The Significance of Virtue
The Daoist concept of 'Virtue' is rich in meaning. Generally speaking, Virtue and Dao are reciprocal concepts. In the fifty-first chapter of the Laozi, it is said that "Dao begets all things, and Virtue fosters them." Dao is the fundamental origin of all beings, while Virtue is the reflection of Dao in all beings. Dao is formless and imageless; Virtue, as the manifestation of Dao in all concrete things, is also formless. Therefore Daoists often refer to Dao and Virtue as a single concept, and consider them to be absolutely void and still, and the ultimate abstruse Ancestor of all beings.
Virtue is the attainment of Dao
As the reflection of Dao in all beings, Virtue can be said to be each concrete being's attainment of Dao. In the Pivotal Meaning of the Daoist Doctrine ( 道教義樞 Daojiao Yishu ) by Meng Anpai of the Tang dynasty, it is said that Virtue is attainment, and is the opposite of loss of Dao. For this reason, Virtue and the sometimes-used concept of 'Dao-Nature' ( 道性 Daoxing ) are identical. Dao is omnipresent and all creatures have Dao-Nature. In the Book of Master Zhuang ( 莊子 Zhuangzi ), it is said that Dao is 'omnipresent', and can be found in mole crickets and ants, in bricks and tiles, in stools and urine. Whether it be the most spiritual of men or the most debased of things, everything has Dao. In the Book of Western Ascension ( 西升經 Xishengjing ), it is said that "Dao is not only in me; all beings have it". This Dao-Nature reflected by all beings is Virtue.
Virtue is the effect of Dao
Virtue is the reflection of Dao, and Dao is the root of Virtue. From this perspective, we can say that the effect of Dao on the nurturing and ordering of all beings is played out through Virtue. Dao is Emptiness ( 虛 Xu ) and governs Non-Being ( 無 Wu ), while Virtue exists in all concrete things and governs Being ( 有 You ). Of course, we are here not separating Dao and Virtue into two separate things, but merely reflecting on different situations and functions. Fundamentally speaking, Virtue and Dao are but two aspects of a single category. Hence, the first scroll of the Pivotal Meaning of the Daoist Doctrine quotes Master Xuanqing as saying that "Dao and Virtue are two significances of a single reality. They are one but not one, two but not two." Looking at their functions and effects, they are different and thus two, but as different expressions of the same reality, they are not two. In the same way, they are both one, but owing to their different functions, they are not one.