Norms for Doing Good Works
It is necessary to make it explicit what is good and what is evil to encourage people to do good.
Being kind to everything and considerate to others is essential
The Inner Book of the Master Who Embraces Simplicity ( 抱朴子內篇 Baopuzi Neipian ) says that there is no Daoist commandment that does not say that in order to Attain Loyality ( 展生 Changsheng ), one must accumulate merits, be kind to everything, be considerate to others, be benevolent even to insects, like to see others be fortunate, sympathize with other's sufferings, help those in need or danger, provide relief to those in poverty, never harm the people, never instigate disasters with words, regard others' gains as one's own gains, regard others' faults as one's own faults, never look upon oneself as honorable, never praise oneself, never envy those superior to oneself, neither fawn on others nor secretly scheme against them. Only in this way can a person be counted as virtuous and be blessed by Heaven, succeed in what he is engaged in, and have a chance of Attaining Immortality ( 成仙 Chengxian ). Among these principles, the most important one is to "be kind to everything, be considerate to others". It is the foundation of care and sympathy. To be considerate to others is to put oneself on someone else's position, i.e., not to force on others what one does not desire for oneself, and wish others to get what one regards as pleasant. That is to say, one should follow Confucius's words, "do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire", and "when one wants to satisfy his desire, he should also let others satisfy such desires; when one has a desire, he should also let others have such desire".
Do good works even if they are trivial matters
To do good works is to accumulate merits no matter whether they are major or minor; to do bad deeds is to injure hidden merits no matter whether they are big or small. Daoist books always instruct as follows: don't commit evil deeds just because they are small, and don't avoid doing good deeds just because they are small. Small as good and evil are, they are increased when accumulated. Moreover, when one wants to be good, he should not do good just in some occasions while in others avoiding doing good or even doing evil. Both doing good and doing evil gradually become habits, and one's virtue can be perfected only through long-lasting cultivation. To do or not to do petty things will directly influence the cultivation of virtues.
Concrete and detailed rules for doing good should be worked out
Both good and evil deeds are concrete, so it is necessary to collate and stipulate concrete norms so as to make them regulations understood by anyone at first sight and in accordance with which one can behave themself. These norms should firstly include enthusiasm for public welfare. For example, building bridges and roads, burying the remains of the nameless dead, and providing relief to widows and their children, are all stipulated in Daoist moralistic storybooks. Secondly, professional ethics are advocated. For example, the norms require merchants not to give short weights, exhort the farmers not to kill farm cattle, and teach intellectuals to respect and cherish wastepaper with characters written on it. Due to the various environments and fields of activities of various professions, the moral norms concerned are bound to have differences. The relevant moral commandments are laid down so that people know they should observe something even when making a living. Thirdly, these rules enable people to start from around themselves, and have chances of doing good works and accumulating merits anytime and everywhere. The Book of Hidden Virtues exhorts the people to light night lamps to facilitate walking at night, build boats to help people across rivers, and even cut brambles and remove tiles and stones in the way. These just reflect the idea that one should do good works no matter whether they are great or trivial, and there is the chance of doing good everywhere around oneself. Only in this way can people start from around themselves and gradually form the habit of doing good.
The criteria of good and evil change with time
People can conform to criteria of good and evil only if the criteria are fixed. But these criteria cannot be immutable forever. Daoism believes in Dao. The great Dao is prevalent and exists forever while times change and are diverse. Changing in line with time and changes is the consistent stand of philosophical Daoism. There are several kinds of changes. In one condition, the concept of good still exists but its concrete denotation has changed. Take loyalty as an example, which has been a great good deed. In ancient times, the whole world was taken to be one family, so loyalty to the sovereign was identical with love of one's country. But Mengzi already stated clearly that the people are honorable and the state comes second, while the sovereign is not important. In democratic ages, the connotation of loyalty is mainly to be loyal to the people and the country. Another example is that it has always been regarded as a fault (in commercial activities) to purchase with big dippers and sell with small dippers. Nowadays, although steelyard dippers are not definitely the only thing used in measurement in modern commerce, the principle of honesty will never be out of date. The norms against giving short weights extend to the principles of honesty and fairness in all commercial activities. In another condition, some social activities and social relations did not exist in ancient times and emerged only in later ages, hence newly corresponding norms are established. For example, in ancient times the bad habit of taking drugs was not prevalent, but today, rules are laid down that forbid taking, hiding and trafficking in narcotics and inducing others to take drugs, and the violation of these rules is considered to be a major evil. On the contrary, it is one of the good doings to help others to give up taking drugs. Therefore, to do good and to encourage others to do good does not have to be confined to the specific few words and sentences in books. Instead, one should grasp their original meanings and act according to circumstances.