07 October 2016

What is a Bad Omen? Lao Zi tells us in DaoDeJing 31

A great and powerful army is what most government want. The defence budgets of many countries are relatively high, or even higher, than the education and social development programs. But Lao Zi considers Army as an ominous instrument. Why?
Dao De Jing Chapter 33 Text, Translation and Comments:

Below is the mind-map for Chapter 33:


If you don't like the mind-map, here is the text:

夫佳兵者,不祥之器。
A great army is an ominous instrument. (When an army is used, it means destruction and killings. Hence, bad omen.)

物或恶之,故有道者不处。
All things hate them. Hence, those with Dao Virtues will not associate with them.
Dao is about development and growth for all. It is the opposite of destruction.

君子居则贵左,用兵则贵右。
Wise gentlemen in their daily life honor those at left. In war time, they honor those on the right.
(In ancient China, in Lao Zi time, left is more honorable than right. Admin officers stand on the left whereas generals stand on the right.)

兵者,不祥之器,非君子之器。
Army is an ominous instrument. It is not the instrument of the wise gentlemen.

不得已而用之,恬淡为上。
It is used as the last resort. Quietness and peace are better.
(Lao Zi is not against the use of the army. He recognized the harms in its use. Peace is preferred over war. But peace may be achieved only when one has a great army. It is as proposed by Sun Zi that the best strategy is to win without a war.)

胜而不美,而美之者,是乐杀人。
Victory is not to be praised. Those who praise war are those that like to kill people.
Praising victors of war is like encouraging people to kill.

夫乐杀人者,不可得志于天下。
Those that like to kill are not able to win the heart of the world. (Yet, the world could never be conquered by the use of force against people wishes. See Chapter 29 & 30 also.)

吉事尚左,凶事尚右。偏将军居左,上将军居右。
The good things honor left. The bad things honor right. Assistant commanders stay on the left whereas commanders stay on the right.

言以丧礼处之,杀人众多,以悲哀泣之。战胜以丧礼处之。
When thinking about war, speak about funeral services. When many are killed, we are sad and we cry for them. Even after the victory, we must conduct funeral services.

Summary:
Lao Zi is for peace and not for war. However, he is not against the build up of an army but rather the right use of it. Army is a weapon of destruction and killing and hence must be carefully put to good use. Use it for peace and not for somebody ego and pride to conquer the world. He will not succeed but only bring forth destruction, sufferings, and deaths. Notice Lao Zi uses left and right, the yin-yang concept to promote the thinking of right balance, and the right time and place to do the right thing.

Lim Liat (c) 7 Oct 16

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