Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More Sun Tzu: The Healing Arts

I really liked the little book quoted from the previous post, so here's a bit more with a little different twist;

From the Translator's Introduction, the following:

"According to an old story, a lord of ancient China once 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 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 illness 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."

Among the tales of ancient China, none captures more beautifully than this the essence of the Art of War, the premier classic of the science of strategy in conflict.

The healing arts and the martial arts may be a world apart in ordinary usage, but they are parallel in several senses; in recognizing, as the story says, that the less needed the better; in the sense that both involve strategy in dealing with disharmony; and in the sense that in both knowledge of the problem is key to the solution.

In both healing arts and martial arts Sun Tzu's philosophy the peak efficiency of knowledge and strategy is to make conflict altogether unnecessary.
And like the story of the healers, there are are all grades of martial arts;:

The superior militarist foils enemies' plots;
next best is to ruin their alliances;
next after that is to attack their armed forces;
worst is to besiege cities.

The 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.
The ancient Taoist masters showed how the man of aggressive violence appears to be ruthless but is really an emotionalist; then they slay the emotionalist with real ruthlessness before revealing the spontaneous nature of free humanity.

Real ruthlessness, the coldness of complete objectivity, always includes oneself in its cutting assessment of the real situation.

Real ruthlessness can be perceived as inhumane, but this is not used by the original philosophers as a justification for quasi-ruthless possessive aggression, but instead as a meditation on the ultimate meaninglessness of the greed and possessiveness that underlie aggression.

In India, Buddhist aspirants used to visit burning grounds and watch the corpses of those whose families couldn't afford a cremation rot away.
They did this to terrify the greed and possessiveness out of themselves.
After that they turned their minds toward thoughts of ideal individuals and ideal societies.

Similarly, Master Sun has his readers dwell on the ravages of war, from its incipient phases of treachery and alienation to its extreme forms of incendiary attack and siege, viewed as a sort of mass cannibalism of human and natural resources.
With this device he gives the reader an enhanced feeling for the significance of individual and social virtues espoused by humanitarian pacifists.

Paradox is often thought of as a standard device of Taoist psychology, used to cross imperceptible barriers of awareness.
Perhaps the paradox of the Art of War is in its opposition to war.
And, as The Art of War wars against war, it does so by its own principles;
it infiltrates the enemy's lines, uncovers the enemy's secrets, and changes the hearts of the enemy's troops.


Writings like this ancient one renew my hope that there is a better, more peaceful and more sustainable future for those living on this planet, despite the many formidable challenges.

In particular, the concept of individual actions that can be magnified and become part of our personal, local, regional, national and international dialogue.
Such changes as we need are within our ability to achieve, but not without the clear thinking, right actions and hard work that actually make steady and meaningful progress.

Perhaps, the time is upon us for for this transformation to grow in earnest, with all the financial, social and environmental problems that have become evident to all but the willfully blind.
We are literally witnessing our own version of burning grounds now, if we care to look at the world's situation that way!

I hope that being faced with such severe challenges will now spur us to correct their causes, and soon.
I will try to do what I can to make the individual changes that I can, and that are so clearly calling out to be made.
I hope you will consider this as a clear opportunity to do so too.

May God bless us all in this endeavor.