Upon completing his Zen Archery training, Eugen Herrigel’s archery master warns him:
You have become a different person in the course of these years. For this is what the Art of Archery means: a profound and far-reaching contest of the archer with himself. Perhaps you have hardly noticed it yet, but you will feel it very strongly when you meet with your friends and acquaintances again in your own country: things will no longer harmonize as before. You will see with other eyes and measure with other measures.
Likewise, following profound spiritual training, Dragon Gate Taoist master Wang Liping found himself depressed by the banality of the world. But it is not the banality of the world - for the warrior who has accepted death, nothing is trivial, nothing is banal. Every action and interaction is of great spiritual importance. What the warrior cannot abide is that everyone else treats life as a banality.
The Three Levels of Awareness
A warrior’s life is characterized by a state of awareness. He is present to the people and tasks in front of him (or her), because this is where he can develop the qualities of warriorship and begin to implement the universal principles by which he lives.
The present moment is the most important moment in a warrior’s life. This also represents a commitment to strive for genuine openness in human interaction, so that the warrior gradually ceases to relate to people as their role or their first impression, but as unique persons.
But there is also an aspect of reflective self-awareness that a warrior embraces. He begins to see, for example, that he didn’t show compassion in dealing with that sales clerk, that he failed to follow through with his goals for the day, that he has been mentally preoccupied with anger and resentment over a particular incident. These evaluations lead to serious readjustments, because it is these everyday things that separate the warrior from his goal- these are the spiritual battlefield.
A warrior is also aware of, and constantly evaluating, his own programming. We are each of us running programs installed by our parents, our teachers, our socioeconomic class, our friends and associates, and our culture. A great deal of it inevitably falls into the category of what Taoism calls “temporal conditioning,” that is, the inherited programming of the world and its favourite mental state, Survival Mode.
The warrior is careful to exercise conscious control over his programming, and so is on the alert for any evidence of a program driven by fear, by anger, by greed, by insecurity, and by the consequent attempt of the human race to create a false sense of security through identification with a group and the alienation and devaluation of outsiders. He is on the lookout for his own knee-jerk responses. He is ready to combat the tyranny of his own first impressions. He is ready to question the consistency of his own beliefs.
These three levels of awareness all serve the goal of the warrior, the transformation of the human person toward its “proper original honour” and union with the Absolute. This goal and everything done in support of it are antithetical to the very basis of our culture, which long ago alienated itself from the very possibility. And this is the source of the tension.
The Source of Tension
To the warrior, especially one who has been gifted to see some part of the universe as it truly is, nothing is banal or trivial. Life is of great and abiding importance.
It can astound the warrior that our society places so much more significance and meaning on the lives of fictional characters than on our own. It is almost as though we have been trained to project the care and attention we should place on our own irreplaceable lives onto those of nonexistent people. How can a warrior not be moved by encountering people who have given up any hope of meaning in their own lives?
To the warrior, anything that is not done with self-transformation and universal principle in mind is not worth doing. This is not to say, for example, that artistic pursuits or a day at the beach aren’t worth doing; anything that adds to and brings us into contact with the beauty of creation is worth doing. Warriorship is a creative endeavour and the warrior seeks to live in creative mode, adding value to other people’s lives.
Problems arise when warriors are confronted with the Western view that the world is basically a field for unlimited human exploitation, and with the more basic objectification of human beings and human lives inherent in most human societies. These fundamental, casual violations of the compassion and respect for human beings and all of creation which the warrior has embraced quickly become too much to stomach.
The Patient Approach
There is unfortunately very little we can do about this except to live out our own principles in the world, to give the perspective of awareness and compassion and to live them out for the benefit of everyone around us. The good news is that there is a basic level at which human beings understand compassion and awareness to be healthy and their opposites to be unhealthy, even if they no longer understand why.
The bad news is that it can be an uphill fight against lots of unconscious programming to put the warrior perspective into words. Fortunately, every Authentic Ancient Tradition has always said that the role of the warrior is first to transform himself and then to live his calling to the benefit of the world, and only to speak up when he’s mastered those two things, or there is a matter of principle at stake. There is no denying that a great deal of patience and bodhisattva-like compassion are required to pull this off.