“With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?” Sun Tzu
Times and Seasons
One way to interpret Sun Tzu’s reference to “advantages from Heaven and Earth” as a factor in who succeeds or reverse, is to look at it as times and seasons. There are things which lie directly in our sphere of control, and there are others that do not; times and seasons are not in the sphere of control of humans. However accurately discerning times and seasons, and sometimes predicting them helps for better planning. For example, when I am planning to play tennis with friends, I check the weather forecast for the proposed time of the games. This helps with better preparations and adjustments can be made accordingly. This is the same for a general or leader who wishes to succeed.
The Trojan War – Agamemnon
In Ancient Greek mythology, Agamemnon planned to fight the Trojan War to seek revenge on Paris, who had run away with his brothers wife Helen, who at the time was the most beautiful woman in the world. The winds (time & season; heaven & earth) however were not favorable to his quest, and the priests advised him to sacrifice his daughter to appease the gods and gain safe passage. That tragic story was summarized by Lucretius below:
“One thing I am concerned about: you might, as you commence
Philosophy, decide you see impiety therein,
And that the path you enter is the avenue to sin.
More often on the contrary, it is Religion breeds
Wickedness and that has given rise to wrongful deeds,
As when the leaders of the Greeks, those peerless peers, defiled
The virgin’s altar with the blood of Agamemnon’s child,
Iphigenia. As soon as they bound the fillet round her hair
So that it’s ends streamed down her cheeks, the girl became aware
That waiting at the temple for her there would be no groom-
Instead she saw her father with a countenance of gloom
Attended by priests who kept the blade well hid. The sight
Of people shedding tears to see her froze her tongue with fright.
She sank to the ground on her knees. It did not mean a thing
For the princess now, that she had been the first to give the king
The name of Father. No, for shaking, the poor girl was carried
By the hands of men up to the altar, not that she be married
With solemn ceremony, to the accompanying strain
Of loud-sung bridal hymns, but as a maiden, pure of stain,
To be impurely slaughtered, at the age when she should wed,
Sorrowful sacrifice slain at her father’s hand instead.
All this for fair and favorable winds to sail the fleet along! –
So potent was Religion in persuading to do wrong.” Lucretius
Based on the times and seasons we find ourselves in, what sacrifices do we need to make to ensure our plans succeed? In a game of chess, the pieces on the board include pawns, bishops, knights, castles or rooks, the queen and the king. All these have varying powers, and move differently on the chess board, with players preferring certain pieces to others. The queen is generally more highly valued because of the powers she wields in the game. Sometimes to get to checkmate, a player may use the queen as a bait for an opponent to get into position. This requires calculations several steps ahead because blatantly offering the queen will raise suspicions. So while calculations (a necessary attribute for success) comes into play, the sacrifice (the queen or any other piece) becomes crucial to the end game. This is similar in life. What compromises must a leader make to succeed? There are no prescriptions, but will depend on discernment and understanding the times.
… of the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, their chiefs were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their command; of Zebulun there were fifty thousand who went out to battle, expert in war with all weapons of war, stouthearted men who could keep ranks; … 1 Chronicles 12:32-33
Understanding of the times has always been associated with success in war or the reverse. Life is war…, and in this time of war against COVID-19, what sacrifices must we make individually and collectively to succeed?
The Amateur Philosopher
Excerpt from Lucretius, The Nature of Things (as translated by A. E. Stallings)