“In warfare there is a saying
rather than a host
better to be a guest
rather than advance an inch
better to retreat a foot
this means to form no ranks
to put on no armor
to brandish no weapons
to repulse no enemy
no fate is worse than to have no enemy
to have no enemy is to lose one’s treasure
thus when opponents are evenly matched
the remorseful one prevails”
(Taoteching, verse 69, translation by Red Pine)
WANG CHEN says, “In warfare, we say the one who mobilizes first is the host and the one who responds is the guest. Sages only go to war when they have no choice. Hence, they are the guest.”
CHIAO HUNG says, “This was a saying of ancient military strategists.” If so, they remain unnamed. Sun-tzu, meanwhile, calls the invading force the k’o (guest) (Suntzu Pingfu: 2.20).
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “According to the Tao of warfare, we should avoid being the first to mobilize troops, and we should go to war only after receiving Heaven’s blessing.”
LU HUI-CH’ING says, “The host resists, and the guest agrees. The host toils, and the guest relaxes. One advances with pride, while the other retreats in humility. One advances with action, while the other retreats in quiet. Those who meet resistance with agreement, toil with relaxation, pride with humility, and action with stillness have no enemy. Wherever they go, they conquer.”
SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “In warfare, sages leave no tracks. They advance by retreating.”
WU CH’ENG says, “Those who go to war form themselves into ranks, equip themselves with weapons, and advance against the enemy. But when sages go to war, they act as if there were no ranks, there were no armor, there were no weapons, and as if there were no enemies.”
SUN-TZU says, “Generals who advance with no thought of fame, who retreat with no fear of punishment, who think only of protecting their country and helping their king are the treasure of the realm” (Suntzu Pingfa: 10.24).
SU CH’E says, “Sages regard compassion as their treasure. To treat killing lightly would be to lose the reason for compassion.”
TE CH’ING says, “When opponents are evenly matched and neither is superior, the winner is hard to determine. But whichever one is remorseful and compassionate will win. For the Way of Heaven is to love life and to help those who are compassionate to overcome their enemies.”
WANG PI says, “Those who are remorseful sympathize with their opponents. They try not to gain an advantage but to avoid injury. Hence, they always win.”
WANG P’ANG says, “To be remorseful is to be compassionate. Those who are compassionate are able to be courageous. Thus, they triumph.”
LIN HSI-YI says, “Those who attack with drums and cheer the advent of war are not remorseful. They are remorseful who do not consider warfare a pleasure but an occasion for mourning. In this verse, warfare is only a metaphor for the Tao.”
LAO-TZU says, “When you kill another / honor him with your tears / when the battle is won / treat it as a wake” (Taoteching: 31).
And RED PINE explains the troubling lines 10 and 11 “no fate is worse than to have no enemy / to have no enemy is to lose one’s treasure” by saying, “The import…would seem to be that without an enemy, we would have no recipient of our compassion and thus no reason to practice it.”
I was surprised and troubled upon reading lines 10 and 11 of Red Pine’s translation of today’s verse for the first time. And, even subsequent times. I am much more familiar with the standard editions of this verse (treat enemies lightly); as it is used in both Stephen Mitchell’s and Robert Brookes’ translations. But, I think my own prejudices, in favor of not wanting any enemies, made me think Lao-tzu would agree with me that having an enemy is the greatest of misfortunes. Red Pine’s translation may grow on me, in time. I admit to still experiencing a bit of a shock every time I read through the verse, though. Perhaps, it is a good dose of reality for me. Having no enemy might seem preferable, but the importance of practicing compassion should not be underestimated. If we had no enemy, who would there be upon whom to practice compassion? And, that is definitely the meaning of the last line of the verse. “Remorseful” means the one showing compassion.