The Art of War by Sun Tzu is a philosophy espoused by military, politics and enterprises. I recent read of The complete Art of War translated by Ralph Sawyer proposes its use in personal relationships such as friendship and in marriage.

How does such philosophies align with the practices of Buddhism?

  • If it was written in 513 BCE, that was about the same date as Siddhārtha Gautama was born, and before Buddhism reached China; so in other words the book pre-dates (was not influenced by) Buddhism.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 8:40
  • Any passage of Sun Tzu in particular you think runs in parallel with the Buddhist worldview?
    – hellyale
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 13:22
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    Or can you summarize the "proposed use in personal relationships such as friendship and in marriage", for people who haven't read Ralph Sawyer's book, if you want to ask how/whether those proposals/philosophies align with the practice of Buddhism?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 15:53
  • @ChrisW - The questions pertains to the complete works of Sun Tzu. The translation by Ralph Sawyer is just that however he has suggested its benefits to work with friends and spouse although no direct examples are given.
    – Motivated
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 6:59

1 Answer 1


It's a cup is half empty, half full kind of thing.

One says, life is full of suffering so one succeeds by coming out a winner ahead of others.

The other says the life is full of suffering, so one must help everyone out of suffering to personally come out of suffering.

One view point creates conflict, the other eliminates conflict.

I see Art of War as short term thinking, and Buddhism as long term thinking. The former has instant appeal, but the latter has appeal to those who are contemplative and not hasty.

Note: I'd like to mention the short book (50 odd pages), "The Buddha Taught Nonviolence, Not Pacifism" by Paul R. Fleischman, MD on the subject of violence. It's a difficult subject, I can't say I agree with the entire book, but it has interesting ideas.

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    I saw The Art of War as a way to minimize suffering by making the unavoidable (large scale conflict) as effective as possible. If my understanding is correct, then also minimizing the time, energy and damage of the inevitable (conflict in relationships) is the most loving thing to do. Skillful Means applies to anything, right? Even contemplative people need to know what is best to do in the moment. Let me know if I have misunderstood the import of the book.
    – user2341
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 14:01
  • As a Hetaira Archetype person, reading the episode where the Concubines are instructed and used as an example was quite compelling. (I gave it to a Bible Study group and they liked it too.) Hetairas are motivated by Relationships and caring for people in personal and intimate ways, so I find the book somewhat applicable.
    – user2341
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 14:07
  • Conflict arises when our imagined expectations from a relationship don't match reality. The Buddha is also known as Tatagatha -one who sees things as they are. He has no imaginary expectation from life, he exists in the present moment, accepting it fully, not judging as wrong or unjust. Thus he has no conflict. To think conflicts are inevitable is a wrong view, leading to hell realms per several suttas.
    – Buddho
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 15:06
  • I agree with your first sentence, but there are two people (groups, nations, etc) involved, and either can precipitate a conflict. This is an essential asymmetry in life: even if I do nothing wrong, you can hurt or harass me. Until everyone is enlightened, this can happen. My choice then is what to do. As a Nation, The Art of War summarizes effective responses. As an Induhvidual (Dilbert spelling) it points out ways to undermine the other person's forces directed against me - "Marital Arts", ha ha. (See story about man on subway asking angry, possibly violent passenger about his wife.)
    – user2341
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 15:18
  • Sun Tzu says there are some wars that should not be fought. Does this mean he advocates non-violence, or compassion for the enemy? Hardly that, since the advice comes from the cold calculus of war. Intention matters. In Buddhism, the right action with the wrong intention is quite bad. Preferable to wish no harm on the enemy, and get idiotically slaughtered as a result, but better if you can defend yourself while wishing no harm on the enemy.
    – Buddho
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 21:19

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