New Podcast! Episode 1: What do I Mean By “Dharma Knights”?

Ive started a new podcast! Here’s the first episode, where I ask the question “What do I mean by ‘Dharma Knights’?”, by way of asking: “What does everyone mean by ‘spiritual warrior’?” and then talking about what it means to me, with a little historicity and other context intact.

On Samurais Learning From Zen Monks and Not The Other Way Around

In Thomas Cleary’s translation of “The Book of Five Rings” by legendary Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, he mentions in one of the prefaces how ideas from Zen Buddhism flowed into the writings and ideas of martial artists, and that it rarely went the other way around.


Let’s get out of the way, immediately, the idea that spiritualities about enlightenment and transcendence are typically dependent on a mundane world to “transcend” or be “enlightened” about.  Let’s understand that there can be something of an elitism by those whose professions are, one way or another, the domain of intellect rather than what Indian thinkers would call any variety of Karma Yoga (action aligned with Dharma, aiming at transcendent union).

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The Wasteland of Hard Days in the Garden of Faith

You’ll have hard days and bad days and worse days, and whatever you did to build your strength and constitution against these days will prove not to be enough.  Some days will simply be consigned to the waste bin, but usually only in specific ways.  There’s never really a wasted day, because it is all mulch for some potential success — material or spiritual.  But the meantime feelings won’t always read that way.  How you handle it matters.

Some days, you lose fights.  Some days, you lose even the will to have a fight to win or lose.  The wasteland finds you sometimes, as often (or more often) as you find a wasteland to wander.  Sometimes the wasteland will even find you in paradise, and eke out it’s little stripes of destruction even in the most vibrant of settings.  Our spirits rarely achieve uninterrupted bliss, and the interruptions of that bliss are just as mortal as we are.

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Enemies and Adversaries

In the great epic Ramayana, the mighty Rakshasa (a savage kind of demi-human, with magical powers) named Ravana has done great harm to the protagonist Ram, who is the supreme god Vishnu in human avatar-form.  He has kidnapped Ram’s wife Sita, and stolen her away to his distant island kingdom of Lanka, filled with his Rakshasa subjects and seemingly inaccessible to aid from human kingdoms of any kind, let alone aid from Ram, already in exile from his own human kingdom.  

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Handling Defeat

Fighters who cannot handle defeat – either the fatal or survivable (and learnable) kind – have a rough road ahead of them. This roughness will have both physical and spiritual dimensions, all bound up in one another. Final defeat — that of the will to continue a struggle at all — will set in all too easy for those roughed up enough by the lack of survivable defeat’s acceptance.

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Bhakti for Fighters

Bhakti Yoga is the “yoga of devotion”, and the devotion in this case also has connotations of service and affection. In the Bhagavad Gita, it is one of the forms of yoga that Krishna tells the archer Arjuna that is superior to (but also complementary to, and combinable with) other forms of yoga: karma yoga, or the yoga of action / service; and jnana yoga, the yoga of intellect. When all else is unclear, when discernment of the right action is unclear, and intelligence also fails to provide the answer, actions infused with dedication and devotion to a higher truth and soul will provide a path.

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You Will Fight

Unless you’ve chosen a monastic life, you will encounter conflict, and you’ll need to navigate it.  You don’t have to chose it; it will find you.  Human needs clash whenever so many of us are blended into a society together.  It is inevitable.  Yet, so many of us — like Arjuna at the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita — somehow get the notion that we can renounce it, avoid it, and gesture at some sort of wisdom for doing so. 

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Almost everything about our society is designed to make us unfocused.  We are pulled in every possible direction other than a bullseye that we’d prefer to zero in on.  Focus can feel like a privilege; it’s why we send kids off to study away from home, if they have the means.  And yet, focus is required for any disciplined experience of life, including the achievement of intentions, goals, and quests — listed in order of magnitude, of course.

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In the Bhagavad Gita (India’s “Song of God”), the recipient of the world’s holiest and most enduring motivational speech — and also a treatise on yoga, among other things — was not just an archer on the eve of war; he was a sort of “knight” by our own modern understanding. He had a chivalric code as a kshatriya (hereditary ruling, military class) prince. As a chariot-warrior, was by definition a sort of chevalier.

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