ so that they could focus on the needs of others rather than building their own ego through the accumulation of personal material possessions.

Let’s have a look at some other spiritual teachers who advocated a simple life.

Taoism: In China, Taoism says that when virtue traditions are strong, people, and the example that they set to others, become even more important than principles as sources of moral guidance.

In the Tao Te Ching (meaning: ‘The Book of the Way and its Virtues’) by Taoist Master, Lao Tzu:

Sages embrace the One and serve as models for the whole world but they do not parade themselves as models, as that would be self-defeating. ‘They do not make a display of themselves and so are illustrious.’

“The sage does not hoard. The more he helps others, the more he benefits himself, the more he gives to others, the more he gets himself. The Way of Heaven does one good but never does one harm. The Way of the Sage is to act but not to compete.”

Confucianism: ’Junzi’: The Exemplary Person: Let us stay in China where the moral exemplar is captured in the ideal of what they call the, JUNZI, meaning an ‘exemplary person’, ‘superior person’ or ‘person of excellence’.

Confucius (Kongzi), the Chinese sage (551BC – 479BC) explained that such a person displays the highest virtue, jen, translated variously as ‘righteousness’, ‘benevolence’, and ‘perfect virtue.’ It is related to, yi, meaning, justice.

Modern Confucian scholar, Professor Yao Xinzhong, explains: “yi is how you treat other people appropriately. When you treat people well and in a proper way you also demonstrate virtue. Jen can be understood as a moral force which keeps us in balance such as we might say of someone who has good character.’

The junzi, or exemplary person, is a beacon for others to follow, or as is commonly understood in China, ‘sageliness within and kingliness without’.

Aristotle: ‘Greatness of Soul’: Travelling across the world to ancient Greece, Aristotle describes the crown of virtues as: ‘Greatness of Soul’,saying of such a rare person:

 â€˜there are few things he values highly’ and ‘nothing is great in his eyes’. He does not care for personal conversation nor to be complimented for himself or to compliment others. He is the last to complain about unavoidable or minor troubles ‘because such an attitude would imply that he took them seriously’.

He said such a person should focus on what is rightly honoured rather than pursue honour for its own sake. Honour can be a sign that you are doing the right thing but it is not the purpose of right action.

Simple and balanced living is certainly a feature of a moral exemplar. Even in the materialist modern world, moral exemplars favour simple living from Nelson Mandela (South Africa) to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Gandhi and Mother Teresa (India).

Though, whilst advocating simple living, Aristotle also said that virtue did not mean you live an ascetic life. Aristotle believed that: ‘it is difficult if not impossible to do fine deeds without any resources.’

Ultimate Truths are Simple – But Complicated! Beyond the character of a spiritual teacher or student, ultimate truths are frequently described as being in essence, ‘Simple’, even though the philosophy and theology associated with such an understanding can get enormously complicated. 

As Lao Tzu says:

Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.

Jesus said that we had to be ‘as little children’ to understand the Kingdom of Heaven:

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew: 18:3.

Meaning that we have to have a child-like purity and innocence to reflect our Source or Higher Self which is clouded by our obsession with Personality and considerations of our Lower Nature.

This truth is reflected in the stages of learning for students of the Mysteries which is basically a self-motivated effort guided by our teachers to bring the personality side of our nature under control so the Inner Source can shine in the world unimpeded by selfishness – a bit like the sun always shining above us but the clouds get in the way so we don’t realize it is there much of the time – especially so with Melbourne weather!!

Getting Back to the Source: Purification of the Physical and Emotional Bodies: The initial stages of such training require purification of our Personality Vehicles being the Physical Body; the Emotional Body and the Mental Body. The purification of our personality vehicles: Elimination of selfish/impure mental, emotional and physical activity amounting to simple living:

Purification of the Physical Body:

  • Cleanliness of surroundings.
  • Cleanliness in all physical aspects: pure foods, timely sleep, adequate exposure to sunlight, fresh air and water.

Impediments to developing these qualities include Comfort, Money, immoderate behaviours of all kinds.

Purification of the Emotional Body:

  • Watch and eliminate negative forces at play in our lives and thoughts manifesting as desires, selfish motives, selfish wishes, aversions, anger, hatred, possessiveness and fear. These emotions can be overcome by persistently pursuing a life of noble aspirations and service to others.
  • Establishing an ideal of service to others and working at that ideal consistently.

Impediments preventing the illumination of the soul on the emotional plane would mainly be the enemies of the simple life: Ambition, Hatred and Fear.

Getting Back to the Source: Purification of the Mental Body:

  • Observation of our thoughts and distinguishing between the Thinker, the Thought and the Thought Process.
  • Clear thinking through constant introspection which leads to visualisation.
  • Build thoughts of goodwill and strengthen such thought-forms so they gradually extend outward to the benefit of all beings.
  • Self-analysis, self-introspection, self-searching, and self-review of daily life are all important tools in this context.
  • Most important of all, see beyond the personalities of all whom we come in contact perceiving the Higher Self, or the capacity for the Inner God in everyone we meet and in all situations of life.

The major impediments to this stage of the Work: Prejudice (a sense of separateness), Pride and Cruelty.

The purpose of these purifications of the physical, emotional and lower mind is to clear the way to the Higher Self so that it might manifest more clearly in our daily lives. This ‘exoteric’ work usually must precede all ‘esoteric’ or ‘occult’ work.

A Simplified View of Esoteric Philosophy: Eckhart Tolle: Some modern spiritual teachers offer similar advice in terms of finding our way back to the Source. Popular spiritual teachers of the 20th century such as Jiddu Krishnamurti and contemporary English meditational teacher, John Butler, and, especially, German spiritual teacher (now resident in Canada) Eckhart Tolle, all simplify esoteric philosophy back to the very basics of what we ordinary folk can do to escape the power of the Lower Ego. Let’s look at Eckhart Tolle’s popular simplified view of the spiritual journey:

He says that to attain our own salvation, we simply have to let go of the power of the Mind which determines our sense of past and future.  Instead, we need to simply choose to live in our Source which is manifest in the ‘Present Moment’, what he calls the ‘Power of the Now’. Practical guidelines are given to this process including various forms of meditation, attitudinal changes, realization of impermanence, forgiveness, and above all, a sincere surrender of our ego to our inner nature by abandoning the dominance of ‘the Mind’.

From a theosophical perspective, when Tolle refers to ‘The Mind’, he most probably means the Lower Mind or ‘Kama Manas’. He therefore is urging us to avoid imprisonment in the Personality with all the suffering attending surrender to lower egoic consciousness as we see everywhere in the world in the 21st century.

In this advice, Eckhart Tolle is in agreement with many past spiritual teachers and with the spirit of esoteric philosophy. His advice is highly reminiscent of his mentor, 13th century German monk Meister Eckhart, after whom Eckhart Tolle renamed himself (his original name was Ulrich), and the 14th century Christian mystical classics, The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas A’ Kempis, and especially the anonymous, Cloud of Unknowing.

A simple life guided by common sense into actions of charity and guided by humility. It all makes sense as the basis of enlightened living.  But looking around the world now, we don’t often meet with these qualities in people. Do we have the Patience to await the wider acceptance of such a life?

Where does Patience fit into this picture?

Patience: The Taoist master, Lao Tzu, said that the second of the three ‘treasures’ he had come to teach was to develop Patience.  As he put it :

Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.

How strange of him to say that ‘you accord with the way things are’ because Patience is so rare to find in this modern Covid-ridden world. Perhaps he was referring to the natural order of the universe which seeks to establish harmony and the ‘flow of grace’ from the higher aspects of ourselves and the spiritual hierarchy of light into our personalities and the chaos of a world dominated by the Lower Self.

 As the Gods reach down to help us, we must reach up to them with the best of ourselves to establish a state of higher vibration here in the world of everyday life.  In order for this to be achieved we must have loads of Patience as that day is far off and we will be sorely tested in all sorts of ways in the days between.

How can we learn patience of this high order?

Learning Patience: For most people, we learn Patience in the world of ‘hard knocks’ in the community, at work, and especially in family life. There is nothing like the stresses and strains of family life to teach Patience if you accept that challenge.  Every parent knows what it is like to be woken up continually at night by restless kids and rebellious teenagers who are likely to test every inch of Patience you have when you are most vulnerable!

If this is hard for most of us ordinary folk, imagine the Patience required of the Masters of Wisdom and the Gods as they watch the follies and rebellious nature of humanity! Yet, they continue to help us in a spirit of love through the centuries and millennia waiting for the day when we will awaken to a more enlightened way of living. Patience indeed!

Progressing on beyond the tests of family life, spiritual students are required to live what the Mahayana Buddhists call the ‘Paramitas’ or the qualities required that we may reach the ‘other shore’ of enlightened living.

What are these Paramitas of which Patience is a major part?

The ‘Paramitas’ or ‘Perfections’: Spiritual growth is essentially converting our life experience into opportunities for letting the Inner God at the core of us shine in this world. All systems of spiritual initiation to attain this goal are basically putting what the Buddhist’s call ‘The Paramitas’ or ‘Perfections’ into action in the reality of daily life.

These spiritual qualities are enumerated and called by different names in the world’s mystery traditions but they can be boiled down to six qualities:

Generosity; Ethical Discipline; Patience; Joyous Perseverance; Meditative Stabilization; Wisdom. 

What are these Paramitas? Of the seven listed in the Voice of the Silence by HP Blavatsky:

1/ Dana, “giving,” concern for others, being altruistic in thought, speech, and act.

2/ Sila, “ethics,” the high morality expected of the earnest disciple;

3/ Kshanti, “Patience,” forbearance, endurance, is the kindly perception that others’ failings are no worse and perhaps less severe than one’s own.

4/ Viraga, “dispassion,” non-attachment to the effects upon us of the ups and downs of life: how difficult we find this and yet, if in our deepest self we cherish the bodhisattva ideal (ie. The ideal of helping others before considering ourselves), the cultivation of viraga by no means condones indifference to the plight of others. Rather, it demands a wise exercise of compassion. It is interesting that to our knowledge this paramita is not given in the usual Sanskrit or Pali lists. That the Voice includes viraga has significance in that the fourth position is pivotal, midway in the series of seven.

We are reminded here of the seven stages of the initiatory cycle, of which the first three are preparatory, consisting chiefly of instruction and interior discipline.  In the fourth initiation the neophyte must become that which he has learned about, that is, he must identify with the inner realms of himself and of nature. If successful, he may attempt the three higher degrees, leading to suffering the god within to take possession of his humanity.

5/ Virya: “vigor,” courage, resolution; the will and energy to stand staunch for what is true, and as strenuously oppose what is false. One proficient in virya is indefatigable in thought and deed.

6/ Dhyana: “meditation,” profound contemplation, emptying oneself of all that is less than the highest, comes a natural awakening of latent powers, to culminate eventually in oneness with the essence of Being.

7/ Prajna: “enlightenment, wisdom” — “the key to which makes of man a god, creating him a bodhisattva, son of the Dhyanis.” We will have become “god from mortal,” as the Orphic candidate describes this sacred moment of the seventh initiation when transcendence and immanence become one. – From Grace Knoche: To Light a Thousand Lamps.

Explaining these necessary qualities of enlightened living and how patience fits into the picture, the great Buddhist teacher Tsong Khapa said:

“To achieve the aims of others for spiritual understanding you must first help them with material goods as they won’t appreciate spirituality if they have an empty stomach! Since no benefit will come from Generosity accompanied by harmfulness towards living beings, you need Ethical Discipline, which has great purpose for others; this is the state of desisting from harm to others and the causes of harm. To bring this to its full development, you need Patience that disregards the harm done to you. You need to develop the ability to fix your mind on your ideals so you need to develop Meditative Stabilization. Calmness and single-mindedness in the service of others lead to Wisdom. None of this is attainable by laziness, so you need Joyous Perseverance in pursuit of wisdom through service to others and so this quality is the basis of the other Perfections.”

[These comments are based on Tibetan spiritual teacher Tsong-Kha-Pa, from his Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment]

Does Being Patient Mean You Are a ‘Pushover’? It is clear that Patience is central to all the other qualities in that it demonstrates your sincere understanding of the law of karma, desisting from the causes of harm to yourself and others. 

The related qualities of acceptance, forbearance and resilience are all necessary if we are to cope in a balanced way with stressful situations and demonstrating a deep and abiding love which is characteristic of spiritually advanced people.

Because you are a patient person doesn’t mean that you are a pushover or lack character.  It doesn’t mean that you lack a point of view if you have a patient, open mind. As the old saying goes: ‘An open mind doesn’t mean a hole in the head’!  It does mean that you are willing to listen to others and give them the latitude to put their perspective before making up your mind

Sometimes patience has its limits with ill-intentioned or unenlightened behaviour and a little tough love is needed within the family or in the outside world to reinstate harmony, or at least our understanding of what that may mean.

Simplicity and Patience, two ‘treasures’ which form a background to the exercise of ‘Compassion’.

Compassion: Lao Tze says:

Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

But what is Compassion?

‘Compassion’ is derived from the Latin com with + pati to bear, suffer] Literally then, the capacity of ‘feeling with’, sympathetic understanding; the feeling of one’s unity with all that is, resulting in an “intimate magnetic sympathy with all that is.”

There seem to be two aspects to compassion as stated by Lao Tzu:

  • Compassion towards yourself and your own failings encourages empathy, sympathy and understanding of the situation of others and a natural desire to help.
  • We could say compassion is feeling sympathy and empathy with the form we all share that makes us all human and also an understanding that we are all united in the higher level of our Being. The joy of Being beyond form.

Empathy and Compassion: Key to Our Future: Empathy and Compassion are the key qualities enabling us to be sincerely motivated to help others without thought of reward in a suffering world and to maintain the desire to continue that help on into the future ages which are required for enough people to change inwardly to outwardly make a better world.

Theosophical, Sufi, and Buddhist traditions teach that the foundation of the universe is loving kindness.

The Sufis say that ‘Everything is the Beloved’ and Christians teach that ‘God is Love’. Theosophists say that what we call our Inner or Divine Nature is the expression of Compassion.

Theosophical teacher, H.P. Blavatsky, put it this way:

‘Compassion is no attribute. It is the LAW of LAWS – eternal Harmony … a shoreless universal essence, … the law of love eternal’ (The Voice of the Silence, pp. 69-70).

Compassion as a universal essence must then be part of us, part of our essence.

The Good Life? Consider the life of a person who lives comfortably all the time without many challenges and setbacks, ie. the ideal life painted in magazines and TV programs of material wealth and well-being.

What if we were to have such an easy life and didn’t have any difficult experiences? Surely we would then become ‘Colourless’ people who couldn’t easily identify with the majority of people and therefore would not make the effort to heal ourselves and the world.

This, in fact, is often the case for people in living in comfortable ‘first-world’ situations such as in Australia.

We may be tempted to remain isolated from the suffering of the majority of humanity – ‘Us and Them Syndrome’.

Or we may become exhausted by continually being asked to contribute to the efforts of those organisations, like the Salvation Army, trying to help out – ‘Compassion Fatigue’. As we have seen amongst many frontline staff during the Covid pandemic.

The Value of Sorrow and Trial: Theosophical writer G de Purucker reflects this universal dilemma with the following advice:

“…Be not afraid of sorrow; be not afraid of trial. They are our best friends; and see what a manly/womanly doctrine this is. It is a doctrine of compassion; it is broad-minded, it is human, it is humane, it is sympathetic, it is full of wisdom and quiet peace.

The heart which has never been wrung with sorrow has no fellow-feeling for others. The mind which has never been tormented with sorrow and doubt has a veil before it. Sorrow and doubt awaken us, quicken our intellects, open our hearts, and expand our consciousness; and it is sorrow, suffering, sickness, and pain, which are amongst the gentle agents, the merciful ministers, of the evolutionary process.

The man whose heart has never been wrung with sorrow cannot understandthe sorrows of others. The man who has never sorrowed, knows no greatness. He is neither great in heart or mind. Greatness, ethical majesty, spiritual and intellectual power, spring forth from trial.” from Studies in Occult Philosophy page 709.

The Boddhisattva: Where does the consistent exercise of Simplicity, Patience, and Compassion lead after many lifetimes of service?

The ancient Path of Compassion, steep and thorny, which is trod by those who would follow in the footsteps of the Christ and the Buddha: the path of altruistic endeavour which seeks wisdom solely that truth and light might be shared with all. This leads to the development of a Boddhisattva, meaning, ‘one whose essence is compassion.’

The Bodhisattva is one who has reached the point where she/he could step across the chasm of darkness into Nirvana, omniscience, peace or wisdom, however you care to describe it, but she/he refuses so that she/he might stay behind until the last of his/her brothers and sisters can cross over with him/her.

The most famous Boddhisattva is a woman – for once! Kwan Yin is the Goddess of Compassion revered in China, Japan and throughout the Far East. There is even a large statue of her right here in the Western suburbs of Melbourne!

Bodhisattva Kwan Yin: In Japan, Korea, Tibet, and China, Kwan Yin is the beloved personification of compassion. Images of her can be found in homes, temples, and within thousands of shrines and grottoes beside roads and shaded pools. People of all ages bring gifts of flowers and fruit, but not in supplication. There is no need for that. Kwan Yin, like a wise and loving parent knows and does what is best; does it with gentle guidance and never needs to punish or coerce. Of all the world’s great gods, she is undoubtedly the kindest and most giving.

Innumerable folktales describe her beneficence and each in its way inspires to noble action. Like her, devotees seek to help others by giving of themselves, and of whatever they have. Like her, they avoid causing pain to any other being for, as they say: when a worm is crushed, all beings are crushed; when a single bee sucks honey, all beings in the myriad universes suck honey.

According to tradition Kuan Yin had been an ordinary person who had followed the path of wisdom and service until after many incarnations she reached the supreme goal, Nirvana.

Pausing a moment at the threshold, she heard, rising from the world, a great wail of woe, as if all the rocks and trees, insects, animals, humans, gods and demons, cried out in protest that so virtuous a one should depart from their midst.

Without a second thought this noble-hearted soul turned back, determined to remain until every being without exception should precede her into nirvana.

When the time of choice comes – Will we have the strength to follow her example?

Her pledge was:

“Never will I seek nor receive private, individual salvation; never will I enter into final peace alone; but forever and everywhere will I live and strive for the redemption of every creature throughout the world.”

The First Steps: Coming the full circle from the heady heights of Boddhisattva consciousness back to the Three Treasures of Lao Tzu: Simplicity, Patience and Compassion – three little words but hard to put into action in this tough world. How can us ordinary mortals possibly do this? It all seems so overwhelming!

Taoism advises that it is always better to deal with facts and situations while they are small, before they become bigger and more difficult. 

If one is planning to reach a big goal like implementing the Boddhisattva ideal – one should establish a series of small steps that would guide one safely to the destination.  This is essentially the principal of ‘Kaizen’, or, ‘Good Change’: progress through small increments.

 Anybody can do this in any situation when faced with putting our aspirations for Simplicity, Patience, and Compassion into action in our daily lives

As Lao Tzu says: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first steps.”

Are we ready to take those first steps?