Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 31

Poem 31

Weapons are the tools of violence;

all decent men detest them.

Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn't wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?

He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.


I have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating, that the Tao Te Ching is some 2,500 years old dating back roughly to the sixth century B.C.  It represents a programme for living. In fact, the word "Tao" means "way" and the whole phrase "Tao Te Ching" means "The Classic of the Way of Virtues."   Jesus, the founder of Christianity, also proclaimed that he was "the Way, the Truth and the light!"  Therefore, it's nothing new to state that all religious founders suggest a programme or a way for living.  Too often, though, their followers who mostly construct the "Church" or "organization" that their founder perhaps did not visualise, often lose sight of the original basic way. 

Taormina, 2006 - Peace reigns

It is very interesting to see that Taoism is from the very beginning against the use of weapons.  The same can not be said for the histories and indeed the holy books of many of the world religions, but that is an idea for a post for another blog entirely.  Our motivation in this blog is neither didactic nor point scoring.  One would feel instinctively that the first two lines in the above poem would make a good poster for Barack Obama in his campaign to have stricter gun control laws in the USA.

As a teacher of some 36 years service, I have long been convinced that fear is a poor motivation in learning, period!  One would want to be particularly obtuse not to realise this immediately.  To say that weapons are "tools of fear" is, perhaps also, to state the obvious. 

Warring nations are adept at demonising the enemy and canonising their own heroes.  They do it to engender hate and all possible negative emotions towards the enemy.  To realise that the enemy soldiers, or indeed enemy civilians, are only all too human like ourselves is something these warring nations seek to suppress.  After all, it's particularly hard to kill, or even be mean to, people who are all too much like ourselves.  Hitler and Stalin were adept at canonising and demonising as they knew well how to get the emotions of a people going - how to whip up hatred for others especially when it was needed.  Dehumanising others is the way to excite the baser emotions against them.  Therefore, the opposite is most especially true - humanise others and we promote peace.

Bridge Building is better than War - Dusseldorf, December, 2006
Therefore, as the year 2016 is approaching in a few days time, let us decide to humanise all people we meet as best we can; to humanise even those we have not met for a long time - perhaps even people we have fallen out with; to humanise all the African refugees who are fleeing their very extinction in their own countries; to humanise as best we can even the lowliest of our brothers and sisters.  Then, now that the thought strikes me - can we even humanise those who have a very right wing gun-toting belief?  If we can so do, can we talk civilly with them?  Or are we in a weakened position de facto from the very beginning of our conversation.

They say that peace is the work of justice.  Therefore, maybe we can seek to be more just in our living in 2016.  The above poem needs to be reflected upon.  I'm not totally convinced that the policy of pacifism ever really works - if it did Neville Chamberlain would have convinced Hitler and there would have been no WW II.  Likewise, had there been no Churchill the Third Reich would most certainly still be in power.  So naive pacifism simply gets nowhere.  I believe the Taoist poet intuitively knew this, and, therefore, he recommends that the true warrior enter battle "gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if he were attending a funeral."

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