“Use the Tao to assist your lord
don’t use weapons to rule the land
such things have repercussions
where armies camp
best to win then stop
don’t make use of force
win but don’t be proud
win but don’t be vain
win but don’t be cruel
win when you have no choice
this is to win without force
virility leads to old age
this isn’t the Tao
what isn’t the Tao ends early”
(Taoteching, verse 30, translation by Red Pine)
SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “A kingdom’s ruler is like a person’ heart: when the ruler acts properly, the kingdom is at peace. When the heart works properly, the body is healthy. What enables them to work and act properly is the tao. Hence, use nothing but the Tao to assist the ruler.”
LI HSI-CHAI, quoting Mencius (7B.7), says, “‘If you kill someone’s father, someone will kill your father. If you kill someone’s brother, someone will kill your brother.’ This is how things have repercussions.”
CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “The external use of soldiers and arms returns in the form of vengeful enemies. The internal use of poisonous thoughts come back in the form of evil rebirths.”
WANG AN-SHIH says, “Humankind’s retribution is clear, while Heaven’s retribution is obscure. Where an army spends the night, brambles soon appear. In an army’s wake, bad years follow. This is the retribution of Heaven.”
WANG CHEN, paraphrasing Suntzu Pingfa (2.1), says, “To raise an army of a hundred thousand requires the daily expenditure of a thousand ounces of gold. And an army of a hundred thousand means a million refugees on the road. Also, nothing results in greater droughts, plagues, or famines than the scourge of warfare. A good general wins only when he has no choice, then stops. He dares not take anything by force.”
MENCIUS says, “Those who say they are great tacticians or great warriors are, in fact, great criminals” (Mencius: 7B2-3).
LU HUI-CH’ING says, “To win means to defeat one’s enemies. To win without being arrogant about one’s power, to win without being boastful about one’s ability, to win without being cruel about one’s achievement, this sort of victory only comes from being forced and not from the exercise of force.”
SU CH’E says, “Those who possess the Tao prosper and yet seem poor. They become full and yet seem empty. What is not virile does not become old and does not die. The virile die. This is the way things are. Using an army to control the world represents the height of strength But it only hastens old age and death.”
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Once plants reach their height of development, they wither. Once people reach their peak, they grow old. Force does not prevail for long. It isn’t the Tao. What is withered and old cannot follow the Tao. And what cannot follow the Tao soon dies.”
WU CH’ENG says, “Those who possess the Way are like children. They come of age without growing old.”
LAO-TZU says, “Tyrants never choose their death” (Taoteching: 42).
And RED PINE adds, “It isn’t the Tao that ends early, for the Tao has no beginning or end.”
This verse is yet another one where I could point out how very different governing using the Tao is from the way we are governed by the powers that be. They insist on using force, weapons, in an attempt to rule the land. But, Lao-tzu teaches, “Such things have repercussions.” Make special note of the quote of Sun-tzu (author of “The Art of War), regarding some of these repercussions. And, note also the quote of Mencius regarding another repercussion, which Ron Paul popularized as “blowback.”
It is best to win then stop. What does Lao-tzu mean by this? Where armies camp brambles grow. Armies camping signifies they haven’t stopped. They are an occupying force. They still occupy the land, and the land becomes no longer fertile. Only brambles grow.
They make a show of their virility. Full of pride. Full of vanity. Full of cruelty. And, they grow old. They wither. They die. It would have been better if there had been no standing army. It would have been better had they been forced to win, rather than winning through the use of force.
In today’s verse, Lao-tzu teaches us to use the Tao to assist our lord. Not to use weapons in an attempt to rule the land. When he says “lord,” here, I am reminded of an earlier verse (25), where Lao-tzu talked about the four great powers, and how these four great powers relate to each other. The Tao is the lord of Heaven, while the Heaven is the lord of Earth, and the Earth is the lord of humankind.
Heaven provides for Earth what the Tao provides for Heaven. And Earth provides for humankind what Heaven and the Tao bestows on it. When we wrong our lord, by using weapons to rule the land, Heaven takes its retribution on us. Earth’s abundant resources wane when they would otherwise be waxing.
It is best to win then stop.