The Warrior Tradition: Conquering Fear

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The Warrior Tradition: Conquering Fear


The term “warrior” relates to the basic situation of being a human being. The heart of the warrior is this basic aliveness or basic goodness. Such fearless goodness is free from doubt and overcomes any perverted attitudes towards reality.

Doubt is the first obstacle to fearlessness that has to be overcome. We’re not talking here about suppressing your doubts about a particular thing that is taking place. We’re not talking about having doubts about joining an organization, or something like that. We are referring here to overcoming a much more basic doubt, which is fundamentally doubting yourself and feeling that you have some kind of shortcoming as a human being. You don’t feel that your mind and body are synchronized, or working together properly. You feel that you are constantly being short-changed somewhere in your life.

When you were growing up, at a very early stage-perhaps around two years old-you must have heard our father or mother saying no to you. They would say, “No, don’t get into that,” or, “No, don’t explore that too much,” or, “No, be quiet. Be still.” When you heard the word no, you may have responded by trying to fulfill that no, by being good. Or you may have reacted negatively, by defying your parents and their no, by exploring further and being “bad.” That mixture of the temptation to be naughty and the desire to be disciplined occurs very early in life. When our parents say no to us, it makes us feel strange about ourselves, which becomes an expression of fear.

On the other hand, there is another kind of NO, which is very positive. We have never heard that basic NO properly: NO free from fear and free from doubt. Instead, even if we think that we’re doing our best in life, we still feel that we haven’t fully lived up to what we should be. We feel that we’re not quite doing things right. We feel that our parents or others don’t approve of us. There is that fundamental doubt, or fundamental fear, as to whether or not we can actually accomplish something.

Doubt arises in relating with authority, discipline and scheduling throughout our life. When we don’t acknowledge our doubt, it manifests as resistance and resentment. There is often some resentment or a reaction against the sitting practice of meditation as well. The moment that the gong is struck to signal the beginning of meditation practice, we feel resistance. But in that situation, we find that it’s too late. We’re already sitting there on the cushion, so we usually continue to practice.

However, resistance in everyday life provides us with many ways to manipulate situations. When we are presented with a challenge, we often try to turn away rather than having to face it. We come up with all kinds of excuses to avoid the demands that we feel are being put on us.

The basic NO, on the other hand, is accepting discipline in our life without preconceptions. Normally, when we say the word “discipline,” it comes with a lot of mixed feelings. It’s like saying “porridge.” Some people like porridge, and some people hate it. Nevertheless, porridge remains porridge. It is a verystraightforward thing. We have similar feelings about discipline and the meaning of NO. Sometimes, it’s a bad NO: it is providing oppressive boundaries that we don’t want to accept. Or it could be a good NO, which encourages us to do something healthy. But when we just hear that one word, NO, the message is mixed.

Fearlessness is extending ourselves beyond that limited view. In the Heart Sutra, it talks about going beyond…

We prefer to wear sunglasses, rather than facing the brilliance of the sunshine. We put on a hat and gloves to shield ourselves, fearing that we might get burned. The colourfulness of relationships, household chores, business enterprises and our general livelihood are too irritating. We are constantly looking for padding so that we don’t run into the sharp edges of the world. That is the essence of wrong belief. It is an obstacle to seeing the wisdom of the Great Eastern Sun, which is seeing greater vision beyond our own small world.

The ground of fearlessness and the basis of overcoming doubt and wrong belief is to develop renunciation. Renunciation here means overcoming that very hard, tough, aggressive mentality which wards off any gentleness that might come into our hearts. Fear does not allow fundamental tenderness to enter into us. When tenderness tinged by sadness touches our heart, we know that we are in contact with reality. We feel it. That contact is genuine, fresh, and quite raw. That sensitivity is the basic experience of warriorship, and it is the key to developing fearless renunciation.

Sometimes people find that being tender and raw is threatening and seemingly exhausting. Openness seems demanding and energy consuming, so they prefer to cover up their tender heart. Vulnerability can sometimes make you nervous. It is uncomfortable to feel so real, so you want to numb yourself. You look for some kind of anaesthetic, anything that will provide you with entertainment. Then you can forget the discomfort of reality. People don’t want to live with their basic rawness for even fifteen minutes. When people say they are bored, often they mean that they don’t want to experience the sense of emptiness, which is also an expression of openness and vulnerability. So they pick up the newspaper or read anything else that’s lying around the room-even reading what it says on a cereal box to keep themselves entertained. The search for entertainment to baby-sit your boredom soon becomes legitimized as laziness. Such laziness actually involves a lot of exertion. You have to constantly crank things up to occupy yourself, overcoming your boredom by indulging in laziness.

For the warrior, fearlessness is the opposite of that approach. Fearlessness is a question of learning how to be. Be there all along: that is the message. That is quite challenging in what we call the setting-sun world, the world of neurotic comfort where we use everything to fill up the space. We even use our emotions to entertain ourselves. You might be genuinely angry about something for a fraction of a second, but then you draw out your anger so that it lasts for twenty-five minutes. Then you crank up something else to be angry at for the next twenty minutes. Sometimes, if you arouse a really good attack of anger, it can last for days and days. That is another way we entertain ourselves in the setting-sun world…

The remedy to that approach is renunciation. In the Buddhist teachings, renunciation is associated with being nauseated by the confused world and the pain of samsara. For the warrior, renunciation is slightly different. It is giving away, or not indulging in, pleasure for entertainment’s sake. We are going to kick out any preoccupations provided by the miscellaneous babysitters in the phenomenal world.

Finally, renunciation is the willingness to work with real situations of aggression in the world. If someone interrupts your world with an attack of aggression, you have to respond to it. There is no other way. Renunciation is being willing to face that kind of situation, rather than covering it up. Everyone is afraid to talk about this. It may be shocking to mention it. Nonetheless, we have to learn to relate to those aspects of the world. We have never developed any response to attack-whether it is a verbal attack or actual physical aggression. People are very shy of this topic, although we have the answers to these challenges in our warrior disciplines, our exertion and our manifestation.

In the warrior tradition, fearlessness is connected with attaching your basic existence to greater vision or what we call the Great Eastern Sun. In order to experience such vast and demanding vision, you need a real connection to basic goodness. The key to that is overcoming doubt and wrong belief…The idea of renunciation is to relate with whatever arises with a sense of sadness and tenderness. We reject the aggressive, hardcore street fighter mentality. The neurotic upheavals created by conflicting emotions, or the kleshas, arise from ignorance, or avidya. Ignorance is very harsh and willing to stick with its own version of things. Therefore, it feels very righteous. Overcoming that is the essence of renunciation: we have no hard edges.

Warriorship is so tender, without skin, without tissue, naked and raw. It is soft and gentle. You have renounced putting on a new suit of armor. You have renounced growing a thick, hard skin. You are willing to expose naked flesh, bone and marrow to the world.

The Path

The starting point on the path of fearlessness is the discovery of fear. We find ourselves fearful, frightened, even petrified by circumstances. This ubiquitous nervousness provides us with a stepping stone, so that we can step over our fear. We have to make a definite move to cross over the boundary from cowardice to bravery. If we do so properly, the other side of our cowardice contains bravery…

Often, when someone tells us we should be fearless, we think they’re saying not to worry, that everything is going to be all right. But unconditional fearlessness is simply based on being awake. Once you have command of the situation, fearlessness is unconditional because you are neither on the side of success or failure. Success and failure are your journey

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