Tao Te Ching 51 - Translated and Explained by Stefan Stenudd Tao Te Ching 51 - Translated and Explained by Stefan Stenudd
The Way gives birth to them.
Virtue gives them nourishment.
Matter gives them shape.
Conditions make them whole.
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,
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.