The Path of the Spiritual Warrior

Everything that arises also passes away, so strive for what has not arisen


The call of death is a call of love.

Death can be sweet if we answer it in the affirmative,

if we accept it as one of the great eternal forms of life and transformation.

                                                       ~Hermann Hesse letter, 1950~

 The path of the spiritual warrior is an arduous one fraught with pain and suffering.   It is filled with heavy challenges including the hard task of honestly looking at one’s own behaviour, and inevitably, results in death. This path guarantees you will achieve nothing, become nothing, and keep nothing; (and yes, this includes the body which eventually gets old, sick and dies.) 

So, why would anybody want to choose such a path?  Because by having nothing to cling on to, nothing to be attached to, the root cause of all our suffering can be dissolved.  

Some of you have probably already noted that what I am describing as the spiritual path is unlike anything that is out there in the mainstream at the moment.  Most spiritual teachers talk about spirituality in an overly emphasized positive light, and rarely describe it in terms of suffering and death (which is predominantly viewed as negative concepts).  This is generally what I like to call New Age Positivism, which I feel unfairly emphasizes the light and ignores the dark side of life.  However, when the sun shines, it always casts a shadow, and without this shadow, one would not be able to differentiate between objects as it would be seen as just one big blinding light. So light and dark, in this sense, are two sides of the same proverbial coin, who are emphatically dependant on each other.   

So, let me try to explain this concept more clearly by explaining what I mean by death.  

People often don’t like to hear about death in our society.  Death is commonly perceived as a frightening, evil thing that really shouldn’t happen to anybody.  (Oh, what kind of cruel god would let such a thing happen to people?  Why  did they have to die?!)  Most people are in denial about their own mortality, because it scares them to think that the body, of which they identify with, is destined to become nothing more than decaying matter.  People also fear the unknown, and as we cannot conceive what happens when the body dies, we tend to just turn a blind eye to the inevitability of our own death.  Religions have attempted to soothe people’s fears by cooing them with promises of an afterlife, but the fear never really goes away; it just becomes docile for a while.

So instead, we go about our daily lives in a delusional state of denying the frailty of our impermanent selves, and consequently end up demonizing what we don’t understand.  Spiritual teachers have historically taught about that this concept of impermanence.  For example, Indian Sage Sri Ramana Maharshi teaches this when he says, “What is not permanent is not worth striving for;”[1] which very much echoes Gautama Buddha when he stated that, “Everything that arises also passes away, so strive for what has not risen.”  Both teaches us about the transient nature of our impermanent selves as caught in a perpetuating cycle of life and death.   

So death, in this context, has a deeper meaning when it is being described in reference to spirituality, as it simply means radical change.  Death, therefore, isn’t negative for everything must die, otherwise nothing could live.  Through decaying plant matter, new plants thrive and grow from the fertilized soil, and continue on in this eternal cycle of birth and death.  Without death, life would be impossible; so really, death isn’t death at all, but life!  

True spirituality cannot ignore the shadow part of ourselves, for all aspects of life must be understood in order to transcend the whole of existence.  Ignoring one half of ourselves is denying our dual nature, and results in an unbalanced understanding of the deeper meaning of life.  However, looking into the shadow isn’t easy, as most of us are afraid to look at the negative parts of our own behaviour and existence.  This process of honestly analyzing one’s own behaviour is a type of deep psychology, and should only be done with a true guru as expert.  It is ironically through this process of looking into the dark side of ourselves that one can experience real spiritual growth through the release of suffering.  In this sense, it is through understanding the dark that one can learn to understand the light.  Spiritual teacher Hermes Morton reminds us of this process of growth where he states that, “Our destiny as human beings is to transcend ignorance and suffering through the realization of love and compassion.” And truly, we can realize our destinies by choosing the path of the spiritual warrior with a true guru, become aware of who we truly are, and bring the impermanent state of suffering to its inevitable death. 

Like any other type of warrior, the path of the spiritual warrior takes courage and perseverance, and is not a path for those faint of heart.  

                             From the withered tree, a flower blooms

                                                                 ~Zen Proverb~

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[1]  Sri R. Maharshi,(1985) Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, ed. David Godman, England:  Arkana Penguin Books, p.20.