A man of the highest virtue does not keep to virtue and that is why he has
virtue. A man of the lowest virtue never strays from virtue and that is why he
is without virtue. The former never acts yet leaves nothing undone. The latter
acts but there are things left undone. A man of the highest benevolence acts,
but from no ulterior motive. A man of the highest rectitude acts, but from
ulterior motive. A man most conversant in the rites acts, but when no one
responds rolls up his sleeves and resorts to persuation by force.
The highest virtue I experience is that of non judgment. The less I pass judgment on others (people or things), the less I act or rather re-act in response. I’m able to let matters rest, and within that peaceful feeling, I know that I leave nothing undone. It’s in God’s hands.
A man of the lowest virtue never strays from virtue has much in common with A man most conversant in the rites. The lowest virtue is nothing more than a rite which, when clinging in rectitude to, I never stray from.
I know how much I’m acting out of true benevolence by the expectations I hold. Even expecting a thank you or simple appreciation belies my ulterior motives. A gift is only true when it’s FREELY given. Much of what passes for benevolence is really rectitude and rites. These all arise out of some desire or fear. This reminds me of how easy it is to confuse love with need and desire. True love is only freely given without expectations. Anything else, whatever it’s called, is still basically some form of need.
Hence when the way was lost there was virtue; when virtue was lost there was
benevolence; when benevolence was lost there was rectitude; when rectitude was
lost there were the rites.
This sequence puts matters in perspective. It’s far too easy to consider affairs separately, apart from the whole. Life makes much more sense when I know that rites and rules are SYMPTOMS of a lack of rectitude, which in turn is a SYMPTOM of the lack of benevolence, and so on. Each of these are effects arising out of deeper causes.
I don’t see the natural world making distinctions the way we do. My ducks aren’t concerned with virtue,… they have the way. Truthfully though, we do too. We just get a bit lost in our mental machinations as we divvy up reality, and then, feeling lost and disconnected, we yearn to return to the simplicity of the whole way.
The notion that when the way was lost there was virtue” helps me deal with the arbitrary nature of human values. Virtue and benevolence aren’t models of some perfection, but rather the result of a loss (of the way). When I have the way, my life fulfills what virtue and benevolence can only attempt to. Anything less than the way inevitably ends in some hypocrisy. When I have the way, others may describe my actions as virtuous or benevolent, while other take an opposite view. However for me, I’m just doing what comes naturally.
The rites are the wearing thin of loyalty and good faith
And the beginning of disorder;
Foreknowledge is the flowery embellishment of the way
And the beginning of folly.
Hence the man of large mind abides in the thick not in the thin, in the fruit
not in the flower.
Therefore he discards the one and takes the other.
Rites and rules arise when faith ebbs and disorder flows. It simply reflects our attempt to keep order, or at least the semblance of order. From the Taoist view, rites and rules don’t keep order, they arise out of a lack of loyalty and order. Moreover, when complete faith is lost the rites and rules devolve into chaos.
I always thought of foreknowledge as being things like premonitions or astrology. That may be. But, the expectations and anticipations that crop up though out the day are much more real life examples of foreknowledge. To put one foot in front of the other and take life as it comes is so much simpler and peaceful. The folly of projecting expectations out ahead of me, whether an hour or a week, is all the wasted emotional energy. Making a few prudent but tentative plans and then letting life unfold reminds me of: The great way is easy, yet people prefer by-paths [see ch. 53].
A flower is like our ideals. Ideals hold the promise of fruit, if we can but just attain them. However, in living for the promise of tomorrow, with its ideals achieved, we miss the fruit of today. Today, now, is the fulfillment of yesterday’s ideals. To abide in the thick is to embrace this, and not look forward to the thin of what could be tomorrow… tomorrow never comes.