Deconstructing the 31st Verse

Weapons are the tools of violence, the Tao Te Ching verse 31.

Weapons are the tools of violence

In J. Legge’s translation of Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching, he starts off with “Now arms, however beautiful, are instruments of evil omen, hateful, it may be said, to all creatures”. So he is saying be they marvels of engineering or even possessing some gracefulness, the singular purpose of weapons is to end life. Sometimes they are put to service to protect the lives of some, but that is only because they can take it away from others. When we recognize that our most precious gift is life, why would we want to take that from another unnecessarily. Do not all beings consider life to be the most precious of all gifts?

Lao Tsu doesn’t stake out an extreme position, he recognizes that there are times that the decent will be called upon to employ weapons in the defense of something greater. No one knows when the world will free from those who have lost the Tao, the Way, but it is not, and none can deny that. But when good people have to engage with the tools of death they do so somberly, with much regret. They understand the price that has been paid, they know no life is valueless, and peace is the ultimate victim. It truly has to be a matter of last resort, an unwanted solution to an even more unwanted situation.

Worse still than the application of deadly weapons is to rejoice in their use, even in victory over the greatest of evils. Those who know of the Tao can take no comfort in the suffering of another, no matter how unavoidable or how great the reward. As Jimmy Carter put it, a necessary evil is still evil.

War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.- Jimmy carter, 2002

Ideally we would put all guns and weapons behind us, relegate them to museums as reminders of our less than enlightened past. But that day is not yet upon us, there is too much greed and fear in the world, there are too many that suffer from delusions of separation and not enough of us are resting in the Tao. We find our selves yet again debating gun control here in the US, a debate that brings out some rather strong emotions in some. Maybe in some ways the debate is more important than any resolution coming in the foreseeable future, it is a chance for us to talk, to understand each other.

How ever you feel about guns in America, I think we can all agree on the hope that some day we will no longer need them.