"Excellent warriors are not violent."
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
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.
© Stefan Stenudd.
Tao Te Ching Explained
The 81 Chapters of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
translated and explained by Stefan Stenudd.
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