Odd title, isn’t it? “The Primal Virtue.” Folks hear “primal” and they might think of cave men. Or, maybe, somebody yelling “Yaaaark” when he gets frustrated. “Primal scream therapy” they call it. Of course, the idea behind, “primal,” is just whatever is really basic, like from back in years gone by. Primitive camping, making do with just the basics. Primitive religion, same thing, right? Years can pass, but real virtues like honesty, loyalty, and hard work are still basic, aren’t they? So what’s the most basic? What virtue, what inner power, is the most basic? What is the, “primal virtue?”
Three virtues often get mixed up nowadays. Wisdom, knowledge, and cleverness. A clever person might know how to get something done. One with knowledge might tell us how something works. Wisdom gets at why it’s a good idea or not. Some clever person noted that knowledge tells us a chili pepper is a fruit; wisdom tell us not to put them in a fruit salad.
The “Old Sage,” Lao Tse, asked, “Can you be without cleverness, understanding and being open to all things?” We can be all about our cleverness, and let it get in the way of our understanding. We might say a smart ass is still an ass. Same thick hide, same thick skull. We treat what we know as all there is to know. We can have opinions about all kinds of things. A lot of opinions come from just not asking questions.
Some are clever at what makes them money. Good for them. Now they have all the money, they lend their faces to telling folks with far less where to give what little they have. Don’t take child-raising advice from a bachelor. Never trust a skinny cook. Don’t ask a monk for marriage advice. Good rules, with a few exceptions.
The biggest body of knowledge is what we don’t know. The biggest part of that is what we don’t even know we don’t know. We are “clever” when we find ways to make our own small knowledge seem to answer all things. We’re wise when we recognise how much we need to learn. The “Primal Virtue” teaches us to follow the Way, “open to all things.”
When writing The Tao of Prayer one thing I found is that real wisdom shows up in unexpected places. A court historian from 6th century BCE China, an old laborer in the northern forests of Russia, or an unknown priest in Egypt, over 5,000 years ago. These, and farmers, kings, slaves, scholars, and more, through all the ages. They encountered the Tao, the way that can’t be known, and learned. Come join in their wisdom!