The Mood of the Warrior and the Path of Knowledge
There were so many early mental visitors to my mind this morning that I felt a bit beset, and each one of them wanted me to write something about them. So, it was a matter of drawing lots. Pick a card, any card! The visitor that won out was the teaching of the Four Enemies and the mood of the warrior.
There is a very wonderful and beautiful passage in Carlos Castaneda’s very first book entitled The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. Castaneda is still being inducted at this time into the cognitive structure of the sorcerer’s world and into “the mood of the warrior” — a mood necessary, his teacher don Juan tells him, for the man of knowledge who is about to set foot onto the path into the unknown and the struggle with infinity.
Don Juan explains to Castaneda that a man on his way to knowledge must cultivate the mood of a warrior and “guts of steel” in order to deal with the four enemies he must invariably face: fear, clarity, power, and old age. This array of foes is very instructive, as is the surprising conclusion of the warrior’s life of struggle to attain to true knowledge. This was the blueprint, the rules of engagement as it were, that don Juan followed with Castaneda throughout this entire apprenticeship.
And what is remarkable about this schema, for me, is how closely it resembles Nietzsche’s own programme of self-overcoming and the path to the transhuman (übermensch).
Understandably, the first enemy encountered on the path to knowledge is fear. Fear keeps us timid and in ignorance. Nietzsche called this state a condition of “miserable ease.” To be defeated by fear is to give in to self-pity and resentment. It is the ego-nature that fears because it vainly seeks immortality for itself in the transient things of the world which have no permanence. To master fear, one must face it again and again without succumbing to resentment or self-pity, and without running away, until fear surrenders and the egoic-nature steps aside. One of the strategies that don Juan commended to Castaneda to effect this was to reflect constantly on his own personal death and mortality, and to think of nothing else, as only this would induce the mood of sobriety needed on the path of knowledge.
When and if the first enemy on the path of knowledge is defeated — the fearful ego-nature — the warrior then encounters his second enemy — clarity. Overcoming fear (and each other enemy successively) brings about an essential restructuration of consciousness and perception, exactly what William Blake and Rumi both referred to in their way as “cleansing the doors of perception” (in Rumi’s case: “purify your eyes and see the pure world!”). Just as the mortal self’s fear and anxiety keeps us in the bondage of ignorance and our perception in chains, so the overcoming of fear liberates our perception and awareness from that bondage. This was also the Buddha’s struggle with the demon “Mara,” the “Architect” who he finally recognised as himself, after which he emerged victorious over the world.
Jesus taught the exact same thing, and the passage to “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” is exactly the same. The way must pass through fear and death and beyond fear and death. One must stay the course or one will not overcome this death-in-life.
The paradox of the second enemy on the path, clarity, is that it is both reward and obstacle. This paradox is that same coincidentia oppositorum or enantiodromia (reversal of fortune) which we have raised many times in other posts. This marvelous clarity, so hard-won and in which “a man feels nothing is concealed”, also becomes blinding. It seduces one into an equally delusive state — a lack of doubt. And that lack of doubt and that certainty of perception, which seems so final and becomes almost a form of arrogance, this now becomes the new obstacle on the path to attaining knowledge. Although this is often the stage on the path that we refer to as “wisdom,” it is still incomplete and the soul on the path must still pursue his or her self-overcoming. In don Juan’s own words,
“He must do what he did with fear: he must defy his clarity and use it only to see, and wait patiently and measure carefully before taking new steps; he must think, above all, that his clarity is almost a mistake. And a moment will come when he will understand that his clarity was only a point before his eyes. And thus he will have overcome his second enemy, and will arrive at a position where nothing can harm him anymore. This will not be a mistake. It will not be only a point before his eyes. It will be true power.”
Learning courage to learning humility are the two stages on the path so far covered, and they follow familiar teachings. Nietzsche also taught us to be wary of our blinding truths and certainties, and to mistrust the character of our “knowledge” as being final and complete. His notable essay “On Truth and Lies in the Nonmoral Sense” is just about this, in fact. And for Nietzsche, too, our absolute certainties detained us and derailed us from further effort in walking the path to the transhuman — the attainment of “the free spirit.” (And that, for me, was the really horrid thing about Francis Fukuyama’s declaration of “The End of History”). Nietzsche tried to teach us to be humble about our absolute truths and certainties, as maybe even being our enemies, for had we actually attained to that “truth that sets free” as Jesus taught? No. And, of course, he was hated and despised for saying so.
Now that the warrior on the path has mastered both his or her fear and clarity, he or she attains to “true power”. Whatever this word “power” might mean in your mind, it is probably wrong, or at least incomplete. Don Juan’s “power” is connected with an understanding of the fundamental dynamic force in the cosmos he calls “intent” or intentionality, and which doesn’t have a whole lot to do with what we call “volition” or “will”. Intent is pretty much the constitutive, creative, and formative power that rules and governs everything. Everything that arises, arises through the action and focus of “intent”. It is actually this formative power of intent that is rendered in the Bible as “the Word of God” as expressed in the commandment “let there be light!” which is the attempt to render intelligible, within the limits and possibilities of the mythological structure of consciousness, this force of intent. It is also called “will of God”.
If you want an answer to that old impossible question “why is there something rather than nothing?” then the answer to that is the formative action of “intent.” (But that is difficult to explain).
In any case, it is not exactly what we call “will power”, although it shares some of its meaning. “His wish is the rule,” is how don Juan describes the nature of the one who has arrived at this “power,” and it does indeed share something with Nietzsche’s philosophy of “will to power” as the fundamental operative principle in the cosmos. Nietzsche did have exceptional insight into this. One should not misconstrue what Nietzsche means by “will” nor what don Juan means by “wish” with the tepid and even limp-wristed present-day understandings we have of these words. They are more in the meaning of “desire” as Buddhism so incisively understands this — the fundamental force that moves the Wheel of Karma, of time and space, and therefore “Samsara”.
Explaining how the karmic law (and thus the realm of Samsara) is set in motion by the force of desire would take a very lengthy post in its own right — in fact, maybe a book. But when we are dealing with don Juan’s meaning of “power” and “intent” (and “wish”), or Nietzsche’s “will to power,” we are dealing with the force of intent, desire, and power as these effect to turn the Wheel of Time and Space and set in motion the the Karmic Realm of action and reaction. This “desire” is much the same force that Christians refer to as “love” (as in, “God is love”). But again, don’t confuse this “love” with how human beings typically understand it — as a kind of sentimentality (as in “I love my car!” or “I loved your book!”, etc). This kind of misunderstanding leads to unnecessary moral confusion and perplexity about why “bad things happen to good people,” and so on. As is it is said, “God’s ways are not man’s ways.” But that might also require a book to explain. We don’t even really understand what we mean by “man’s ways” let along God’s anyway.
I insist, again — that we cannot account for the meaning of “human” and the relationship of the human to the so-called “divine” without taking into account and relation all the spiritual traditions and teachings of mankind’s history — Buddhist, Islamic, Christian, Judaic, and even the sorceric and shamanistic teachings of a man like Castaneda’s don Juan Matus. They have all articulated one piece of the great riddle of life that will only become transparent in its wholeness when they are brought into mutually illuminating relation to each other. Only then will the full majesty, meaning, and purpose of the human journey become transparent.
And that is the essence of “integral consciousness”. (But I’ve digressed…)
Having triumphed over fear with courage and clarity with humility, and now attained to that condition of what don Juan calls “true power” (and note the imputation that there is also “false power”), the warrior on the path of knowledge now encounters power as a fearsome foe in its own right. The error lies in thinking that this power is his own, which potentially distorts him into a “cruel and capricious man,” as don Juan put it. He never learns to handle it positively. It comes to control him. Again, enantiodromia in action, and don Juan’s counter-strategy:
“He has to defy it, deliberately. He has to come to realize the power he has seemingly conquered is in reality never his. He must keep himself in line at all times, handling carefully and faithfully all that he has learned. If he can see that clarity and power, without his control over himself, are worse than mistakes, he will reach a point where everything is held in check. He will know then when and how to use his power. And thus he will have defeated his third enemy.”
You might recognise the meaning of that passage: “not my will, but thine be done”. This is called the surrender of the private will, and the tradition with the most incisive teaching on this is actually Islam. The very word “Muslim” means this “surrender” or submission of the private and personal will.
Fear is mastered by courage. Clarity is mastered by humility. Power is mastered and defeated by surrendering the private will. And finally comes the last, undefeatible enemy, Old Age, “the cruelest of all”.
I cannot help seeing in all these “enemies” the stages in the life of a civilisation, too. And as in the course of the life of a warrior seeking to become a man of knowledge, the journey can be abortive at any stage.
And so, we come to the last act in the dramatic journey to knowledge and the final enemy on the path. Old Age is decadence, in other terms. We can fight it off, but we can’t defeat it. It’s the law of impermanence. Here’s what don Juan has to say, very movingly, about the Final Enemy on the path:
“This is the time when a man has no more fears, no more impatient clarity of mind — a time when all his power is in check, but also the time when he has an unyielding desire to rest. If he gives in totally to his desire to lie down and forget, if he soothes himself in tiredness, he will have lost his last round, and his enemy will cut him down into a feeble old creature. His desire to retreat will overrule all his clarity, his power, and his knowledge…. But if a man sloughs off his tiredness, and lives his fate through, he can then be called a man of knowledge, if only for the brief moment when he succeeds in fighting off his last, invincible enemy. That moment of clarity, power, and knowledge is enough.”
For me, these are the most profound and moving words ever spoken or recorded about the fate of a human life lived. When death finally comes for him or her, the warrior dances the meaning and fullness of his life as a gift to his death in a gesture of deep gratitude for the chance to have lived and struggled. Resentment is beneath him. Self-pity is impossible for him. This is that same aristocracy and nobility of spirit that Nietzsche promoted as his cure for slavish ressentiment and a demeaning self-pity unworthy of human beings — a philosophy of gratitude for the chance to have lived and struggled.
And Nietzsche lived what he wrote, despite the very great physical suffering he endured. He tells us in his Ecce Homo that he was tempted by resentment and self-pity because of his physical suffering. The same man who declared “you philosophers, learn how to dance!” was also himself found by his landlady at his final breakdown dancing naked in his rooms — the final gesture of gratitude by this “free spirit” to life for the chance to have lived. God was not dead, for Nietzsche. Life was God. And he danced his last dance truly for him.
God was not dead for Nietzsche, really. But Nietzsche was pretty sure that God was dead in the hearts and lives of those around him. He kept up the faith. And I’ve never encountered an authentic Christian who didn’t understand that about Nietzsche, or at least have an intimation of it. He was trying to find a way back to the living spirit beyond the dead, decadent, and moribund ideology and ritualistic dogmas — the putrifying corpse of God, he called it — but most especially a convalescence from a spiritually deadening existential resentment and self-pity that he found contrary to the authentic spirit of faith.
And he called that recovery “the transhuman”.