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"The Way gives birth to them."

Tao Te Ching - Chapter 51

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu.

The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained


51

The Way gives birth to them.

Virtue gives them nourishment.

Matter gives them shape.

Conditions make them whole.


Therefore:

Of all things,

None does not revere the Way and honor virtue.

Reverence of the Way and honoring virtue

Were not demanded of them,

But it is in their nature.


So, the Way gives birth to them,

Nourishes them,

Raises them,

Nurtures them,

Protects them,

Matures them,

Takes care of them.

It gives birth without seizing,

Helps without claim,

Fosters without ruling.

This is called the profound virtue.



All Things Are Nurtured

Tao as a source, out of which all things have come into existence, is mentioned several times in the Tao Te Ching. But virtue, te, giving them nourishment, is a somewhat confusing perspective. Human beings need virtue as nourishment for their character and perspectives on life. Perhaps the same thing can be said for the animals – but how can it be expected of plants and dead things?

       What is hinted with the statement is either virtue as a kind of principle for the growth and development of all things, or some animistic standpoint, where everything in the world is connected and in some sense alive. Probably, it's a combination of both.

       To Lao Tzu and his contemporaries, life was something other than it is to us. All of nature, with its movements, changes, and dynamics, could be seen as being alive. Movement is everywhere, so is growth and decay. Therefore, in many cultures it has been taken for granted that all things possess some kind of life. Otherwise, how could they change, and how could they be active, important parts of the human conditions?

       We are enclosed in the world and we relate to it in countless ways, so it's definitely part of our lives. At least in that sense, the world is alive and bound to the same conditions as we are. The world is alive because it matters to our lives.

       Also, since Lao Tzu sees Tao as something encompassing all, behind all, he gives equal omnipresence to virtue, the worldly manifestation of Tao. This relation between Tao and virtue is expressed by the last line of this chapter. How Tao behaves is called the profound virtue. So, Tao can be said to have virtue, therefore virtue must be present in everything born out of Tao.

       Since Tao is the way things are and ought to be, it can be called virtuous. Tao is the original state of Te, virtue. The nature of Tao is virtuous, but not because it's bound by virtue. That would make it second. It's virtuous of itself, whereas the world coming out of it has virtue because of its origin, like genes transporting heredity from parents to children. The whole world and all things in it carry the virtue of Tao with them.

       So, there is just one form of virtue, which is from Tao, and its essence is nothing but being in accordance with Tao. We are virtuous when we follow the Way.

© Stefan Stenudd.

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Tao Te Ching Explained


Preface


Introduction


Literature


The 81 Chapters of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
translated and explained by Stefan Stenudd.
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Tao Te Ching Explained


James Legge's Tao Te Ching


Aleister Crowley's Tao Te Ching


The 1st Chapter of Tao Te Ching in 76 Versions


Lao Tzu - Legendary Author of Tao Te Ching





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Tao Te Ching - The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Te Ching

The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. The great Taoist philosophy classic by Lao Tzu translated, and each of the 81 chapters extensively commented. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

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Tao Quotes - the Ancient Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Quotes

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Stefan Stenudd, Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction. Stefan Stenudd


About me

I'm a Swedish author and aikido instructor. In addition to fiction, I've written books about Taoism and other East Asian traditions. I'm also an historian of ideas, researching ancient thought and mythology. Click the image to get to my personal website.

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