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"When equal armies battle, the grieving one will be victorious."

Tao Te Ching - Chapter 69

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu.

The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained


69

Warriors say:

I dare not be like the host,

But would rather be like the guest.

I dare not advance an inch,

But would rather retreat a foot.


This is called marching without marching,

Grabbing without arms,

Charging without enemy,

Seizing without weapons.


No misfortune is worse

Than underestimating the enemy.

Underestimating the enemy,

I risk losing my treasure.

Therefore:

When equal armies battle,

The grieving one will be victorious.



Like a Guest

The wise warrior would not invite to battle and presume to control the circumstances. Instead, he considers his actions carefully and expects the unexpected.

       He acts like the guest, and not like the host. It's not his party. He is even hesitant about visiting it, and would make other plans if possible.

       Therefore he is reluctant to advance even the slightest. He would rather retreat, if that's at all possible. Moving forward is stepping into the unknown, but backwards you return to familiar territory.

       Also, the warrior who is eager to advance is the one who nurtures the illusion that war brings good things to the winner. There are no winners in war. Those who know this neither invite to it, nor hurry to advance in it.

       The hesitant warrior marches without marching, which is to say that he tries as much as he can to win the war without doing battle. If prepared properly, a war can be won before the battle begins.

       To charge without enemy is to arm the country so well in times of peace that war is avoided, or swiftly won. It's arming to avoid war, not to wage it. The same can be said for seizing without weapons.


War Is Failure

Neither the start nor the end of war is decided by what happens in between, but what happens before. War is not the means to an outcome, but an outcome. There was failure to avoid it. Previous conditions and preparations are the decisive factors.

       That's why the superior warrior grieves when forced to do battle. To him, it means that something failed, and tragedy for all ensues, no matter who wins and who loses. His grief proves his superiority. Therefore, it's the sign of the winner. Since he regrets going to war he is well prepared to avoid it. That's also the preparation to win it.

       Grabbing without arms is an expression that can be compared to using one's arms without rolling up the sleeves. That's how the line is usually translated. When force is used, it should not be announced or displayed.

       There is no mistake greater than underestimating the enemy. That is sure to lead to losing the war. Those who underestimate their enemies are unprepared for them. How could they win? Not only will they lose the war and what they might have sought to gain by it, but their failure is also evidence that they lack essential insight into how the world works.

       The greatest of treasures, Tao, is not in their grasp.

       The line about the treasure is ambiguous. It could refer only to whatever treasures the warring parties try to defend or seize, but Lao Tzu shifts to First Person. Since Tao is the only thing he really treasures, he indicates that it's lost to a warrior who acts so foolishly.

       Indeed, those who hurry to war, thinking that they are sure to win it, have moved very far from the Way. Even if they should be so lucky as to win the war, they have lost something more precious than any land they seize. Soon, also what they conquered will be lost to them, since they lack the wisdom to hold on to it.

       War is won by those who know that nothing is won by it.

© Stefan Stenudd.

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Tao Te Ching Explained


Preface


Introduction


Literature


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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

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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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