Chapter of the Week: #31

I like it!


  • edited October 2007
    Each week we address one chapter of the Tao Te Ching. The Tao Te Ching can be obscure, especially if you think you're supposed to understand what it's saying! We find it easier and more instructive to simply contemplate how the chapter resonates with your personal experience. Becoming more aware at this fundamental level simplifies life. This approach conforms to the view that true knowing lies within ourselves. Thus, when a passage in the scripture resonates, you've found your inner truth. The same applies for when it evokes a question; questions are the grist for self realization.

    Chapter 31
    It is because arms are instruments of ill omen and there are Things that
    detest them that one who has the way does not abide by their use.

    The gentleman gives precedence to the left when at home, but to the right
    when he goes to war. Arms are instruments of ill omen, not the instruments of
    the gentleman. When one is compelled to use them, it is best to do so without
    relish. There is no glory in victory, and to glorify it despite this is to
    exult in the killing of men. One who exults in the killing of men will never
    have his way in the empire.

    On occasions of rejoicing precedence is given to the left; on occasions of
    mourning precedence is given to the right. A lieutenant's place is on the left;
    the general's place is on the right. This means that it is mourning rites that are observed.

    When great numbers of people are killed, one should
    weep over them with sorrow. When victorious in
    war, one should observe the rites of mourning.

    Read commentary previously posted for this chapter.
    Read notes on translations
  • edited December 1969
    [Note: I italicize phrases I borrow from the chapter, and link to phrases I borrow from other chapters to help tie chapters together. While making it more tedious to read, :? the Tao Te Ching is best pondered in the context of the whole.

    Parts of this one are a little awkward, both Lau's translation and the literal Chinese. Lau adds word not in the literal which smooths it somewhat. Still. there is something special about obtuse writing that evokes that obtuse [chref=14]shape that has no shape[/chref]. Note (below) the clear linkage between weapons and the superior indifference to gain or fame. Or in other words, it is our need for gain or fame that is the root cause of conflict. And, I don't know anyone who is beyond feeling some need for gain or fame. It is, after all, biological. So, whether we need to gain a penny or a pound, we are all part of this dynamic. It's kind of like 'original sin' without gods and devils. Original sin being the biological core nature we have in common with all life on earth - need and its cognitive cousin, desire. Realizing and remembering that is a way of [chref=16]returning[/chref] to the 'Eden' out species lost when we [chref=32]cut the uncarved block[/chref] into [chref=20]good and evil[/chref]. And what about those who have excessive need? This excess is simply a symptom of excessive fear, and its cousins: emptiness, [chref=40]weakness[/chref], void, silence, loss, deficiency, insecurity, etc.

    The literal:
    man good weapons not auspicious of implement, things perhaps evil,
    hence have way not deal with (be situated in).
    gentleman dwell norm (standard) value left, use weapon norm (standard) right.
    weapon not auspicious of implement, not (run counter to) gentleman of implement,
    not need (get) afterwards and use of, indifferent to gain or fame acts (serves as) upper (superior).
    victory and yet not beautiful (satisfactory, good), and yet beautiful (satisfactory, good) of, that (be) weapons kill man.
    man weapon kill people, norm (standard) not can (be worth) get will (ideal) up to today lower (inferior).
    auspicious affair value left, ominous affair value right.
    leaning general dwells left, general army dwells right.
    in summary, funeral place of (dwell, live).
    murder of many, sorrowful weep, defeat use (so as to, as well as) funeral place of.

    And less so:
    For the good man, weapons are ominous tools - even evil.
    Hence he who has the way does not deal with them.
    The gentle man dwells normally left, those who use weapons dwell normally right.
    Ominous weapons run counter to the tools of a gentle man,
    The use of which un-needed, means a superior indifference to gain or fame.

    Victory, and yet not beautiful, that weapons kill people.
    Mans weapons kill people, a standard without worth, always inferior.
    Auspicious matters value the left, ominous matters value the right.
    The leaning commander dwells on the left, the army commander dwells on the right.
    This amount to dwelling in the funeral,
    Murder of many, sorrow, weeping, defeat as well as handle the funeral.

    Note: To probe 'left' and 'right' deeper, ponder them using this process, Correlations: Using Yin and Yang to Pop Preconceptions.
  • I do not find this chapter that obtuse. It quite clearly talks of arms, war and the attitude to those expected of a sage and enlightened ruler.

    As a parable, Lao Tze uses left (different, heretical, unpredictable, sublime) and right (proper, strong, ruthless, unyielding) sides. Left side is associated with the way of a sage, a preferred one in all respects, including avoidance of conflict, minimal use of force and, incidentally, providing but minimal sustenance to the troops.

    The right way is just the opposite of that: war, enjoyment of victory regardless the deaths, strong support of troops, being at the same time a funeral road, a road of a ruler who left no lasting trace, a road that is not of Tao.

    At the end, Lao Tze calls all war talk be that of funeral: both in victory and in defeat, because in either case numerous thousands died.

    Very pacifist, very anti-common opinion. But then, is Tao?
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