“Charitable Acts” and “Compassionate Acts”

When a homeless person is given soup, they eat soup, and then they can stay on the street a bit longer. The person who is the soup giver can feel good that they have given the soup, but the person who is homeless simply eats the soup because it is there and goes away again until next time. The soup keeps him on the street for another day.

When a homeless person is asked what one thing they want above all else; what one thing they need most of all to help life get better, and then that one thing is given to them, they can start to feel better and things can start to mend.

In the first illustration, soup is subjecting one human being to another human being’s need to feel good.

In the second illustration, one gift is empowering one human being to start to see life differently through one gift freely given only once. But if the gift giver goes out intending to empower the gift receiver, then we are back to square one; there is the one who can give the gift, and the one who has nothing to give; immediately it is an act of disempowerment. And if the act is done compassionately the first time (so that the receiver does not feel like a person with no gift to give) but egotistically the second time – it is disempowering again. The giver feels good, but the receiver feels the opposite of what the giver originally intended to achieve in the life of the receiver.

It is not quite so much the action as the energy behind the action. If the energy is right then the action will be right, and the energy can only be right with compassion. One mind proceeding clearly.

When we give money to charities to feed people who are starving in other countries, our giving has the potential to be brutal. It is very easy for us to want people around the world just to live like we do, as if not living like us is wrong.

People have been stripped of their Jungle village habitats so that we can have palm oil or soya milk. Once they are starving in slums Westerners take photographs and build a campaign around the photographs so that we give them money so that they will not starve. How does it give them back their Jungle village in which they sustained a living for a thousand years?


If you have slept on a street, even for one night, you will know that you wake up feeling fuzzy. Homeless people are often fuzzy not because of drug taking but because they are homeless and have to sleep on the street. Have you tried to do it? It is very hard to achieve good sleep. So it is difficult to think clearly for yourself if you have slept on the street. It will affect your thinking and your behaviour. You may not come over as being polite and nice enough to fit the bill as a sweet poor person who just wants some soup. Who cares? You are hungry and tired!


John Daido Loori says that compassion is something that just happens. There is no doer who is doing the good, and no receiver who is receiving the good. It is like breathing.


I can not ever let myself feel like a rich person who has riches to give to someone who is poor ever again. It simply does not compute. The guilt does not compute. The appeal to a high morality of philanthropy does not compute. The energy behind the appeal does not compute. It is always almost, but not quite, right. The energy behind it does not quite feel persuasive and leaves me doubting. And then doubting my doubt. And then feeling guilty. And then giving in and paying money.

I suggest that when a campaign is not quite persuasive it is because the energy behind it is not quite right. And when this happens to me, rather than feeling guilt, it is a wake up bell prompting me to ask myself what the outcomes are likely to be if I give this money or sign this petition, as opposed to not giving this money or signing this petition. At first perhaps bad. Later on perhaps better. Not much difference. Perhaps worse to do something that is not sustainable. Is there something else that I can do?


The violence of knowing good

In…practicing good, there is no agent that is doing good and no one who benefits from it; there is no subject or object. There is not even any sense of doing. Compassion happens… the way you grow your hair.
It is not the self that does good… Knowing depends on words and ideas that describe reality. Knowing involves the knower and the thing that the knower knows.

John Daido Loori (Invoking Reality: The Moral and Ethical Teachings of Zen)

Conventionally, to do good requires knowing. Knowing requires ideas about reality. Attempting to bend reality to those ideas. More pain and suffering for the self and the other.

Whereas actualizing good for others can only rightly rest within compassion and  in compassion there is no divisibility between self and other. No knowing. No ideas or words about reality. No one who does the knowing.