Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.
Weapons are the tools of fear.
A decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity;
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?
He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 31, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
We have been talking, for the last, now, several days, about how we as individuals should interact with, and relate to, our world. Indeed, Lao Tzu really laid the groundwork for our discussion, all the way back in chapter thirteen, when he said, “See the world as your self.” We only have problems with the phantoms of fear and hope, when we see the self as self; in other words, when we see our selves as separate from the world in which we live.
In chapter twenty-five, Lao Tzu identified “man” as one of the four great powers, saying we become great by following the earth. Then, in chapter 26, he wondered why “the lord of the country” would ever flit about like a fool? He was talking about the complementary relationship between yin and yang, then. The heavy is the root of the light. Don’t lose touch with your root! In chapter 27, the emphasis was on making yourself available to all people, never having to reject anyone. After another chapter devoted to the balancing of yin and yang, in chapter 29 he told us, the world can’t be improved upon. We need to accept it as it is! Finally, yesterday, Lao Tzu shared with us an elementary physics lesson: “For every force there is a counter force.” Violence, however well-intentioned it might be, always rebounds upon the violent.
What Lao Tzu has been teaching, us, is our dependence on each other. The world, and everything contained within it. That is why we need to see the world as self. This, in no way negates our individuality. We are still, very much, individual selves. This isn’t about sacrificing the self to some collective. It is about realizing our genuine connection, to each other, through our common Source.
When Lao Tzu was talking about violence, yesterday, he kept talking about understanding the universe is forever out of control. When we resort to violence, it is because we are trying to control things, completely beyond our control. That always results in unintended consequences. I talked, yesterday, about how those consequences are manifest in the many wars we have waged in the world. We shouldn’t be surprised by these consequences. When you use force on others, you should expect others to use force on you.
Today, Lao Tzu continues this discussion, by answering the question, “What’s an individual to do, in the face of this reality?
Today, he talks about the use of weapons. Both, how they are used as tools of violence and fear; and, how those of us for whom “peace is our highest value” will use them.
Weapons are the tools of violence. Violence is a no-no. We talked about that yesterday. So, decent people detest them, when they are used in this way. Weapons are also the tools of fear. I won’t ever fail to remind you of what Lao Tzu has had to say, before about fear. Fear is only a phantom. It isn’t real. It only arises because we are thinking of the self as self. So, when we are afraid, self-preservation kicks in. Once again, Lao Tzu says that a decent person will avoid them, except in the direst of necessity. And, only then, because they are compelled to. And, as an extra added exigency, only with the utmost restraint.
Let’s be real clear, here. Self-preservation is a powerful motivator. And, I would say it is a legitimate one, borne from years of evolution. We want to survive. We have to multiply on the earth. But what a terrible shame it is, when fear is used to manipulate us. It is a denial of our shared humanity.
I said earlier that Lao Tzu was answering the question, “What’s an individual to do, in the face of this reality? Lao Tzu is talking about us, individuals, who understand violence is never the right answer. But sometimes, and against everything we know to be true in the core of our being, weapons must be used. We are compelled to this conclusion. Peace is our highest value. But, when the peace has been shattered, how can we be content?
What can one person do? It is like I was saying, yesterday. You can’t control others’ actions. But, you can control your own. Use weapons if you must. But, do it with the utmost restraint.
When you see the world as self, it makes all the difference in the world. Then, you don’t see your enemies as demons, but as human beings, your fellow brothers and sisters. You don’t wish them personal harm. How could you?
How we believe and act, as individuals, spreads out, like a ripple in a pond of water, in all directions. We sometimes despair that there is anything one individual can do. But you are dismissing what a difference a tiny stone, splashing down on the surface of the water, can make. You are important. You make a real difference. You contain the whole world, indeed, the whole universe, within you.
So, when we enter a battle, when we go to war, how should I, as one solitary individual act? I enter a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if I was attending a funeral. Why? Because my fellow brothers and sisters are going to die. Because I see the whole world as self, this is the antithesis to self-preservation. I won’t, indeed, I can’t rejoice in victory. How could I rejoice in victory, when it comes at such a great price? I can’t delight in the slaughter of men, women, and children.
I am just going to say it. I am weary of war. And, I am weary of all kinds of violence. I am sick and tired of hearing the latest brouhaha about the latest person who picked up a gun and started unloading on a bunch of innocent bystanders. What is wrong with these people? How could they have left their own shared humanity so far behind? Where is the love?
I have some good friends who think the answer is to somehow restrict the ownership of guns. I understand how upsetting it is when the peace has been shattered. I get it. But, guns don’t make people violent, they are only one tool in a virtually unlimited array of tools, which can be used by the violent. Take away one tool, and they will just find another tool. I shouldn’t have to remind anyone that killing people is already illegal. Making guns illegal isn’t going to stop someone bent on being violent. And, guns are readily available. Even the already illegal ones.
I would love to be able to offer some quick fix. Some universal panacea that would solve the problem of violence, overnight. But you can’t control others. All you can do is control yourself. It took us a long time to get to the place we are, where we have become inured to violence. And, it will take a long time, a lot of little stones landing on the surface of the water, causing ripples spreading out over the whole world; but if humanity is going to continue on, we, as individuals better start splashing.