Chapter 73 – Let’s Start With Bravery
He who is brave in daring will be killed.
He who is brave in not daring will live.
Of these two, one is advantageous and one is harmful.
Who knows why Heaven dislikes what it dislikes?
Even the sage considers it a difficult question.
The Way of Heaven does not compete, and yet is skillfully achieves victory.
It does not speak, and yet it skillfully responds to things.
It comes to you without your invitation.
It is not anxious about things and yet it plans well.
Heaven’s net is indeed vast.
Though its meshes are wide, it misses nothing.
Translated by Wing-Tsit Chan (1963)
There are a lot of directions in which I think I should go with my “Tao Te Ching Tuesday” comment on this chapter, many of which, I’m afraid, qualify as abject digressions. I also would like to keep a reasonable length to what I write. Therefore, I am going to try to avoid at least some of the digressions and be succinct in dealing with some of the subjects. Let’s start with bravery.
It is certainly not surprising that humans recognize different kinds of brave actions. Sometimes we are awed by the brave man or woman who rushes into danger without regard for personal safety. Other times it is the person who is calm before a hazardous situation who is seen as brave.
Here, the sage tells us that “one is advantageous and one is harmful”; but he does not say which is which.
In a different context, I have written about the influence of the Vietnam War on the actions and beliefs of an entire generation of Americans. That generation includes tens of thousands of brave men and women who risked or gave their lives in that war. It also includes tens of thousands more who declared themselves conscientious objectors or who emigrated to Canada to avoid the draft or who protested against the war. Without questioning the belief or sincerity of any of those groups or individuals, we still must consider which of the brave actions were advantageous and which harmful.
Recently, my friends Rudy and Tracy Spano introduced me to wonderful little book (about 100 pages), published in 1900, called Bushido, The Soul of Japan, by Inazo Nitobe. The following is found at Page 15 of that book:
“ . . . ‘Courage is doing what is right’ To run all kinds of hazards, to jeopardize one’s self, to rush into the jaws of death—these are too often identified with Valor, and in the profession of arms such rashness of conduct—what Shakespeare calls, ‘valor misbegot,’ is unjustly applauded; but not so in the Precepts of Knighthood. Death for a cause unworthy of dying for, was called a ‘dog’s death.’ ‘To rush into the thick of battle and be slain in it,’ says a Prince of Mito, ‘is easy enough, and the merest churl is equal to the task; but,’ he continues, ‘it is true courage to live when it is right to live, and to die only when it is right to die’ . . .”
We are next told that even the sage finds it difficult to understand “why Heaven dislikes what it dislikes.” It would be easy to say that this hearkens back to the famous line about the sage, following Tao, treating all men as straw dogs. However, the Chinese character used here seems to be “tian” or “t’ien,” which means sky or heaven or deity, and not Tao.
Since Tao is that which gives birth to Heaven and Earth and the 10,000 Things, it is perhaps relevant that in the translation above, the very next line begins a discussion of “the Way of Heaven.” This returns our focus to Tao – although I am not sure that the symbol for Tao is used anywhere in this chapter. Wing-Tsit Chan may have thought it was implied.
The lines which follow clearly reflect attributes that have been given to Tao throughout the Tao Te Ching. It does not compete, but is ever victorious; it is silent, but answers all; it is all-pervasive; it accomplishes everything by taking no action; it seems a void, but includes all that exists.
Therefore, perhaps we can say that the sage finds it difficult to understand why Heaven dislikes something because in the end that is a meaningless question. Or perhaps we are being told that people may think some brave men are blessed with the luck of Heaven, when lucky and unlucky are simply complementing qualities that are part of Tao.
In trying to make sense of what is being said here, I read some comments by Stefan Stenudd on www.taoistic.com, who reminds readers that none of what is now included in Chapters 67 through 81 of the Tao Te Ching is found in the Guodian Manuscript.
The Guodian Manuscript is the oldest known version of the Tao Te Ching. The “manuscript” consists of characters on a number of bamboo slips that were found in a tomb in China’s Hubei province. It is believed that they date from about 300 B.C., which is roughly two centuries after we assume that Lao Tzu died. If the last 15 chapters of what we now consider the Tao Te Ching were not part of the text back then, a good argument could be made that they were probably added later by someone other than Lao Tzu. That could explain a lot.
On the other hand, those missing chapters may simply be missing. The bamboo slips on which they were written may have been destroyed, or may have not yet been found. Many other chapters are also missing – including Chapters 1 and 3 and 4.
I would now like to take a break from meaningful discussion and digress, as I too often do.
Back in the mid-1970s, I had a friend I will call “Bill.” That is not his real name, and I don’t think he would want his real name used. Bill possessed inherited wealth and he dabbled in various businesses. Once, strictly for business purposes, he hatched a plan to travel to Colombia with several thousand dollars to purchase cocaine, which he had arranged to dispose of, as a wholesaler, to one of his business associates.
When he returned, he told me how he had been taken to a secret location in the jungle where he had met Jimi Hendrix. Now, Jimi Hendrix had died five or six years earlier, and I pointed that out to Bill. His story, though, was that Hendrix had suffered a drug overdose, but had survived. However, he knew that he would soon be arrested on drug charges, so he faked his death and fled to South America. According to Bill, the several posthumous Jimi Hendrix recordings that were released were not from tapes that had been made earlier, but were new works recorded in Colombia
Perhaps there is a similar explanation for the Tao Te Ching chapters that were not found among the bamboo slips. Lao Tzu is considered a “Taoist immortal,” so he could have written them at any time.
But what about Bill’s cocaine purchase, you ask. Well, for some reason he felt that he shouldn’t trust the drug dealer he met in Colombia, so he did not buy any.
Instead, he took his several thousand dollars and purchased diamonds, taking elaborate precautions so that he could smuggle them back into the United States. He managed to get them through customs and return to Colorado, where he had them appraised. They were fake!
Gosh, who can you trust?