The Master of Demon Valley: A Discussion

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The Master of Demon Valley: A Discussion

Unread postby Tianshan Zi » Sat Dec 14, 2002 6:24 am

Let's discuss this ancient book of strategy that is traditionally attributed to the Warring States Period and associated with the "Zongheng xue" school of thought. :nods:

Every few days (or as necessary), I'll post a new selection from the work so that it is open for discussion. Please share your thoughts on the selections, your impressions, possible real-life applications, etc. :D

I will begin the discussion now by providing the first excerpt from Thomas Cleary's translation.

From the "Opening and Closing" chapter of The Master of Demon Valley:

1. Let us consider how ancient sages existed between heaven and earth. Being leaders of others, they watched the opening and closing of yin and yang in order to direct people thereby and knew the doorway of survival and destruction. Assessing the ends and beginnings of all types, they arrived at the principles of human psychology and saw the foresigns of change therein; and they kept vigil at the doorway.

Cleary's Notes:

"Opening and closing" means activation and deactivation, switching on and switching off.

1. The opening and closing of yin and yang refer to the alternation of opposite or complementary trends of events or modes of behavior.

Alright. Let's go! :D
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Re: The Master of Demon Valley: A Discussion

Unread postby Seven at One Stroke » Sun Dec 15, 2002 5:46 am

Very nice.

From the "Opening and Closing" chapter of The Master of Demon Valley:

1. Let us consider how ancient sages existed between heaven and earth. Being leaders of others, they watched the opening and closing of yin and yang in order to direct people thereby and knew the doorway of survival and destruction. Assessing the ends and beginnings of all types, they arrived at the principles of human psychology and saw the foresigns of change therein; and they kept vigil at the doorway.

Cleary's Notes:

"Opening and closing" means activation and deactivation, switching on and switching off.

1. The opening and closing of yin and yang refer to he alternation of opposite or complementary trends of events or modes of behavior.


Well, I'm not sure about the "activating and deactivating" part of the ying yang, but otherwise this passage is somewhat similar to what Confucius believes: truly wise men are capable of seeing the nature of a person through his actions, his words or his appearance alone. If you're talking about military strategies, this is probably a build up for the doctrine that a wise commander will be able to see the nature of his enemies, both his strengths and weaknesses, from some rather simple things.

What are your thoughts on this?
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Re: The Master of Demon Valley: A Discussion

Unread postby Tianshan Zi » Sun Dec 15, 2002 7:27 am

TheYellowDwarf wrote:Very nice.

...

Well, I'm not sure about the "activating and deactivating" part of the ying yang, but otherwise this passage is somewhat similar to what Confucius believes: truly wise men are capable of seeing the nature of a person through his actions, his words or his appearance alone. If you're talking about military strategies, this is probably a build up for the doctrine that a wise commander will be able to see the nature of his enemies, both his strengths and weaknesses, from some rather simple things.

What are your thoughts on this?

From the point of view of martial strategy or statecraft, I think that the author of MoDV is outlining his vision of the sage-ruler as one who leads the people by assessing every possible contingency, every possible action that can be taken, and every possible result; this sage-ruler, as you point out, should also be able to size up his enemies, i.e. any others who might affect any possible situation, any of their possible actions, and any of their possible resulting conditions--regardless of whether they, too, are sage-rulers.

Furthermore, this sage-ruler must take, or direct his people to take, the action most in accordance with the existing situation; thus, the doorway of survival and destruction takes on the nature of either the doorway of survival or the doorway of destruction, depending upon whether the sage-ruler applies the appropriate action to the existing situation.

Actually, I see Cleary's notes as not being that helpful and as being slightly distracting. He seems to attempt to add more color to the deceptively simple binary description of yin and yang. In this case, I see yin and yang, their opening and closing, and their activating and deactivating simply as expressions of the myriad contingencies which the sage-ruler must correctly assess.

My own interpretation of the passage is similar to your own, but not necessarily the same. We should discuss this further. :D
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Re: The Master of Demon Valley: A Discussion

Unread postby Seven at One Stroke » Sun Dec 15, 2002 6:32 pm

Tianshan Tzu wrote:
Furthermore, this sage-ruler must take, or direct his people to take, the action most in accordance with the existing situation; thus, the doorway of survival and destruction takes on the nature of either the doorway of survival or the doorway of destruction, depending upon whether the sage-ruler applies the appropriate action to the existing situation.

Actually, I see Cleary's notes as not being that helpful and as being slightly distracting. He seems to attempt to add more color to the deceptively simple binary description of yin and yang. In this case, I see yin and yang, their opening and closing, and their activating and deactivating simply as expressions of the myriad contingencies which the sage-ruler must correctly assess.


After rereading the passage, I think that one of the key points is the "doorway" that is mentioned twice. The sages keeps vigil at the doorway, of what? Survival and destruction? Why does the sage keep watch over the "doorway" of survival and destruction? Moreover, what is this 'doorway' of survival and destruction?

I don't think we should write off yin-yang as an expression of every possible situations that may arise. There are indeed many possibilities the future may hold. Sages are only human, they cannot know EVERY possibility. But through observing Yin and Yang at the "doorway," they can foretell what is going to happen, or "arrive at the principles of human psychology and see the foresigns of change therein."

The Yin-Yang duality probably plays more importance in this book than any others strategies, because if I'm not mistaken, MoDV is quite a mystic. I found a version of the chinese text on the internet (keep in mind my modern Chinese isn't very good, much less ancient Chinese). Directly after the passage you quoted, this (roughly translated) sentence follows: "That's why the sages in the world, from the past to the present, hold this one Dao." (Dao=Tao=the way) This is one of the most fundamental principle in the I-Ching, or Book of Change.
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Unread postby Benkei » Sun Dec 15, 2002 11:35 pm

Personally, therefore I might be wrong, I think the sage is described as being not of heaven or earth. I guess he is described as being the commander of man kind, and directes people to destruction or survival according to the actions and the consequences of those actions. They understand the nature of man because they asses what is happening and can make an accurate conclusion. They stay vigil at the doorway so as not to let thigs go out of control, so that there is a constant balance of survival and destruction.
Concerning war I agree that the great commanders must be able to understand the opponent and must be able to sacrafice. I guess a good example is the game of go where one must always keep a balance of dead and living stable, otherwise you loss control. Once you lose control of how many die, they die where you do not want them to die, and you loss territory.
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Re: The Master of Demon Valley: A Discussion

Unread postby Tianshan Zi » Mon Dec 16, 2002 4:18 am

YellowDwarf, I think that the "doorway" that is mentioned is the present, the here and now. The sage keeps vigil at the present, recognizing and assessing the past and future, based on the "doorway" of the present. Thus, it is the present (the nature of which can be seen in the yin and the yang), the sage's assessment, and the sage's actions that determine the nature of the doorway of survival and destruction.

(I, too, have heard that this text is considered to be more mystical than many of the books on strategy, but, for now, I will reserve judgment. I will keep this notion in mind, though. :) )

And, Benkei, I agree with you that the sage is painted as a sort of superhuman who should recognize the right times for survival and destruction. Your GO analogy is a good illustration of this point. The sage should manipulate both survival and destruction in the pursuit of the Way. :nods:

Perhaps this is the appropriate time to introduce the second excerpt in full (as YellowDwarf has already in part) because it might shed some light on these issues.

From the "Opening and Closing" chapter of The Master of Demon Valley:

2. Therefore the Way by which sages live in the world has always been one; while its transformations, which are endless, each has a specific purpose. Sometimes it is yin, sometimes yang; sometimes yielding, sometimes firm; sometimes open, sometimes closed; sometimes relaxed, sometimes tense. For this reason sages consistently keep watch at the doorway and carefully examine what should precede and what follow. They assess strategies, measure capabilities, and compare strengths and weaknesses of technical skills.

Cleary's Notes:

2. The unity of the Way and the endless variety of its transformations are simultaneously manifest in the capacity of universal adaptation to any circumstances.

I think here we begin to see some of the subtlety required of the sage: allowing the situation to dictate one's actions yet still realizing one's desired outcome.
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Unread postby Rhiannon » Mon Dec 16, 2002 5:03 am

I'm reminded of a quote from The Book of Balance and Harmony that's in the preface to my copy of The Art of War.


Deep knowledge of principle knows without seeing, strong practice of the Way accomplishes without striving. Deep knowledge is to 'know without going out the door, see the way of heaven without looking out the window.' Strong action is to 'grow ever stronger, adapting to all situations.'


I think the sage's prerequisite to this "Deep knowledge" (which is what I prefer to call intuition, that is, knowing without knowing) is to stand above the world (between heaven and earth, above the earth but below heaven, belonging to neither in their ways) and observe the patterns of Yin and Yang. They watch the ways of both masculine and feminine energy, studying them so that they come to understand and "know" all possible outcomes, because they have learned the energies to a point where they can see a trend before it begins by feeling its "undercurrent".

Thus, knowing the patterns of energy that will come, they learn to not fight against them by pressing Yang against Yin, for instance, but by learning to follow the energy flow and control it. By knowing all possible outcomes and being intimately familiar with the energies of Yin and Yang, they can steer one path easily into another, knowing quite well what it will do.

The situation therefore, ends up dictating its own outcome. The sage does nothing but harness the potential of a situation and steer it.
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Unread postby Tianshan Zi » Mon Dec 16, 2002 3:01 pm

A very good point, Wild-Eyes. I like your choice of wording in "harness" and "steer."

So, the sage should belong to neither Heaven nor Earth? (There is a similarity here to Nietzsche's notion that the "uebermensh" is "beyond good and evil." Just a tangent... :) )

I remember reading somewhere about specifically named energies in Taoist thought. (I will attempt to find them.) Again, we encounter the mystical element that YellowDwarf has mentioned.
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Unread postby Seven at One Stroke » Mon Dec 16, 2002 6:34 pm

Wild-Eyes wrote:
Thus, knowing the patterns of energy that will come, they learn to not fight against them by pressing Yang against Yin, for instance, but by learning to follow the energy flow and control it. By knowing all possible outcomes and being intimately familiar with the energies of Yin and Yang, they can steer one path easily into another, knowing quite well what it will do.

The situation therefore, ends up dictating its own outcome. The sage does nothing but harness the potential of a situation and steer it.


Haha. This is pratically the essence of Tai-Chi fighting. Yes, I agree that the sage does nothing but harness the potential of a stituation and steer it. Doing nothing is very important because, once the sage is put into motion, he cannot be One anymore, he will be either Yin or Yang. To me, the "doorway of survival and extinction" means the doorway before Yin and Yang, a state of oneness, or "tai-chi" -- the supreme pole as it is sometimes called, where as Yin-Yang forms a dipole.



2. Therefore the Way by which sages live in the world has always been one; while its transformations, which are endless, each has a specific purpose. Sometimes it is yin, sometimes yang; sometimes yielding, sometimes firm; sometimes open, sometimes closed; sometimes relaxed, sometimes tense. For this reason sages consistently keep watch at the doorway and carefully examine what should precede and what follow. They assess strategies, measure capabilities, and compare strengths and weaknesses of technical skills.


Here we have some more detailed explanation of what is Yin and what is Yang. Yielding is yin, standing firm, is yang, open is yang, and closed is yin, relaxed is yin, and tense is yang. Everything, according to the Taoists, are consisted of Yin and Yang, although in different proportions.

Here we see the problem with ancient texts and the prevalent lack of specific pronouns. In the last sentence, whose strategies are the sages assessing, whose capabilities are they measuring, and whose strengths and weaknesses of technical skills are they comparing? It may seem natural to say that MoDV is talking Ying and Yang, because it was directly mentioned above. But it may seem (or at least it seems to me) that the passage is somewhat redudant, of course the sage would know the capabilities of Yin and Yang to begin with. Even if he is to assess the properties of Yin and Yang, why must he stand at the doorway (what I consider Tai-chi or Oneness)?

I think that the sages' calculations are not about the inherent properties of Yin and Yang, but the flow of these two energies in people at large. Some people are firm while some are passive, some people are diligent while others are relaxed, some are greedy and some are not.

If that is the case, then the Way, the Oneness does not have any transformations, it only transforms from oneness to a dipole. That is my intepretation anyways.

About heaven and earth: heaven is yang and the earth is yin. Although I don't see it as having too much significance in this context. Heaven is the sky, earth is the earth. Between heaven and earth, that is on the ground, or the human world. It is often believed that the human world is constantly affected by the heaven and earth and therefore is a mixture of fluctuating yin and yang. The text said "between heaven and earth," not "outside of heaven and earth," so the sage still lives in the world, not somehow above or below it.
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Unread postby Tianshan Zi » Mon Dec 16, 2002 7:29 pm

TheYellowDwarf wrote:Haha. This is pratically the essence of Tai-Chi fighting. Yes, I agree that the sage does nothing but harness the potential of a stituation and steer it. Doing nothing is very important because, once the sage is put into motion, he cannot be One anymore, he will be either Yin or Yang. To me, the "doorway of survival and extinction" means the doorway before Yin and Yang, a state of oneness, or "tai-chi" -- the supreme pole as it is sometimes called, where as Yin-Yang forms a dipole.

Ah... So the doorway itself is more or less a position or state of balance between Yin and Yang, the stasis(?) prior to movement and activation of either Yin or Yang energies, with the assumption that this activation occurs only after the sage's proper assessment of the situation? Hmm. YellowDwarf, I like that you introduced Tai-Chi at this moment, because your use of that example really illustrates the idea that some sort of motion or action (or even failure/choice to do so) is related to the activation of the Yin/Yang energies. :nods:

TheYellowDwarf wrote:Here we see the problem with ancient texts and the prevalent lack of specific pronouns. In the last sentence, whose strategies are the sages assessing, whose capabilities are they measuring, and whose strengths and weaknesses of technical skills are they comparing? It may seem natural to say that MoDV is talking Ying and Yang, because it was directly mentioned above. But it may seem (or at least it seems to me) that the passage is somewhat redudant, of course the sage would know the capabilities of Yin and Yang to begin with. Even if he is to assess the properties of Yin and Yang, why must he stand at the doorway (what I consider Tai-chi or Oneness)?

Yes, the text is redundant, seemingly in an attempt to make the description of what needs to be assessed more robust, perhaps for those approaching the work without having much knowledge of the Way.

TheYellowDwarf wrote:I think that the sages' calculations are not about the inherent properties of Yin and Yang, but the flow of these two energies in people at large. Some people are firm while some are passive, some people are diligent while others are relaxed, some are greedy and some are not.

If that is the case, then the Way, the Oneness does not have any transformations, it only transforms from oneness to a dipole. That is my intepretation anyways.

I think that I understand what you are saying. Are you saying that the sage's assessment are not of the properties of Yin and Yang but the properties of people, things, and contingencies--all of which activate and deactivate, open and close, etc. in terms of Yin and Yang? If so, I can see that. :)

TheYellowDwarf wrote:About heaven and earth: heaven is yang and the earth is yin. Although I don't see it as having too much significance in this context. Heaven is the sky, earth is the earth. Between heaven and earth, that is on the ground, or the human world. It is often believed that the human world is constantly affected by the heaven and earth and therefore is a mixture of fluctuating yin and yang. The text said "between heaven and earth," not "outside of heaven and earth," so the sage still lives in the world, not somehow above or below it.

Right. But still, what a burden! :lol:
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