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Art of War - Spirituality for Conflict


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About the Author

Thomas Huynh is founder of, the Web's leading and most respected resource on Sun Tzu's The Art of War. He co-translated The Art of War with the editors at He holds an MBA from Vanderbilt University. Marc Benioff is chairman and CEO of, the worldwide leader in on-demand business services. He has been a practitioner of Sun Tzu's principles for over a decade and is the coauthor of The Business of Changing the World and Compassionate Capitalism. Thomas Cleary holds a PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University and a JD from the University of California, Berkeley. He is the translator of over seventy-five volumes of classical works from seven languages.


In the time of a controversial five-year-long war in Iraq, we can gain badly needed wisdom from two of history's greatest warriors.

The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and the Chinese general Sun Tzu can teach us about virtue, peace and philosophy when it seems many want us on a perpetual war footing.

These two military leaders, studied for millennia by both the powerful and the subversive, considered war the worst thing humans could engage in the most cruel, wasteful and mindless.

But, when they had to, they did war well. They may have seen war as a last resort, but when they judged it necessary to keep the peace or protect the state, they engaged in it with devastating efficiency.

Skylight Illuminations, a creative U.S. spiritual book publisher, is bringing the values of these famous Roman and Chinese warriors to a world that needs to more deeply explore the ethics of conflict.

The publisher teamed up with former Malaspina University-College scholar Russell McNeil to produce The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: Selections Annotated and Explained. The revealing book highlights how the Roman emperor embraced Stoic philosophy (a worldview, by the way, highly valued by Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan.)

The related book, The Art of War Spirituality for Conflict: Annotated and Explained, has been put together by U.S. writer Thomas Huynh. The author adapts the advice Sun Tzu offered 2,500 years ago to help today's individuals and leaders resolve conflicts.

Even though Skylight Illuminations didn't promote the books as a package, there are surprising parallels particularly the leaders' emphasis on virtues like courage, self-control, rationality and justice. Although their complex philosophies are not necessarily perfect for us today, it's intriguing these respected figures both believed war was a disgrace, that it should never be entered into without a concern for the common good.

In his commentary, McNeil, who lives on Vancouver Island, builds on Marcus Aurelius' meditations to question the 21st-century "war on terrorism," suggesting if contemporary rulers used "divine" reason the way the wise emperor did they would recognize injustice often breeds such dangerous rage.

For his part, Sun Tzu taught that leaders should never go to war out of greed or revenge, but (like Christians who believe in "just-war theory") should make every diplomatic and strategic effort to avoid armed battle.

Huynh, a Vietnamese refugee, turns Sun Tzu's masterwork on winning into advice on advancing global and personal peace.

The Art of War has been studied by everyone from Latin American revolutionary Che Guevera to retired U.S. general Colin Powell (who speaks in Vancouver June 12.) Huynh maintains Sun Tzu's pragmatic philosophy can prevent conflicts, quickly resolve them if they do arise, promote benevolence in adversarial situations, convert potential enemies into friends and help individuals control their emotions. The latter leads to one of the most striking philosophical parallels between the two warriors.

The Roman emperor, who died in AD 180, and the Chinese general each emphasized "detaching" from one's emotions.

The Art of War, writes Huynh, teaches: "Being ruled by your emotions, exaggerating your strengths, denying your weaknesses and wishful thinking can only lead to catastrophe."

The Roman ruler, McNeil says, also taught that "personal attachments to people or things have little to do with what it means to be human." The Stoics, like Socrates, did not see pain and tragedy as limiting humans' ability to be content.

Even though the emperor's Stoicism veers close to emotional coldness, to limiting empathy for loved ones, McNeil defends it. He particularly values the way Aurelius put ultimate value on reason, or "divine intelligence," over emotion. McNeil compares Stoicism to the "cognitive behavioral therapy" founded by psychologist Albert Ellis.

Like Ellis, the Roman emperor stressed the importance of overriding emotions to make rational choices. Marcus Aurelius criticized those who waited passively for a supernatural God to take care of things.

Even though it's clear Stoicism and Sun Tzu's Art of War can suit tough-minded, ethical generals (and many modern-day athletes), I suspect these two philosophers may be a touch too indifferent to emotions and loving relationships.

I also have trouble with their placing ultimate importance on the state, which, combined with their stress on bravery and self-denial, could lead to unnecessary martyrdom. But these are concerns to study more thoroughly, because these warriors' philosophies are nothing if not subtle.

All in all, it is impressive that when many leaders talk about peace but frequently revert to expensive and destructive military "solutions" these ancient generals can still teach us how to resolve the root causes of all kinds of conflict.

--Douglas Todd"The Vancouver Sun" (05/10/2008)"

Thomas Huynh, a regular reader of this blog and founder of, has just come out with a new book: The Art of War Spirituality for Conflict.

A lot of leaders have found Sun Tzu's Art of War to be instructive in the world of business. Among the principles, written up 2,500 years ago: prevent conflicts before they arise; resolve them when they do; act with courage, intelligence and benevolence in conflict situations; convert potential enemies into friends and control your emotions before they control you.

The book contains a foreword by Marc Benioff of, who credits Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp. with introducing him to the Chinese military classic. In Benioff's view, the goal of the text was to "teach a disadvantaged person or persons how to shift the balance of power ... how David can topple Goliath." Huynh, who came to the U.S. as a political refugee and now has a site that's the leading resource on Tzu's philosophy, has come up with some insightful commentary to accompany the text. Check it out.

--Diane Brady"Business Week Blog" (03/03/2008)"

A 2,500-year-old text called The Art of War may strike some as an unlikely source of advice for today's business leaders, but Thomas Huynh, EMBA 04, believes that there are valuable lessons to be learned from Sun Tzu s masterpiece. Huynh has recently penned a new translation of the work, titled The Art of War: Spirituality for Conflict, with the hope that it will bring the Chinese general s message to a wider audience.

Although the ancient document sounds as though it might glorify war, Huynh says it s actually a treatise on peace, offering practical strategies for circumventing and diffusing conflict, whether on the battlefield, in the boardroom or at home. It is required reading for officers in the United States Marine Corps, as well as students at a number of B-schools, because of its innovative, still-relevant strategy for overcoming conflict. Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO of, who wrote the foreword to Huynh s book, uses its classic principles to manage his company in an often hostile, highly competitive technology industry.

The text itself is a lesson in economy: 13 short chapters comprise The Art of War, but each is full of important lessons that teach the reader how to avoid conflict and resolve inevitable hostile situations using self-control, intelligence, courage and benevolence. Huynh s annotations alongside the translation offer practical application of Sun Tzu s philosophy.

Huynh enjoys a career in finance as Group Controller for Skyline Steel in Georgia, but has been dedicated to the study of Sun Tzu s masterwork since he encountered the text as a teenager. In 1999 he launched to provide Web space for authors, scholars and readers to gather and share information about Sun Tzu s timeless approach to conflict resolution.

Says Huynh, "Conflict is part of life, but it is our response to the disagreement that has the greatest effect on our inner peace and personal happiness."

--Amy Norton"Vanderbuilt Business Magazine" (10/01/2008)"

"Instructs us in patience, flexibility, resolve, discernment, skillful means, compassion--powerfully effective [strategies] in all our relationships, business and spiritual life. Heartily recommended to all leaders and to anyone seeking peace, deep understanding and reconciliation."
--Lama Surya Das, author, Awakening the Buddha Within

"Practical and pragmatic guidance with brilliant insights into the text. Provides clear evidence, and a robust example, that Sun Tzu's wisdom lineage lives on today."
--James Gimian, publisher, Shambhala Sun, director, Denma Translation Group, The Art of War: The Denma Translation

"A masterpiece.... Gives readers practical insight into the highly relevant work of Sun Tzu as it relates to peace, conflict resolution and personal growth. Clear guidance from an ancient philosopher and warrior."
--Angie Morgan and Courtney Lynch, former captains, U.S. Marine Corps, and authors, Leading from the Front

"Engaging commentaries and clear explanations.... Captures the essence of Sun Tzu's teachings and demonstrates how [this] ancient wisdom can be applied in the modern world to achieve powerful results."
--Derek Lin, author, Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained

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