Scripture on the Way and Virtue, Chapter 18

With Bai Yuchan’s Commentary

Translation Copyright ©2019 by Stuart Alve Olson

Thinning of the Conventional
俗 薄

When the Great Tao is abandoned (it is naturally obscure, the mind has to be firm so it can arrive at the original nature) there then appears benevolence and righteousness (these are not the origins of truth).

When intelligence and cleverness appear (in the end this is not original naturalness), there is then great hypocrisy (and this is not the naturally-just-so).

When the Six Relationsare not in harmony (this naturally causes division and separation), there then appears filial piety and parental love (which are self-evident).

When the country is in chaos and misrule (just like life and death, repentance and reform, these become naturally vague) patriotic statesmen appear (in separation he knows there is nourishment).2


  1. Six Relations (六 親, Liu Qin) are those of father, mother, husband, wife, child, and siblings (especially those of brothers, as daughters were usually given or sold into marriage at a very young age).
  2. The message here is that when a country is in chaos certain people, patriotic statesmen, will take advantage by promoting patriotism to their own advantage, not that of the country.

The Meaning

The theme of this chapter is to show that when the Great Tao is abandoned, benevolence and righteousness come forth, which Lao Zi states is the thinning of the Tao that then leads to the negative effects listed in this chapter. On a deeper level this chapter is explaining that when Virtue is rooted in the Tao, it is then the optimum condition of Tao and De (the Way and Virtue). Hence, Nature (the Tao) is the unconscious and Virtue is the conscious. However when these two are separated there is then the thinning of the Tao, which is found in benevolence and righteousness. Therefore, the title of this chapter is showing that once the Great Tao is abandoned there is a thinning into purely conventional behaviors.

Bai Yuchan’s Original Chinese Text

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