Whenever you advise a ruler in the way of the Tao,
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 the Tao.
That which goes against the Tao comes to an early end.
 Lau has, 'Brings it to a conclusion, but only when there is no other choice...' The Ma wang tui text reads: 'He achieves his result, yet abiides with the result because he has no choice'.
 Lau reads, 'A creature in its prime doing harm to the old Is known as going against the way...', and the Ma wang tui text, 'When things reach their prime, they get old; We call this "not the way"', which is echoed in the reading by Wang Pi (cf. below).
Wang Pi says: Even one who, in accordance with the Tao, assists the ruler of men may not use military force to gain power over all under heaven, so how much more is this true for the ruler of men who devotes himself to the Tao.
Whereas one who consciously works at governement earnestly seeks to have an effect and make things happen, he who has the Tao earnestly wishes things to revert to where no conscious effort (wu wei) is involved...
... (A)n army is a cruel and wicked thing. In no wise beneficial, it is certainly harmful for it devastates the people and ravages the land...
Kuo (result) means chi (relief), that is to say that a good military leader sets out to relieve the people of danger and then stops. He does not make personal use of his military power... (It is used only) in cases where there is no other choice (and should not then be taken advantage of).
'Its prime' is a metaphor for force and refers to the sudden rise of military power. A sudden rise of this sort goes against the Tao and will come to an early end just as 'a whirlwind does not last all morning nor a rainstorm the entire day' (cf. ch.23).
Cheng's commentary reads: 'Such affairs tend to reverse themselves' means that one who kills will in turn be killed. Chapter 31 says, 'Fine weapons are not auspicious instruments. Everything hates them. Therefore practioners of the Tao will have nothing to do with them'. Chapter 42 says, 'the end of a strong man is untimely death'. Moreover, calamity follows an army wherever it goes. Not only does a good man not do such things, he cannot even bear the sight of them.
This chapter speaks of those who use the Tao to strengthen the world. After attaining the expected outcome, one must not become complacent, smug of conceited. Even when there is no choice but to go to war, one should not be forceful since, just as a flint knife is easily broken, anything that grows strong will soon decay. Force is against the Tao, and anything that is contrary to the Tao soon ceases to be.
For me, this chapter speaks of consciously avoiding slipping into the use of force to achieve a desired end. In her Mahamudra as Inherent Liberation, the 11th. century yogini Niguma says:
Do not do anything special with the mind:
Simply abide in the authentic and natural state.
Your own mind is reality and the key is to cultivate this without wavering
And directly experience the vastness that is beyond all extremes.
In the transparent ocean
Bubbles appear and dissolve.
Just so, thoughts are no different from ultimate reality
So find no fault but simply remain at ease.
Whatever arises, whatever occurs,
Don't grasp - just let it go on the spot.
Appearances, sounds and objects are your own mind
And there is nothing outside of mind.
Mind is beyond the extremes of birth and death.
Awareness, the nature of mind,
Uses the objects of the five senses
But does not waver from reality.
In the state of ultimate balance
There is nothing to put into practice nor anything to abandon,
There are no periods of meditation or of post-meditation.
The 'authentic and natural state' mentioned here is just this Tao of wu wei beyond all coming and going, beyond all duality.
'Cultivate' as I have translated it here is sometimes also translated as 'meditate upon', but in this instance the idea definitely goes far beyond any contrived meditation to strike more at that of 'direct experience' [the Tibetan word sgom (pronounced gom with a hard 'g') translates the Sanskrit bhavana which, although itself often translated as 'meditate', actually means 'to cultivate' or 'bring forth']. Many Tibetan teachers teach that 'meditate' actually simply means ' to become used to - accustomed to', so here the idea is to discover and then remain unwaveringly in the state beyond all attachment for as long as possible without contrivance - generally a couple of seconds for a beginner.
Yön-ge Min'gyur Rinpoche says:
Here we are relaxing in our body and mind while being aware that that is what we are doing. By being aware that we are relaxing when we are relaxing, we come to gain control over our mind. So that's easy, right? It is very easy. You do not need to do anything. You do not need to meditate. You do not need to create anything. You do not need to work hard. Therefore it is easier than sleeping! When we want to sleep, we need to make our bed and make sure there's a nice pillow and then finally we lay down and relax.
When we relax in this way what is our mind like? Our mind is relaxed and comfortable but still we cannot identify it; we can't point at our mind and say "this is my relaxed mind" or "this is my comfortable mind." This meditation technique that has just been described is called shamatha or calm abiding meditation without object.
Beginners probably would not experience that type of meditation for more than two, three or five seconds, but that's fine. We should practice in short segments many times. If we set out a very large container and put it in a place where it could catch drops of water, these single drops of water will cause the whole container to become full. In the same way, if we practice in short segments many times, our meditation will improve. We shouldn't think thoughts like "I need to sit for a long time," "I need to stop my thoughts," because thoughts will happen and we cannot stop them. We can't shoot our thoughts, we can't burn our thoughts, and even if we set off a bomb, that will not stop our thoughts. That is the nature of mind. We do not need to stop our thoughts. What do we need? We need mindfulness. The main point about shamatha meditation is mindfulness, or, in other words, awareness...
If you understand this meditation-without-object technique, you will attain Buddhahood very quickly. Maybe in two or three days [laughter]. It is a very profound meditation but there is nothing special about it.
Our biggest obstacle in meditation is the movement of thoughts - thoughts of desire, aggression, ignorance, jealousy and so on. There are all kinds of movement in our minds - we usually think of these thoughts as getting in the way of our meditation and harming or destroying our meditation.
But if we understand the key points of meditation, then those very thoughts actually will be support for our meditation and will not harm our meditation at all. It is the same as how forms become support for our meditation.
As we look at our thoughts in this way, even a hundred thousand thoughts, that means you have a hundred thousand supports for meditation. That is very good. The thoughts themselves become a support for holding our mind.
Links to his teachings can be found here:
Strange to quote Tibetan Buddhism as a commentary on Taoist teachings, no?
And yet so it is.