Book of the Week: Art Of War by Sun Tzu

 

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Sun Tzu was ancient China’s most renowned general. His classic text on strategy survived through the centuries and is still as applicable to war, politics and economics today as it was when Sun Tzu first drafted it. Many translations of Sun Tzu’s manuscript are available, but this one is both attractive and focused. General Tao Hanzhang supplements the actual text with his commentary. Since he spent his entire professional life as a soldier, his interpretation makes Sun Tzu’s guidance more applicable to contemporary situations. Thoughtful questions follow each brief chapter in this pocket-sized book. Though many readers have determined that aspects of this work are highly useful in business, some may find that translating military strategy to corporate life is too laborious, or may feel that Sun Tzu focuses their attention on conflict between businesses without addressing production issues or consumer needs.

From the Dust Jacket:

At the core of the ancient strategy manual known as The Art of War is the understanding that conflict is an inseparable part of human life; that the cycle of aggression and reaction can lead only to destruction; and that we must therefore learn to work with conflict in a more profound and effective way. Crucial to this new strategic vision is knowledge—especially self-knowledge—and a view of the whole that seeks to minimize loss for all concerned and thus render all sides victorious.
This new and unusually faithful translation carefully avoids paraphrase and hews closely to the enigmatic quality of the original—precisely the quality that allows us to find untold riches in its terse, almost coded lines millennia after this oral tradition was first set down. Line-by-line commentary and three extensive essays reveal the broader implications of Sun Tzu’s teachings and how they can be applied to everyday circumstances. The classic’s teachings and basic vocabulary take on new meaning: War is any situation that demands hard choices about creation and destruction, life or death. The state is the system in which we live—our household, our culture or society, or our own mind. Defense ensures the integrity of our boundaries and allows life to flourish within them. Force is the energy of concentrated action. And victory lies in bringing others around to embracing a larger view—one that includes their own—without ever going to battle.

 


From the Introduction: Applying The Art of War

About 2,300 years ago in what is now north China, a lineage of military leaders put their collective wisdom into written form for the first time. Their text was to shape the strategic thinking of all East Asia. It offered a radically new perspective on conflict, whereby one might attain victory without going to battle. Though in the West their text is called The Art of War, in China it is still known as the Sun Tzu,named for the patriarch of their lineage.
Over the last half-century, this text has become a handbook for people all around the world seeking to transform their approach to conflict, whether in warfare, in business or simply in everyday life. When a squadron leader targets his objective or a boardroom falls under siege, when our neighbors join a zoning battle to protect local parkland, we may find modern-day warriors turning to the Sun Tzu.Clearly they have a conviction that its ancient wisdom has considerable value today. But how might we apply this Chinese text to our lives in a genuine manner? How can it teach us to work more effectively with conflict? These are the central questions of this book.
The answers lie within the Sun Tzu itself. The text shows how to conquer without aggression, whether our conflict is large or small, personal or national. One of its most famous couplets states:

One hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the most skillful.
Subduing the other’s military without battle is the  most skillful.

The wisdom of this book is a profound human knowledge, something to which every one of us has access. It does not belong to any proprietary group, Chinese or Western. It shows a way of working with conflict that is sane, kindly and effective. Though the Sun Tzu offers models of behavior, it does not suggest we copy them. Instead, it invites us to enter its teachings fully. When we do so, we find we come naturally to the same insights that are contained within its text.
The Sun Tzu begins with the understanding that conflict is an integral part of human life. It is within us and all around us. Sometimes we can skillfully sidestep it, but at other times we must join with it directly. Many of us have seen the destructive power of aggression, whether on a personal level or in the disasters of armed conflict. We know as well the limitations of most political and personal responses to that aggression. How can we work with it in a more profound and effective way?

The Sun Tzu recommends that our response to conflict start from knowledge, of ourselves and of the other. In chapter 3 it says:

And so in the military—
Knowing the other and knowing oneself,
In one hundred battles no danger.
Not knowing the other and knowing oneself,
One victory for one loss.
Not knowing the other and not knowing oneself,
In every battle certain defeat.

Self-knowledge in the Sun Tzu includes awareness of the full condition of our forces, but it begins with something far more intimate: knowledge of our own minds. People come to this knowledge in many ways. The contemplative practices offer one means of insight. More basic than any particular practice, though, is the openness of mind to which it leads. This openness can be present in all our activities. We find ourselves there when we experience a sudden moment of beauty. It is the unformed, creative source of the performing and plastic arts. Athletes know it as “the zone,” and lovers do not even name it. It is where they are most at home and their actions most effective.  Why, though, would anyone wary of aggression’s destructive force study a text about conflict? As the Sun Tzu says, it is essential to know ourselves, to know our own minds. But we also live in a world where aggression cannot be avoided. We must know the other in order to skillfully engage him or her. It was necessary, therefore, to learn to work directly with the conflict in our environment, not ignore it, submerge it, give up on it or try to deny its existence. However profound our individual wisdom, it will not survive in the world unless it is joined with some kind of power. Recognizing this seems especially important at the present time, when the consequences of human action can be so thoroughly devastating. This text, then, shows how we could work with conflict both within and outside ourselves.

Happy Reading.. 🙂

 

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2 thoughts on “Book of the Week: Art Of War by Sun Tzu

  1. saffo says:

    This book inspired great military strategists and business as much.Including the famous Robert Greene.
    Real clasiic read,everyone must have this one in their collection.

    Like

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