In a book on South Africa's animal kingdom, I read the remarkable story of two hunters who were on the trail of Cape buffalo. From my own previous experience of game watching, I was aware that the buffalo is one of the most feared animals in the wild-especially lonely old bulls. In this hunting story, a buffalo was shot five times, once through the heart, and then a further six times; but it was still coming at its tormentors. Eventually, the bull flopped down about ten metres from the two hunters, apparently stone dead. Relieved, one of the hunters moved forward to take a closer look at the resilient animal. The buffalo rose, killed the hunter, and then finally dropped dead!
That animal was clearly a warrior, though not necessarily a peaceful one! Dan Millman wrote about "the way of the peaceful warrior" as long ago as 1980. The beautiful Hindu scripture known as the Bhagavad Gita is set entirely on a battlefield, where the god Krishna encourages the young prince Arjuna to enter into battle.
The Toughness of the Warrior
Growing up in Africa, I was regaled with war tales of Zulu impis (armies). It is said that King Shaka had his warriors running over thorn fields to harden them.
The way of the warrior has always been close to my heart. As an educator, lecturing students aged 18 to 20, I very much wonder if our youth possess the essential toughness of the warrior. It seems that young people used to be much tougher, as illustrated by the childhood reminiscences of my 83-year-old swim coach, Mr Brian Button. He grew up in Kimberley, an important South African diamond-mining city, and recalls having had to wear shorts right through the year-even on the cold, frosty mornings this near-desert region typically experiences.
I was glad to hear that at the prestigious private Grey College in Bloemfontein, boys can still choose whether to wear long or short pants through the cold winter. Apparently, those boys raised on farms continue to wear short pants; for them, it is a sign of toughness-and probably a matter of pride, too!
Since our spiritual journey really determines the quality of our life, I want to take a closer look at what Dan Millman calls "the way of the warrior". The anecdotes above stress physical toughness, certainly a characteristic of the true warrior. But the warrior is also totally aware of what is going on around him or her. The warrior possesses total mindfulness.
I can't help wondering again how many of my young students at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology possess true mindfulness. Since it is not an attribute typically advertised in the media, my students would probably not go for it. The propaganda that fuels desire for it is absent. Young people today are mostly encouraged to yearn for material goods external to them. Those things it is fashionable to desire all cost money.
The Ego is King
Contemporary advertising promotes the ego as king. In my eyes, this is not altogether a bad thing-one first has to establish oneself in this material world before even thinking of embarking on a spiritual, or inner, journey. As the spiritual teacher Ram Dass wisely said long ago: "We must first be a somebody before we are ready to be a nobody".
However, after one has established oneself, the real life journey-the inner journey-can commence. At this point on the way of the true spiritual warrior, ego and pride represent hindrances, and must be transcended. But while many Western teachers seem to feel that one should purify the ego, most Eastern disciplines advocate the dissolution of the ego.
From the teachings of the spiritual teachers I have been privileged to learn from, I have gathered that the recognition that one knows nothing is one of the hardest, but most important, steps on the warrior's journey. Along with this recognition goes the renunciation of our ubiquitous desire to be right. To let go or surrender the ego's will to be right makes the inner journey quite a challenge.
The word buddha means "awakened one". How many of today's youth are awake? In my experience, most of them can usually be found staring at a cell phone or tablet. Their attention is fixed on whatever is on the screen, while the sky, clouds, snow, or sunshine are entirely lost to them.
My greatest hope for my young students is that they will find it in themselves to look beyond the lures of popular media and the materialism it tends to encourage. May they eventually embark on the inner journey of the spiritual warrior.
Spiritual masters through the ages have taught that the inner journey is of far greater importance than is the outer journey. Therefore, it is important to ask oneself questions, such as "Am I making progress?" The answer will lie in whether one is becoming more pure, kinder, more accepting.
I come from the country that gave the world the iconic Nelson Mandela. We can only admire his tolerance, his respect for all races, and his total act of forgiveness. His was the way of the warrior: an inner victory, above all. Judging from Mandela's life, it seems that the way to this inner victory is the toughest journey of them all!
It was encouraging to read the article "Slow Communication" in Kindred Spirit (July/August 2014), the UK's oldest mind/body/spirit magazine. The article was by its editor, Tania Ahsan. She wondered whether it is possible nowadays to live offline, with minimal technological support. She makes a plea for a return to the handwritten letter: something that is solid and sincere. "How lovely it would be to have a pile of handwritten letters", she muses.
Tania also questions the state of modern friendship. One might have hundreds of Facebook friends, but the truth is that one can only handle about five real friends (not necessarily Facebook friends)-if that many. Cell phones and computers, she suggests, could more profitably be used to connect people in order to build solid relationships offline. This is the only way two people can truly get to know each other in any meaningful sense.
This article left me with the impression that we may be losing touch with what is real and profound and lasting. The way of the spiritual warrior is one of relinquishing all judgement, but sometimes it is necessary to discriminate between what is helpful and what is harmful. Is our fast-paced, high-tech life necessarily better than it was before the advent of so many distracting devices? I sincerely hope that the human race can learn to make an ally of technology, rather than an addiction.
Armour of the modern spiritual warrior
What is the essential armour for the modern spiritual warrior? Strength and courage are certainly part of it. The warrior is someone that others rely on; kindness is another essential quality of warriorship. Through the ages, across every culture, the virtue of compassion has further been an essential tool of the true spiritual warrior-that is, compassion for oneself and for all other living beings. From my perspective, the power to forgive without judgement is another prerequisite.
Another aspect of the true warrior's skill is the ability to be silent: to actually be still and listen to inner promptings. My own observation is that today's young people are uncomfortable with silence, and the spaciousness that comes with it. Whatever space may be available is usually filled with loud noise or some way to assuage the unconscious urge to always be busy. Sometimes one should just do nothing and experience the inner joy of one's existence.
Once one has started on the inner journey of warriorship, only true dedication can bring the joy one unconsciously expects.
When visiting the Victoria Falls for the second time in my life recently, I joined four others to ride a two-hour horse trail through the adjacent reserve. Our guide made us stop at a herd of buffaloes. I felt a bit uncomfortable, but the guide immediately put my mind at ease. Apparently the buffaloes only see the horse, and not the rider; so we were well camouflaged in the presence of this dangerous animal.
In this instance, the art of camouflage worked well for us. But the clever disguises of the materialistic lures dangled before us at every turn constantly threaten to sabotage the warrior's journey. It is my hope that each one of you-whether a parent, a student, or anyone else-will avoid being fooled by the camouflage of modern materialism, committing yourself instead to the way of the true warrior. For this worthwhile journey can set you free to enjoy this wonderful life to the full.
- Riette. 2012. Aardwolf tot Ystervark: Vrae en Antwoorde.
- Millman, Dan. 1980. The Way of the Peaceful Warrior: a Book That Changes Lives.
- Acarya, Vijaya. 2003. Bhagavad-Gita.
- Ahsan, Tania. 2014. "Slow Communication: Can We Live Offline?" Kindred Spirit, July/August.
- Durckheim, Karlfried Graf. 1956. Hara The Vital Center of Man.
Dr. Sibis Mouton is a practising behavioural kinesiologist and former world champion in the Ironman distance competition. She facilitates the ZEST4LIFE courses in Cape Town, South Africa; at Quest in Devon, England; and on Mahe Island in the Seychelles. For more information, visit www.zest4life.co.za or email firstname.lastname@example.org