Chapter 59 – Storing Virtue
While ruling the people
And serving heaven
Build up a store.
If you’ve built up a store
You can adhere to Tao early.
If you’ve adhered to Tao early
You can amass virtue.
When you’ve amassed virtue
There is nothing you cannot do.
When there is nothing you cannot do
Your capacity has no bounds.
Having boundless capacity
You’re ready to rule the realm.
Leaning on the mother of the realm
You can last through all time.
You’ve been firmly established.
You have a strong support.
This is the Tao of long life.
This is the Tao of farsightedness.
Translated by Agnieszka Solska (2005)
I looked long and hard to find an appropriate translation of Chapter 59. Most of the versions I considered seemed too much a simple interpretation – and many were like Stephen Mitchell’s 1988 translation, which is as follows:
For governing a country well
there is nothing better than moderation.
The mark of a moderate man
is freedom from his own ideas.
Tolerant like the sky,
all-pervading like sunlight,
firm like a mountain,
supple like a tree in the wind,
he has no destination in view
and makes use of anything
life happens to bring his way.
Nothing is impossible for him.
Because he has let go,
he can care for the people’s welfare
as a mother cares for her child.
All those poetic images are nice, as is moderation, but I don’t believe that is exactly what the Old Master is telling us here. Rather, I think he is saying that before a person becomes a ruler or leader, he must develop Te or virtue. That is, he must live and act in accord with Tao.
It is often said, “with God, all things are possible.” The same concept is presented here – with Tao “there is nothing you cannot do” and “having boundless capacity you’re ready to rule the realm.”
As a practical matter, it is good for rulers and the rest of us to build up stores of things in addition to virtue in anticipation of the cyclical workings of Nature. After a good harvest, some crops should be saved for the time when adverse weather or ravenous insects could precipitate a famine. During wet years, water should be stored in lakes and reservoirs knowing that there will one day be a time of drought.
Another possible way of looking at this chapter – and especially the mention of the “Tao of long life” – is rather esoteric. From the time of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.) through the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 A.D.) there were those who followed a religion known as “Taoism,” and who believed that there were secret practices that could bring a person physical immortality. At the heart of these practices was the building up and storing of the bodily essences known as jing and chi (qi). I do not believe that this chapter gives any such direction to readers – and I have only limited knowledge of the beliefs of those later “Taoists” – so I will leave that subject for someone else.
Of course, the advice that one should build a store of Te before leading a nation applies to any leadership role in society, business, family or personal life. Wayne Dyer talks about this chapter in his book Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life and introduces a concept he calls “God points.” He says that for many years he has regularly made anonymous donations of money and books and service to help others who were in need. He writes that he has benefited by accumulating God points. Thus, he sees this chapter as recognizing a principle of karma.
I commend Mr. Dyer for his charitable actions, but I think the virtue of Te the ruler needs to build and store is something more than good intentions and good deeds. As an illustration, I will close by paraphrasing a story from Chuang Tzu.
It seems a reclusive sage (Hsu Su Kwei) was finally convinced to visit the ruler of his country, who was named Prince Wu. The prince asked the sage, “Tell me if I am doing right. I want to love my people and to exercise justice and bring an end to war. Is that enough?”
The sage replied, “Certainly not. Your love for your people puts them in mortal danger and your desire for justice will be the root of war after war. If you try to accomplish something great, you are only fooling yourself. Your acts of love and justice are only pretexts for asserting your power. Look around you – your hallways and buildings are filled with soldiers to enforce your sense of justice. You are at war with yourself. Give up your plans for love and justice. Instead, try to find your true virtue. Then your people can breathe easily. They will live and war will end by itself.”