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Wen-tzu | Understanding the Mysteries | 143

Updated: Apr 27, 2021


Lao-tzu said:

A vast territory and a large population are not enough to constitute power; strong armor and sharp weapons cannot relied upon to ensure victory; high ramparts and deep moats are not enough to give security; strict punishments and stern laws are not sufficient to constitute authority.

Those who practice policies that make for survival will surely survive even if they are small; those who practice policies that make for destruction will surely perish even if they are large. Therefore skillful defense has nothing to do with resistance, and skillful warfare has nothing to do with battle. If you take advantage of the momentum of the times and accord with the wishes of the people, the world will follow.

So those who are skilled at government build up their benevolence, while those who are skilled at military operations build up their wrath. When benevolence has built up, the people are amenable to being employed; when anger has built up, power can be established. Therefore when culture is deeply ingrained, authority has great influence; when benevolence is widely shared, power has vast control. Thus you become strong while your enemies are weakened.

Those who are skilled at military operations first weaken their enemies, and only then do they fight. For this reason their expenditures are greatly reduced, while their efficiency is tremendously multiplied. So if a small country is cultured and benevolent, it rules; while if a large country is militaristic it perishes. Whereas a ruling army wins before it goes to battle, a defeated army goes to battle before it seeks to win; this is because it does not understand the Way.

Translated by Thomas Cleary

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