The way gives them life;
Virtue rears them;
Things give them shape;
Circumstances bring them to maturity.
Therefore the myriad creatures all revere the way and honor virtue. Yet the way
is revered and virtue honored not because this is decreed by an authority but
because it is natural for them to be treated so.
I really appreciate the order of this verse. The way gives them life starts things off. The way is the origin. Virtue rears them is a sense of integrity that nudges or pulls me to do what must be done. Virtue (integrity) is like law. All things from atoms to Adams are pulled to conform. Things give them shape would be the genetic information that directed my particular attributes. Circumstances bring them to maturity is the interaction between those preceding three conditions and the surrounding world.
Virtue rears them puzzles me a little. It is not that it’s like a particular virtue or law, but an essence of abiding. It’s the law principle. It’s like a sense of order, without being any particular order. It has no face, yet, I, like all things, feel a compelling need to align with ‘it’. Oh words are inadequate. No wonder it’s called the mysterious virtue.
Thus the way gives them life and rears them;
Brings them up and nurses them;
Brings them to fruition and maturity;
Feeds and shelters them.
While we can pick apart various factors which are at work in the process of life, in the end, it’s really the way (that) gives them life and rears them. Of course toiling away in the ‘trenches of life’, we all get pulled this way and that. However, the quicker I can return to this simple view, the quicker I return to personal equilibrium. Knowing that this is the only true reality is soothing and limits my (and everyone else’s) responsibility for how things are.
It gives them life yet claims no possession;
It benefits them yet exacts no gratitude;
It is the steward yet exercises no authority.
Such is called the mysterious virtue.
The sentiment expressed here of being a steward yet exercises no authority is much more the cultural ethic of primitive native people than modern industrialized ones. The inflated sense of power and control that comes with tools and technology gives us a distorted sense of ourselves and our role in nature. All though, many environmentalists struggle to protect nature, I don’t see them willing to give up some power and control. Being a steward involves giving nature its due, which requires giving up some of our benefit and authority. We must learn to value a degree of discomfort, for as we accept more discomfort in our lives, other creatures increase comfort in theirs. Of course primitive people have no choice; wisdom must be our guide. We must await an increase in humanity’s wisdom. Don’t hold your breath.
I can benefit them yet exact no gratitude when I don’t claim credit. However, when I seize responsibility for events I take either credit or discredit depending on the outcome. When I take credit, I exact gratitude. Which way I go arises out of what role I see myself playing in the cosmic eternal now.
Virtue often takes on a moral meaning along with notions of good and evil. Virtue, here, is called mysterious virtue because it goes deeper than any notion of good or bad, right or wrong.