Tag Archives: virtue

“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 51” by Lao Tzu

Image Source: Wikipedia

Tao gives them life,
Virtue nurses them,
Matter shapes them,
Environment perfects them.
Therefore all things without exception worship Tao and do homage to Virtue.
They have not been commanded to worship Tao and do homage to Virtue,
But they always do so spontaneously.

It is Tao that gives them life:
It is Virtue that nurses them, grows them, fosters them, shelters them, comforts them, nourishes them, and covers them under her wings.
To give life but to claim nothing,
To do your work but to set no store by it,
To be a leader, not a butcher,
This is called hidden Virtue.

This passage is interesting and somewhat challenging. I read it a couple times, and I think I have a sense of what Lau Tzu was trying to convey.

The Tao is the source of all existence, and hence, all things that exist in our universe, whether those things are animate or inanimate. Everything is a manifestation of the divine source, or, explained in terms of physics, everything is comprised of energy.

So how does Virtue come in to play? I think the problem is that we’ve been trained to relate virtue with ethics or some form of moral code, which really only applies to sentient beings. But I don’t think that this is what Lau Tzu was referring to. I feel that what he meant by Virtue is the interconnectedness and relationship between all things, that there is really no separation. We are part of the environment, and the environment is a part of us. We share an intrinsic connection with all living things, plant and animal, as well as a connection to the elements. To understand and respect this relationship is the source of wisdom, which is the goal of individuals on the path of the Tao.

I’m not sure if this is what Lau Tzu meant, but it is the impression I get from reading this passage. As always, if you have other insights to share, please do so in the comments section.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 39” by Lao Tzu

From of old there are not lacking things that have attained Oneness.
The sky attained Oneness and became clear;
The earth attained Oneness and became calm;
The spirits attained Oneness and became charged with mystical powers;
The fountains attained Oneness and became full;
The ten thousand creatures attained Oneness and became reproductive;
Barons and princes attained Oneness and became sovereign rulers of the world.
All of them are what they are by virtue of Oneness.

If the sky were not clear, it would be likely to fall to pieces;
If the earth were not calm, it would be likely to burst into bits;
If the spirits were not charged with mystical powers, they would be likely to cease from being;
If the fountains were not full, they would be likely to dry up;
If the ten thousand creatures were not reproductive, they would be likely to come to extinction;
If the barons and princes were not the sovereign rulers, they would be likely to stumble and fall.

Truly, humility is the root from which greatness springs,
And the high must be built upon the foundation of the low.

That is why barons and princes style themselves “The Helpless One,” “The Little One,” and “The Worthless One.”
Perhaps they too realize their dependence on the lowly.

Truly, too much honour means no honour.
It is not wise to shine like jade and resound like stone-chimes.

I found this passage to be challenging, but after reading it a couple times, I think I finally understand the essence.

Nothing can attain its fullness or true nature unless it is aligned with the One, or the divine source of all being. Essentially, this means everything must exist in balance with itself and the world around it. To be in balance is to accept your dependence upon other people and upon nature in general. Regardless of how great or powerful a person or thing may appear, it is always dependent upon other things to support it. A mountain could not reach the skies without a firm foundation on the earth. Likewise, elevated individuals could not reach their heights without the support of the people around them.

In Western culture, especially here in the United States, importance is placed on the individual, and the rights of the individual. This, in my opinion, has contributed to the social issues that we are grappling with. Eventually, we must learn to live in balance and think of ourselves as one with the people around us, or we will dry up like the fountain that is not full.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 38” by Lao Tzu

1579 drawing of the Great Chain of Being from Didacus Valades

High Virtue is non-virtuous;
Therefore it has Virtue.
Low Virtue never frees itself from virtuousness;
Therefore it has no Virtue.

High Virtue makes no fuss and has no private ends to serve:
Low Virtue not only fusses but has private ends to serve.

High humanity fusses but has no private ends to serve:
High morality not only fusses but has private ends to serve.
High ceremony fusses but finds no response;
Then it tries to enforce itself with rolled-up sleeves.

Failing Tao, man resorts to Virtue.
Failing Virtue, man resorts to humanity.
Failing humanity, man resorts to morality.
Failing morality, man resorts to ceremony.
Now, ceremony is the merest husk of faith and loyalty;
It is the beginning of all confusion and disorder.

As to foreknowledge, it is only the flower of Tao,
And the beginning of folly.

Therefore, the full-grown man sets his heart upon the substance rather than the husk;
Upon the fruit rather than the flower.
Truly, he prefers what is within to what is without.

This is an extremely challenging passage, and I can only interpret it based upon other mystic/occult ideologies with which I am somewhat familiar. Specifically, I see this as a parallel with the concept of emanation as put forth by Plotinus.

Emanationism is an idea in the cosmology or cosmogony of certain religious or philosophical systems. Emanation, from the Latin emanare meaning “to flow from” or “to pour forth or out of”, is the mode by which all things are derived from the first reality, or principle. All things are derived from the first reality or perfect God by steps of degradation to lesser degrees of the first reality or God, and at every step the emanating beings are less pure, less perfect, less divine.

(Source: Wikipedia)

So in emanationism, the Divine One is in the center of all existence, and then there are series of emanations moving away from the source, each being less divine than the previous. I see Lao Tzu’s example as being similar: the Tao is the divine center, and all other virtuous forms that emanate out are less and less like the Tao, until we get to the point where there is nothing but a shell of what was once the Tao.

If this is the case, we can use this hierarchy as a map to get back to the Tao, or center. If we begin by practicing ceremony, we may attain morality. If we continue living moral lives, then we may reach humanity. Once humanity is incorporated, we can work towards gaining Virtue. Finally, as we reach the state of High Virtue, we can step across the threshold to the Tao.

This is some very heady stuff, and I again emphasize that this is only my interpretation. For me, it makes sense, but I am open. If you have other insights into this passage, I would love to hear them. Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Blessings, and thanks for stopping by.

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