Above and Below as a Warrior’s Way   Leave a comment

Solwom wesutai syet — may it be for the good of all beings.

This post continues the teaching from the previous one. “Above and below” together offer a way to live for the good of all beings, including as a warrior. We need the warrior’s way today at least as much as ever in the past.

The version of the Warrior’s Way of spirituality I attempt to summarize below offers a high challenge I’m still learning and exploring and trying out, after decades of practice, as I continue to walk along two different spiritual paths. I’ve come to see we’re all “slow learners” — it takes many spirals of experience even to begin to understand and live with honor. But how often I stumble simply doesn’t matter — it’s a necessary part of the practice. If I’m not stumbling, I’m probably not practicing. All that does matter is that I try just one more time than I fail.

The warrior’s way doesn’t depend on others for its success. Victory, in fact, isn’t the final point. Are you with me still? Are you asking “Why bother, if it doesn’t lead to victory?”

What makes this the way of a warrior in particular? Any path is a specialization, a focus, a dedication, an ongoing practice. Its whole point is an effective approach. There’s no particular endpoint, but ongoing refinement throughout one’s life. A musician practices because that’s how to be a musician. The warrior’s way is no different.

pwyllAncient cultures held out a code of honor, and the pursuit of excellence, as guides for their warrior heroes. Along with Celtic poems and legends in collections like the Mabinogi, and the figure of Pwyll (left), the Greek epics the Iliad and the Odyssey, for instance, make much of τιμή timē “honor” and ἀρετή aretē “nobility, excellence” as standards to aspire to.

The Hindu epic Mahabharata, which contains the beloved scripture Bhagavad-Gita within its vastness, also presents a similar “warrior’s way.” And just in case we’re not paying attention, the very first stanza of the Gita tells us that the upcoming battle takes place on kurukshetra, yes — the field of the Kuru princes — but also on dharmaksetra, the “Field of Virtue.” Here the rubber hits the road or, you might say, the philosophy hits the fighting.

arjunaThe opening chapter of the Gita introduces the “spiritual student” and warrior Arjuna (right). He’s downcast at this point — the chapter is aptly  called Arjuna Vishada “The Dejection of Arjuna.” The reason becomes quickly apparent — he sees the imminent deaths in battle of those he loves, together with the destruction of a whole social order, and at the outset of the second chapter, he declares bitterly (II:9) na yotsya “I will not fight.”

The profound spiritual counsel he receives from his charioteer, who is also the god Krishna, makes up the rest of the Gita. Arjuna does in fact go on to fight, for reasons that make the Gita very worth studying. (Find a good translation — I can recommend among others the bilingual and carefully annotated version by Winthrop Sargeant, available in paperback.)

These values of honor and excellence or virtue feature dramatically in the larger-than-life examples of heroes, and of course they also come bearing the limits and glories of their respective cultures. As a work in progress, the warrior’s way, like all life-ways, continues to deepen and unfold as we practice it and spiral with it.

A college friend of mine was very into the warrior’s way, to the extent that the only picture on his apartment walls was a large and dramatic painting of a robed figure wielding a weapon of light and bearing the caption “swordsman of spirit.”

Every human life has its battles, inner and outer. The recent political upsets and twists and turns here in America are ultimately a very small part of an immense and ongoing drama. They feel large because they’re ours, and disorienting in part because many of us have been sheltered by privilege and ease from realities others must live daily. But every generation faces down its own challenges, and acts and reacts out of what my grandmother and her generation liked to call “inner resources.” The various “toolkits” of techniques and practices that cultures and spiritual paths offer in order to cultivate these is one of my abiding interests.

Here then are nine principles of one warrior’s way as I understand it and strive to practice it today:

* let my actions unfold from the still point within me, so that each deed serves life

* know I can always return to that still point, whenever I step away from it for any reason

* rest in the embrace of this present moment, the only time I truly have

* remember I and all beings exist because spirit continuously manifests in this world of form, time and space

* keep to a daily practice in order to develop and maintain spiritual strength and connection

* practice compassion for others without letting sympathy bind me to agreement with their state of consciousness — or their lessons will also become mine

* see others as spirit beings like myself, so they may see themselves likewise

* distinguish between mind’s fears, patterns and opinions, and the love and wisdom of spirit, in order to hear my inner guidance more clearly

* recognize the only true battle takes place in my consciousness

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images: PwyllArjuna.

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