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)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI 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.”

5 thoughts on “CHAPTER 59 – STORING VIRTUE

  1. A very good point, Louis, that goes to the heart of the matter: “Try to find your true virtue.”

    I would say this chapter could prove inaccessible to the modern western mind and the worldly materialistic sensibilities it embraces – at least the mind which is pickled in the concept of accumulation as a form of prosperity. Indeed, if Solska’s translation is taken the wrong way, the idea that one has to “build and amass” “God Points” in order to acquire great capacity is present even in the sage’s observations.

    I’m not a big fan of pursuit. When we believe we have to chase after something in order to acquire it, pretty soon we feel like something dire is chasing us and if we don’t catch what we are chasing, then the thing which our very own belief in pursuit has created – the thing chasing us – will catch up to us and calamity will result.

    Pursuit is manic and locates us always behind and at a distance from a goal. In the matter of spiritual awareness it’s a ludicrous occupation considering that the thing we are chasing is in us and all around us.

    I think it is better to slow down, stop, and pay attention. The one good thing about pursuit is that it leads to exhaustion, and exhaustion leads to abandonment of the chase, and acceptance, and a calmness wherein, finally, we are able to pay attention to the truth of our existence as spiritually connected beings in an existential experience.

    It would seem that we can not escape the idea of pursuing prosperity, spiritual or otherwise. Yet isn’t the acceptance of the validity of the pursuit of prosperity the very thing which creates poverty? We know that activation and incorporation of any dualistic concept in our experience automatically creates its opposite – that’s the human condition and predicament. When we desire prosperity, or espouse it, we create those who have and those who have not, don’t we?

    It is not about pursuit and attainment, it is about paying attention, waking up to what is all around us and in us, accepting it, and cooperating with it. “It” being our fundamental essence, our innate Virtue.

    I’ve commented on this before: “The seeker’s path is dynamic and unfolding and moves right along at a good clip. Down the river and the road the seeker goes, with the flow, on the path. The seeker explores fascinating side channels and obscure lanes, confronts stagnant dead ends, returns to the main, always moving, always seeking, always chased by (and chasing) something. And somewhere on the path a person will sit down, and what is chasing them runs on past them, and what they are seeking appears there, where they are.”

    I don’t regard any purveyor of the pursuit of riches, spiritual or otherwise, as anything other than someone who creates poverty. I have done it myself with regard to spiritual awareness, and sometimes I still do it, and I am learning not to. I consider it a shortcoming, and not a virtuous offering.

    It is patently obvious to me that anyone selling prosperity for personal gain does so by inculcating a sense of poverty in others, or encouraging it, or taking advantage of it if it is a pre-existing condition. It is a dualistic process, and the effect – which seems beneficial but is not – creates sellers and buyers, haves and have-nots, and allows the illusions of poverty and prosperity to persist in grotesque permutations in our worldly experience.

    I don’t give much attention to teachers who employ a megaphone and spotlight directed upon themselves and “their” teachings, even if what they are teaching is of value. At best I take what truth I recognize there and leave the rest, and trust that is how my own thoughts and expressions are regarded by others as well.

    I suspect that even in the presence of the truth, which is in most teachings because it is everywhere, the presence of subjective judgments of a separated self are present as well. It does not serve anyone when personal specialness is glorified and projected as separate, and held to be present in the purveyor and absent in others. It certainly doesn’t serve the teacher. It just keeps them stuck in the place where they are convinced they have become successful and “rich” in spirit.

    Te is not special, it is universal. It is in the Tao and it is in us. We are abundantly and extravagantly supplied with it because it is our essence, a part of our nature. Only the ego, the “little self,” needs to be informed of this fact.

    Any teacher who tells us that we lack our fundamental essence is giving power to selfishness, and taking power from others to accomplish their own aggrandizement. The message is important, yes, and we must carry it, yet all the while we must remember it is about the message and not the messenger. We do not speak to lack, we speak to the abundance and virtue that is everywhere present and available.

    And with that thought I would re-emphasize the critical necessity of applied compassion as being the first means by which we serve and minister and provide prosperity to others, and so – secondarily – to ourselves as well. Then, as teachers and leaders who have relinquished our personal exclusivity and selfishness and personal judgments about our own spiritual prosperity and the spiritual poverty of others, we can become like the one the sage describes who, having placed the “little self” as second,

    “Because he has let go,
    he can care for the people’s welfare
    as a mother cares for her child.”

    • “I don’t regard any purveyor of the pursuit of riches, spiritual or otherwise, as anything other than someone who creates poverty.”

      That is an interesting choice of words. In Olde England, a purveyor was an official who requisitioned goods such as food from the farmers who had to sell at a price set by the government. The purchased food was supposed to be for the use of the sovereign or to be given to the poor by the sovereign. However, it became a corrupt system and the purveyors often kept most of what they had purchased at the government price and sold it themselves at a healthy profit.

      In considering the Tao Te Ching, there are authors like Wayne Dyer who openly admit that they do not speak Chinese and their books are interpretations or re-presentations of translations by others; with some elucidation from the author’s own acquired wisdom or stored Te. There are also those like Stephen Mitchell and Ron Hogan, whose “translations” I have sometimes referenced, who do exactly the same thing – they do not speak Chinese but they have published and sold their own versions of the Tao Te Ching. Those versions, of course, simply rephrase the work of scholars who do understand Chinese.

      Then you see situations like that which occurred a couple of years ago when Stephen Mitchell sued Wayne Dyer for copyright violation claiming that Dyer’s Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life had “stolen” a number of words from Mitchell’s paraphrasing of other people’s translations.

      Those things seem like spiritual purveyance. The old scholarly translations are available at “government prices” – meaning free, since their copyrights have expired – and the modern authors take them, make a few changes and sell at marked-up prices.

      The comments I have made here over the past few months may be susceptible to the same criticism, except there is no mark up. Therefore, either I am not a purveyor, or am not very good at purveyance. Does that mean I am going to quit, you may ask.

      No. I think I will consider myself to be like “Dennis Moore” in the Monty Python sketch where a Robin Hood-like highwayman robs from the rich – but he only takes lupins – and then gives them to the poor. Most of the poor are not thrilled to receive the lupins, but Dennis Moore is quite gratified with his “good work.” He, too, has let go and can compassionately care (in his own way) for the people’s welfare.

  2. Laughing with compassion and understanding here. I think that is a very good way to consider yourself, and something which I aspire to. I don’t consider you to be susceptible to any criticism as a purveyor rather than a messenger for the very reason you mention – there is no worldly markup on your message, which is given freely. I for one would feel deprived if you did not speak your message and am very glad that you do. You have become a very helpful resource to me in our mutual efforts to understand and reflect the truth of who we are, really.

    Humility is much in evidence in your observations and that is another marker of your integrity. The wages purveyors seek are often concerned not only with material gain but with the acquisition of ascribed status as well, a sociological term I’m sure you’re familiar with. In the context of spiritual messengers it’s a perception of an exaggerated worth of the messenger attached to messages about the Tao, where there is no order of worthiness, and the juxtaposition of those two things delivers a mixed message as far as I’m concerned.

    Your perception and acuity are a couple of the qualities you have which make it a joy to participate here. A good example of that is your comprehension of the word “purvey.” Corruption and gouging mark-ups in the “business” of spiritual purveyance often prove to be counter to the spirit of the thing, and occlude rather than clarify the perspective of the seeker who has willingly come seeking spiritual riches and goes away with the idea that it is necessary to acquire some form of spiritual specialness in order to be “worthy.”

    “Convey” could work a little better if we were to expand the meaning of certain terms within the definition of the word, which is basically “to transfer ownership of ‘real’ property from one to another by a ‘written deed’,” which is what we are guilty of committing here and what we are earnestly and honestly doing our best at. (A little laugh of understanding and compassion in that one…)

    I’d say just plain “give” is the best word for what good messengers do. They put it out there and leave it be, and don’t hang around waiting for a tip. I have no doubt that is your purpose in these commentaries, and am glad you keep putting your message out there.

      • LOL! Perfect. “I’m only in it for the lupins.” That is just so good on so many levels… Wise, charming, AND funny! You hit the trifecta, Louis. Consider this a virtual bouquet of our Northwest Cascade purple lupins sent to you…

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