Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Spiritual Warrior

The photo above is of our household warrior, Chai. We’re trying to teach him to change his ways, but there’s a neighborhood cat who wants to join our household, and Chai, more than once now gets in knock down drag out fights. He’s a real warrior, but he’s also the most sensitive cat we’ve got. I find him charming, maybe I relate to him a bit.

When I was a kid I played with toy guns, we played “war” and I was also horrified by the news footage from the Vietnam war. I got in fights at school. I hated to but I was also willing. Between all the real violence and the fantasy violence, I somehow learned to hate the real thing but still appreciate all the “guy flicks” and cop shows on TV. A few years after Vietnam, I was powerfully interested in spirituality and still watching John Wayne movies.

What is a spiritual warrior?The feel of those two words put together got my attention real fast the first time I heard them combined. The GUY part of me wanted to strap on a sword and do whatever it is that spiritual warriors do. It must involve a sword, yes? No? A spear then. Something you can stab with, poke with, swing like a club and smash things with. . . come on now, it says “warrior” doesn’t it?

Who coined the term, was it Carlos Castenada? Kind of, but not really. He certainly used the term, or more precisely, his fictional character, Don Juan, used it a lot. That’s right, I said fictional, and I meant it. That’s just the kind of warrior I am. Take no prisoners. I’m pretty sure a lot of spiritual stuff I read when I was a teenager was a lot more fictional than I believed at the time, or even wanted to believe for many years to come. I’d probably write a lot more about that, but “them’s fightin’ words!” and like any good spiritual warrior I’m not interested in fighting.

The spiritual warrior as a concept might have it’s roots in the (now outlawed) caste system of India. Yogic knowledge and practices were forbidden to those in the lower castes, but not to the warrior caste, the one just below the priests, judges and teachers. Warriors were allowed to eat meat too, allowed to kill, which of course meant dealing with bodily fluids. The warrior was a peculiar mix of “untouchable” habits and priestly privileges. That’s odd. Oh wait, the warriors were the ones with all the weapons and the power and skill to use them. Maybe it’s not so strange after all that a warrior could scarf down half a pig, go out and kill people for a living and then seek enlightenment in his time off. Where does a 500 pound gorilla sleep? In the middle of the temple if he wants to, snoring as loud as a freight train if he’s so inclined.

Which brings me to a couple of points; the spiritual warrior, by nature is willing to confront, and to fight. But the confrontation is not without purpose, and of course it has to do with the spiritual world. So the spiritual warrior confronts his own ignorance, his habitual patterns, his preconceived notions and beliefs. Ultimately the spiritual warrior confronts his own defeat, because every philosophical road leads to the existential abyss, if you follow it far enough. The spiritual warrior drops his weapons when he finally realizes that there is no enemy, and no homeland either.

How is that the end? Well, spiritual pursuits are about converging on the ultimate. Ultimates are limited to the conceptual; as far as we know they don’t exist in nature. There’s “tall” and then there’s “taller”. There’s “small” and then there’s “smaller”. We never find that which is smallest nor do we confront the end of the universe as if we’re bumping into a store window. The spiritual warrior therefore finds his conquest finishing at the gates of paradox because ultimate “suchness” must also include ultimate possibility-- and ultimate possibility would have to consist of profound, unimaginable emptiness. Sound complicated? It doesn’t have to be. Some warriors choose to battle for ultimate simplicity.

Bottom line, a spiritual warrior battles for territory which exists inside himself. He battles with himself, for a piece of himself. The battle might rage for quite some time, until one day the warrior realizes, “Hey, what if i just surrender?” and then the battle is won. Later on the Spiritual warrior will recount his heroic exploits, epic battles on the way to his grand and hard won hilltop where his flag is now planted. He might not realize that others have reached his summit, and beyond (there’s always a beyond) by skipping the battle entirely.

The other point I have to make speaks directly to the whole “warrior” thing, in relation to spiritual pursuits. It seems ridiculous to put the words “spiritual” and “warrior” together, and yet the term really caught on and became popular, it appealed to people, guys, I’m betting, especially. Guys who recognize a certain warrior nature within themselves, but also a profound call to the spiritual. Women have a warrior nature too, of course, but for now I’m sticking to the stereotype to make my point. Anyway, once the warrior is on the road to the spiritual he may be poorly dressed, in his heavy steel armor. He may be badly equipped, with mace, sword and shield against an enemy who will never truly materialize. The warrior may be the silliest thing you’ve ever seen on the spiritual road: but he’s on the road, and he’s there because you let him bring his toys with him.

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