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"When bitter enemies make peace, surely some bitterness remains."

Tao Te Ching - Chapter 79

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu.

The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained


79

When bitter enemies make peace,

Surely some bitterness remains.

How can this be solved?


Therefore:

The sage honors his part of the settlement,

But does not exact his due from others.

The virtuous carry out the settlement,

But those without virtue pursue their claims.


Heaven's Way gives no favors.

It always remains with good people.



Honor the Settlement

William Shakespeare dedicated one of his greatest dramas, Romeo and Juliet, to the tragic fact that conflict is so hard to end. Two families remain in a feud that has lasted for generations. It doesn't end until the highest price is paid for it – the death of both Romeo and his Juliet.

       It's a human tragedy, indeed, that animosity is so easily started and so painstaking to stop. Once aggression has been expressed and returned, bitterness lingers on, whatever conclusion is reached. It can remain for hundreds of years, through many generations, even when the original cause for it is forgotten. New reasons will be invented on the way. When bitterness remains, the animosity is renewed and enforced even by the most ridiculous little mishap.

       Making true and lasting peace between two enemies of old is as delicate a process as walking on thin ice. The same is true for a conflict that has escalated to severe violence. So many human shortcomings are involved, such as our pride, our temper, and our distrust in each other.

       Fear might be the key ingredient here, as in so many other human failures. We dare do nothing else but prepare for the worst we suspect from our adversaries, and that's usually by doing it first. Disaster is bound to follow.

       Again, yielding is the only way out. If we have the courage and the unselfishness to begin by sacrifices of our own, then our enemy can begin to relax. Peace is not accomplished with swords drawn, and only by sheathing our own swords can we expect our enemies to do the same.

       Peace is worth the risk.

       Among historians, it's strongly believed that one of the important reasons for the outbreak of World War II was the treaty after World War I. The victorious states demanded great sacrifices from Germany after the first war, so bitterness remained and continued to grow, making it much easier for Hitler to throw Germany into the second war.

       The world community learned its lesson, as did the families Montague and Capulet after the death of their children. After World War II, the conquered nations were treated with some care and concern. They were completely disarmed, but that worked to their own economic advantage. No punishments were issued, except for some German leaders in the Nuremberg trials, which came very close to complete failure.

       Nothing good comes out of striking at those who have already surrendered. Violent conflict is a tragedy. When it's ended, we should all concentrate on comforting and healing each other. Otherwise, it just has not ended.

Two Winners

Lao Tzu widens this to apply for any kind of settlement or agreement. The sage will concentrate on living up to his promise, whereas a lesser person is fixed on making sure that he gets his share, but ignores what he had agreed to contribute.

       If both behave like the latter, then an escalating conflict is hard to avoid. But if one begins by showing trust and paying what he is due, then at length it will be very difficult for the other not to do the same.

       Even if the reluctant party doesn't contribute, it's better to let it go than to insist on his fulfillment of the settlement. There are not many things a settlement can contain, which are worth an escalated conflict with little hope of a peaceful solution. Certainly not if war might follow.

       Usually, when one of the parties is very reluctant to hold to his part, the settlement was unfair to begin with. A contract of any kind should have two winners. Otherwise, at least one of them is a loser. That party will become bitter and refuse.

       Even if the loser accepts and delivers, bitterness will follow. And bitterness is such that it remains for very long, if not dealt with properly.

       A contract, as fair as the judgment of King Salomon, creates problems if one of the parties still feels disadvantaged. Whether this feeling is legitimate or not, bitterness is born.

       In a good solution, both parties not only benefit equally, but are convinced of it. The next best solution is if the party that can live with it the easiest, volunteers to gain the least from the settlement. An agreement is a delicate matter. It should be built on giving, not on taking.

       Heaven's Way, which must again be a synonym for Tao, the Way, allows no favors. In each situation, it is present where the virtuous one goes, and where the most virtuous decision leads. It's not so that it favors the virtuous. It is present where the virtuous go, because they follow the Way.

       Tao makes no adjustment for anybody. It twists and turns for nobody. It needs to be followed to be present. Therefore, those who follow it will benefit.


The Taoist Good

The good that Lao Tzu refers to here, should not be confused with the Christian idea of being good. There are great similarities, but also differences.

       For example, to be a good Christian means to act with compassion towards fellow men, for their sake. The good Taoist, on the other hand, treats other people with compassion, but it's as a result of following the Way, the grand plan of the universe. It's not for the sake of other people, but because it's the best line of action for the whole world.

       That sometimes means people can be sacrificed, as mentioned in chapter 5, for the good of the whole. In some situations it's necessary to treat people as mere offerings. The Christian idea is practically the opposite. Everything else should be sacrificed for the good of the people. Well, everything but people's own willingness to make sacrifices for the good of other people. An interesting paradox.

       The good used by Lao Tzu, shan, refers to the virtuous, righteous, charitable, and kind. It points to actions that are beneficial and in accordance with Heaven's order.

       Lao Tzu would probably say that the only completely good is to follow Tao completely. Those who do are good, and so are their actions, as a consequence of following the Way. What they are and what they do lead to Tao.

© 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





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