Expression of the Unity of Dao and Virtue
Since Virtue ( 德 De ) is the reflection of Dao ( 道 Dao ), therefore, in seeking Dao, one must seek harmony with Virtue, so that one's thoughts, words and deeds are all in conformity with Virtue.
Dao is expressed as my Virtue
Dao is in all beings; and, as far as people are concerned, Virtue is the Dao in oneself. Therefore, Wei Zong of the Song dynasty wrote in the Imperial Commentary to the Book of Western Ascension ( 御注西升經序 Yuzhu Xishengjing Xu ) that "no being does not have Dao; in myself, Dao is expressed as my Virtue. All men possess the Virtue of Dao." One's Virtue can only be realized and developed through one's own efforts; hence, one must Cultivate Virtue ( 修德 Xiudao ) in order to unite with Dao. The presence or absence of Virtue depends on unity with Dao. The Laozi ( 老子 Laozi ) says that "the expression of the Great Virtue can be achieved only by conformity with Dao". Cultivating Dao ( 修道 Xiudao ) and Cultivating Virtue are thus one and the same thing. Another important scripture, the Book of Spontaneity ( 自然經 Ziranjing ), says that "to attain Virtue is to obtain Dao-Fruit ( 道果 Daoguo ) ". He who incessantly Cultivates Virtue and unites with Dao, initially becomes a virtuous man; after steady progress, he attains to perfection and becomes a Perfect Man ( 真人 Zhenren ), what is commonly called a 'Lofty Immortal' ( 高仙 Gaoxian ).
The man of superior Virtue is not conscious of his Virtue
The Laozi states that "The man of superior Virtue is not conscious of his Virtue, And in this way he really possesses Virtue. The man of inferior Virtue never loses sight of his Virtue, and in this way he has no true Virtue." Although this statement seems contradictory, actually, it is not. Those who have a high level of cultivation of Virtue always act spontaneously in a natural state of Dao. They are not attached to Virtue but conform to it spontaneously. But those who are of a low level are always mindful of Virtue and attached to it; consequently, they always seek the outer forms of Virtue and miss its true significance. In capter 51 of the Laozi, it is said that:
"all beings venerate Dao and honour Virtue. As for the veneration of Dao and the honouring of Virtue, It is not out of obedience to any orders; It comes spontaneously." ( Trans. Based on Wang Keping, The Classic of the Dao: A New Investigation, Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 1998: p.242 )
The nature of Dao and Virtue is such that in seeking Virtue, one must be spontaneous and not force oneself, nor should one be attached; one cannot merely conform to outward forms, much less flaunt oneself and self-righteously consider oneself to have Virtue.
Indifference to fame or gain
Since all men inherently possess Virtue, then all men should be virtuous. Why is that not the case? In the course of their life in this world, people are subject to many external stimuli, and their minds come to pursue external glory and splendor. Distracted by fame and wealth, they distance themselves from Virtue. Therefore, Laozi counsels men to eliminate selfish desires, attain one's inner nature, and embrace one's spontaneous Dao. This requires indifference to fame or gain, and to refrain from seeking shelter in material desires. If the mind is free of preconceived ideas, free of pressure, free of confused desires, magnanimous and big-hearted, empty, still and unsullied, then it will be in natural harmony with Dao, and will manifest true Virtue.
Virtue is an inner state
Virtue exists in all beings, but it is formless and imageless; it cannot be sought after through forms. It is internal. Harmony with Virtue cannot be found through external forms, but must be sought after internally. The Perfect Man of Nanhua ( 南華真人 Nanhua Zhenre ) (Zhuangzi) described many individuals who, though ugly in appearance, were rich in Virtue. Some of them were even lacking arms or legs, and yet, unexpectedly, were revered by the people. The Perfect Man of Nanhua pointed out that as long as one excels in Virtue, people will ignore one's physical infirmities. A highly virtuous person does not flaunt himself; the more he is like this, the more people will be attracted to him. His Virtue will gradually guide and elevate the masses, and purify their customs and habits. Virtuous people do not display their emotions, much less are they tied down by sensual passions. The Perfect Man of Nanhua said: "When I speak of detachment, I mean that one must not harm oneself with positive or negative emotions; one should follow spontaneity without adding to it." This is very different from the attitudes of common people. The Book of Western Ascension ( 西升經 Xishengjing ) criticizes those "common people who crave to protect their lives through passion and covetousness", who fill themselves with desire and lust after external things. Such people, the more they distance themselves from Dao, the more they turn their backs on Virtue. Therefore, accomplished Daoists do not care for fame, fortune or sensual pleasure; they devote themselves to "clean their spirit till it is white as snow, and discard vulgar habits". They purify their inner world and clear out all sorts of outer disturbances.
Accumulate Merits and Establish Virtue
To clear out vulgar attachments during the process of Cultivating Virtue, does not imply that one should ignore society and the sufferings of the people. On the contrary, Daoists do not pursue personal fame and fortune, but care for the collective good of all people, and advocate universal salvation. Daoists must therefore accumulate merits ( 積功 Jigong ) and establish Virtue ( 立德 Lide ). Merit ( 功 Gong ) and Virtue are actually the same thing. By accumulating Merits one can accumulate Virtue. To tirelessly establish merit is the first stage of Cultivating Virtue. A Daoist saying exhorts one to 'Perform three thousand virtuous deeds and eight hundred meritorious acts'. This shows the importance of demonstrating Meritorious Conduct ( 功行 Gongxing ) among the people. This type of deed performed for society and for the people, is called 'Merit' ( 功德 Gongde ). Daoists do not seek reward for establishing merit among the people, and do not seek to be known for their good deeds; they consider that the Spirits in Heaven and Earth will naturally know. This type of merit is called 'Hidden Virtue' ( 陰德 Yinde ) or 'Hidden Merit' ( 陰功 Yiggong ). Daoism advocates to Broadly Accululation of Hidden Merits ( 廣積陰功 Guangji Yingong ).