The generals have a saying:
‘Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard.’
This is called going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons.
There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking that he is evil.
Thus, you destroy your three treasures
and become an enemy yourself.
When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go to the one that knows how to yield.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 69, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Two days ago, Lao Tzu was teaching us about what he considered our three greatest treasures. If you have already forgotten them, don’t worry, we will list them again today. Yesterday, he was talking about how to embody the virtue of non-competition. One of the examples he used to illustrate it, was how the best general enters the mind of his enemy. Today, he continues what he has been talking about the last few days, now talking wars and rumors of wars.
It does seem appropriate that Lao Tzu would expand on what he said about generals yesterday. Let’s just not forget what he has said before. Lao Tzu is wanting us to embody the virtue of non-competition, and to be careful to guard our three greatest treasures: Simplicity in actions and thoughts. Patience with friends and enemies. And, compassionate toward ourselves.
He says of the generals that they have a saying. This saying is the embodiment of the virtue of non-competition. Remember, the best generals are able to enter the mind of their enemy. They say that it is better to wait and see, than to make the first move. It is better to retreat a yard, than to advance an inch.
As I was reading this “saying” today, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the warmongers all over the world are really taking the time to try to enter their enemies’ minds. We can see and hear the drumbeats of war. They are beating loud and strong. And with a persistence that seems like anything but waiting and seeing. No one seems to want to wait and see anymore. They want to act and fast. Rushing in, and I worry are setting us all up for great misfortune.
What Lao Tzu is trying to show us today is a way for us to go forward without advancing. There is a way to push back without using weapons.
I already know that those who profit from war are going to dismiss Lao Tzu’s sayings as idealistic pacifism. My blog isn’t really addressed to those who profit from war. It is to the other 99 percent of us. The ones that are actually called upon to make the sacrifices for the war profiteers.
I see Lao Tzu, a lonely man, standing on a mountain crying out to anyone with the guts to listen to him: “There is no greater misfortune than underestimating your enemy.”
Will we listen? What is underestimating our enemy? And, how can we avoid it?
Lao Tzu says that underestimating our enemies is thinking they are evil. I can already hear the naysayers. “But they are beheading people! If that isn’t evil, then I don’t know what evil is.” Yes, I understand. Our “enemies” have released some videos that appear to show some beheadings. Our media has gone into a frenzy to make sure that just about everyone is all stirred up and ready to do something. And this has all served the interests of those who have been beating the drums of war for many years now. How easily the people are manipulated.
But I want to hold on for just a moment here and take a look at what Lao Tzu has said, again. Lao Tzu didn’t say that the greatest misfortune is having enemies who are evil. The greatest misfortune is thinking that they are evil. When you think your enemies are evil you are underestimating them. There is a difference. You may think it is too subtle to matter, but you might just be wrong. Don’t underestimate Lao Tzu’s understanding of human nature. And don’t underestimate your enemies. When you underestimate your enemies you destroy your three greatest treasures. And, this is more important than all the supposed evil you may find in the world.
When we fail to enter the mind of our enemy, we underestimate them. We think they are one thing, and consider no other possibilities. You may think the videos we have seen, reveal their minds quite enough. But don’t underestimate how our “friends”, who profit from warmongering, might be manipulating us into thinking the way we are thinking about our “enemies”, either.
But Lao Tzu isn’t concerned with any of that. He is wanting us to guard our three greatest treasures. That is what should be our top priority. And it shouldn’t matter how much we are being manipulated into war. If our three treasures are destroyed, we become the enemy.
When two great forces oppose each other, the victory won’t go to the one who fails to know the mind of their enemy. It won’t go to the one who underestimates their enemy. It will go to the one who knows how to yield. That is how we safeguard our treasures. By yielding. Not yielding to evil. No, that is not what I am saying at all.
Yielding is not just about staying back and letting others go on ahead. It is also producing a bountiful harvest of good. What are we thinking? What are we doing? Are we keeping it simple, or making things complicated? Are we being patient with both our friends and our enemies? And maybe most importantly, are we being compassionate with ourselves? Compassion means valuing our three greatest treasures above all else.