Others are clear and bright,When I was young and merry in my ways, I read (as intellectually curious young Westerners are wont to do) a bit of Chinese philosophy, including the simple but enlightening Tao Te Ching by Lao Tse and the rather more obscure Analects of Confucius.
But I alone am dim and weak.
Others are sharp and clever,
But I alone am dull and stupid.
As a young man seeking wisdom for my personal growth, I was frequently frustrated by how often these Chinese philosophers started talking about Big Picture issues, like Kings and Empires, politics and good government. How is that going to help me in life, I wondered, unless I become the bloody Prime Minister?
Now that I am older and wiser in my ways, of course, and particularly over the past five years, I can appreciate such guidance more readily. For example:
If you governed your province well and treat your people kindly, you kingdom shall not lose any war. If you govern selfishly to your people, you kingdom will not only lose a war, but your people will break away from your kingdom.There are inevitable parallels between self-governance and "government" as we normally understand the word. If a man cannot control his own desires, how is he going to control a nation? If a man does not understand his own self, how can he understand others?
"If you govern the people legalistically and control them by punishment, they will avoid crime, but have no personal sense of shame. If you govern them by means of virtue and control them with propriety, they will gain their own sense of shame, and thus correct themselves."Another example (touching on the death penalty, which George W. Bush so readily endorses):
Chi K'ang asked Confucius about government, saying, "What do you say to killing the unprincipled for the good of the principled?" Confucius replied, "Sir, in carrying on your government, why should you use killing at all? Let your evinced desires be for what is good, and the people will be good. The relation between superiors and inferiors is like that between the wind and the grass. The grass must bend, when the wind blows across it."Oh, for a breath of such fresh air!
These Big Picture issues inevitably have an impact, for better or worse, on one's spiritual development. How is a person to find inner peace when surrounded by social chaos, immorality and violence? Consider for example this little parable:
One day, his students and he passed a grave where they saw a women weeping at a gravestone. She told Confucius that her husband, her husband's father, and her son were killed by a tiger. When Confucius asked her why she didn't leave such a fated spot, she answered that in this place there was no oppressive government.If George W. Bush is still trying to understand why Iraqis still show such tolerance for violent "insurgents" and religious fundamentalists in their midst, he could do worse than contemplate that story. If that's a little too obtuse for him, how about this (switching back to Lao Tse):
Confucius said, "Remember this my child. An oppressive government is fiercer and more feared than a tiger."
Whenever you advise a ruler in the way of Tao,This is the wisdom of the ancients. But Bush is a modern-day fool, a serial liar and a bragging buffoon who evinces no visible sign of intellectual curiosity other than fretting (lately) about how history will judge his illegitimate rule.
Counsel him not to use force to conquer the universe.
For this would only cause resistance.
Thorn bushes spring up wherever the army has passed.
Lean years follow in the wake of a great war.
Just do what needs to be done.
Never take advantage of power.
But never glory in them.
But never boast.
But never be proud.
Because this is the natural way.
But not through violence.
Force is followed by loss of strength.
This is not the way of Tao.
That which goes against the Tao comes to an early end.
Egged on by the neoconservative ideologues who brought him to power, Bush has sought to impose a global US Empire using "awesome" military might. The results have been exactly the opposite of what the fools in the White House expected. We now have a superpower loathed across the globe, an army at breaking point, an economic bubble waiting to explode. It's not as if these things could not have been foreseen:
The universe is sacred.I have often said "we get the governments we deserve". As caring citizens of the world, we should all try to improve ourselves, every day. And hopefully one day we will be able to select leaders who are a bit closer to what Lao Tse once called "the men of old".
You cannot improve it.
If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it.
Good weapons are instruments of fear; all creatures hate them.UPDATE: The Prophet Isiaiah was also pretty on the ball:
Therefore followers of Tao never use them.
The wise man prefers the left.
The man of war prefers the right.
Weapons are instruments of fear; they are not a wise man's tools.
He uses them only when he has no choice.
Peace and quiet are dear to his heart,
And victory no cause for rejoicing.
If you rejoice in victory, then you delight in killing;
If you delight in killing, you cannot fulfill yourself.
On happy occasions precedence is given to the left,
On sad occasions to the right.
In the army the general stands on the left,
The commander-in-chief on the right.
This means that war is conducted like a funeral.
When many people are being killed,
They should be mourned in heartfelt sorrow.
That is why a victory must be observed like a funeral.
Yes, with stammering lips and in a strange language he will speak to this people...