“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’s 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.”
In today’s verse, Lao-tzu reminds us of something that should be obvious to each one of us; indeed, it is an elementary lesson of physics: Force is met with force. Yet, force is not the natural Way. It most certainly is the way of Humankind. But we have talked already of the myriad ways the way of Humankind is contrary to the Way of nature. In today’s verse, Lao-tzu enjoins us to not use weapons (in other words, force) to rule the land. Instead, use the Tao.
Resorting to the use of force has repercussions. You may appear to win. Humankind’s retribution is clear, as Wang An-shih says in his commentary, while Heaven’s retribution is obscure. Where armies camp brambles grow. Making use of force results in desolation. And not just our enemies’.
But, oh, how we glorify the use of force! Look at our strength, our prowess! Who can stand against us! We are proud. Vain. Cruel. This is not the Tao. And whatever is not the Tao ends early. Our virility will only lead to a premature old age.
I was reading somewhere, in the last few days, of the plans some in the US have been making to celebrate our 250th anniversary as an independent nation. That will be in 2026. I remember, well, when we celebrated our bicentennial, our 200th anniversary, in 1976. But even then, the seeds of our own destruction had already been planted. They were planted in ripe soil. And we have carefully watered and nurtured them, since. Will we, as a nation, make it to our 250th anniversary? It is 2018 now, so just 8 years to go, and I have serious doubts.
To avert our own destruction, some things have got to change. The way we look at things has got to change. The way we do things has got to change. We have got to stop making use of force.
We can win without the use of force. Our weapons could be returned to defensive purposes, rather than offensive ones. We could forego our pride, vanity, and cruelty, replacing them with humility, modesty, and kindness.
The adage the best offense is a good defense is something we haven’t practiced in a good long while. Instead, we have been behaving like the best defense is a good offense. But, if we could reverse our thinking again, if we could go back to our humble beginnings, and win only because we had no choice, then we would win without force, and 2026 could be a great celebration.
Red Pine introduces a sage, in today’s verse, with which we may already be somewhat familiar:
SUN-TZU (FL. 512 B.C.). Master of military tactics and strategy. His Pingfa (Art of War) has been much studied and admired ever since it came to the attention of King Ho Lu of the state of Wu, who subsequently became Sun’s patron.