Tao Te Ching – Chapter 69


When great generals command the army, they prefer to defend from a position of strength and let their enemies exhaust themselves. Instead of charging forward, they back away to draw out hostile forces. We can learn much from them.

These generals are master strategists. They follow their plans while appearing to have no plan. They take effective actions while appearing to do nothing. They use weapons while appearing to only defend. If we can use the same approach in life, then we too can overcome the most difficult problems while appearing to expend little or no effort.

Above all, we must face life’s challenges with caution. If you try to do it in a frivolous and arrogant way, you will only waste your resources and fail miserably. We must also know why we fight when we go into battle. Like the warriors who wage war for something greater than themselves, you too can emerge victorious… when you truly understand what is at stake.

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Translation Notes

In this chapter, being 客 (the guest) denotes a receptive, wait-and-see disposition, while being 主 (the host) denotes a busy, active state. This can be tricky to grasp, because in the West we may assume the opposite when we think in terms of siege warfare from the Midieval Period. In that paradigm, the active attacker is the invading force, while the castle is the defender who reacts against attacks. This may lead you to think of the guest as the active (yang) side and the host as the passive (yin) side.

This chapter presents a different view. Lao Tzu wrote about the guest-host dynamic in the context of social interactions. In his paradigm, the guest is the polite one who waits for the host to serve refreshments and initiate conversations. Thus, the host is the active side, while the guest is reactive.

Applied to warfare, the above means you let the enemy initiate an attack, so you can deflect it, create an opening, and deliver a devastating counterstrike. Applied to life, the idea is to observe and figure out what is really going on, before taking an action of your own. This can greatly amplify your effectiveness, so you accomplish a lot while appearing to expend little or no effort.

Derek Lin
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