HE who serves a ruler of men in harmony with Tao will not subdue the Empire by force of arms. Such a course is wont to bring retribution in its train.
Where troops have been quartered, brambles and thorns spring up. In the track of great armies there must follow lean years.
The good man wins a victory and then stops; he will not go on to acts of violence. Winning, he boasteth not; he will not triumph; he shows no arrogance. He wins because he cannot choose; after his victory he will not be overbearing.
Weapons, however beautiful, are instruments of ill omen, hateful to all creatures. Therefore he who has Tao will have nothing to do with them.
Where the princely man abides, the weak left hand is in honour. But he who uses weapons honours the stronger right. Weapons are instruments of ill omen; they are not the instruments of the princely man, who uses them only when he needs must. Peace and tranquillity are what he prizes. When he conquers, he is not elate. To be elate were to rejoice in the slaughter of human beings. And he who rejoices in the slaughter of human beings is not fit to work his will in the Empire.
On happy occasions, the left is favoured; on sad occasions, the right. The second in command has his place on the left, the general in chief on the right. That is to say, they are placed in the order observed at funeral rites. And, indeed, he who has exterminated a great multitude of men should bewail them with tears and lamentation. It is well that those who are victorious in battle should be placed in the order of funeral rites.
A certain military commander used to say: "I dare not act the host; I prefer to play the guest. * I dare not advance an inch; I prefer to retreat a foot."
There is no greater calamity than lightly engaging in war. Lightly to engage in war is to risk the loss of our treasure. †
When opposing warriors join in battle, he who has pity conquers.
42:* According to Chinese etiquette, it is for the master of the house to make advances, and his guest follows suit. Thus "host" here means the one who takes the initiative and begins the attack; "guest," the one who acts on the defensive. The passage may be merely figurative, illustrating the conduct of those who practise Tao.
42:† I.e., humanity or gentleness, mentioned above as one or "three precious things."
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