This blog is an interpretation of the Tao te Ching "Tao Virtue Book" which is attributed to Laozi "Lao Tze" a Chinese philosopher who lived circa 600 b.c.

Please remember always that this is the description of the Tao and not the experience of the living Tao. Hopefully, this blog will not serve as analysis or commentary but as a window into the Tao. You are encouraged to disagree with this interpretation, involve yourself in self-study, and ultimately leave all concepts behind and so experience the living Tao.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Understanding the Tao te Ching Chapter 31: Avoiding Warfare

Even successful arms, among all implements, are unblessed. All men come to detest them. Therefore the one who follows Dao does not rely on them. Arms are of all tools unblessed, they are not the implements of a wise man. Only as a last resort does he use them.

In propitious affairs the place of honor is the left, but in unpropitious affairs we honor the right.

Peace and quietude are esteemed by the wise man, and even when victorious he does not rejoice, because rejoicing over a victory is the same as rejoicing over the killing of men. If he rejoices over killing men, do you think he will ever really master the Empire?

The strong man while at home esteems the left as the place of honor, but when armed for war it is as though he esteems the right hand, the place of less honor. Thus a funeral ceremony is so arranged. The place of a subordinate army officer is also on the left and the place of his superior officer is on the right. The killing of men fills multitudes with sorrow; we lament with tears because of it, and rightly honor the victor as if he was attending a funeral ceremony.

Tao te Ching Chapter 31


This chapter again cautions against the use of violence to resolve conflicts.  Specifically, it is opposed to weapons.   

Stanza one says that all weapons, even very good ones, are undesirable.  It is important to note, that the author does not say a wise man would never use one, only that their use is the "last resort."

Stanza to becomes clear when we understand that, in Chinese culture, the left hand is considered wise and the right hand strong.  If a Chinese person has a left handed child, it is considered a sign that that child will be smart.  So this stanza is a comment that wisdom is preferred over strength.

The third stanza says that even when a wise man is victorious (presumably in an issue of violence) he does not rejoice.  It goes on to question whether or not violence really brings control.  Perhaps it is wise to consider whether or not it is possible to kill without building resentment among the survivors.  

The final stanza restates the earlier comments and observes that the winner in battle is in a no happier place than a man attending a funeral.

There is an apparent paradox in the chapter because killing is natural and part of the Dao for many creatures.  Perhaps the author is observing that killing is not natural for humans or at least not for humans in the context of society.  

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