The Way of the Warrior

Warrior of the Light camp at National Rainbow Gathering in Wyoming

The Way of the Warrior: An Authentic Life Stance with Heart

© 1996, 2009 by Jonathan Zap Edited by Austin Iredale


Why is being a Warrior important, and what is meant by being a Warrior anyway?

Language is so often a barrier to understanding. The word, ” Warrior ,” for example, presents many problems. Sometimes the best available word has a shadow, a dark area of connotations that may be alien or even contradictory to what we are trying to convey. If we want to convey the possibility of a more effective focus in our lives, the word “discipline” comes to mind. But “discipline” can also mean to punish, and our Puritan heritage gives the word an unwanted sadistic resonance. In Sanskrit the nearest word to discipline is “tapas,” which has a range of meanings such as the use of austerities to generate and conserve transformational inner heat.  There’s no sadistic or punitive connotation to “tapas,” but it is not a word readily available to most people. “Warrior” is a word that is readily available, but, like the word “discipline,” it carries much unwanted baggage. The word “war” is in “Warrior,” and the connotations of aggression and violence are obvious. But “Warrior” is also a word that in certain circles has been undergoing major redefinition and rediscovery.  Essentially, the archetype of the Warrior is being salvaged from millennia of patriarchal associations.  The best definition I have been able to come up with for “Warrior” that reflects its archetypal  meaning is as follows: A Warrior is someone who strives to live alertly,  intelligently, attuned to the moment in order to serve life affirming  transpersonal values.

Warrior with a capital “W,” is one who efficiently serves life affirming transpersonal aims. A warrior with a lower case “w” could be a mercenary, one who serves selfish aims, or one who serves transpersonal but anti-life aims — a Nazi SS officer, for example. Someone could have rippling muscles, be a potent martial artist, highly efficient, focused and determined and yet only be a warrior. Someone else could be confined to a wheel chair and yet be an exemplary Warrior.


My first contact with the unexpected positive significance of “Warrior” was in the writings of hoaxer and trickster-genius Carlos Casteneda. Casteneda writes in The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge about his supposed apprenticeship with a Yaqi Indian sorcerer.  During this apprenticeship Don Juan tells and shows Carlos what being a Warrior means through powerfully evocative words and deeds. Being a Warrior is a total life stance, a way of facing the unspeakable difficulty of a human incarnation with grace and skill.

Don Juan uses the word “impeccable” to describe the behavior of the Warrior. The Warrior makes decisions, and he acts strategically and efficiently to carry them out. Many of the statements Don Juan makes about the Warrior are aphoristic and beautiful. Here are a few examples, some of them slightly paraphrased:

No one is born a Warrior; one must elect to become one.

The ordinary man views everything as either a blessing or a curse. The Warrior takes everything as a challenge.

Life for a Warrior is an exercise in strategy.

There are always cubic centimeters of chance that power makes available to the Warrior. The Warrior’s art is to be perennially fluid in order to pluck them.

A Warrior does not allow himself to become obsessed and does not abandon himself to anything.

To be a Warrior means to be humble and alert.

A Warrior must be fluid and shift harmoniously with the world around him.

One needs the mood of a Warrior for every single act. Otherwise one becomes distorted and ugly. There is no power in a life that lacks this mood.

The Warrior performs even the most trivial of his tasks impeccably to store power.

A Warrior should strive to meet any conceivable situation, the expected and the unexpected, with equal efficiency. To be perfect under perfect circumstances is to be a paper Warrior.

The Warrior starts off with the certainty that his spirit is off balance. Then by living in full control and awareness, but without hurry or compulsion, he does his ultimate best to gain his balance.

A Warrior is never under siege. To be under siege implies that one has personal possessions that could be blockaded. A Warrior has nothing in the world except his impeccability, and impeccability cannot be threatened.

Impeccability can exist only in the present.

Impeccability is always available.

Being a Warrior is not a simple matter of wishing to be one. It is rather an endless struggle that will go on to the last moments of our lives.

Don Juan’s spin on being a Warrior is powerfully existential. Don Juan continually emphasizes the value of being aware of your own death. He encourages Carlos to experience death physically and directly as a shadowy presence standing on his left. Death is described as a powerful ally that has the particular virtue of absolute honesty. In an interview with Sam Keen, Castaneda remarks,

“Don Juan’s approach has a strange twist because it comes from the tradition in sorcery that death is a physical presence that can be felt and seen. One of the glosses in sorcery is: death stands to your left. Death is an impartial judge who will speak truth to you and give you accurate advice. After all, death is in no hurry. He will get you tomorrow or next week or in fifty years. It makes no difference to him. The moment you remember you must eventually die, you are cut right down to size.”

Awareness of our mortality makes us more alive in the moment. It is also cuts through the trivial and superficial. As I have mentioned in previous writings, a wise man once advised me, “Only do things that you will remember well on your deathbed.” Absolute honesty is a core characteristic of the Warrior, and the denial of death, the illusory belief that we can put things off, is the cardinal self-deception that keeps us from becoming Warriors. As Don Juan says, “Our greatest enemy is that we never believe what is happening to us,” and, “There are no survivors on this planet.”

There is a strong relationship between being a Warrior and practicing mindfulness meditation, through which one becomes alertly attuned to the present moment. Only by being in the Nowever can you effectively engage the world. The path of the Warrior makes you a more alive, aware and engaged presence in the world. In the same interview with Sam Keen, Castaneda comments,

“It has been this element of engagement in the world that has kept me following the path which Don Juan showed me. There is no need to transcend the world. Everything we need to know is right in front of us, if we pay attention. If you enter a state of nonordinary reality, as you do when you use psychotropic plants, it is only to draw from it what you need in order to see the miraculous character of ordinary reality. For me the way to live—the path with heart—is not introspection or mystical transcendence but presence in the world. This world is the Warrior’s hunting ground.”


Some of the best commentaries on the way of the Warrior are to be found in the Shambala Warrior teachings of Rinpoche Chogyam Trungpa. Trungpa was born in Eastern Tibet, the son of peasants. At a very early age he was recognized as a tulku, or incarnate lama.  Trungpa began work on the Shambala teachings during his years in Tibet, where he was the supreme abbot of the Surmang monasteries where he received, at the age of eighteen, the degree of Khyenpo (comparable to a doctorate in theology, philosophy, and psychology). As he was fleeing from the Communist Chinese over the Himalayas in 1959, Rinpoche wrote a spiritual account of the history of Shambhala, which unfortunately was lost on the journey. Rinpoche fled to India where he was appointed by the Dalai Lama to serve as spiritual advisor to the Young Lamas’ Home School. In 1963 he traveled to England, where he attended Oxford University as a Spaulding Fellow, studying Western philosophy, religion, art and language. Rinpoche began teaching the Sacred Path of the Warrior in 1976 in the American South West. In Boulder, Colorado, Rinpoche founded the Naropa Institute and a Shambala Warriorship training program.

(Ironically, like Casteneda, Trungpa, who wrote so eloquently about the way of the Warrior, led a life that was often the opposite of impeccable. They were both tricksters, and Trungpa was a notorious womanizer and died of the effects of alcoholism in his 40s. The connection between genius and the trickster, however, is not quite as paradoxical as it seems. See George Hansen’s seminal book, The Trickster and the Paranormal)

The Shambala teachings are founded on the premise that there is basic human wisdom that can help to solve the world’s problems. This wisdom does not belong to any one culture or religion, nor does it come only from the West or the East. Rather, it is a tradition of human Warriorship that has existed in many cultures at many times throughout history.

What follows is my way of understanding the Shambala teachings. I would encourage you to read the Shambala material first hand. I would also encourage you to read Jeremy Hayward’s book, Sacred World—A Guide to Shambala Warriorship in Daily Life . Hayward studied with Trungpa for years and was asked by him to write a book from a student’s point of view. My summary of the Shambala teachings is not so much an objective summary but more like variations on a theme inspired by Shambala.  The Shambala teachings should not be held responsible for any of my excesses of language or tangential anecdotes as I attempt to relate them.  I will quote many passages from the books directly so that you can experience their message and lucidity first hand.


Trungpa refers to the little world of self-limiting habits into which we retreat from the world as “the cocoon.” One of the first steps to becoming a Warrior is recognizing this all too familiar cocoon in which we seal ourselves off from the world. We build a cocoon of self-deception because we ultimately don’t accept ourselves or the world in which we live. We shroud our radiance in a membrane of forgetfulness to buffer ourselves from the vivid, sometimes harsh intensity of the world. The cocoon has a strong relationship to what Jung called “the shadow,” a dark area of the personality thought to be inferior that we would much rather not look at. The cocoon is the claustrophobic, neurotic place we go to retreat from the intensity of life.

The cocoon is as real and familiar as yesterday’s dirty dishes sitting in the sink. We have to be wary about abstractions in talking about the cocoon because abstracting this shadowy place can be another form of hiding in the cocoon. What does a cocoon look like? Every cocoon is as unique as the psyche it encapsulates. To get a more concrete feeling of this concept, let’s take a caricatured look at “Bob’s cocoon.” Bob is a stereotypical cocooned American male. Although a cocoon is an inner psychic space we’ll represent it metaphorically as a physical place.

Bob’s cocoon is a cramped, stuffy room. The room is cluttered, sloppy and lit with electric lights. The windows haven’t been opened in years and are covered with heavy, opaque, dusty curtains. All sorts of mirrors of different sizes and shapes are screwed into the walls. Bob paces around in his underwear nervously examining himself first in one mirror and then in another. The glass in each of these mirrors is subtly warped. One mirror makes Bob look big and fat, another makes him look like a little nothing, in another he looks dangerous and powerful, in another he looks like a square-jawed movie star, in another he looks puffy and out of shape. Looking at all these varying reflections makes Bob anxious and restless. On the television in the background a seductive woman is extolling the delights of a Carnival Cruise to nowhere, and we see flickering images of tables weighted down with rich food and people dancing in a disco. She begins to croon, “If your friends could see you now!”

Bob sits down on the couch, lights up a Marlboro and flips through the pages of the Sharper Image catalogue. His eyes settle on a piece of expensive, high-tech exercise equipment that seems for a moment like it might be just what he needs to turn his life around, but then he thinks about the cost and his overdue credit card bills. This reminds Bob of his ex-girlfriend who still owes him money. Bob calls her on the phone and gets her voicemail. He leaves a somewhat nasty, sarcastic message. He hangs up the phone, opens a can of Budweiser and inserts a well-worn porno disc into the DVD player and . . . well, you can fill in the rest.

Certainly there are people who don’t live in a cocoon. But most of us sometimes regress into a personal, little ghetto of narcissistic self-reflections, egoistic wants and self-pity. Sometimes the world seems too much for us, and self-acceptance too difficult. At other times, perhaps during certain moments of peak or optimal experience, we feel what it is like to be more fully alive. At those times it may be wise to pause for a moment and look back with compassion at the cocoon behind us.

What causes us to retreat into that cocoon sometimes? Fear is the answer that comes most readily to mind. But fear, in itself, is not able to make us do anything. Rather it is a timid way of relating to fear that is the real problem. We can work with fear. It is the attitude that wants to deny fear, that wants to be comfortably numb, that causes us to pull away, to disengage from life and hang out in our cocoon.


The Warrior’s way is to acknowledge fear, accept it, even make friends with it. Fearlessness is the willingness to face fear. When fear arises, try greeting it with acceptance, like an old friend, and then go about your business. Someone came up with a clever redefinition of fear as “the energy to do your best.” Another well-known, valid  principle is, “Feel the fear, and do it anyway.” When I got involved in mountain climbing I found that my intense fear of heights did not go away. But what I did find is that I could reach for the next handhold, I could continue to climb, to take actions, while I felt intense fear. Fear became one more natural element like the wind, the cold, or the density of the rock. The change I experienced in relationship to fear is fairly typical, and it may be worthwhile to further develop this personal example to see how fear can become an ally.

My first experience with mountain climbing was during an Outward Bound course in the Cascade Mountains of Northern Washington. I was placed near the front of a line of a dozen or so people as we climbed a particular mountain. While we climbed, I was so busy looking for the next handhold or foothold that I didn’t have time to fully experience my fear of heights. But then we got to the summit, which was unusually small and sloped on both sides like the roof of a large dog house. Sitting on top of it was completely safe, but when you looked on either side there was a drop of thousands of feet. My fear of heights seems to work visually, it doesn’t matter how much real danger there is, but rather how much distance I can see between where I am and what lies below me. Then came a very long waiting period caused by some technical problems, and the rest of the group made it to the summit one-by-one with agonizing slowness. While I waited, there was nothing for me to do but sit, that huge drop off all around me, while I felt the most intense fear and vertigo. Adrenaline raced through my blood and I felt my heart pounding. The energy of the fear was intensely physical and felt like electricity running through my inner thighs and into the center of my stomach. I felt the sun beating down, the gusts of cold wind and the rough surface of the rock on my exposed skin. It was a remote area of the Cascades and there was no sign of anything manmade, not even a trail, in the green valley below. The sky was clear and empty, undisturbed by aircraft or vapor trails. I looked at the rust-colored lichen growing on the slope I sat on and suddenly felt the rock that was supporting me, that was keeping me from falling, was the living tissue of an organism, the earth, that was sustaining my life, heartbeat-by-heartbeat.

The intensity of my fear had awakened my senses, physical and spiritual, and I felt the tenuous living connection I had with the earth. Fear helped to pull back the veil, helped me to experience death as an ally sitting close by. It stripped away my comfortable cocoon and allowed me to be more alive and aware. It allowed me to feel the world, the earth, in a more immediate and powerful way than I had ever experienced.

So fear is not the problem. Fear can be a powerful ally, a great and wise teacher, if it is accepted and embraced. Fear is an intense energy that can help us to awaken to the full brilliance of reality.


“Being on line with Warrior energy creates a point of concentration and focus beyond physical fatigue and emotional mood swings. Correctly accessing the Warrior brings energy and clarity.”  —Shambala Warrior Teachngs

In the Shambhala tradition, invoking this heightened state of energy, or “Chi,” is referred to as “raising windhorse.” Using your will to take actions when laziness, fatigue or temptation tries to slow you down, you create this type of energy. In the classic Yoga Aphorisms of Pantajali, it is written that, “Energy is like a muscle, it grows stronger through being used.”


One aspect of the Shambala teachings that I especially admire is the acknowledgment of the pain and suffering of the human condition. The Warrior stance will profoundly change how you deal with reality, but it will not pretend to eliminate inherent suffering. With long-sustained work, your relationship to suffering can change significantly. For myself, I have found that the mindfulness approach to emotions and thoughts, as well as accepting and flowing with life based on the principles of the I Ching, have greatly reduced my experience of depression and anxiety. That’s been a great reprieve, but new challenges could bring those forces back into my life at any time. If and when that happens, I expect to be learning new lessons and a new level of wakefulness. Trungpa goes even further than that acknowledgement and states that there is a particular type of emotional pain, a soulful broken heartedness, that is characteristic, even prerequisite, to being a Warrior. This is a refreshing change from the New Age catalogue where every sort of practitioner, whether they are doing hypnotherapy, reflexology or past life regression, has been photographed with the identical beatific, blissed-out smile.

The denial of the shadow, the dark aspect of human existence, greatly promotes suffering. Also,  a willingness to engage the pain and darkness within is an essential ability on the path of self-development and truth seeking. Consider the poem “The Wayfarer,” by Stephen Crane.

The Wayfarer

The Wayfarer,

Perceiving the pathway to truth,

Was struck with astonishment.

It was thickly grown with weeds.

“Ha,”  he said,

“I see that none has passed here

In a long time.”

Later he saw that each weed

was a singular knife.

“Well,” he mumbled at last,

“Doubtless there are other roads.”

The way of the Warrior has never been a way to escape suffering or become comfortably numb. Rather, it is a way to actively engage suffering, to accept it from a strong and centered stance that allows you to continue to take appropriate actions while feeling pain. As Don Juan says, “A Warrior cannot avoid pain and grief, but only the indulging in it. A Warrior acknowledges his pain, but does not indulge it.”

Sadness is not a sign of being screwed up or in need of medication. If you look at the world and the human condition, it should be obvious that sadness is one of the most appropriate emotions. The Buddhists say, “All being is sorrow.” Jeremy and Karen Hayward, in Sacred World: The Shambala Way to Gentleness, Bravery and Power, write,   (note: all Hayward quotes are from this source)

“Pointing to the place of sadness in the Warrior’s path or any spiritual path was one of the most profound teachings of the Dorje Dradul (Chogyam Trungpa). So much spiritual teaching and systems of therapy nowadays are oriented toward finding contentment, joy, love, wisdom, and all the other wonderful things. Sometimes they seem like another version of the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. People who feel genuine sadness are told that they are sick. Psychologists list sadness as one of the symptoms of clinical depression, and the latest wave of self-help books label depression—and by implication sadness—as one of the most common diseases of our time. Perhaps people feel genuinely sad that their lives feel so empty, that the society they were born into is such a mess, and that they and others are suffering so much. People feel this kind of sadness for others, often without being aware of it . . .”

Trungpa and Hayward make a case that sadness is not merely inevitable, but it is actually a desirable state for a Warrior. Sadness can be an authentic state in which a Warrior is in touch with his or her own feelings and feels empathy for others. Sadness can be a strangely fulfilling awareness of the depth of the human heart and the poignant mystery of human existence. The Haywards write,

“An open heart realizes that the human heart is sad when it is genuine. Early American blues and Spanish flamenco—songs of love and separation of any time and place—reveal a sadness that is less an expression of depression or misery than of the depth of the human heart. In the best of these songs there is always something timeless and beyond the personal drama. It rings true to us, and we feel glad. The root of the word sad is the Latin satis, which is also the root of the word satisfied. So sadness is related to being completely full, completely satisfied

Trungpa, in Shambala: Sacred Path of the Warrior, describes sadness as a state of heightened awareness characteristic of someone who is fully alive:  (note: all Trungpa quotes are from this source)

“You feel sore and soft, and if you open your eyes to the rest of the world you feel tremendous sadness. This kind of sadness doesn’t come from being mistreated. You don’t feel sad because someone has insulted you or because you feel impoverished. Rather, this experience of sadness is unconditioned. It occurs because your heart is completely exposed. Your experience is raw and tender and so personal.”

“In order to be a good Warrior, one has to feel this sad and tender heart. If a person does not feel alone and sad, he cannot be a Warrior at all.”

“Arrogant Warriorship does not work. It does nothing to benefit others. So the discipline of renunciation also involves cultivating further gentleness, so that you remain very soft and open and allow tenderness to come into your heart. The Warrior who has accomplished true renunciation is completely naked and raw, without even skin or tissue. He has renounced putting on a new suit of armor or growing a thick skin, so his bone and marrow are exposed to the world. He had no room and no desire to manipulate situations. He is able to be, quite fearlessly, what he is.”

“Although the Warrior’s life is dedicated to helping others, he realizes that he will never be able to completely share his experience with others. The fullness of his experience is his own, and he must live with his own truth. Yet he is more and more in love with the world. That combination of love affair and loneliness is what enables the Warrior to constantly reach out to help others. By renouncing his private world, the Warrior discovers a greater universe and a fuller and fuller broken heart. This is not something to feel bad about: it is a cause for rejoicing. It is entering the Warrior’s world.”

“Experiencing the upliftedness of the world is a joyous situation, but it also brings sadness. It is like falling in love. When you are in love, being with your lover is both delightful and very painful. You feel both joy and sorrow. That is not a problem; in fact, it is wonderful. It is the ideal human emotion. The Warrior who experiences windhorse feels the joy and sorrow of love in everything he does. He feels hot and cold, sweet and sour, simultaneously. Whether things go well or things go badly, whether there is success or failure, he feels sad and delighted at once.”


The preceding discussion of the need to accept fear, painful emotions and being brokenhearted should not give a false impression that being a Warrior means increasing the pain and unhappiness we already feel. The way of the Warrior is far more likely to eventually create a more positive feeling about self and life. An aspect of the Shambala teachings that seems unique to me in writings on the way of the Warrior, and related to a more positive feeling about life, is an emphasis on what Trungpa calls “basic goodness.” Trungpa writes,

“If we are willing to take an unbiased look, we will find that, in spite of all our problems and confusion, all our emotional and psychological ups and downs, there is something basically good about our existence as human beings.”

Recognition of basic goodness in ourselves and the world is a wonderful antidote to the entrenched pessimism, cynicism and low self-esteem that plague so many today. Denial of the shadow in our culture creates a paradoxical focus on everything that is wrong with us, everything in ourselves and our lives that falls short of a commercial ideal. Images of perfect bodies bombard us from magazine ads, movies and television. When we look in the mirror, therefore, we tend to view our bodily reality with negative judgments about how imperfect it seems compared to the airbrushed magazine images. We may perceive our bodies as basically bad and impose punishing diets or regimens to try to make them more like the idealized images. Similarly, we look at our lives and see all the ways they seem empty or lacking. We may also look into a harshly psychoanalytical mirror and see all the dark aspects of our personality and relationships.

Recognition of basic goodness reverses this morbid focus. To recognize basic goodness in your body, for example, consider the fact that you have a beating heart keeping you alive moment-by-moment. Even while you sleep your heart works to keep you alive. If you have eyes, consider what a gift they are, and what fantastic variety of forms and colors they allow you to perceive. Recognize that your psyche has sufficient intelligence to read these words and comprehend their meaning and that you are capable of understanding and creating complex language structures that allow you to communicate with others. Appreciate that you came into this world in a helpless, dependent condition, and that other human beings fed you, sheltered you and gave you a chance at life.

We may see how much speed and aggression there is among human beings, but consider the abundance of cooperation. People may crowd a sidewalk or cars may crowd a freeway, and most of the time people are working vigilantly to avoid injuring anyone else. Go through a day and notice all the moments in which people work cooperatively with you, acknowledge you, and show some form of simple manners. When you eat food consider how much work has gone into the creation of it so that you could be nourished. Consider the basic goodness of the fact that you probably have sufficient food and water to sustain your life. Feel the warmth of the sun, the fresh feeling of your skin after a shower, the wonderful reprieve of sleep, the solace of talking to a friend and having other human beings to relate to. Trungpa writes,

“The goal of Warriorship is to express basic goodness in its most complete, fresh, and brilliant form. This is possible when you realize that you do not possess basic goodness but that you are the basic goodness itself. Therefore, training yourself to be a Warrior is learning to rest in basic goodness, to rest in a complete state of simplicity.”

In other words, basic goodness does not derive from continually doing good deeds, but just from our being itself. We are a part of the universe, as everything else is, and our very existence itself is a function of the creativity of the cosmos.

Basic goodness can also be expressed as “basic trust.” As the Haywards put it,

“Feeling and opening your genuine heart of sadness is the key to letting go of your preconceptions and your interpretations of the world. By letting go, you leave your familiar and snug world behind, at least for a moment, and relax into the sacred and strange space of the real world. To do this, you need to have basic trust. Basic trust is not trusting in something but simply trusting. It is very much like breathing. You do not consciously hold on to your breath or trust in your breath, yet breathing is your very nature. When you breathe out, you trust that the next breath will come in—you don’t think about it, or wonder about it, you trust. When you take a step, you trust that the earth will support you. When you eat, you trust that your stomach will digest the food. This is basic trust.

“…trust not only the basic functions of breathing, eating, and walking, but the sacredness of your whole world. Such trust grows as you step over the threshold of fear again and again and discover that the world beyond your fear is supporting you.

“Your basic trust relaxes you and lets you be. It is simple, unremarkable, ordinary experience, but at the same time it is very powerful; it has a quality of fulfillment. Like the vast, profound, blue sky that is free from clouds yet accommodates everything, from the small white fluffy clouds of a summer’s afternoon to the violent cumulus of a thunderstorm, you let yourself be with whatever you are feeling.

“But trust can be even more basic. Even when your body is not working according to your idea of health, you can still trust your fundamental wellbeing. Usually we don’t experience this level of trust except in life-threatening situations, but it is a basic state of mind that is always there for us.

“The strange but real world is trustworthy because it is always present and, so long as we are genuine, it always responds to us. As long as we do not interpret that response in terms of success or failure, it always gives us a way to go forward. Instead of working so hard to get everything in your life just right, you can profoundly trust and let go. When you learn to let go further, you can let the intelligence of basic goodness determine the course of your life, as it does in any case. It brings great joy and relief to be able to let go in this way.”

Here is how Trungpa describes basic trust:

“The sense of trust is that, when you apply your inquisitiveness, when you look into a situation, you know that you will get a definite response. If you take steps to accomplish something, that action will have a result. When you shoot your arrow, either it will hit the target or it will miss. Trust is knowing that there will be a message . . .

“When you trust in those messages, the reflections of the phenomenal world, the world begins to seem like a bank, or reservoir, of richness. You feel that you are living in a rich world, one that never runs out of messages. A problem arises only if you try to manipulate a situation to your advantage or ignore it. Then you are violating your relationship of trust with the phenomenal world, so then the reservoir might dry up. But usually you will get a message first. If you are being too arrogant, you will find yourself being pushed down by heaven, and if you are being too timid, you will find yourself raised up by earth.

“Ordinarily, trusting in your world means that you expect to be taken care of or to be saved. You think that the world will give you what you want—or at least what you expect. But as a Warrior, you are willing to take a chance; you are willing to expose yourself to the phenomenal world, and you trust that it will give you a message, either of success or failure.”


An essential application of the principles of basic goodness and basic trust is being in the now and accepting and working with your situation as it is. Generally, this means respect for, and complete presence in, the everyday, mundane world. As Ram Dass said, “Be here now.” Trungpa advises that we apply the principles of Warriorship by being fully present and mindful in our ordinary domestic life. By bringing order and healthfulness to our own household we create a healthy foundation from which we can bring healthfulness to the world. Trungpa writes,

“The way to experience nowness is to realize that this very moment, this very point in your life, is always the occasion. So the consideration of where you are and what you are, on the spot, is very important. That is one reason that your domestic everyday life is so important. You should regard your home as sacred, as a golden opportunity to experience nowness. Appreciating sacredness begins very simply by taking an interest in all the details of life. Interest is simply applying awareness to what goes on in your everyday life—awareness while you’re cooking, awareness while you’re driving, even awareness while you’re arguing. Such awareness can help to free you from speed, chaos, neurosis, and resentment of all kinds.

“It may seem that washing dishes and cooking dinner are completely mundane activities, but if you apply awareness in any situation, then you are training your whole being so that you will be able to open yourself further, rather than narrowing your existence.

“You may feel that you have a good vision for society but that your life is filled with hassles—money problems, problems relating to your spouse or caring for your children—and that those two things, visions and ordinary life, are opposing one another. But vision and practicality can be joined together in newness.

“The most practical and immediate way to begin sharing with others and working for their benefit is to work with your own domestic situation and to expand from there.”

(Note: In some of the following quotes, Trungpa uses the term “drala.” The Haywards define dralas as “patterns of living energy and wisdom in the world that you can connect with when you open your mind and heart.”)

“Your physical environment . . . may be as small and limited as a one-room apartment or as large as a mansion or a hotel. How you organize and care for that space is very important. If it is chaotic and messy, then no drala will enter into that environment . . For the Warrior, invoking external drala is creating harmony in your environment in order to encourage awareness and attention to detail. In that way, your physical environment promotes your discipline of Warriorship.

“The attitude of sacredness towards your environment will bring drala. You may live in a dirt hut with no floor and only one window, but if you regard that space as sacred, if you care for it with your heart and mind, then it will be a palace.

“If you want to solve the world’s problems, you have to put your own household, your own individual life, in order first. That is somewhat of a paradox. People have a genuine desire to go beyond their individual, cramped lives to benefit the world, but if you do not start at home, then you have no hope of helping the world. So the first step in learning how to rule is learning to rule your household, your immediate world. There is no doubt that, if you do so, then the next step will come naturally. If you fail to do so, then your contribution to this world will be further chaos.”


Whether in the most ordinary, mundane circumstances or a catastrophic emergency, the Warrior strives to maintain vigilance, skillful intelligence and discriminating awareness. It is the Warrior’s duty to remain, as Don Juan put it, “humble and alert.” In a world so filled with suffering and in need of help, anyone capable of conscious, effective actions has continual responsibility. Although it is worthwhile to be relaxed in the sense of “letting go”—a state in which one is fluid and adaptable without unnecessary bodily tension or psychic rigidity and clinging—it is not good to be relaxed in the sense of a slouchy, careless attitude. There is a need to maintain conscious disciplines and to be prepared for anything.

One thing to be prepared for is that certain people may experience this type of vigilance as a subtle threat, or as a disturbing contrast to the slackness that they find comfortable. Such people prefer the path of the partygoer and believe that life is meant to be a mellow, pleasurable experience you can passively float through. Such people are likely to suggest that you “take it easy” and “go with the flow.” The Warrior’s focus on impeccability and presence in the moment may cause them to be unpopular company for those who want only to hang out and kill time.

A Warrior is always vigilant and in a way is never “off duty.” Don Juan and Trungpa both describe being a Warrior as a continual journey in which one must earn Warriorship moment-by-moment.

(Note: In some of the following quotes Trungpa refers to “the setting sun world.” This term describes the modern “wasteland” world—the toxic environment in which so many modern lives occur.)

Here’s how Trungpa describes Warrior vigilance:

“The important point to realize is that you are never off duty. You can never just relax, because the whole world needs help.

“The Warrior never neglects his discipline or forgets it. His awareness and sensitivity are constantly extended. Even if a situation is very demanding or difficult, the Warrior never gives up. He always conducts himself well, with gentleness and warmth, to begin with, and he always maintains his loyalty to sentient beings who are trapped in the setting-sun world. The Warrior’s duty is to generate warmth and compassion for others. He does this with complete absence of laziness. His discipline and dedication are unwavering.

“The Warrior is constantly reminded that he has to be on the spot, on the dot, because he is choosing to live in a world that does not give him the setting sun’s concept of rest.

“Warriorship is a continual journey. To be a Warrior is to learn to be genuine in every moment of your life.”


Finally, I’d like to conclude our discussion of the way of the Warrior with a small collection of what I consider Warrior aphorisms. They are in no particular order, some are written by me and some are written by others, but they all express aspects of being a Warrior. Some of the “aphorisms” are actually paragraphs, but have an aphoristic ability to stand on their own.  Following the collection of aphorisms, I’ve included “A Modern Warrior’s Manifesto,” a set of principles created by writer, professor and fifth degree Akido black belt George Leonard.

“If not now, when? If not me, who?” —Jewish saying

“Grace under pressure.” —Hemingway’s definition of heroism

“To serve, to strive and not to yield.”

—Outward Bound Motto from the poem “Ulysses” by Tennyson

“The Chinese language contains much wisdom in its symbols. The two-part character “wel-ji” is equivalent to our word for crisis. One character means danger and the other opportunity. We in the western world focus only upon the danger. Yet the Chinese know the word means opportunity as well. We can open many doors and enrich our lives simply by ceasing to focus only on our fears and by looking more at the creative possibilities for action and change that can arise from a state of fear, anxiety. Outward Bound proposes that we recondition our reflexes to find energy and enthusiasm in the stirrings of fear and stress.”

—From the Outward Bound Philosophy

“But I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in the days to come. For I also am a steward.” —Gandalf, from The Ring Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

“Man’s great passion isn’t sex, power or money—it’s laziness.” —C.G. Jung
The Litany Against Fear

I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.

Only I will remain.
—from the Dune books by Frank Herbert

“Yesterday is ashes. Tomorrow is wood. Only today, the fire burns brightly.” —Native American saying

“An advance always begins with individuation, that is to say with the individual, conscious of his isolation, cutting a new path through hitherto untrodden territory.” —C. G. Jung

“There is no harm in falling down. The only harm is in not picking yourself up again.” —Chinese saying

“Act on what the world is presenting to you in the moment rather than what you think of the world.”—Jordan Scott

The following is a collection of aphorisms and paragraphs I’ve created for myself. Some were written in journals or at odd moments when an insight occurred to me.

“When the Warrior finds that a certain pattern of behavior or thinking never seems to produce the desired results, he will try something else.”

The following defines the stance I call “existential impeccability:”

“The immature attitude toward transformation is to see impeccability as a sacrifice to gain a reward. It degrades the present into a sacrifice for an imaginary “transformed” magical future. The immature approach turns all efforts into their opposite, light into dark. True impeccability is existential; it is done for its own sake, not in the expectation of anything. Only such a stance has the detachment from result to achieve the fluidity and adaptability to mean a lasting value. This type of impeccability is not ‘for’ transformation. It is in itself the revolutionary transformation you seek. Transformation occurs when you strive to give up the expectant attitude and replace it with a lasting effort to seek impeccability as an end in itself.”

—from a journal entry I wrote in the Eighties

“The Warrior must be aware that the psyche is conservative in nature, preferring old, self-destructive, neurotic patterns to the unknown. The Warrior must have the insight and determination to break those patterns, particularly those created by early childhood situations.”

“Don’t crack under pressure.”—Ad slogan for Tag Heuer Sport watches. I would rephrase it: “Don’t crack under pressure, but if possible, release the pressure.”

“Impeccability, like being in touch with the body, brings a feeling of connection with the world: being in the moment, being connected to the world, connected to the body that’s in the world.”

“Professionalism is the modern way of saying Warrior-like.  Usually it is applied to skillful work in a particular profession, but its  meaning can be extended to indicate a general impeccability.

“The professional acts impeccably under great stress.”

“Focus on your physical actions in your physical realm. Physically, do the work.”

“Make a decision for the moment and act on it.”

“Leaving the moment is self-deception. Being in the moment is self-love.”

“Insight may be irrelevant and recursive when will is the issue.”

“Pain is part of the beauty of the now. Pain, when experienced in long moments of time, is like a fire burning in the soul. It burns and consumes the oxygen of self-love with terrifying speed threatening to turn us into cold ashes. But then the cycle turns and the pain becomes sadness and one is capable of deeper reflection. By accepting the pain and sadness that you feel in the moment, you enter the moment with your heart and become fully authentic and alive. Accepting this pain is an act of moral courage. Our darker thoughts and feelings, and the realities they may correspond to, are not easy to accept as what’s so. But when we do accept what’s so and continue to act mindfully we become a Warrior. This is the true test and making of a Warrior, how you chose to handle the problem of being when the setting sun of the West burns you with its radioactive rays and your spirit is nauseous and oppressed by flickering shadows. How well do you act toward others while you may happen to be mutating and decomposing at the same time? The Warrior must act impeccably under all circumstances, inner or outer. The Warrior must maintain balance while dark inner chaos whirls about like winds howling in radioactive ruins after the end of the world.”

(end of warrior quotes I authored)

Deng Ming-Dao is a contemporary Taoist sage who has keen insights into Taoism and the Warrior stance.  The following quotes are excerpted from two of his highly recommended books — 365 Tao and Everyday Tao :

“The action must be complete. It must burn clean; it cannot leave any bad ramifications or lingering traces. An act that leaves destruction, resentment, or untidiness in its wake is a poor one.”

“When unpredictable things happen, those who follow Tao are skilled at improvisation. If circumstances deny them, they change immediately.”

“In the midst of great difficulty, a tiny opportunity will open, if only by chance. You must be sharp enough to discern it, quick enough to catch it, and determined enough to do something with it.”

“Make every move count.
Pick your target and hit it.
Perfect concentration means
Effortless flowing.”

“Each day your life grows a day shorter. Make every move count. All that matters is accomplishing what you envision with the greatest dispatch.”

“Make your stand today. On this spot. On this day. Make your actions count; do not falter in your determination to fulfill your destiny. Don’t follow the destiny outlined in some mystical book: Create your own.”
“When one senses that one has come to the limits of the time and situation, one should conserve one’s energy. Often, this will be in preparation for a challenge to the limits, or a changing over to a new set of constraints.”
“If one is a hermit, one can be quiescent. If one is in the world, one must be aggressive.”

“To be aggressive . . . is to have the prowess and cunning of the wolf. A wolf is shrewd. It does not blindly go into a situation. It scouts things out. It has a sense of itself and its surroundings that is nearly supernatural. Trackers have a hard time trapping it. Prey have a difficult time eluding it.”

“When things go badly, those who follow Tao seek the causes and correct them. If the problem cannot be corrected, they shift the entire frame of reference so that the relative importance of the problem is diminished or eliminated . . .”

“When you act, act completely. Follow through. Do everything that has to be done. Be like the fire that burns completely clean: only from that pure stage can you then take the next step.”

“Not to have feeling is inhuman.
To be carried away by feeling is foolish.
Not to have desire is death.
To be a slave to desire is to be lost.”

“Whether our lives are magnificent or wretched depends upon our ordering daily details. We must organize the details into a composition that pleases us. Only then will we have meaning in our lives.”

“You could tell the secret of life ten times over, and it would still be safe. After all, the secret is only known when people make it real in their own lives, not when they simply hear it.”

“Indecision and procrastination are corrosive habits. Those who wait for every little thing to be perfect before they embark on a project or who dislike the compromise of a partial solution are among the least happy. Ideal circumstances are seldom given to anyone for an undertaking. Instead there is uncertainty in every situation. The wise are those who can wrest great advantage from circumstances opaque to everyone else.”

“Every day passes whether you participate or not. If you are not careful, years will go by and you will only have regrets. If you cannot solve a problem all at once, at least make a stab at it. Reduce your problems into smaller, more manageable packages, and you can make measurable progress toward achievement. If you wait for everything to be perfect according to your preconceived plans, then you may well wait forever. If you go out and work with the current of life, you may find that success comes from building upon small things.”

The following three quotes come from Back to Beginnings, Reflections on the Tao by Huanchu Daoren, translated by Thomas Cleary. They were written around 1600 by a retired Chinese Scholar, Hong Yingming, whose Taoist name, Huanchu Daoren, means “A Wayfarer Back to Beginnings.”

“When you are constantly hearing offensive words and always have some irritating matter in mind, only then do you have a whetstone for character development. If you hear only what pleases you, and deal only with what thrills you, then you are burying your life in deadly poison.”

“If the mind is illumined, there is clear blue sky in a dark
room. If the thoughts are muddled, there are malevolent ghosts in broad daylight.”

“When thoughts arise, as soon as you sense them heading on the road of desire, bring them right back onto the road of reason. Once they arise, notice them, once you notice them, you can change them. This is the key to turning calamity into fortune, rising from death and returning to life.”

And a few miscellaneous quotes:

“Forget the flight plan, from this moment on we are improvising the mission.”  From the movie Apollo 13

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” —Edmund Burke

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment.” —Emerson (1842)

“The Modern Warrior: A Manifesto” by George Leonard

The Modern Warrior is not one who goes to war or kills people, but rather one who is dedicated to the creation of a more vivid peace.
The Modern Warrior honors the traditional Warrior virtues: loyalty, integrity, dignity, courtesy, courage, prudence and benevolence.
The Modern Warrior pursues self-mastery through will, patience, and diligent practice.
The Modern Warrior works to perfect himself or herself not so much as a means to achieving some external goal as for its own sake.
The Modern Warrior is willing to take calculated risks to realize his or her potential and further the general good.
The Modern Warrior is fully accountable for his or her actions.
The Modern Warrior seeks the inner freedom that comes from the study of esthetics, culture, and the wisdom of the ages.
The Modern Warrior respects and values the human individual and the entire web of life on this planet. To serve others is of the highest good. To freely give and accept nourishment from life is the Warrior’s challenge.
The Modern Warrior reveres the spiritual realm that lies beyond appetites and appearances.
The Modern Warrior cherishes life and thus conducts his or her affairs in such a manner as to be prepared at every moment for death. In this light, he or she is able to view all complaints, regrets, and moods of melancholy as indulgences
The Modern Warrior aims to achieve control and act with abandon.
The Modern Warrior realizes that being a Warrior doesn’t mean winning or even succeeding. It does mean putting your life on the line. It means risking and failing and risking again, as long as you live

If you choose to follow the way of the Warrior, remember that the journey is the destination.  —Jonathan Zap

You can find more writings on this path in the Warrior Stance section of this site.

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  1. where does JESUS CHRIST come in this ! thank you.

    • On first glance this first comment about Christ in response to this article about being a Warrior, strikes one as an irrelevant reactionary eruption motivated by a worldview where critical analysis is subsumed by fundamentalism. However I actually feel I relate to the perspective. This presupposes my lack of critical analysis! After reading this article about Warriorhood, I feel inspired and motivated. The Castaneda quotes are particuarly poetic and lucid. However a little like Jon’s perspective on North American Pop Psychology of Positive Thinking – I feel the Warrior Stance lacks sufficient dimension to encompass a full bodied, fully functional spiritual way of life practice. Ones quest is not yet complete, wielding this Work alone. And so Jesus Christ? Well when I consider the application of Warriordom, it just feels like self self self self self self self. I feel egocentricity, I feel control and contraction, I feel a narrowing down of perspective rather than a expansion of vision. And overall the ‘I am a Warrior’ idea (based upon Jons lucid and inspiring exposition) makes me feel a lack of the potential of infinite concsiouness flowing through one, and a concsiousness guided by LOVE. While the individual is entitled to their own interpretation as to exactly what Jesus Christ represents (or doesn’t) – in a general sense for me He is the principle of a perfect love concsiousness – infinite wisdom and infinite love able to sublimate our limited sense of ‘I’ and ego and grant us connection with all things. This sublimates the sense of ‘I’m in control and I’m the boss around here’ which the Warrior perspective inspires me to feel – and grants a sense of surrendering to a Divine Will or Principle destroying attachment to the false sense and Mayavic attachment. Voila!

  2. Thanks for this excellent article, replete with many quotations – we can see the idea of a warrior shaping thru all of these.
    Also reminded of Joseph Campbell “the hero with a thousand faces” and the way George Lucas was inspired by this to write the Star Wars saga, with it’s many obvious archetypes – the timid hero (skywalker) , the scoundrel (han solo) etc.

    Re Jesus – he would agree with most of this analysis, I reckon. And he was sadness and joy – and loved imperfect humanity so much he endured dying agony for them. So no contradictions there…

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