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)
The Highest Value
We finished up last week with a physics lesson: For every force there is a counter force. Violence always rebounds upon the violent. Make up all the excuses for resorting to it you want. Insist that your intentions are good, that your violence is justified. It doesn’t change the laws of physics. The way things are cannot be avoided, and there will be repercussions. That brings us to today’s chapter.
Violence is something we should avoid. It is something we should detest. So, how should we feel about weapons, which are the tools of violence?
Being the tools of violence, we should, likewise, detest them. Stephen Mitchell’s translation makes it a litmus test of human decency. Not detesting them might not make us less than human, but it certainly makes us less than decent humans.
Weapons are the tools of fear. And, fear makes people do things, just like violence does. Things they wouldn’t otherwise do. It forces them. It backs them in a corner. That whole force and counter force thing comes into play again. The only way to avoid the repercussions, is to avoid the tools which produce the repercussions. That is why decent people avoid using weapons, except in the direst necessity. Direst necessity may compel them, but even then, they will only use them with the utmost restraint.
Is that too high a standard? I mean, we have been talking for thousands of years of people simply treating other people like they want to be treated. It has been referred to as the golden rule for ages. And, all of the time, I find myself asking myself, “Why is this so hard? Why can’t people just behave decently with each other?” And, there is always someone who comes along, and hears me muttering to myself. And, they tell me, “People can’t be trusted to do the right thing. Don’t be so naive. If you want people to do the right thing, you are going to have to force them.”
But, isn’t that what has gotten the world into the mess it is in? Trying to force things? Trying to control?
So, whether it is naive, or not, I will continue to insist, peace should be our highest value. And, even if no one else agrees with me, all decent people should.
Look, I am not about to force you to agree with me. All I am saying is what I know in my heart to be true. Peace is the highest value! Take just a moment to reread that last sentence. What exactly does that mean?
I think it means this; It is the absence of peace, the shattering of the peace, which is the cause of the world’s discontent. How can we be content?
I keep returning to this one particular theme: The way things are cannot be avoided. The world and our selves have this symbiotic relationship. Whether we see it or not, our selves and the world are one. All us beings are one. We all have a common source.
So, when the peace has been shattered, and forces are pushing and pulling us this way and that, trying to get us to see our fellow human beings as enemies, as demons… well, who could be content with that? No decent human being.
Our enemies are not demons! They are fellow human beings, just like ourselves. They have the same hopes and fears. They are just as easy to manipulate into hating us, as we are into hating them. So, stop with the force, which always results in counter force. Put an end to the use of violence.
Don’t wish anyone personal harm. And, never, never rejoice in victory. What is victory, anyway, but the slaughter of our brothers and sisters? Who delights in that?
Some time we will be compelled to take up arms. We will be forced to use the tools of violence and fear. When that time comes, enter the battle gravely. Like you were attending a cherished family member’s funeral. Because you are. It is a time of great sorrow. And, the only way to endure it is with great compassion.