A Warrior is Not a Fighter

shambhala warrior warrior spirit

[caption id="attachment_2347" align="alignright" width="300"] A classic depiction of a Buddhist warrior, often as guardians in temples to keep away demons[/caption]

“When I was in the army, I was a soldier. I was a puppet doing whatever anybody told me to do, even if it meant going against what my heart told me was right. I didn’t know nothing about being a warrior until I hit the streets and marched alongside my brothers for something I really believed in. When I found something I believed in, a higher power found me.” - Quoted in The Hidden Spirituality of Men

English is capable of beautiful, subtle nuances, but sometimes, it just doesn't convey the right meaning. For example, English only has one word for love. We use it to talk about romantic love, parental love, brotherly love, and every other possible form of affection or compassion. Sure, you can apply plenty of adjectives, but that doesn't convey quite the same meaning or nuance as it would if we had more precise terms.

Well, in English, the word Warrior may have certain connotations of bravery, courage, and self-improvement, but it essentially derives from the word War, and refers to one who makes war, one who fights, one who is aggressive and violent.

So why do I use it? Because the word is also sometimes used to talk about a person who wages a very different kind of war.

The spiritual warrior uses anger and aggression, containing it at the same time. Anger becomes moral outrage within his heart, fueling actions. However, these actions aren’t violent, aggressive or deadly. The spiritual warrior seeks to change others and so his decision-making is rational and compassionate, in service of results, not just a discharge for personal anger. - Matthew Fox, The Hidden Spirituality of Men

We use the word Warrior to talk about the members of tribal societies who fulfill the role of defender and soldier, but a tribal warrior is a human with a far stronger spiritual drive than the etymology of the word implies.

That's why I call myself a Warrior. Not because I fight, but because the word can refer to those defenders of the tribe, those people who developed their spiritual and physical potency to be sacrificed to protect and lead.

I recently have come upon the perfect expression of my idea of the Warrior, complete with a drive for integrity and truth, self-sacrifice and self-improvement. I initially ran into it while reading Chogyam Trungpa's Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, in which Trunga uses Warrior as the translation of the Tibetan word, pawo, one who is brave. Here is the opening of the Wikipedia article on the Buddhist spiritual warrior:

The term spiritual warrior is used in Buddhism for one who combats the universal enemy: self-ignorance (avidya), the ultimate source of suffering according to Buddhist philosophy. Different from other paths, which focus on individual salvation, the spiritual warrior's only complete and right practice is that which compassionately helps other beings with wisdom. This is the Bodhisattva ideal (the "Buddha-in-waiting"), the spiritual warrior who resolves to attain buddhahood in order to liberate others.

Within this conception of the Warrior is the idea of relentless self-improvement, not for the sake of personal gain, but in service of others. This warrior is not brutish, aggressive, or violent. On the contrary, the Spiritual Warrior is deeply sensitive, open to the suffering of the world. This sensitivity gives them strength, because they feel intimately how much others suffer.

Another particularly descriptive passage from the Wikipedia article:

The spiritual warrior archetype helps to constructively answer questions about aggression and competition with a healthy direction. Unlike the soldier character, the spiritual warrior is in touch with the joy, the sadness, the expansiveness in their heart; able to share and give it to others. The warrior knows about death and seizes the day. They have learned to let go with forgiveness and avoids chasing others in revenge. The warrior commits to growing the heart and soul in becoming a creative being. The warrior serves in love of strangers and gives generously while giving to themselves. The spiritual warrior seeks to change others with rational and compassionate decision-making in service of a higher goal.

Make no mistake, I am angry about a lot of the problems in the world. I feel a powerful urge to drive change. It would be possible to express these drives in rebelliousness and aggression. Likewise, I have a strong desire to excel in everything I do, but I have seen what misery that can bring if it is allowed to degenerate into simple competitiveness.

Perhaps, what makes the pawo translate to "warrior" is that a pawo has the same passion and energy that might otherwise reveal itself as violence and aggression. They are fighting, in a way, and expressing the same determination and purity of purpose that a more war-like warrior exhibits on the battlefield.

But, we are not fighters. We are Warriors.

(Photo Credit: tuchodi on Flickr)