BY STEFAN STENUDD
I'm a Swedish writer, and instructor of the peaceful martial art aikido. In addition to fiction, I've written books about Taoism as well as other Chinese and Japanese traditions. I'm also a historian of ideas, researching the thought patterns in creation myths. My personal website: stenudd.com
Tao Te Ching 68
The Lao Tzu Taoist Classic Translated and Explained
Excellent warriors are not violent.
Excellent soldiers are not furious.
Excellent conquerors do not engage.
Excellent leaders of people lower themselves.
This is called the virtue of no strife.
This is called the use of people's capacity.
This is called the union with Heaven.
It is the perfection of the ancients.
It would be going too far to state that Lao Tzu is a pacifist. In his book, he seems to admit to the necessity of war in some cases, or the impossibility to avoid it forever. What he does make clear, though, is that even in the case of war there are virtuous actions and non-virtuous ones.
Warriors and warlords may use violence, but they should not be violent. They should not jump to violent solutions. When they find no other way, they should mourn it and be as sparse with the violence as possible. A warrior who revels in violence and brutality is an abomination, also in the eyes of other warriors.
It's not even the most efficient way to wage a war. Violence promotes violent responses, and it makes the enemy increasingly committed to resist the onslaught. When a warlord uses excessive violence, his own troops will be dismayed and the enemy troops will find courage to fight back with tremendous strength and perseverance.
At length, he cannot win.
A furious soldier is inferior in battle. Wrath makes for poor judgment and a dimmed vision. He might be an awe-inspiring sight at first, but when the actual battle commences, he proves to lack many of the abilities necessary to succeed and survive.
It's an inferior and unbalanced state of mind, which may be a misguided way of dealing with the terrible situation, or the consequence of some equally misguided conviction of war being the righteous course of action.
The superior soldiers are the ones who keep being human, in the middle of battle, and continue to cherish peacetime values. That makes them complete also in moments of crisis.
The conqueror eager to engage in battle will soon enough enter one he cannot win. His narrow-minded preference for martial solutions will make him equally narrow-minded in battle. He will be easily outmaneuvered.
His strategy is unrefined and inferior. His perception is clouded. His haste to do battle may catch the enemy by surprise at first, but war is easier to start than to end. His attitude has the tools for the former, but not for the latter.
The superior conqueror waits and tries all other alternatives, before going to war. And when doing so, he is very well prepared. He regrets having to start a war and longs for its ending, so he knows how to reach the latter. If there was any way of succeeding without battle, he would have found it. In many cases there are such alternatives.
Lao Tzu moves on to leadership in general, not just on the battlefield. It's the same in every case. Good leaders lower themselves and act humbly in front of the people at their command. Otherwise their leadership will always be questioned, often opposed, and sometimes revolted.
The humble and caring leaders will be met accordingly. Then they can lead with ease.
The leader, who refrains from personal strife, will find people responding by doing their utmost to comply. They are encouraged by a leader who doesn't push a personal agenda, but the common interest. So, they take initiatives to bring their own abilities and make use of them.
If they were displeased with their leader, they would hide their capacities. They would only do what they had to, and do it without commitment. They would be of little use to their leader.
Such leadership, although skilled and wise, would hardly be something as grand as a union with Heaven. Nor is it in accordance with Tao.
Excellent leaders put their own interests aside, work for a common good together with their people, and are reluctant to spring into forceful action. They are indeed following the Way.
Lao Tzu (Lao Zi), the legendary writer of Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing), left the Chinese emperor's court on a water buffalo, after growing tired of politics. He wrote the Tao Te Ching on the request of a border guard. Here is my translation and explanation, chapter by chapter. From the book:
Translated and explained by Stefan Stenudd.
10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36
37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45
46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54
55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63
64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72
73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81
Tao Te Ching - the Book