Pelly

what is virtue and how do we become virtuous?

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TTC speaks of having great virtue but what is virtue? at least in the taoist sense? and how do we become virtuous?

 

The common definition of virtue (at least in western society is concern) is to have "good" character and if we learn anything from TTC is that: 

 

"When it knows good as good, evil arises" TTC 2, Derek Lin

 

So...our society dictates what good and evil are so our society dictates what virtue is. agree or disagree?

Edited by Pelly

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I hope Shaman Flowing Hands will contribute to this thread as I would like for him to expand upon things he has shared in the past on this topic.

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TTC speaks of having great virtue but what is virtue? at least in the taoist sense? and how do we become virtuous?

 

Perhaps we can first look at the chinese character used in the dao de jing that is often translated as virtue: De 德.

 

From wikipedia: De (/də/; Chinese: 德) is a key concept in Chinese philosophy, usually translated "inherent character; inner power; integrity" in Taoism, "moral character; virtue; morality" in Confucianism and other contexts, and "quality; virtue" (guna) or "merit; virtuous deeds" (punya) in Chinese Buddhism.

 

The common definition of virtue (at least in western society is concern) is to have "good" character and if we learn anything from TTC is that: 

 

"When it knows good as good, evil arises" TTC 2, Derek Lin

 

So...our society dictates what good and evil are so our society dictates what virtue is. agree or disagree?

 

Can we define a concept, any concept, without defining how that concept stands out against its environment? Can there be good, if we have no reference for what isn't good?

 

All concepts are merely our identification of highs and lows from different perspectives. The more we attach to one side of a polarity, the more the other side appears to grow as well. If we attach to goodness, always on the lookout for it in ourselves and others, we naturally begin to see evil everywhere as well. When we let go of the attachment to these concepts, we can learn to reside in the center of things, harmoniously adapting to our environment as it changes.

 

In the dao de jing, de is used to convey the concept of the power that comes from the dao. It exists as expression of all that has manifested from the dao.

 

A simple polarity is explored using the concept of great, or superior de, and lesser, or inferior de.

 

Superior virtue has no doing: there is nothing whereby it does.

Inferior virtue does: there is something whereby it does.

 

The key to understanding this, exists in the idea that when we make decisions about how to use our power, it is an inferior use of our power. Any action that we are controlling, is an inferior action.

 

Why is this so?

 

Let us imagine a realm where every action is followed by an equal and opposite reaction. And yet of course it doesn't go back and forth, but changes unfold, and myriad interactions begin to take place. At first they may be coarse, impactful, destructive. But over time they become more refined, stable, balanced. We can imagine a planet within this realm so neatly poised at the heart of this balance that life is born. Over the ages the life goes through the same changes, struggling to survive, only to all but die off, some mutated strain managing to survive, and as the ages pass many life forms begin to coexist. Again, at first their overlap might result in mutual destruction, but in time a balance is struck, and as the balance stabilizes, diversity is born.

 

This diversity, and this ever unfolding refinement of balance can be seen everywhere in nature. There are constant challenges to this diversity being born, and sometimes it is all but wiped out. Yet again and again, this diversity builds, always on the edge of balance. The more refined the balance is able to become, stability allowing, the closer those first few reactions come to returning back toward where they were born.

 

Now along come humans, and for a while their actions are similar to other beings, and the balance is not threatened. This species is even more balanced between the various forces, and has great potential to take that balance to even greater depths. And yet over time, this more evolved species comes to seek to control its environment, not by necessity, but by choice. And over more time, those choices have destabilized the existing paradigm of stabilized refinement. Species begin dying off, and ecosystems that relied on those species began unraveling. Forests are wiped out and deserts are born, and so on.

 

Nothing out of the ordinary here, these things happen. And yet there was potential for even greater balance and refinement, but it destabilized due to choices made from desires rather than needs. Now this is highly debatable, as who can judge whether or not this too is natural. Yet this brings us back to the concept of superior virtue and inferior virtue.

 

Virtue, power, life force. The daoist idea is that we are born with some amount of exceptionally pure energy, de, to use to live our life with. This energy courses through our various bodily systems and changes shape. In our youth this energy feels plentiful, and yet over time the source of that energy begins to run out, and we are left with the energy that has changed shape and become contaminated. More and more we come to rely on our organ systems to efficiently cycle these different types of energies rather than simply drawing upon the source of undifferentiated energy we used to have so much of.

 

Unfortunately, often one particular organ system might become stronger than the others due to blockages and imbalances that come to interfere with the efficiency of the cyclical balances. And thus some become weak, and they struggle against one another, and eventually we die.

 

So we can see that when all things act together, as one, as in a stable and healthy ecosystem, none of them get the upper hand, but all are able to mutually support each other. Even so, when we import a species from one continent to another continent, the balances are gone and that plant often either dies or completely takes over. So we can see that it is not that one species that is self-balancing, but that all of them together that manage to strike a balance, and it takes time.

 

Humans, with our evolved awareness, have the potential to understand our own imbalances and correct them. Daoist internal alchemy shows how we can deliberately dissolve blockages, heal inefficient flows, and cycle the organs to most effectively utilize the energy they originally came from.

 

Further, once this refined balance has been achieved, we can cycle back these energies in specific ways to replenish that original undifferentiated energy. And doing so, we become self-contained systems operating without need for external sustenance.

 

Now we begin to touch upon the idea of superior virtue. Just as in the body we can effect a balancing, a healing, and a integrated return to our source, the external world has the potential for this as well. While Kudzu, or Brazillian Pepper, or Austrailian Pines, do not know how to adapt to maintain the balance, Humans do have this potential. However it is not by their intellect that they are able to do this, but it is through learning to flow so harmoniously along their way that every step they take is mutually beneficial for the integrative balance of all things.

 

The cantong qi extends:

 

"Superior virtue has no doing": it does not use examining and seeking.

"Inferior virtue does": its operation does not rest.

 

When the human is able to become self-sustaining, without need for external sustenance, and is able to reconnect to the energy it manifested from, it is still present within the world of actions and reactions, at some level. At this level, it has an existing momentum. Riding this momentum, as a river flowing to the ocean, one allows oneself to be carried by following the path of least resistance. Internally one does nothing, and yet the external environment is changed according to its own needs. Internally the true human is the embodiment of refined balance, and is in connection with the root of existence. Externally the true human is one with all, and in interacting with anything the change that is effected is ever naturally in the interest of greater refined balance and integration for all it encounters.

 

This gets off a little into the realm of ideals, but one can easily experience this principle on one's own. First one needs to accept anything they are running away from, learn to face those challenges responsibly and equanimously. And then one becomes more free to listen to the tug of one's heart. When faced with making a decision, be it a fork in the road or what to eat for dinner, let the intuition decide. I've spontaneously met beautiful people who lifted my day just because I placed myself in situations where there was an active random element involved, something beyond my intellect. Walking down this street instead of that one, pulled by the tug of my heart. What's more, the more energy work I do, the more powerful this becomes, to the point of highly improbable synchronicities unfolding.

 

It's easy to tell when I'm on the path or not, and the deeper we go, the more rich it becomes. This way of living moves away from the need to make intentional decisions and choices, and moves toward the way of flowing with one's own natural river without making intentional choices and actions. Just like good and bad, the principle is relative to one's situation. When we don't attach to it having fixed positions, we can use it as a guide-line that can take us safely back to the point where everything is natural.

 

The more one does this, the more one appears virtuous in the western definition as well, for one is working toward achieving harmony with all. The words are complicated, but the concept is very simple. Better to live it than to think about it, really.

Edited by Daeluin
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What Lao Tzu meant in that passage was that when the mind dictates any particular thing as good, then something that is bad will also arise; This is due to the dualistic tendency of the mind. Virtue is expressed when the mind is refined, via cultivation, to rise above dualistic tendencies, where both good and bad, up and down, are converged into One; That is, you realize that those characteristics create each other, and are all just a convoluted way of looking at the plain truth. However, what is important is not the outward demeanor of a virtuous person, but rather their vision. So you can't tell whether a person is virtuous or not by looking at their behavior. Even if you can confirm 100% that someone has attained the virtue that is mentioned in the TTC, you cannot imitate him and call that virtue, because his internal attainment cannot be reached so easily; It takes gradual progress and can't be rushed. You eventually have to find your personal expression of it, as everyone is unique. 

Edited by 子泰
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TTC speaks of having great virtue but what is virtue? at least in the taoist sense? and how do we become virtuous?

 

The common definition of virtue (at least in western society is concern) is to have "good" character and if we learn anything from TTC is that: 

 

"When it knows good as good, evil arises" TTC 2, Derek Lin

 

So...our society dictates what good and evil are so our society dictates what virtue is. agree or disagree?

 

Look to your own self, to understand what is virtue.  If there is but one almighty theme of the Tao Te Ching on a personal level, it is to trust yourself, to trust your nature, and to hold to your center of what you know to be true.  It is an open observance on the world, not a "how to" book.  Remember the beginning of the Tao Te Ching, :  The tao that can be named is not the true tao.  The name that can be named is not the eternal name. 

 

The line you quoted, is a simple illustration of what could happen when a person or groups of people begin to attach a judgement on a particular action, person, place, or thing.... because the underlying teaching of the Tao Te Ching, is that there is no absolute good or evil in any sense.... calling anything by these terms is allocating an absolution to an actual relativity, and is therefore not true, and therefore not-virtuous from a taoist perspective.  

 

Perhaps a later chapter in the Tao Te Ching will help to illuminate:

 

"True virtue is not virtuous

Therefore it has virtue. 

Superficial virtue never fails to be virtuous

Therefore it has no virtue. 

True virtue does not act

And has no intentions. 

Superficial virtue acts

And always has intentions

. True humaneness acts 

But has no intentions. 

True justice acts

But has no intentions. 

True propriety acts and if you don't respond

They will roll up their sleeves and threaten you. 

Thus, when the Tao is lost there is virtue

When virtue is lost there is humaneness

When humanenss is lost there is justice

And when justice is lost there is propriety. 

Now propriety is the external appearance of loyalty and sincerity

And the beginning of disorder."

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Lastly, let's not forget the end of the Tao Te Ching:

 

"The way of heaven is to help and not to harm"

 

I think the definition of "virtue" is open to circumstances, but is limited to a direct end.  

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Virtue is there in the evil man as well...

 

Virtue is nothing to attain. Virtue is the opposite of gaining anything. 

 

It is the opposite of morality. The daoist sage who decided to visit his hermit friend, only to realize that he changed his mine only steps from his friend´s door, he has virtue.

 

h

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Perhaps we can first look at the chinese character used in the dao de jing that is often translated as virtue: De 德.

 

Here are some nice resources for this info...a Classical Chinese dictionary (which provides definitions at least very close to the time period that the daodejing was written), as well as the Shuowen Jiezi...

 

From Kroll's Classical dictionary:

 

德 dé

Middle Chinese pronunciation: tok 

Old Chinese pronunciation approximation, from here (not in Kroll's dictionary): *tˁək

1. Innate power, potency, efficacy; sometimes thought of as projection of the 道 dào (Way) in the sensible world, hence the compound 道德 dàodé (the Way and its Power/Force/Working/Process); a potency vouchsafed by Heaven, so providing connection with Heaven, and permitting one who possesses it to influence charismatically but without overt effort the behavior of others in the same direction; especially associated with sages, ideal rulers, exemplary figures who live in harmony with all elements of existence. Traditionally translated as "virtue", but having no religious overtones.

a. merits, essential properties.

2. Moral power, quality conducing to proper action in realm of social or community interaction.

3. Kindness, favor, gracious treatment; (in Buddhism) blessing, blessed.

4. (in Buddhism) 大德 dàdé, translation of Sanskrit "bhadanta", most virtuous, honorific term for Buddhist mendicant or monk.

 

From the Shuowen Jiezi:

 

"Originally from 彳 (chì) ‘footstep’ and 直 (zhí) ‘straight’. 心 (xīn) ‘heart’ was added later."

 

...

 

Oh also...thinking of it from a Daoist context, this should go without saying but I think if we analyze its use in the daodejing then we derive even further meaning from that context.

Edited by Aetherous
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Virtue is there in the evil man as well...

 

Virtue is supposed to be something completely good and an evil man is supposed to be completely evil, so no. Probably you are thinking about something that is best suited to a different name. Interesting what would that be and what's its real name?

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Traditionally translated as "virtue", but having no religious overtones.

.....

 

4. (in Buddhism) 大德 dàdé, translation of Sanskrit "bhadanta", most virtuous, honorific term for Buddhist mendicant or monk.

 

I see.

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I see.

 

I hope it's understandable that because it's a dictionary, those are two different definitions...the same word is used in different ways depending on the context. So, in a Buddhist context, it can be translated as religious virtue...in a Daoist context, maybe not.

 

For instance, in English we commonly speak of a "bird" as being a winged animal, as in definition 2 (in the hyperlink)...but we can also say "flipping someone the bird" in which case it has a totally different meaning, as in definition 10.

 

However...perhaps it can be justified to think of Daoist "de" as being like religious virtue, despite what this dictionary is saying. Maybe the dictionary is kind of biased for some reason. Best to see how it's used in the Daodejing.

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Virtue is there in the evil man as well...

 

Virtue is supposed to be something completely good and an evil man is supposed to be completely evil, so no. Probably you are thinking about something that is best suited to a different name. Interesting what would that be and what's its real name?

 

Well, this excerpt from Zhuangzi points out that Sages who advise for empires built upon the evil deeds of the past may help the world in some instances and inure it in many, even as those such as Robber Zhi may do the same, not unlike superheroes or vigilantes from comic books.

 

As for absolutes of good and evil, how do we qualify them as being absolute?

 

Precisely because we cannot absolutely know what chosen actions are good vs evil in any situation, any actions we choose may be both at once, and I believe this is partly why such actions are labeled as inferior uses of De. Remember, virtue is not really a complete translation of De.

Edited by Daeluin
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higher power is unaware of power

this is therefore whole power

lower power is aware of power

this is therefore division of power

 

higher power has no doing

there is nothing it does

lower power does

there is something it does

 

(just working out what makes most sense to me from translations of the characters in chapter 38 of the daodejing)

 

When we think about the rule that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, then we can come to see that anything that uses power, thus divides that power. So for the power to remain whole, there can be no actions to divide it from it's most pure ("virtuous") state.

Edited by Daeluin

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Virtue is supposed to be something completely good and an evil man is supposed to be completely evil, so no. Probably you are thinking about something that is best suited to a different name. Interesting what would that be and what's its real name?

As I've gotten older I've found much of what is wrong with the world happened due to people with good intentions who either didn't anticipate unintended consequences or whose view of what is 'good' was actually a selfish dream.   Even when they acted with what we'd consider virtue; for the good of all, they didn't end up with it.  I see this in politics quite often.

 

Virtue needs to be more then just trying to do good.  Good is nice.. but too slippery.

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As I've gotten older I've found much of what is wrong with the world happened due to people with good intentions who either didn't anticipate unintended consequences or whose view of what is 'good' was actually a selfish dream.   Even when they acted with what we'd consider virtue; for the good of all, they didn't end up with it.  I see this in politics quite often.

 

Virtue needs to be more then just trying to do good.  Good is nice.. but too slippery.

 

We have seen that in the Med sea.

 

Where do gooders wring their hands at seeing a hundred drowning and went all out to hasten rescue.

Thereby inspiring hundreds of thousands with begging bowls and hijabs and beards to be rescued 

 

Or going overland  by the hundreds of thousands , where they too will be rescued  and have their tsunami of begging bowls filled later to be followed by heated tents and jacuzzis to start them on good lives, at expense of everyone else.

Followed by mosques and minarets at corners of every town and villages so they can pray 5 times a day to show how much holier than thou as they do not need to work , other than to bring up wearers of kaboom vests and wielders of AKs.

 

All started by people with good intentions.

 

Give me Yan Zu anytime who will not pluck a hair from his head if that will help mankind.

Not those who with good intentions started that tsunami of begging bowls with beards and hijabs into Europe and all over.

 

 

Idiotic Taoist not willing to pluck a hair from his head to save anyone drowning in the Med sea

Edited by shanlung
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Shall we say that the value of virtue is greater relative to the fullfilment of the individual's nature than to the attainment of social ends?

 

Is virtue merely effortless integrity of a thing fully expressing its nature?

 

8)

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Those who know, don't speak

those who speak, don't know

ahh, but what about those who write?

somewhere inbetween?

 

or has a philosophical idea devolved into a tactic to silence those disagreed with?

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ahh, but what about those who write?

somewhere inbetween?

 

or has a philosophical idea devolved into a tactic to silence those disagreed with?

 

Well first of all, I don't know anything. The moment I think I know something, that awareness of knowing is attaching to de rather than allowing de to be. How can one have a perspective of something without separating from being it in totality, or without creating and stepping into a fracture within totality to allow observation?

 

So all of my ideas, concepts, principles, are merely crutches to help me get closer to the point where maybe one day I will be able to slip away from all of it and simply be. Once I get there, I doubt I would have any interest in explaining it, as that would take me out of it again.

 

I sense there are different layers of awakening, and different layers of being in the world but not of it. Some may allow discussion of it, or appearing to discuss it, without removing oneself from it. But to completely return 100% of one's de to dao, I don't think any intention is used to formulate concepts or make any decisions to use one's de again... which seems to be the point chapter 38 is trying to express.

Edited by Daeluin
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TTC speaks of having great virtue but what is virtue? at least in the taoist sense? and how do we become virtuous?

 

The common definition of virtue (at least in western society is concern) is to have "good" character and if we learn anything from TTC is that: 

 

"When it knows good as good, evil arises" TTC 2, Derek Lin

 

So...our society dictates what good and evil are so our society dictates what virtue is. agree or disagree?

 

Depends on your philosophy.

 

An intrincisist will say virtue is only a matter of opening your mind to divine revelation

" to those that don't understand no explanation is possible and to those that understand then no explanation is necessary"

 

A subjectivist will say that virtue is unknowable, that it is the product of an imprint on a collective consciousness. This is the pragmatic view, that society creates whatever it wishes.

 

Then there is the objectivist view which is that virtue is the action of upholding ones values in a deliberate fashion. That effort is required to attain ones values and virtue is the action of that attainment.

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