Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Chapter 74
The Great Executioner

When people don’t appreciate living,
And so aren’t afraid of dying,
What good is threatening them with the death penalty?
When they appreciate and love life,
They fear heaven’s executioner,
They naturally love and take care of their lives.

But even if having a human executioner
Would make people change for the better,
Who could justly take on this role?
Only the karmic Net of Heaven can do that.
Anyone usurping this role of heaven,
Only causes great harm to themselves.

Commentary

“Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but leave room for God's wrath. For it is written: "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord."”

Jesus
3 BCE – 30 CE

Themes: God Anger

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“punishments cannot be relied upon for governing… the more people we kill, the more people break the law. Thus, punishment is not the answer.”

Li Xizhai via Red Pine
(Li Hsi-Chai)
12th century CE
from Tao-te-chen-ching yi-chieh

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“When I first ascended the throne, the people were unruly and officials corrupt. If ten people were executed in the morning, a hundred were breaking the same law by evening… I turned to the Taoteching… decided to do away with capital punishment and put criminals to work instead. In the year since then, the burdens of my heart have been lightened. Truly, this book is the greatest teacher of kings.”

Ming Taizu 明太祖
(the Hongwu Emperor)
1328 – 1398 CE

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“At these words the samurai… sheathed his sword and bowed. ‘Here open the gates of paradise,’ said Hakuin.”

Hakuin Ekaku 白隠 慧鶴
1686 – 1769 CE

Themes: Openness

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“frequent punishments are a sign of weakness or slackness in the government. There is no man so bad that he cannot be made good for something.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
1712 – 1778 CE

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“all punishment in itself is evil”

Jeremy Bentham
1748 – 1832 CE
from Principles of Morals and Legislation

Themes: Punishment

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“A dog starv’d at his master’s gate predicts the ruin of the State.”

William Blake
1757 – 1827 CE

Themes: Poverty

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“Society prepares the crime, the criminal commits it.”

Henry Thomas Buckle
1821 – 1862 CE
from History of Civilization

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“If the other person injures you, you may forget the injury; but if you injure him you will always remember.”

Kahlil Gibran
1883 – 1931 CE

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“The death penalty is no more effective a deterrent than life imprisonment… It is also evident that the burden of capital punishment falls upon the poor, the ignorant and the – underprivileged members of society.”

Thurgood Marshall
1908 – 1993 CE

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“Violence is the quest for identity. When identity disappears with technological innovation, violence is the natural recourse.”

Marshall McLuhan
1911 – 1980 CE

Themes: Technology

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“Nature, it has been said, abhors a vacuum, and when the available 'spiritual space' is not filled by some higher motivation, then it will necessarily be filled by something lower – by the small, mean, calculating attitude to life which is rationalized in the economic calculus.”

E. F. Schumacher
1911 – 1977 CE

Themes: Meaningfulness

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“The death penalty can be tolerated only by extreme statist reactionaries who demand a state that is so powerful that it has the right to kill.”

Noam Chomsky
1928 CE –

Themes: Punishment

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“To Lao Tzu, not to fear dying and not to fear killing are equally unnatural and antisocial. Who are we to forestall the judgment of heaven or nature, to usurp the role of ‘the executioner’?”

Ursula Le Guin
1929 – 2018 CE

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“We discover that all human beings are just like us, so we are able to relate to them more easily. That generates a spirit of friendship in which there is less need to hide what we feel or what we are doing.”

Dalai Lama XIV Tenzin Gyatso
1935 CE –

Themes: Friendship

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  1. Shan Dao
    Does this describe the reason why our response to terrorists, suicide bombers, and mass murderers proves so ineffective? If so, it also points toward a solution to these plagues of modern world culture.