There seems to be a rule of life that if something is too simple, uncomplicated and easy, it's not worth pursuing. Our minds and spirits demand challenge and complexity. The idea of "the simple life" may be appealing in theory, but in practice we want to be stimulated, inspired, compelled. It is true at work, in our hobbies, certainly in love. And it even applies in the path which many equate with "the simple life": Yoga.
The idea that Yoga can be challenging and multi-dimensional can be unsettling for those looking for an idyllic Walden of the soul. Yes, it is true that Yoga can lead to deep and abiding peace, a state of tranquillity and well-being which is close to sublime. But, as a rich disciple full of complexity and ambiguity, Yoga also can lead to dynamic energy, assertiveness and creative power. For some, the path of Yoga is the way of the divine warrior.
Many of us who grew up in the peace movement of the 60s recoil from the very word "warrior." What could be further from the road to gentleness and harmony which we have chosen to follow? The word "warrior" suggests impersonal militias and hardened combatants wantonly wreaking destruction and death as they impose their will on the weak and defenseless. The warrior is perceived as the product of an inflated ego, shrunken sense of morality and pathological level of aggression. No one who has thoughtfully considered the arguments for and against peace, experienced or witnessed pain and suffering, or felt deep attachments to nature and special loved ones could embrace a path so patently destructive to self and others.
This is why so many throughout the ages have been confused, even angered, by the character of Arjuna, Krishna's faithful disciple, in the Hindu holy poem and scripture, Bhagavad Gita. The poem discloses the most profound spiritual truths revealed to humanity, not in the setting of a temple or serene mountaintop, but on a battlefield in the midst of a war of sickening ferocity. Arjuna's initial chief complaint seems to be, not how he can become a wiser sage, but rather how he can become a more effective soldier!
There are some critics who claim that we must not impose contemporary Western value judgments on Arjuna or the Gita. According to this perspective, Arjuna was a respected member of the warrior class, and the Gita reflects a practical acknowledgment of the realities of war.
I have another view, however. I believe that the battle depicted in the Gita is a metaphor for our worldly life, fraught with turmoil, cruelty and disease. Arjuna represents the kind of divinely inspired warrior who can cut through the illusion of Maya and tackle and overcome the obstacles which prevent our divine nature from expressing itself in this turbulent, troubled world.
To do this, Arjuna does not retreat meekly from society, but enters fully onto the playing field. Through the disciplines of Yoga, he becomes alert, poised and responsive. His reflexes are quick and cat-like; his eyes sparkle with intelligence and awareness. His fight is not with men but with the menacing distractions which taunt and assault him from every side and prevent him from discovering his true nature. Paradoxically, Yoga--the most serene of disciplines--develops in Arjuna the fighting spirit he needs to overcome inertia and release the spiritual being held hostage within.
Other cultures also have celebrated the divine warrior. In his book, Scholar Warrior, Deng-Ming Dao, a contemporary Taoist master, describes a path followed by Chinese adepts for thousands of years which combines contemplation, study and vigorous physical training. Chogyam Trungpa, the late Tibetan Buddhist thinker, claims that contemplation without action is counterproductive.
Sun Tzu's The Art of War is less about the military and more about dealing with personal and interpersonal relationships in a context of "whole-liness." And, in the West, even the hymn "Onward, Christian Soldiers" suggests we should bring the warrior's enthusiasm, commitment and whole-body discipline to our daily encounters with the world and ourselves.
The way of the divine warrior is not for everyone. There are those who follow the paths of Bhakti Yoga (the Yoga of Love) and the way of devotion or scholarship or good works in the community. Yoga recognizes three types of individuals: the tamasic or sluggish; the rajasic or active; and the sattvic or contemplative. For the rajasic individual who prefers a life of action, the divine warrior may represent an attainable ideal. For others, it offers a jolt of energy to refreshen and motivate.
Examine your own nature, and you will find the path that's right for you. For many, the warrior's way will lead to greater vitality and insight, more productive relationships with others and a perfect harmonization of body, mind and spirit. And you don't have to behave like Rambo to make it happen!
©1996 New Frontier Magazine. All rights reserved. Linda Holt, MA, is a long-time Yoga practitioner and free-lance writer. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, Qi: The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health and Fitness and many magazines and newspapers.