In the modern West it may be difficult to make a positive connection between the warrior and what we usually consider as spirituality. Typically, we would think of this connection in the form of religious wars, crusades or jihads— events that appear in news headlines and history textbooks.
But in the East, the warrior and the yogi (the spiritual practitioner) have historically been much more compatible. The marriage of these two disciplines can be seen in the martial arts and in some Asian monastic traditions. In this context the spiritual warrior is seen to be engaged in a battle with herself more than with an external enemy.
To better understand the nature of the spiritual warrior as an archetype let’s look at four characteristics common to both the warrior and the yogi.
In this context discipline is not seen as punishment but rather as support for learning and personal growth. (The word discipline is derived from the word disciple: One who is under instruction or tutelage). Initially, the warrior’s discipline comes from an external source, but the true warrior eventually internalizes this as self-discipline. Meditation and mindfulness practice requires discipline; it takes discipline to engage the practice--and the practice itself is a discipline of sustained attention and nonresistance.
Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the ability to meet fear skillfully. It takes courage to face oneself; and it takes courage to continue the practice in the face of difficulties and challenges. In the story of his awakening the Buddha was confronted by the armies of Mara. (The personification of illusion/ego). Mara tried to frighten him, to seduce him, to bribe him and finally, to bargain with him—all to no avail.
Recorded in the ancient Dhammapada are these words of the Buddha: Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle-- he is the noblest of victors who conquers himself.
The word courage is derived from a French word meaning heart. The world’s warrior conquers with weaponry and physical strength, but the spiritual warrior conquers with love---with an open heart. Perhaps a new definition of courage could be “The ability to keep one’s heart open in every circumstance.”
The true warrior always has a clear intention--a clear sense of mission. Intention is not the same as a goal; a goal focuses on the future; an intention always relates to the present moment—to the here and now. Intention is like a compass needle that one could use to guide his journey.
Joseph Campbell tells the story of a samurai warrior…
A samurai warrior, a Japanese warrior, had the duty to avenge the murder of his overlord. And after some time, he found and cornered the man who had murdered his overlord. He was about to deal with him with his samurai sword, when this man in the corner, in the passion of terror, spat in his face. And the samurai sheathed the sword and walked away!
Why? Because he was made angry, and if he had killed that man then, it would have been a personal act, another kind of act, that’s not what he had come to do.
If the samurai had killed the overlord the act would have been motivated by anger. The warrior sheathed his sword because he knew that he had to address his anger before he acted objectively, otherwise his act would no longer be intentional.
The spiritual warrior constantly reminds herself of the intention behind every decision and every action.
The spiritual warrior’s fundamental loyalty is not to nation or tribe but to her own Buddha nature. Most every warrior takes an oath of loyalty. One form of the spiritual warrior’s oath is that of the three Refuges: I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the dharma; I take refuge in the sangha. This is a statement of loyalty-- to Reality, to Truth, to Being.
The commitment to conquer oneself is not to be taken lightly because you are choosing to face a most formidable enemy: the ego. It’s not easy, but it’s very possible if you engage your spiritual practice as if your life depends on it. This is the attitude of the Spiritual Warrior.