The highest virtue resembles water. So, what are the virtues of water, and how do we emulate water to manifest more of them in our lives?
Lao Tzu wrote a detailed explanation in the Tao Te Ching – seven specific and distinct ways that water teaches us the character of Tao, or the character of God:
Dwelling with the right location Water naturally flows to the lowest point. This teaches us about humility. An arrogant person is always seeking to lift himself the highest, most visible spot. But water teaches the natural kind of humility that never needs to be faked or forced. She rules over the climate, the weather, and every living being. She's the Queen of this Earth, yet doesn't seek recognition or subjogate anything. She thrives when honored. But doesn't demand honor as a human ruler would. She has infinite intelligence and yet completely without ego. In flowing to the lowest places, she teaches us to humble ourselves
Feeling with great depth Truly virtuous people are like deep pools of water. Not everything about them is apparent at first glance. They possess such remarkable depth of character that it would take quite some time to really know them. They are like the sunken treasures deep beneath the waves. They may not obviously display it at first, but if you explore your friendship with a person of depth and character, you will discover the treasures they’ve cultivated within themselves over time. Water teaches us to cultivate depth within the mysterious inner recesses of our innerbost being.
Giving with great kindness As a river flows across the land, it nurtures all living things that it comes across. All the plants and animals benefit from the water of the river. Once it has done its work, water moves on without waiting for recognition or praise. She hydrates everyone equally, and resists no body who enters her to bathe regardless of their status or character, she welcomes and embraces all. Compare this to how people often give with strings attached, expecting some sort of approval, and we can see that water demonstrates the virtue of unconditional kindness.
Speaking with great integrity Water reflects her surroundings with perfect honesty when she is calm and undisturbed. And, in water crystallography, we can see that she even reflects reality with insight and artistry. In the same way, we are obliged to honestly reflect the truth with the same degree of honesty and taste. With peace and clarity in our thoughts, we can speak plainly and truthfully. Water teaches us to exhibit an impeccable integrity that can be sensed by others, that is trustworthy and respectful. As Veda Austin has said, “water never lies.”
Governing with great administration All benefit from water regardless of who they are, because water passes no judgment on anyone, and makes no selection based on some preconceived value. As the ruler of life on earth, she governs fairly, reflecting our own treatment back to ourselves. When we treat water well, we thrive. When we mistreat water, drought, sickness and natural disasters result. If we get out of water’s way, the hydrological cycle is sufficient to provide for the needs of all. If so, we will naturally treat everyone we come across with the same level of basic courtesy — this is the universal administration of the Tao, as demonstrated by water.
Handling with great capability Water is infinitely versatile. As she flows toward her destination, she handles all obstacles with ease. She can flow to the left or the right, over or under, without slowing down or stopping. Also, water is not limited to her liquid form — she can also be steam or ice or plasma, offering even more versatile flexibility in various applications. She learns from the environment - absorbing minerals and vibrations unique to each ecosystem - and dispensing them wisely and medicinally into the living bodies of all those who drink her.
Moving with great timing Water has a divine sense of timing that manifests differently, according to season. Summer rain never falls in winter, and winter snow never falls in summer. When nature is in balance, water shows us patience - there is a time and a season for everything, and everything has its natural cycle. When we emulate this, we become mindfully aware to take the appropriate action at just the right time, never forcing or rushing. As they say, you can’t push the river.
So, these are the Seven Virtues of Water according to Taoism. They provide a blueprint for life, a set of practical guidelines that teach us how to live in alignment with water’s wisdom - with humility, depth of character, unconditional kindness, impeccable integrity, universal administration, versatile flexibility, and a sense of timing through mindful awareness. All of this brings us closer to water, which in turn brings us closer to the Tao. So, in the immortal words of Bruce Lee, “be water my friend.”
To dive deeper into this and other spiritual dimensions of water wisdom, join us for the Spirit of Water course! A series of live interactive calls starting in November. Enroll at waterislife.academy and use the code earlybird to get 10% off until October 26th! And if you’re seeing this video after the live course event, those videos will still be available as a course at waterislife.academy.