Those who assist a ruler with the way,
Never counsel him to conquer the world by force of arms.
It is something that is sure to rebound.
Wherever armies have been camped,
Brambles and thorns grow wild.
After great wars are over,
Years of scarcity and famine follow.
Good generals focus only on achieving results.
Not winning by force.
They achieve results without glorying in them.
They achieve results without celebrating them.
They achieve results without taking pride in them.
They achieve results only because they have no other choice.
They achieve results without using force.
Things that resort to force age quickly.
This is called going against the way.
Going against the way leads to an early end.
Laozi was appalled by the destruction and suffering caused by the countless wars that took place between the various feudal states battling for dominance of China towards the end of the Spring and Autumn period.
But rather than attempting to persuade the ruling class to give up war for moral and ethical reasons, he takes a much more pragmatic approach by pointing out that rushing into a conflict will hurt them just as much as (if not more than) their opponents because it will cause them to “age quickly” and lead to “an early end.”
Laozi therefore counsels that good generals focus on achieving results in the most effective way possible — preferably without using force. Ultimately, if they have no choice but to enter into a conflict they should bring it to an end as soon as their objective is achieved and take all the necessary steps to minimize the losses on both sides.
At best war is a necessary evil. Victory is not a cause for celebration or jubilation. Resorting to force is a sign of weakness and failure rather than strength and success. It only leads to brambles and thorns.
I took this image at Longhu (Dragon Tiger) Mountain, a famous Daoist site about ten miles south of Yingtan in Jiangxi Province. A great place to visit!