warriorhood

Wildmind’s top ten blog posts of 2008

fireworksIt’s been a busy year. We’ve redesigned the site, reorganized our news section, and added many hundreds of new posts on the theme of meditation and spiritual practice. So now it’s time to pause and look back with some fondness and appreciation at the most popular blog articles that were published on Wildmind in 2008. But before we do so, we’d like to thank you, our 1.5 million dear readers, for taking an interest in what we do and for posting interesting and insightful comments. All the best in 2009!

10. Back in February Wildmind welcomed the awesomeness that is Auntie Suvanna (aka Dharmacarini Suvarnaprabha of the San Francisco Buddhist Center). Auntie Suvanna dispenses wit and wisdom in equal measure as she helps mere mortals like ourselves with their problems, both spiritual and mundane. In her debut Ask Auntie Suvanna column she offered solace to a seeking soul who was comparing her breast-size unfavorably with the bodacious curves of female Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. For those of you who have been missing Auntie of late, do not despair. She’s merely taking a sabbatical and waiting for some good questions to come in.

9. In March, Bodhipaksa riffed on a saying by Søren Kierkegaard, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”

8. In June, guest blogger, Buddhist practitioner, PhD candidate, and general good guy Justin Whitaker discussed The art of friendship

7. In October, our resident teacher and blogger Sunada shared heartfelt advice on Being an introvert in an extroverted world

6. Author, activist, and performer Vimalasara graced our pages back in March, with a fascinating account of Waking up into the moment

5. In his regular monthly “quote of the month” column, new dad Bodhipaksa shares some of what he’s learned through observing his young daughter’s consciousness evolving by discussing a quote by Muhammad Ali, “Children make you want to start life over.”

4. And it’s Bodhipaksa’s “quote of the month” column again, this time discussing Anaïs Nin’s saying, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” and sharing lessons he has learned the hard way.

3. Bodhipaksa once more, this time with some practical advice on how to use meditative techniques not to wake up but to get yourself to sleep: Meditation and insomnia

2. In March, Sunada reveals how we can see our “difficult” mental states as teachers rather than as problems in Anxiety, depression, anger… Paths to purification?

1. But our most popular post of the year was guest blogger Lieutenant Jeanette Shin outlining her vision of The Buddha as warrior. Lt. Shin was the US military’s first Buddhist chaplain, and she serves in the US Navy. Thank you Lt. Shin!

Read More

Chogyam Trungpa on Warriorship

samuraiIn these extracts from a forthcoming book from Shambhala Publications, the late Chogyam Trungpa defines his vision of the peaceful Buddhist warrior and explains the joys of the warrior’s path.

The warrior’s weapons

If victory is the notion of no enemy, then the whole world is a friend. That seems to be the warrior’s philosophy. The true warrior is not like somebody carrying a sword and looking behind his own shadow, in case somebody is lurking there. That is the setting-sun warrior’s point of view, which is an expression of cowardice. The true warrior always has a weapon, in any case … The definition of warriorship is fearlessness and gentleness. Those are your weapons. The genuine warrior becomes truly gentle because there is no enemy at all.

From the manuscript of CONQUERING FEAR: THE HEART OF SHAMBHALA. Forthcoming from Shambhala Publications in 2009.

* * * * *

The joy of warriorship

When we speak of fearlessness, we are describing a positive state of being full of delight and cheerfulness, with sparkling eyes and good posture. This state of being is not dependent on any external circumstance. If you can’t pay the electric bill, you might not have hot water in your house. The building you live in may not be well insulated. If you don’t have indoor plumbing, you may have to use an outhouse. Millions of people in the world live this way. If you can raise your good posture of head and shoulders, then regardless of your living situation, you will feel a sense of joy. It’s not any kind of cheap joy. It’s individual dignity. This experience of joy and unconditional healthiness is the basic virtue that comes from being what we are, right now. You have to experience this natural healthiness and goodness personally.

When you practice meditation, that brings the beginning of the beginning of this experience. Then, when you leave the meditation hall and go out and relate with the rest of reality, you will find out what kind of joy is needed and what kind of joy is expendable. The experience of joy may be a momentary experience, or it could last a long time. In any case, this joy is an eye opener. You are no longer shy of seeing the world. You find that the joy of warriorship is always needed.

From the manuscript of CONQUERING FEAR: THE HEART OF SHAMBHALA. Forthcoming from Shambhala Publications in 2009.

Read More

True heroism is to practice love

Buddha and his protector, Vajrapani

Life as a battle is a common metaphor — even in Buddhist teachings. Bodhipaksa shows how the Buddha subverted the language of violence so that true heroism was to practice love.

If you look closely at life you’ll probably see that in at least some respects you see it as a battle.

Sometimes we say we “struggle” to keep up with our responsibilities. At times it seems we’re in “competition” with others for approval, status, or power. We talk about “fighting off” a cold. We say that “forewarned is forearmed.” We say that we made a suggestion, only to have it “shot down.” Doctors are constantly searching for new “weapons” to fight disease. Law enforcement workers “fight crime.” Advertisers “target” us with ad “campaigns.” The language of battle is a part of everyday life, as are the emotional attitudes that come with competition.

And we often see success in terms of how many victories we have, how well we’ve protected or expanded our turf, and how successful we’ve been in fighting our way to the top. Power, and its trappings — money, possessions, and the deference of others — are our society’s measure of success.

This verse from the Dhammapada —

If one should conquer thousands in battle,
and if another should conquer only himself,
his indeed is the greatest victory.

— is a reminder that there are other kinds of attainment.

These words are also powerful example of an instructive device that the Buddha often employed, where he takes an externally-performed action that is highly valued and shows that it gains even greater value when turned inwards.

The Buddha lived in a world that to us would seem superstitious and even barbaric. Society was in the grip of a rigid social system where people were judged not on their intelligence, capability, or attainments but on their birth origins. The way to happiness involved fulfilling without question the duties of one’s caste. One of the main religious practices was to slaughter animals in order to propitiate the gods. In order to purify oneself from ethical lapses it was believed that all one had to do was to bathe in rivers — even if the rivers were literally polluted. And war was not only common but brutal, and warriors believed that if killed in the heat of battle they would be lifted directly to heaven.

And in the midst of this madness was the supreme sanity of the Buddha.

According to the Buddha:

  • The true “Brahmin” (religious person) is not someone born into a certain family but someone who acts in an ethical manner. Anyone can become a holy person, irrespective of birth.
  • The true outcast is not someone born into a lowly family but someone who neglects his or her human potential and acts ignobly, by speaking or acting in a selfish or violent manner.
  • The way to happiness does not consist of following externally-imposed duties, but of following an inner path of cultivating wisdom and compassion.
  • True sacrifice doesn’t involve slaughtering animals but practicing generosity and renouncing our addiction to violence.
  • Purification comes not through external rituals but through living ethically and by observing the mind in meditation.

Over and over again the Buddha attempted to subvert the common understandings of his time. This was a subtle and intelligent approach to take. Rather than directly oppose those who saw things in a deluded way, and thus giving rise to resistance, he tapped into their concerns. He suggested, for example, not just that battle was cruel and destructive, but that you could become a greater warrior by seeing that there is a higher form of battle — an inner struggle against destructiveness, selfishness, and delusion.

And sometimes, just as the outer world can seen as combative, so too the inner world can seem like a battleground. There are times when we are involved in a struggle with ourselves, when our thoughts seem to be assailing us and when we are trying to fend them off.

Martial metaphors are in fact common in Buddhist teachings on meditation, with Shantideva encouraging us to pick up our mindfulness as swiftly as we would pick up a sword dropped in battle, the meditator being compared to a fletcher straightening an arrow, and the Buddha’s monks being compared to warriors battling sensual distraction.

But we have to be careful with these martial metaphors, perhaps even more so than with other figures of speech, although there are dangers in all forms of literalism. We do have to do inner work, and sometimes that work will seem to be hard and unrewarding — or to be a “struggle.” We do need qualities that are traditionally associated with the warrior spirit, qualities such as courage, clarity, steadfastness, loyalty to a cause, and the ability to handle discomfort.

But we need to be careful not to bring attitudes of ill will into our meditation practice. In meditation it’s ourselves we are struggling with, and in a battle where we regard ourselves as the enemy we can’t win. Elsewhere in the Dhammapada the Buddha says:

Hatred is never overcome by hatred.
It is overcome by love – this is eternally true.

Ultimately we need to love the thoughts and feelings that assault us in meditation. We do need to overcome our selfishness, our ill-will, and our delusion, but we can’t meet them on their own level. We need to meet them with love and compassion. And when we experience victory over ourselves in this way, we have a happiness greater and more lasting than any external victory can bring.

Read More

Awakening the Inner Warrior

Buddha handThe archetype of warriorhood, if taken literally, can antithetical to the Buddhist path of peace. Taken as a metaphor for inner change, however, it can represent the inner struggle required in spiritual practice. Guest blogger and philosopher Justin Whitaker explores three types of warrior: outer, inner, and perfected.

I find it difficult to write about warriorhood from a Buddhist perspective. The term for me is heavily laden with negative connotations and often misunderstood by those around me. We may do well to distinguish at the beginning between three kinds of warrior: the outer, the inner, and the perfected. It is the outer warrior that we most often think of when hearing the term and see glorified in the movies and praised by politicians. This is not the warrior ideal of the Buddhist path.

And I, like many of you, have encountered people who, fleeing great pain in their hearts and past, have wrapped themselves in the cloak of a certain type of warrior, the outer warrior. That is to say that these warriors, haunted by demons of their own minds and hearts, wear a mask of strength or stoic detachment. Yet this mask, at its worst, perpetuates the cycle of suffering by painting the world as a very dark and unwelcoming place, externalizing the pain within. At its best it protects the wearer from the wounds still felt from an almost unknown place deep within.

So it is with that background that I say that we must be careful when we speak of warriorhood. Our vision of awakening cannot be accomplished in battling the world around us. In order to take up the path of the Buddha, of warrior-like discipline and striving, we must turn inward. Carl Jung stated it well: “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart…. Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside, awakens.” This turning within is the inner warrior-ideal. Whether weak or strong, old or young, this is the work of the Buddhist warrior.

 In order to take up the path of the Buddha, of warrior-like discipline and striving, we must turn inward.  

The more we practice, the more we see that all of us carry pain from the past. The deeper your wounds are buried, the more difficult your work will be and yet all the more necessary it is to begin now. This is not to speak lightly of the arts of the outer warrior: developing one-pointed concentration, mastering wise teachings, building strength and vitality in the body, and so on. But if we have these abilities and yet still hold a core of anger and pain, then it is like putting a great army in the charge of a madman. One can be a one-pointed assassin or bully, or an immoral and unhappy academic of Buddhism or similar spiritual path. In fact one must be careful with the arts of the outer warrior if one’s heart is still dominated by the three poisons (greed, aversion, and ignorance). Possessing these skills may actually strengthen the ego and feed the poisons.

Devadatta, the Buddha’s cousin who tried to kill the Buddha and seize control of the Sangha is one such afflicted outer warrior. He possessed great skills, great knowledge, and meditative prowess. But his heart was still filled with jealousy and desire for power. Had he let go of his outward ambitions and turned his brilliant mind inward to uncover the pain at his heart, he surely would have won enlightenment in that very lifetime, as countless others did in the presence of the Buddha.

This turning within, with whatever degree of mindfulness you have at the moment, is the work and skill of the inner warrior.

 The warrior’s skills may actually strengthen the ego and feed the poisons  

The third type of warrior is the perfected. This is the stage of one’s practice in which the grip of the past is finally loosened. Bernadette Devlin, a woman who was active in the long struggles of N. Ireland, once said, “Yesterday I dared to struggle. Today I dare to win.” Living in troubled times or with a turbulent heart, it can be difficult to recognize this juxtaposition, this transition from struggle to victory. This is the transition from the inner warrior to that of the perfected.

In the stories of the Buddha’s life is the character Mara, the personification of all doubts, cravings, and misunderstandings. Even after his awakening, Mara would visit the Buddha. That is to say that in his mind some doubt, desire, or misunderstanding still occasionally would arise. But the Buddha had attained the level of perfected warrior. He thus did not see Mara as having any external, independent reality outside himself. Nor did he shy away from Mara or get pulled into the drama or confrontation that Mara sought. Instead he simply said, “I see you, Mara. I know you.” And seeing Mara destroyed ‘him’ every time.

So it is that correctly seeing our own hurt without fleeing or being drawn into the story or drama likewise destroys it. This is no easy task, as many seasoned meditators know. It can take years to see through the layers of grief, abuse, and neglect that may be encountered in one’s life, to see through the stories and justifications and even indignation we have wrapped ourselves in for protection.

Our path to the perfected warrior within us may take many years of struggle: struggling to be present with our pain as it arises, struggling to simply stay with the practice when more pleasant activities beckon. And it may help us greatly along the inner journey to our heart to have practiced and grown in the arts of the outer warrior. But the path is, always, of a whole. And there is no time to begin, but this very moment.


Justin WhitakerJustin Whitaker holds a Masters degree in Buddhist Studies from Bristol University, England and is currently a Ph.D. student in Buddhist Ethics at the University of London. He has practiced in several Buddhist traditions including the Western Buddhist Order in Missoula, Montana and Bristol, England. He currently lives in Missoula, where he works for the Center for Ethics, leads the University sangha, and meditates regularly on Missoula’s mountains and rivers. His personal blog is americanbuddhist.blogspot.com.

Read More

The Buddha as warrior

Manjushri bodhisattva with sword

It might seem strange to think of the Buddha as a “warrior” when he is rightly seen as above all a figure of peace. Lieutenant (jg) Jeanette Shin, the US military’s first Buddhist chaplain, looks at the Buddha’s martial background.

The Buddha never advocated the killing or destruction of “infidels” of any religion or doctrine, and always recommended the path of nonviolence.

However, Shakyamuni’s life and teachings reveal a person raised to be a heroic warrior invested in honor. While he renounced the life planned for him by his parents, as a secular warrior-king, he used the language of warriors to convey the Dharma, so he could stress that following the path of Dharma required similar virtues possessed by warriors.

 Terms like charioteer, sword and shield, war elephants, banners, fortress, archers, arrows, poisoned arrows, are all used in expressing the struggle to overcome one’s delusions  

Siddhartha Gautama (his birth name) was born into the kshatriya varna, or caste, of ancient India/Nepal. This was the caste of the warriors, the rulers and aristocrats of ancient India. A typical upbringing of a kshatriya male included study of the Vedas (the earliest religious texts of India) and the study of archery, swordsmanship, horsemanship, etc.

Although the Buddha’s early life may sound very pampered, with his three palaces and entourage of entertainers and harem (the ancient Indian equivalent of MTV’s My Sweet Sixteen! Which would also inspire one to renounce the world), it would have been very unlikely that Siddhartha’s father, King Suddhodhana, would have neglected to provide this rigorous training for the presumptive heir of a small, regional power (and he did not become a world-renouncer until he was about age 29).

We may see evidence of this in the language that the Buddha used in expressing Dharma: martial imagery and terms like “charioteer”, “sword and shield,” “war elephants”, “banners,” “fortress,” “archers”, “arrows”, “poisoned arrows,” are all used in expressing the struggle to overcome one’s delusions and the oppositions of others.

The Buddha’s Enlightenment was described as a “battle” between himself and Mara, the embodiment of death and evil:

“King Mara, at the head of a great army of one hundred thousand, swooped down on the prince from four sides. The gods who up to that time had surrounded the prince and had sung his praises fled in fear. Now there was no one who could save the prince. But the prince thought to himself, “The Ten Precepts that I have practiced for a long period of time are my mighty army; they are the jeweled sword and the stalwart shield that guard my being. Carrying the virtuous practice of these Ten Precepts in my hand, I shall annihilate the army of demons… Instead of living in defeat, it is far better to do battle and die! But should they go to defeat to Mara’s armies even once, mendicants and sages alike will be unable to recognize, know, or practice the path of the virtuous ones. Mara, riding atop a huge elephant, you came leading a whole army. Come, do battle! I shall emerge victorious. You will not throw me into disorder. Although the human and celestial worlds were both unable to destroy your army, I shall defeat your army as a rock destroys tree leaves.” (Lalitavistara)

The ancient texts emphasize the need for determination, sacrifice, and courage for Buddhists to follow the path of Buddha-dharma, to bear up under hardships in order to achieve the highest goal a human being can attain: to conquer death, fear, ignorance, evil, and thereby attain liberation. The qualities of a good warrior are exactly the qualities needed for a serious Buddhist practitioner.

As a kshatriya, the Buddha had many advantages in getting others to listen to his message, rather than if he had been born as a shudra (peasant) vaisya (merchant) or even a brahmin (priests); it is also said that the future Buddha, as a bodhisattva, was able to chose the time and society of his birth. The religious atmosphere of the time (5th-6th BCE) witnessed a resurgence of people of this caste re-examining and questioning the authority of the brahmins, so the Buddha’s teachings became popular with them, as did the teachings of his contemporary, the Jain teacher Mahavira. Other kshatriyas also likely recognized him as such (perhaps similar to the idea of “Once a Marine, always a Marine”?), possibly one reason why he was readily accepted (and protected) by the local rulers such as King Bimbisara, and which may also explain a curious story that occurs near the end of the Buddha’s life.

 As a kshatriya, the Buddha had many advantages in getting others to listen to his message  

King Virudhaka declared war against the Buddha’s own clan, the Shakyas, and marched against them. The Buddha stood in his way three times. Each time King Virudhaka dismounted, paid his respects, remounted and retreated, but he kept coming back every day. By the fourth day, the Buddha did not stand in his way, and the Sakyas were defeated.

This story is very puzzling by contemporary standards: it would have been much easier for this king to simply shoot the Buddha with an arrow the first time! If he wasn’t threatened, why should the Buddha not have stood there, every day, to prevent war? This story is presented as a cautionary tale on the reality of karma. At our most idealistic moments, we may like to imagine that a simple and polite expounding of the Buddha-dharma to violent and ignorant persons can end conflict, but even the Buddha himself was unable to convince everyone he met to renounce violence, or even to accept the validity of the Buddha-dharma. This teaching infers then that not even the Buddha could prevent war; War, like other acts, results from the working of karma within the realm of samsara. If the karma is present, then we may commit any sort of act, whether or not we had even planned to do it, according to Shinran Shonin. As Plato said, “Only the dead do not know war.” This is something to keep in mind when considering the importance of the role of the armed forces and our place within it.

Even given the reality of war, we should also keep in mind that the Buddha cautions against the glorification and worship of war and violence for its own sake. As is stated in the Dhammapada:

Victory breeds hatred
The defeated live in pain,
Happily the peaceful live,
Giving up victory and defeat.

There is no Buddhist version of ‘Valhalla.’ Everyone is responsible for his or her own karma, and should be mindful of what our present and future actions may entail, which is the causing of death and death for ourselves in battle. Preferably, people should consider this before enlisting! Even though we have voluntarily accepted this path, we should also be prepared to accept the karmic results, and also know that, like any career, our own military path will end one way or another.

 Even the Buddha himself was unable to convince everyone he met to renounce violence  

The military life is not for everyone. As service-members, especially those in leadership positions and those who have been in for awhile, we know that some are simply not cut out for military service, whether it is because, on one end, they are whiners, “dirtbags” (I’m sure many people in the military have heard this word before) and outright criminals, or others who, although not bad people, simply can’t adjust to the military lifestyle.

I’m sure many of us have encountered these individuals, and also knew that the best thing for all concerned was for them to get out and go home (preferably as quickly as possible). But we’ve also known others who become very successful, who take to the military life and deployments like fish to water, look out for their people, and thrive on the warrior lifestyle, hardships and all. Chaplains see this all the time. Therefore, there are many different teachings in the Buddhist canon concerning the use of force and conflict, just as counseling is different for different individuals, just as not all wars are alike.

The Buddha must have encountered many similar situations in talking to people from different castes and professions, some he may never have associated with before, like barbers and shopkeepers; we also know that he included kings and their warriors in his audiences. We do know that he admitted them to his presence, and talked to them, advising some to renounce the life of a warrior, others he would not admit in the Sangha until after they had completed their military service. He did not shun them because of their profession. He had been one of them.

Namo Amida Butsu


Lt. j.g. Jeanette G. Shin serves in the U.S. Navy and was commissioned as a chaplain on July 22, 2007. She was the Department of Defense’s first Buddhist chaplain. She blogs at the Buddhist Military Sangha website. Prior to becoming a military chaplain she was ordained as a priest in the Nishi Hongwanji sect of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism — a school of Mahayana Pure Land Buddhism.

Read More
Menu