Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Tao Teh Ching and the Revolution in Egypt

As the Egyptian people have amazed the world with their courage and commitment to freedom and democracy, and non-violence,  I have been thinking of the wisdom of the Tao Teh Ching, which was (among other things) a manual for ruling a country (since only the ruling class could read in the old days). The "Old Fellow" (as Lao Tsu's name means) gave advice that Mubarak and his ilk would have been wise to follow.

76. The Soft and Weak

A man lives soft and weak,
Dies hard and stiff.
The grass, the trees,
The ten thousand things
Live soft and supple,
Die brittle and dry.

The hard and stiff
Are followers of death;
The soft and weak
Are followers of life.

When armies are stiff,
They will lose;
When trees are stiff,
They will fall.
The stiff and mighty
Will be cast down;
The soft and weak
Will be lifted up.

Herrymon  Maurer comments on this passage by recalling the words of the Psalmist:

The weak. The Psalmist also declares that, in the mind of Truth, though not the world, the weak fare well:

For the Eternal saves the forlorn
who cry to him,
the weak and the helpless;
he pities the forlorn and weak, he saves the life of the weak, rescuing them from outrage
and oppression ... [41: 1]

Mindful of the extortions and oppressions of the well-off, the Psalmist [72:12-14] states further, “Happy is he who remembers the weak and the poor.” [41: 14]

Lao Tsu also gives advice that those following in the wake of Mubarak would be wise to consider:

74. Handling the Hatchet

When people don’t mind death,
Why threaten them with death?
If, afraid of death,
They were still unruly,
Who would dare to seize and kill them?

The great executioner
Kills those who kill.
To take his place is like
Handling the hatchet
For a master carpenter.
Whoever handles the hatchet
For a master carpenter
Usually get his hands cut.

What the Tao Teh Ching proposes is what all the great prophets have declared: we need a radical revolution of values. True power come from following the Way, the Eternal and Timeless Word, not by trying to impose one's will on a situation.  Martin Luther King and Gandhi understood this powerful truth, and that's why they were able to launch movements that radically transformed society. They understood there is a "force more powerful"--a Truth force--that enables people to overcome the forces of oppression. To tap into that Truth, we need to experience the transforming power that comes from within.
This is a lesson that all of us in the peace movement need to take to heart. Non-violence, satygraha, the Way of Truth, works!

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