Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 69

This chapter carries forward the teaching in the last chapter about power and conflict.

Warriors have a saying:
I do not presume to be the host (aggressor) but would rather be the guest (defender)
Rather than advance an inch, I would retreat a foot
This is called going forward without advancing

This passage reminds me of the martial art of aikido, which I’ve never practiced, but is described as a purely defensive martial art with no offensive moves. An interesting concept.

I confess that when engaged in any sort of martial art sparring, my tendency is to go on the offense. I do this because it gives me the delusion of control, and I often persist even when it is clearly not to my advantage. My challenge and practice in martial arts is to empty myself out, to be alert and responsive to what is happening, rather than try to force a particular outcome.

I have found that this works best in daily life. I wrote about an experience when I was confronted by some young men looking for trouble and was able to deflect their intention just with words. Retreating a foot in that case was definitely “going forward without advancing.”

Grasp without arms
Control without weapons
Capture without hostility

The last line can also be read as capturing without an enemy. I love the wisdom in these three lines. As soon as we set ourselves up in an adversarial dynamic by labeling someone as an enemy, as soon as we react to someone with hostility, we have set up a win/lose conflict that might win a battle but will not bring peace.

When I taught law students how to draft contracts, they would often say that they wanted to draft a contract that would hold up in court. My response was often a surprise to them. “If you are in court over your contract, you have already lost.” Because no matter what the judge says, a litigant has already lost the benefit of the bargain that the parties agreed to. The relationship has broken down, trust has been betrayed, time and money have been wasted. A successful contract is one that the parties perform.

In our culture, we are so locked in to an us/them, win/lose mindset that we cannot see what is lost by the adversarial stance we take with our families, our politics, our religion, our planet.

It is hard to write anything these days without a mention of the virus spreading across the earth. Yes, there is Covid-19, but there is a more intangible virus spreading through the hearts and spirits of those who see only danger and feel only fear. Gun sales are up in the United States. Disturbing. I joked to a neighbor passing by that someone was going to get shot over toilet paper. He replied in all seriousness that he had his guns and was prepared to use them. Very disturbing.

The chapter ends with this:

Thus when opposing warriors meet each other
The one with compassion will win indeed


8 thoughts on “Tao Te Ching – Chapter 69”

  1. Fear is running rampant in our country these days, and the media is doing little to quench it. Yet, how many times in the Bible does God tell us not to be afraid? Right now, Galen, I'm stepping back from fear and embracing hope – that's something I don't have to social distance from! This is no time to take, or even think about taking, an adversarial stance.

  2. Well said, Martha. Isaiah chapter 43 contains some of my favorite verses in the Bible, some of them reassuring us to "fear not." When we can resist that urge to judge, to separate, to attack, when we can pause to see through and past the fear, what do we see? Ourselves. Thanks for your comment.

  3. And I just saw a "guns drawn over TP" story on my newsfeed today. I can't imagine how it is people are so selfish as to take this thing so violently.

  4. I think that level of selfishness, as you call it, reflects a corresponding level of fear. When we are able to recognize and address the fear, then we can feel compassion for others and for ourselves. Thanks for commenting, CW.

  5. I'm so glad to see you Blogging again! And glad I found you on the New Blog when I visited a brand new Blogger and saw a Comment from you leading me over here! Your Posts are always profound and thought provoking… one Quote you made a long time ago really resonated with me: Is what you're about to say an improvement over Silence? I use that a lot now before I say anything or write anything. The Political Climate and the Pandemic Climate have really made things so tense, fearful and different, adjustment to all of it has been hard at times, but perhaps it will make us better versions of ourselves in how we choose to react to it all? Be Well and Stay Safe.

  6. I do hope that compassion wins on this one. With all the awfulness of this horrible virus; there are miracles all over. I feel that the ones with guns are not as many as the ones whose hearts have opened with more compassion for their neighbors. It amazes me the wonderful people who are serving in caring for those who are ill. I love those who are reaching out to be sure their neighbor has some toilet paper.
    Our faith just invited all of us to have a worldwide fast and prayer on Good Friday. It was amazing all the faiths and others that came together to pray for relief from this plague. I felt such peace and I know that we will see miracles from this time when many in the world came together.
    May you have a sweet Easter celebration with your family. Sending prayers, love and hugs your way!

  7. That is so uplifting, LeAnn. My neighbors have been wonderful. I live in an old urban neighborhood with small lots and lots of big trees. And we've been having lovely spring weather. So everyone is outside walking around or riding bikes, staying socially distanced of course. Very nice. Happy Easter and thanks for stopping by.

  8. Good to see you! Yes, I started this blog a few years ago after spending two years contemplating the original Chinese of the Tao Te Ching. My old blog is still online, but I don't add new material to it. My last post on that blog links to this one.

    I'm so delighted that you found me and I'm so happy to hear from you. I'll be over to visit your blog in a minute.

    About your comment, that question about talking is a good reminder. Someone recently gave me another good quote: WAIT (Why Am I Talking?). Love that!

    Like you, I hope this situation brings out our better selves as we seek to transcend the polarization and bring people together by releasing our own inner separation and conflict.

    So great to hear from you.

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