“The Way begets them
Virtue keeps them
matter shapes them
usage completes them
thus do all creatures respect the Way
and honor Virtue
their respect for the Way
and honor of Virtue
are not conferred
but simply natural
for the Way begets and keeps them
raises and trains them
steadies and adjusts them
maintains and protects them
but it doesn’t possess what it begets
or depend on what it develops
or control what it raises
this is called Dark Virtue”
-Lao-tzu- (Taoteching, verse 51, translation by Red Pine)
WU CH’ENG says, “What is begotten is sprouted in spring; what is kept is collected in fall; what is shaped is raised in summer from sprouts grown in spring; what is completed is stored in winter from the harvest of fall. Sprouting, raising, harvesting, and storing all depend on the Way and Virtue. Hence, the ten thousand creatures respect the Tao as their father and honor Virtue as their mother. The Way and Virtue are two, but also one. In spring, from one root many are begotten: the Way becomes Virtue. In fall, the many are brought back together: Virtue becomes the Way. The Way and Virtue are mentioned at the beginning of this verse, but only the Way is mentioned later [in line eleven]. This is because Virtue is also the Way.”
LI HSI-CHAI says, ‘What the Way and Virtue bestow, they bestow without thought. No one orders them. It is simply their nature. It is their nature to beget and their nature to keep. It is their nature to raise and train, to steady and adjust, to maintain and protect. And because it’s their nature, they never tire of begetting or expect a reward for what they give. This is what is meant by ‘Dark Virtue.’”
LU HSI-SHENG says, “To beget is to endow with essence. To keep is to instill with breath. To raise is to adapt to form. To train is to bring forth ability. To steady is to weigh the end. To adjust is to measure the use. To maintain is to preserve the balance. To protect is to keep from harm. This is the Great Way. It begets but does not try to possess what it begets. It develops but does not depend on what it develops. It raises but does not try to control what it raises. This is Dark Virtue. In verse 10, Humankind is likened to the Way and Virtue. Here, the Way and Virtue are likened to Humankind. The expressions are the same, and so is the meaning.”
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “The Way does not beget the myriad creatures to possess them for its own advantage. The actions of the Way do not depend on a reward. And the Way does not raise or maintain the myriad creatures to butcher them for profit. The kindness performed by the Way is dark and invisible.” Where Ho-shang Kung reads “butcher,” Lu Hsi-sheng reads “control.” Red Pine followed Lu.
WANG PI says, “The Way is what things follow. Virtue is what they attain. ‘Dark Virtue’ means virtue is present but no one knows who controls it. It comes from what is hidden.”
“The Way begets them, Virtue keeps them.” That is how Lao-tzu describes how the ten thousand things get along in nature. And just so you won’t forget, humankind is part of those “ten thousand things.” I said “just so you won’t forget,” because we so often do. Humankind seem to be alone in this ability to forget. All the rest of nature respect the Way and honor Virtue. And this respect and honor isn’t something conferred; it is, as Lao-tzu wants to make clear, simply natural.
This is what Lao-tzu calls Dark Virtue. It is a virtue that goes both ways. Between those begotten, and the Tao which begets them. The Tao does its thing, naturally. And the ten thousand things do their thing, naturally.
It isn’t conferred. It is simply natural. I know I am repeating myself, but this is important to understand. The Tao is simply the natural order. It doesn’t possess anything it begets, or depend on anything it develops, or try to control what it raises. It simply is. So, naturally, all creatures respect this. What’s not to respect? Of course, the Virtue of the Way is honored by all creatures. What would be unnatural is not honoring the Virtue of the Way.
Which brings me back to Humankind. What is wrong with us? Our lack of respect for and honor of Nature certainly can’t be called natural. It could almost be said that we think, somehow, it is something which must be conferred. And our conferring respect and honor, far from being natural, requires effort. Lots of effort. And to what purpose?
As I said at the beginning of my commentary, we have forgotten our connection to the ten thousand things. Maybe we think we are above all that. That the rest of nature is beneath us. And we certainly have long acted as if we are at war with nature.
I, for one, think it is long overdue that we declare a truce. How hard can that be? It isn’t like the Tao is threatening us. So why be antagonistic towards it?