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"Weapons are ominous tools."

Tao Te Ching - Chapter 31

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu.

The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained


31

Weapons are ominous tools.

They are abhorred by all creatures.

Anyone who follows the Way shuns them.


In peaceful times, the noble ruler honors the left side.

At war, he honors the right side.


Weapons are ominous tools.

They are not the noble ruler's tools.

He only uses them when he can't avoid it.

Peace and quiet are preferred.

Victory should not be praised.

Those who praise victory relish manslaughter.

Those who relish manslaughter

Cannot reach their goals in the world.


At times of joy, the left side is honored.

At times of grief, the right side is honored.

At battle, the second in command stands to the left,

And the commander in chief to the right.

This means they stand as in funerals.


When many people are killed

They should be mourned and lamented.

Those who are victorious in war

Should follow the rites of funerals.



Victory Is Cause for Grief

Lao Tzu continues his reflections on war, begun in the previous chapter. Again, he protests any tendency to glorify it. War should be entered reluctantly and in grief. This is true for both parties, whatever the outcome. The noble warrior mourns the fallen ones, also those of the enemy.

       War erupts as a consequence of some serious failure. People will die, and the outcome can be expected to accomplish no more than a correction of the initial failure. Maybe not even that. War improves nothing and rarely solves any problem. It's a funeral of grotesque proportions. What else to do but grieve it?

       Weapons are nothing but tools of war and should be regarded as such. It would be vicious to call them beautiful or praise their effectiveness. They may be needed in the defense against tools of the same kind. There is no other need for them and no other value to them.

       Weapons are needed, sadly, because they exist.

       Still, all through history – in China as well as in every other country – war and its tools have been glorified. They still are. We revel at skillfully crafted weapons, their sharpness and precision. We turn past wars into legends of heroism and triumph, as if man excels only in such challenges.

       We make wars exciting and regard peace as little more than the dull time between them. Peace is described as non-war, as if lacking any value or significance of its own. We would do much better to regard war as non-peace, moments of meaningless interruption in the process of history.

       War just kills, but peace is really what we live for. Strangely, we seem to forget that in times of peace. Why do we need wars to remind ourselves of the blessing of peace?

       Lao Tzu points at a fundamental flaw in our attitude. We quickly forget the horrors of war when they are absent, because we confuse the joy we felt at their end with the triumph of victory. The celebration of the return of peace becomes a cheering of the soldiers who ended the war by winning it. When soldiers are praised, so is war, whatever the returning soldiers might think about it.

       No, war must be regarded as a funeral all through. That's what it is.

© Stefan Stenudd.

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Tao Te Ching Explained


Preface


Introduction


Literature


The 81 Chapters of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
translated and explained by Stefan Stenudd.
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Tao Te Ching Explained


James Legge's Tao Te Ching


Aleister Crowley's Tao Te Ching


The 1st Chapter of Tao Te Ching in 76 Versions


Lao Tzu - Legendary Author of Tao Te Ching





My Taoism Books:


Tao Te Ching - The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Te Ching

The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. The great Taoist philosophy classic by Lao Tzu translated, and each of the 81 chapters extensively commented. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

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Tao Quotes - the Ancient Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Quotes

The Ancient Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. 389 quotes from the foremost Taoist classic, divided into 51 prominent topics. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

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Stefan Stenudd, Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction. Stefan Stenudd


About me

I'm a Swedish author and aikido instructor. In addition to fiction, I've written books about Taoism and other East Asian traditions. I'm also an historian of ideas, researching ancient thought and mythology. Click the image to get to my personal website.

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