“…I have three treasures
I hold on to them and protect them
The first is called compassion
The second is called conservation
The third is called not daring to get ahead in the world.
Compassionate, thus able to have courage
Conserving, thus able to reach widely
Not daring to get ahead in the world
Thus able to assume leadership
Now if one has courage but discards compassion
Reaches widely but discards conservation
Goes ahead but discards being behind
Excerpt from Chapter 67 verses 7 – 19 of the Tao Te Ching.
True Courage vs Bravery
True courage is the inherent power of compassion. 1 This chapter highlights the important differences between just true courage and bravery.
Generally, courage is thought to be the ability to engage something difficult, dangerous, pain etcetera. This definition could also be applied to the word bravery, boldness, or guts. However, there is an important distinction between true courage and the other definitions.
The distinction can be found in the examination of the intention or mindset for how and why one faces danger and difficulty. One intention is to serve the self, the other is to serve something other than self. True courage is found through compassion and serving someone or something other than your specific needs or perspective. If you initiate an internet search for symbols of courage, you will see many images of the lion. The lion is a symbol of both power and true courage. The male lion will fearlessly protect the pride, and the lioness will fearlessly defend her cubs. They have a natural inherent intent of serving the pride.
To understand how compassion creates true courage, think of how the mothers or parents of many species will face great danger or difficulty in order to protect their young. Human parents will endure years of hardship and sacrifice to enable their children to have a good life. In nature, it is easy to see how mothers can be ferocious when their cubs are threatened. Every year we hear in the news how a mother bear attacked hikers or campers who came too close to the cubs.
Another perspective of how people will exhibit true courage for something other than their own well being can be seen when they serve their team, their country, or even humanity. Courage and sacrifice for the great good is the element of virtue that gives true courage.
And then there is bravery. I use bravery as a comprehensive word to represent the different actions where one faces difficulty, adversity, danger, and sacrifice because of self-gain. Greed, avarice, vanity, anger, vengeance are just a few ego motivating factors that can cause people to face danger or sacrifice one thing to get another. Some examples might be a bank robber who just wants to be rich. Or it might be swindling older people out of their money. In both situations, the perpetrator faces challenges and the danger of getting caught, yet you can see the motivations for self-gain.
Sometimes a person’s ego can be so self-convincing to the degree that they draw others into their dangerous plight because they are convinced that their idea will save the day. It gives credence to the saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. It is still just a matter of a self-serving mindset for the ego or even collective ego. Seemingly good ideas can become a self-serving ideology masked under the name of religion.
If you are still not convinced, try considering what Lao Tzu says in verse 16 and 19:
verse 16 …“Now if one has courage but discards compassion”
verse 19 …“then death”.
“Death” can be both a metaphor for self-destruction and loss or it can be literal. Taking dangerous chances because of ego pursuits can end in death. Taking chances with financial resources because of greed can result in a great financial loss.
Once again, you can see how important it is to be mindfully aware of the mind and the ego’s influence over intentions. In those moments of choice, you must know what you are doing and why otherwise the chance you are taking will not be based on true courage and end badly for all involved.
To step out of your comfort zone to help someone takes courage. In this way, courage becomes a virtue and karma will reflect back your true intention. Today and every day the opportunity for courage will present itself. It might be helping someone stand up to a bully. It may be a chance to push back on bigotry or racism. You may be called on to sacrifice something important to you so that someone else gets what they really need. A moment of truth will present itself that offers you a chance to have the courage to move beyond judgment and be compassionate. When you decide to take action seek to know if you are doing it because you will look good and be famous or are you doing it stop someone from suffering.
You will have the choice to be safely indifferent to someone in need or to have the courage to do the right thing. I hope for karma’s sake that you make the right choice. I guarantee you that someone in your future will need for you to have the courage and act selflessly.
The inherent power of true courage is “victory”. Victory can also be thought of as true success, longevity and most importantly, harmony. When you use the “because of or by virtue of” test2, you can see the inherent power. Example:
Because of her true courage, she was able to inspire the workforce to achieve its goal in record time and keep morale high.
The analogy. When a leader and its group have a common goal, the leader can use compassion in leading the workforce. Putting her own ego-agenda aside and addressing the concerns of the workers raise the spirit of the workforce/team. They, in turn, will sacrifice and give extra effort for victory because they will be acting with compassion for those who stand to benefit from their efforts.
On the other hand, when the leader can be only focused on the result and uses coercion, manipulation, and trickery and forces the effort without compassion, then there will be a failure or at best-limited success. Any success will be soured by enmity to the leader and people will not want to follow them in the future.
True courage is knowing the “two standards” and choosing the right action.3 Compassionate courage is a virtue of sovereignty. Practice often.
1See the chapter on compassion (chapter 13)
2Use the phrase “because of” and “by virtue” as the reason for success to illuminate the inherent power of virtue vs ego.
3See the Chapter on Mystic Virtue for more about the two standards