Even A Victory Is A Funeral

david-absalom Even a victory is a funeralThe Old Testament story of David mourning the death of his rebellious son Absalom is the only instance I know of a victorious sovereign mourning the death of the opposing leader after a battle (2 Samuel 18).

Even a victory is a funeral

I share this because I recalled it when I recently read this passage from the Tao Teh Ching. I consider it part of my preparation to become fluent in the religions of the world. I read this book with the working hypothesis that what Lao Tzu called the Tao (“the way” or “the path”) is what people like me call Knowledge. I am therefore sharing this passage with the word “Knowledge” replacing the word “Tao.” There are many translations available. This one is by John C. H. Wu.

Fine weapons of war augur evil.
Even things seem to hate them.
Therefore, a man of Knowledge does not set his heart upon them.
In ordinary life, a gentleman regards the left side as the place of honor.
In war, the right side is the place of honor.

As weapons are instruments of evil,
They are not properly a gentleman’s instruments;
Only on necessity will he resort to them.
For peace and quiet are dearest to his heart,
And to him even a victory is no cause for rejoicing.

To rejoice over a victory is to rejoice over the slaughter of men!
Hence a man who rejoices over the slaughter of men cannot expect to thrive in the world of men.
On happy occasions the left side is preferred:
On sad occasions the right side.
In the army, the Lieutenant Commander stands on the left,
While the Commander-In-Chief stands on the right.
This means that war is treated on a par with a funeral service.
Because many people have been killed, it is only right that survivors should mourn for them.
Hence, even a victory is a funeral.

I consider this passage (Chapter 31) to resonate with Step 287 of Steps to Knowledge, “With Knowledge I cannot be at war.”

King David cried out “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33, New International Version) For David, this victory was indeed a funeral. I pray that in the next war, the victors will mourn the losers’ casualties, that we might see the truth that even a victory is a funeral.

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