Weapons are ominous instruments.
Everyone hates them.
Therefore, followers of the way avoid them.
When residing at home, men of honor favor the left side.
When waging a war, men of honor favor the right side.
Weapons are ominous instruments,
Not the instruments of men of honor.
When compelled to use them;
They should do so without relish.
Even in victory there is no glory.
Those who celebrate victory are gloating over killing others.
Those who gloat over killing others must never be allowed achieve their worldly ambitions.
In times of joy, the left side is given precedence;
In times of grief, the right side is given precedence.
In times of war, the second-in-command stands on the left;
The general stands on the right;
This the same way as the mourning rites are conducted.
When great numbers of people are slaughtered,
We should mourn them all with sorrow and grief.
When victorious in war,
We should observe the mourning rites.
Although Laozi recognized that war may be necessary in extreme circumstance, that didn’t stop him from condemning it in very strong and emotional terms – describing weapons as “ominous instruments” because they are designed to kill people and raging against those “gloating over killing others.”
To him a victory should be marked in the same way as funeral not as a cause for celebration, with everyone who fell – no matter which side they were on – being mourned with equal “sorrow and grief.”
Laozi’s call for restraint is every bit as relevant today as it was on the day he wrote it – and sadly just as honored in breech. The only difference is that our “ominous instruments” are infinitely more sophisticated and deadly.