Morality and Daoism (excerpt and discussion of the first stanza of Tai Shang Gan Ying Pian)


“Tai Shang thus Spake: Disaster and Fortune have no gate, only what people entreat upon themselves. Good and Evil deeds are announced like a shadow which follows the body.”

This brief opening line from the Tai Shang Gan Ying text shows us a great deal of how Daoists understand morality. It is not that good and evil are set in concrete and absolute terms and that they are absolutely opposed to each other, but rather that people by their own deeds decide whether they choose to engage in good or evil behaviour. This decision reflects on them just like a shadow which follows their bodies and is their karma.
The 20th century Daoist thinker Jiang Weiqiao said that all people know the difference between good and bad actions and before committing a bad action, their minds will naturally hesitate, in the knowledge that what they are doing is wrong. If they Choose not to act on the impulse to do something harmful, then they will go back to being of their best mind very quickly, but if they choose to do the evil deed, then when it is committed it will already be too late and they will feel a sense of shame and remorse.
This and the original quote from the Tai Shang Gan Ying text show us very much how morality is viewed in the Daoist world view. Freedom of choice is available to us to do either good or bad, and it is up to us to choose which to undertake, with natural consequences staying with us long after the action is committed to.
Because the choice is up to us, and because it is always better that we make positive and healthy life choices, I want to leave you with a thought from the Yellow Emperor Hidden Talisman Classic:
“Time and Space are in your hands,
the myriad changes are born of your body.
The nature of the heavens is the same as that of people.
The hearts of people are the mechanism (of nature).
propping upright the Dao of heaven will set the hearts of the people.”

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