I thought Cleary did a job job of laying the groundwork for me about Sun Tzu, The Art of War and the Tao, so that I could understand the significance of what I was reading, in the introduction. Now I won't fool with you and say that the introduction was an easy read--it was a little long at 40 pages or so--but it was interesting. One of the things Cleary mentions is that their are different ways to translate ancient Chinese, and that he tried to translate it from the perspective of the Tao.
He has also included translations of the multitude of commentary added to the work over the centuries, by other Tao-types dudes, generals, and thinkers. These comments are sometimes handy to help understand what Master Sun was trying to get at. But other times, it seems pretty clear that my guess was a good as theirs, or worse; they didn't have much to say at all. And occasionally, the commentary sounded like a bunch of yes men clucking around their boss, trying to sound smart. Here's what I mean. Master Sun would give some sage advice to young wannbe generals, trying to make their way in the world and so, say he says something like:
Don't take any wooden nickles.
Fine, right? Okay I get it, its a dumb example, not quite sure what it has to do with kicking some ass, but sounds reasonable. Then the yes men chime in and say stuff like:
Wooden means emptiness, and nickle means fullness.
Emptiness is bad. Fullness is good.
It is better to have fullness, than emptiness.
If you are bad, and your enemy is good, do not fight.
You will loose.
All your base are belong to us.
You see what I'm saying? Apologies to the commentators, whose fine names I slandered, but for real: some of the comments were just about that helpful. Now, maybe its because I don't understand the Way, and this is the first book I've read about the Tao, but some of the comments just didn't seem to add much to the discussion. I would be interested in re-reading this translation without the comments. Maybe Shambhala should do a version that has both. The full text, without the comments, can't take up more that 40 or 50 pages, and could be followed by the full version with the yes-men commentary.
Check it out, full text in English and Chinese. Translation by Lionel Giles (1910). no commentary
Okay, so that was a hoot. But seriously, I liked it. I was amazed at the thought that went into this 2000 years ago. Thanks for the book loan Tom!