Rules and Justice

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 38

Not trying to be good,
we experience natural goodness.
Being good, while hoping for reward,
has nothing to do with natural goodness.
Natural goodness works effortlessly and benefits all.
Contrived goodness requires great effort and accomplishes very little.

Compassion acts and seeks nothing.
Justice acts and seeks specific results.
Morality acts, then demands, and then forces correct behavior.

When we are separated from our true nature,
we turn to rules of goodness.
When we fail at being good,
we make more detailed rules to govern our relationships.
When our relationships suffer,
we insist on justice and fairness.
Not finding justice or fairness,
we all agree to pretend that empty rituals will suffice.




Lao-Tzu’s distrust of conventional moral rules developed against a background of a Confucian society in which correct behavior was a matter of compliance with strict rules governing every interaction. One must know one’s place within a hierarchy and accept the obligations and restrictions of that place. Lao-tzu watched narrow concepts of justice and morality that benefited the powerful take the place of natural compassion for all. He felt this was contrary to the Tao.

Some would say we live in libertarian times, but the conditioned mind is still a maze of “dos and don’ts” that bind up our natural compassion. Our “justice system” is a product of this mind and seldom works with natural fairness, especially for the poor. Many natural attempts for compassion run afoul of rules and regulations, designed as in Lao-Tzu’s time for the benefit of the powerful.

My own mind also has all sorts of rules for goodness, for fairness; and for justice. These rules are seldom obeyed by myself or by others, leading to all sorts of outrage and outcries. It’s hard to trust my own inner goodness and compassion, especially when these seem to be contrary to socially accepted morality.

How hard is it to be compassionate? Not as hard as we are led to believe. Look inside.

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