Chapter 18 – Good and Evil
When the Great Tao is forgotten,
Kindness and morality appear.
When intellect and knowledge are emphasized,
There is great hypocrisy in the heart.
Family is no longer in harmony
When there is preaching of duty and affection.
The nation is in disorder
When patriotic loyalty is admired.
The translation above is from http://taotechingdaily.com/tao-te-ching-chapter-18-essay/. I don’t feel this chapter is very difficult to understand. Lao Tzu is simply telling us that judgments of what is good or bad, kind or unkind, moral or immoral, etc. arise as humanity moves away from the natural flow of the Tao. Bob Dylan sort of summed it up when he wrote, “To live outside the law [we will call it the Tao], you must be honest.”
It is perhaps dishonest, or lazy, on my part; but I would like to comment on Chapter 18 through a fairly long quote from another author. I recently became aware of a very interesting book entitled Novice to Master: An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity. I feel that most days are like that. This book, though, is an autobiography of Soko Morinaga Roshi. The author was a Japanese Zen monk who was a young man during World War II and who adopted the monastic lifestyle after surviving the war. He wrote:
Among human beings there are those who exploit and those who are exploited. The same holds true for relations among nations and among races. Throughout history, the economically developed countries have held dominion over the undeveloped nations. Now, at last, Japan was rising to liberate herself from the chains of exploitation! This was a righteous fight, a meaningful fight! How could we begrudge our country [our] one small life, even if that life be smashed to bits? Such reckless rationalization allowed us to shut off our minds. . .
Then on August 15, 1945, came Japan’s unconditional surrender. The war that everyone had been led to believe was so right, so just, the war for which we might gladly lay down our own life, was instead revealed overnight as a war of aggression, a war of evil – and those responsible for it were to be executed.
. . . We returned, young men unable to believe in anything and hounded by the question of right and wrong. Technically classes were resumed, but in reality no studying took place. If a teacher walked into the classroom, textbook under his arm, he would be asked to take a seat on the sidelines while members of the group who had just returned from the army took turns at the podium. . . .
This went on day after day.
It happened that in those days we had a philosophy teacher named Tasuku Hara. He later went on to become a professor in the philosophy department at Tokyo University. He was an excellent teacher, and I was sorry to hear that he died quite young. Anyway, one day this Professor Hara, who was like an older brother to us, stood up and insisted that we let him get a word in.
Taking the rostrum, he proceeded to talk to us, “Kant, the German philosopher in whose study I specialized, said this: We humans can spend our whole lives pondering the meaning of ’good’ and ‘evil,’ but we will never be able to figure it out. The only thing that humans can do is to come up with a yardstick by which to measure good and evil.”
“Looking at it this way,” he continued, “if we use the yardstick of the Japanese, this war was a holy war, while by American criteria, it was a war of aggression. So your life’s work is not to label this ‘good’ and that ‘evil,’ but to search for as useful a standard as you can find to apply anywhere you go on this earth. But this grand yardstick is not something you are going to come by in a day. Each of you will have to transcend time and space to find a standard that can have meaning to as many people as possible – and in order to do this, I suggest, first off, that you get on with your high school lessons!”
And so, with that kind advice, we resumed our classes. We did, however, also continue our self-indulgent theoretical debates. And I, for one, remained in a quandary over the question of good and evil; the problem had lodged itself deep in the back of my mind.
I think, in fact, that this was a dilemma of the times for Japan, common not only among young people, like us, but among middle-aged and elderly people as well. We had completely lost sight of any ethical norm. I believe Japan had fallen into a state in which people scarcely knew what standards to apply even in raising their own children.
As the story of his life continues, we see that Morinaga Roshi did return to the way Lao Tzu has called the Tao, recognizing good and evil and all similar principles as human constructs.
What conversations do you think our fathers and grandfathers had among themselves when they returned from that war?