When the greatness of the Tao is present,

action arises from one’s own heart.

When the greatness of the Tao is absent,

action comes from the rules

of “kindness and justice.”

If you need rules to be kind and just,

if you act virtuous,

this is a sure sign that virtue is absent.

Thus we see the great hypocrisy.

When kinship falls into discord,

piety and rites of devotion arise.

When the country falls into chaos,

official loyalists will appear;

patriotism is born.


To sum up the 18th verse of the “Tao Te Ching”, Lao-tzu is telling us we don’t need rules to be kind and just. We do not need society to dictate to us how to live from our hearts. If we are following the greatness of the Tao then we would be kind and love without doing it because society’s rules dictate us to. We would be kind and love because the Tao is part of us, so these behaviors come naturally.

I don’t think Lao-tzu is saying rules are necessarily bad, he is just saying it is unfortunate we even need them. If we were all one with the Tao life would be a utopia where there would be no war, murder, greed, stealing, or any other negative behavior. People would live peacefully and in harmony with the seasons of the Tao. There would be no need for money, possessions, insane working hours, and stress. We would get up, work when needed, laugh, play, relax, and enjoy the present moment everyday of our lives. I suppose the same thing could be said about the Bible or any other religious texts. If people were to follow the lessons of their faiths then life would be more peaceful. This does not include those who misread religious texts and turn it into a destructive force.

The most powerful and moving part about this verse is Lao-tzu asking us to not act virtuous but to be virtuous. Many of us act virtuous because it is how society or our faiths require us to be, not because it is one of our core values. I think the world we live in today has lost the true Way. In this process of societal deterioration there are fewer and fewer people who are virtuous not because they have to be; they do this because kindness and love are part of their core values. This is a tough verse for me to meditate on because it calls to the forefront my core values. I sit and try to look into my soul and identify exactly what they are. There are times I don’t like what I see, and there are times I try to fool myself. I do know since I have started studying the Tao Te Ching some of my core values have changed to more selfless ones.  

I think the society we live in today is a society of greed, self interest, and entitlement. We follow rules because of what is legal and illegal. We do not steal because it is illegal, but when society breaks down the human race shows its true values. When Katrina hit in New Orleans, society broke down and erupted into chaos. The people began looting and killing. They knew there was no one to stop them so they acted according to their values. Then there were the people who were in tune with the greatness of the Tao. They made every effort to do everything in their power to help their fellow man. I do not think New Orleans is an isolated incident or case study. I believe if society broke down nation wide, and our laws could no longer be enforced; you would see how your neighbor truly is. There would be those who put their ego above all else and there would be those who put the Tao above all else. Although this would be an interesting social experiment, I would not want to be around if this were to happen.

I am a bit lost in what Lao-tzu is saying in the last five lines of this verse. Is he saying when man fails to be kind to his fellow man then piety and rites of religion are created? Is he talking about other religions of his time being created to keep the people in line? When he talks about countries falling into chaos is he also speaking of what was happening in his time, like Revaluations in the Bible? Is he saying when the kindness and love of man breaks down first comes the need to control “religion” then comes government based on religious values? I am a bit lost here.

  1. johanna says:

    The one thing that stuck out for me was, “If you act virtuous, then it is a sure sign virtue is absent”. We are all born with strengths and weaknesses. I learned that there are 7 virtues. Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Patience, Kindness and Humility. Some people are stronger in certain virtues than others. The thing is, in order to become more virtuous, sometimes we must “act” then the virtue becomes habit and then part of us. Becoming virtuous is a process and I really think one must act the part in the beginning.

    • Tim Lundmark says:


      Yes that is what the Tao has taught me. In order to change your habits you need to first know it, second think it then finally you become it. I think what the verse is saying is don’t be good just because you are supposed to. It is not real if you are only behaving this way because you think that is the way you are supposed to be. If we are all living in perfect harmony with the Tao then we need not try to act virtuous we will be virtuous because we will be living in divine order.

  2. In this verse, Lao Tzu is speaking of an ideal. The notion that, if only we could all lead virtuous lives then there would be no war, poverty, oppression, etc., is unrealistic. Why do I write this? Because virtuous people can still disagree and disagreement is the seed of war, poverty and oppression.

    As to what the last five lines indicate, it is simply a restatement of the beginning of the verse. When things go south in the family or nation, people pop up to say the reason there is chaos is that people aren’t following some set of arbitrary rules.

    So they lay down even more rules — of the rigid kind. People live their lives in fear of inadvertently breaking one of the rules and/or scheming how to get around them. They also spend a great deal of time identifying scapegoats — others they can blame (to avoid looking in the mirror) for bringing on the chaos in the first place.

  3. Marcus T. Tolbert says:

    First let me thank you for suggesting that my humble blog be read by others which is the greatest of compliments to a writer. I enjoyed reading this work and have a small critique I would offer, if you have invited such. The last five lines of Tao Te Ching are the warnings aginst the removal of a society and person from the higher dictates of conscious and soul and powers that will supplant the souls of men with the dictates of organized religion and patriotism. I wonder, no I state that this is the fervor that the world is now in the midst of. I wish and hope for you all the best and it is good thing that you have chosen to stay with us.


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