In the eighth chapter of Laozi’s Daodejing, there is a famous saying, “The highest good is like water.” In my opinion, water has three main characteristics: flowing downhill, purifying dirt and benefiting everything without contending, which are also possessed by the highest good.
Water always flows downhill and so does the highest good. Water is always in accordance with its natural tendency—flowing downhill by gravity. During the flowing period, it evaporates constantly and changes into gas and steam. Finally, in the form of cloud, it flies in the blue sky, higher than everything on the earth. The highest good is just like water.
In interpersonal relationship, people struggle upwards. Everyone is engaged in a bitter life-or-death battle, believing that the fittest survive and the weakest fail. But people with the highest good stand aloof from worldly affairs. They are willing to suffer losses and stay humble, believing that if one accepts a little disadvantage, it will turn out to be advantages. Eventually they achieve the highest state.
Water purifies dirt and so does the highest good. Chernyshevsky, the famous Russian philosopher, once said that, “Water reflects everything around picturesquely and sways every winding. The water we see is the best artist who paints from life.” Lucent water is a bright mirror. Purity and dirt manifests before it. Even if it sometimes flows rapidly and carries sediment, it will return to clear when it finally stops. The highest good can be like water. Good and evil manifests before it.
And it always keeps the original good intention, in spite of the changeable surroundings. In Hugo’s Les Miserables, the priest not only took Jean Valjean in after he knew that he was a criminal, but also forgave him for stealing his silverware by saying to the police that it was given to him as a gift. The priest showed the highest good and purified the soul of Jean Valjean, helping him become good.
Water benefits everything without contending and so does the highest good. Water stays in low-lying land, filthy streets and narrow pass, where nobody will contend with it. Such places are disgusting in the view of average people, who tend to stay in higher, cleaner and safer environment. The highest good is just like water. It likes what others dislike, so it follows closely the divine law—Dao.
Wang Yangming, the famous philosopher in Ming Dynasty, was relegated in Longchang County, Guizhou Province. But there, he realized the truth of Dao and developed the philosophy of Mind, such as the unity of knowledge and practice. Though at that time he was at the low point of his life, the highest good in him made him be concerned about people’s destiny and think about what he could do to be beneficial.
Water flows downhill while the highest good stay humble. Water purifies dirt while the highest good keeps original. Water benefits everything without contending while the highest good approach Dao. The highest good is like water, possessing these three precious characteristics and makes human human.