The Art of War is Peace
I was introduced to Sun Tzu’s ancient Chinese classic The Art of War in 1968. I was in the United States Army stationed at Fort Hood Texas. At this time military intelligence was trying to find answers to explain how an army of farmers were about to defeat the mighty U.S. military forces in Viet Nam. Ho Chi Minh’s (founder of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam) famous answer was “we are defeating the mighty imperialist forces by using “Sun Tzu’s Art of War.” That statement created a whole new generation of strategists that follow the teachings of Master Sun.Over the years I have become a great admirer of the strategic concepts of this mysterious Taoist warrior-philosopher. The strategic concepts found in Sun Tzu’s work have had a major influence not only in strategic military training but also in the national and international business communities as well.
When teaching my course on Chinese classic like the Art of War and the I Ching at The City College of New York, I find students at first have some difficulty in understand how the true art of war is peace. According to the teachings of Master Sun, How to win without fighting is the foundation of his strategy.I always recommend reading the Art of War translated by Thomas Cleary who explains Master Sun’s teachings this way “This ideal strategy whereby one could win without fighting accomplish the most by doing the least, bears the characteristic stamp of Taoism, the ancient tradition of knowledge that fostered both the healing arts and the martial arts in China.”
In Cleary’s introduction he captures the spirit of this classic book of strategy by writing about an ancient Taoist story where a lord of China asked his physician, a member of a family of healers, which of them was the most skilled in the art.The physician whose reputation was such that his name became synonymous with medical science in China, replied, “My eldest brother sees the spirit of sickness and removes it before it takes shape, so his name does not get out of the house.
“My elder brother cures sickness when it is still extremely minute, so his name does not get out of the neighborhood. As for me, I puncture veins, prescribe potions, and massage skin, so from time to time my name gets out and is heard among the lords.”This story follows Master Sun’s concept of deep knowledge, according to the writings of Master Sun “Deep knowledge is to be aware of disturbance before disturbance, to be aware of danger before danger, to be aware of destruction before destruction, to be aware of calamity before calamity. Strong action is training the body without being burdened by the body, exercising the mind without being used by the mind, working in the world without being affected by the world, carrying out task without being obstructed by tasks.”
Master Sun also writes that “With deep knowledge of principle, one can change disturbance into order, change danger into safety, change destruction into survival, change calamity into fortune. By strong action on the Way, one can bring the body to the realm of longevity, bring the mind to the sphere of mystery, bring the world to great peace, and bring tasks to great fulfillment”.
The true Art of War is peace both external and internal.
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