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
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.
Arms are instruments to defend or attack. Speech has always been my instrument to achieve glory in victory, the pen being mightier than the sword. In youth, especially, I used to relish the opportunity to debate, and in my relationships I would conjure up clever rationalizations to further my desires.
Victory or any other gain always comes at some one or some things expense. It’s a closed system, this universe. Thus, when I’m victorious in a pursuit, that gain is another’s loss. When I feel connected to the whole, I feel a sense of mourning and appreciation when I succeed. When I don’t feel connected, I exult in the gain. How much I exult reflects how disconnected and isolated I am. Doesn’t such exulting cause me to feel even more separate?
One who exults… will never have his way in the empire because he is only a part owner. The empire is the Whole. The killing of men is just the most extreme case of greedy desire taking over my actions. But as I see it, my greed goes up the less I’m able to accept and fit into the Whole; this is a vicious circle; I don’t accept so I exult, which further excludes me from the Whole.
The instinct to succeed grabs me less when I accept that, as Buddha said, ‘life is suffering’. This has something to do with my mind being able to know that death lies ahead, and being able to remember all my life’s dead end dreams. But then, I’ve always found Buddha’s view true. Yet, it’s taken years of living to be able to REALLY begin to accept this reality emotionally. Without acceptance at an emotional level, I just play lip service to the principle; then when I’m confronted by my own personal occasions, I become a hypocrite. No wonder Taoism down plays speech!
Success is holding the high positions while taking the lower position is failure. What strikes me is the compelling hold success has on us. We want what we want—and often at any cost. This must be the survival instinct driving us. The irony is that life is so short, and whatever success we get, we lose in death, if not before. Moreover, the price we pay for our fleeting successes is lost contentment and peace.
When victorious in war, one should observe the rites of mourning. So, what should I do when I’m not victorious? Then mourning comes easy. I notice that when I down play, (and even mourn) the victories of life, I suffer less through the losses and defeats which always follow. After all, the more I cling to gain, the deeper loss effects me. Letting go of victory extinguishes defeat. Life becomes more even and constant by ALWAYS taking the lower position. Why always? Because, it is only in gain that we have real difficulty taking the lower position. This reminds me of: If you are a valley to the empire, Then the constant virtue will be sufficient, And you will return to being the un-carved block. [see ch. 28]