War and Peace

Failure is an opportunity.
If you blame someone else,
there is no end to the blame.

Therefore the Master
fulfills her own obligations
and corrects her own mistakes.
She does what she needs to do
and demands nothing of others.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 79, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

War and Peace

Regarding the last line of yesterday’s chapter, “True words seem paradoxical” (in Stephen Mitchell’s translation), and “upright words sound upside down” (in Red Pine’s translation), Red Pine had this to add. “Wu Cheng puts the last line at the beginning of the next verse [today’s chapter], Yen Tsun combines both verses, and some commentators suggest combining this with verse 43.” Indeed, much of Lao Tzu’s teaching will seem paradoxical. It sounds upside down to all, but those who are followers of the Way. I only mention this because today’s chapter, regarding dispute resolution, will certainly seem paradoxical to most. Here is Red Pine’s translation:

“In resolving a great dispute

a dispute is sure to remain

how can this be good

sages therefore hold the left marker

and make no claim on others

thus the virtuous oversee markers

the virtueless oversee taxes

the Way of Heaven favors no one

but it always helps the good”

TE-CH’ING says, “In Lao Tzu’s day, whenever feudal rulers had a dispute, the most powerful lord convened a meeting to resolve it. But the resolution of a great dispute invariably involved a payment. And if the payment was not forthcoming, the dispute continued.”

WANG PI says, “If we don’t arrange a contract clearly and a dispute results, even using virtuous means to settle it won’t restore the injury. Thus, a dispute will remain.”

SU CH’E says, “If we content ourselves with trimming the branches and don’t pull out the roots, things might look fine on the outside, but not on the inside. Disputes come from delusions, and delusions are the product of our nature. Those who understand their nature encounter no delusions, much less disputes.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Murderers are killed, and criminals are punished, according to their crime. But those who inflict such punishments offend their own human feelings and involve innocent people as well. If even one person sighs, we offend the Heart of Heaven. How can resolving disputes be considered good?”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “If someone lets go of both sides but still clings to the middle, how can he be completely good?”

CHENG LIANG-SHU says, “In ancient times, contracts were divided in two. In the state of Ch’u, the creditor kept the left half, and Lao-Tzu was from Ch’u. In the central plains, this was reversed, and the creditor kept the right half.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Seeking to make peace with others is the Way of Humankind. Not seeking to make peace but letting things make peace by themselves is the Way of Heaven. Despite action and the expenditure of energy, energy and action seldom bring peace. Sages therefore hold the left marker because they rely on non-action and the subtlety of letting things be.”

CHIANG HSI-CH’ANG says, “If one does not make demands of others, disputes cannot arise. If one constantly takes from others, great disputes cannot help but occur.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “Those concerned with taxes cannot avoid making claims on others and thus cannot prevent disputes. This is why they lack virtue.”

MENCIUS says, “The rulers of the Hsia dynasty exacted a tribute [kung] on every five acres of land. The rulers of the Shang exacted a share [chu] on every seven acres. The rulers of the Chou exacted a tax [ch’e] on every ten acres. In reality, what was paid was a tithe of 10 percent” (Mencius: 3A.3; see also Lunyu: 12.9).

LU TUNG-PIN says, “Those who are good cultivate themselves. They don’t concern themselves with others. Once you concern yourself with others, you have disputes. The good make demands of themselves. They don’t make demands of others. The Way of Humankind is selfish. The Way of Heaven is unselfish. It isn’t concerned with others. But it is always one with those who are good.”

And, RED PINE adds, “The way of Heaven always helps the good because the good expect nothing. Hence, they are easily helped. The last two lines were a common saying. In the Shuoyan:10.25, they conclude an exhortation to keep still. They also appear in slightly different form in the Shuching and in Ch’u Yuan’s Lisao: ‘High Heaven favors no one / but it helps the virtuous.’”

This past Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson’s address to Congress asking them to declare war on the Central powers, and formally involve us in the Great War, later dubbed WWI. The war was propagandized as the war to end all wars, and the war to make the world safe for democracy. History has shown it was, in reality, the war to begin all wars. I have recently been relearning World War I history as part of my teaching the 8 year old girl I work with on a daily basis. We discussed, at length, all the entangling alliances which brought about the war in the first place. What a mess!

How could this have been resolved differently? As my readers are no doubt aware, I am opposed to all wars. But, could peace have been negotiated, and conflict and disputes avoided?

Lao Tzu’s words may seem paradoxical, but I find myself agreeing with him. Not intervening, not interfering, not trying to force things, not trying to dominate or control is always the best solution. Take care of your own business. Look after yourself. Leave others alone. We shouldn’t be the world’s policemen, even when it comes to attempts at negotiating diplomacy between rivals. Stay out of it. Let it resolve itself.

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