“In ancient times
the perfect officer wasn’t armed
the perfect warrior wasn’t angry
the perfect victor wasn’t hostile
the perfect commander acted humble
this is the virtue of non-aggression
this is using the strength of others
this is uniting with Heaven
which was the ancient end”
(Taoteching, verse 68, translation by Red Pine
CHIAO HUNG says, “In ancient times, officers went into battle in chariots. They were dressed in mail, and there were three to a vehicle: one on the left armed with a bow, one on the right armed with a spear, and one in the middle in charge of the reins., the flag, and the drum. Below and arrayed around every chariot were seventy-two foot soldiers.”
SUN-TZU says, “A ruler must not mobilize his armies in anger. A general must not engage the enemy in wrath. Anger can turn to joy, and wrath can turn to gladness. But once a state is destroyed, it cannot be restored. And once a person is dead, he cannot be reborn” (Suntzu Pingfa: 12.18-21). Sun-tzu also says, “To win every battle is not supreme excellence. Supreme excellence is to conquer without fighting” (3.2).
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Those who honor the Way and Virtue are not fond of weapons. They keep hatred from their hearts. They eliminate disaster before it arises. They are angered by nothing. They use kindness among neighbors and virtue among strangers. They conquer their enemies without fighting and command through humility.”
LIEH-TZU says, “Those who govern others with worthiness never win them over. Those who serve others with worthiness never fail to gain their support” (Liehtzu: 6.3).
WANG CHEN says, “You must first win others’ hearts before you can command them.”
KUMARAJIVA says, “Empty your body and mind. No one can fight against nothing.”
WU CH’ENG says, “Even though our wisdom and power might surpass that of others, we should act as if we possessed neither. By making ourselves lower than others, we can use their wisdom and power as our own. Thus, we can win without taking up arms, without getting angry, and without making enemies. By using the virtue of nonaggression and the power of others, we are like Heaven, which overcomes without fighting and which reaches its goal without moving.”
TZU-SSU says, “Wide and deep, they are able to support others. High and bright, they are able to protect others. Those who are wide and deep unite with earth. Those who are high and bright unite with Heaven” (Chungyung: 26.4-5).
TE-CH’ING says, “Heaven is yang and Earth is yin. But if Heaven and Earth remain stationary, everything stops, and nothing comes into existence. Only when yang descends and yin arises does everything flourish. Thus, heaven’s position is to be above, but its function is to descend. When sages are above the people, and their hearts are below, we call this uniting with Heaven. This was the polestar of ancient rulers.”
Today’s verse is a tough one. It is always tough to talk about what would be ideal, what is perfection. There will always be some naysayer who will complain that we are allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the good. I would argue back that unless we have perfection, the ideal, ever present in our minds, and as our end goal, we never can hope to achieve it.
To Lao-tzu, you would have to look back to ancient times to discover the perfect, the ideal. And that is saying a lot, since what was ancient to Lao-tzu in his day, had to have been quite ancient to us today.
What Sun-tzu said in the commentary which bears his name intrigues me. “To win every battle is not supreme excellence.” In other words, the highest perfection. “Supreme excellence is to conquer without fighting.” That, my friends, is true perfection. To conquer without fighting. That was the ancient end. It must be our end, today.
Violence only begets more violence. Intervening, and using force in an effort to control, will never bring us one step closer to our goal. But it will take us that much further from our goal.
Lao-tzu says something in today’s verse which is easy to misunderstand. In referring to the virtue of non-aggression, he says, “This is using the strength of others.” What does he mean by that? Who are these others? Thankfully, Lao-tzu always answers these questions if we will just read and understand the lines surrounding it. He says that this using the strength of others is, “uniting with Heaven.”
Uniting with Heaven, which was the ancient end, and must be our end today, is acquiescing to Nature’s Law. Heaven’s yang must be met with the Earth’s yin. This is the only way, says Te-ch’ing, for everything to flourish. It brings everything into balance and harmony. And it sure beats constantly being at war with nature, as we are today.