Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Of Warriors, Humble and Otherwise

Sanskrit Name: Baddha Virabhadrasana
English Translation: Bound Warrior Pose
Also Called: Humble Warrior
I've been thinking today about the concept of the warrior in Shambhala Buddhism, and about the various warrior poses, or asanas in yoga.  One reason for this preoccupation, I'm sure, is the physical residue of this morning's yoga class--the muscle memory of not insignificant discomfort. 

In a 2002 article in Shambhala Sun, Cyndi Lee reveals 
one of the best kept secrets of the world--yoga asana practice is not necessarily relaxing. People who come to a retreat looking for a siesta-like yoga experience could be disappointed: folding yourself up like a pretzel may not be a mellow moment--and unfolding is not a piece of cake either.  The relationship between effort and outcome is clear, as opposed to the picture of the beach yogini, arms outstretched peacefully, as if the ends of her fingertips were plugged into a bliss-cloud of happiness. It appears as if she could stay there effortlessly and indefinitely. But the truth is, after only a few deep breaths holding that pose, most people’s arms and legs will begin to quiver involuntarily.
The various Warrior poses are not the highest hurdles in my own ascent.  Half-moon /Ardha Candrāsana and Fierce Pose (also Power or Chair Pose)/Utkatasana) are my personal bête noires--and only because my recently resurrected practice has not yet led me back to more strenuous undertakings.

But it is the Warrior posture, and mentality, that interest me here.  As a pacifist, I have been intrigued to encounter the Warrior within Buddhism, and in yoga--both practices that we generally associate with peacefulness.

Historically, we are told that the Buddha himself was born into the warrior class.  The US military's first Buddhist chaplain, Lieutenant (jg) Jeanette Shin, blogging for Wildmind, tells us that while

[t]he Buddha never advocated the killing or destruction of “infidels” of any religion or doctrine, and always recommended the path of nonviolence. . . .
Shakyamuni’s life and teachings reveal a person raised to be a heroic warrior invested in honor. While he renounced the life planned for him by his parents, as a secular warrior-king, he used the language of warriors to convey the Dharma, so he could stress that following the path of Dharma required similar virtues possessed by warriors.
Thus, we find that
[t]erms like charioteer, sword and shield, war elephants, banners, fortress, archers, arrows, poisoned arrows, are all used in expressing the struggle to overcome one’s delusions.
Pema Chödrön, an American Buddhist nun, has written and taught extensively within the tradition of Shambhala Buddhism, begun by her teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.  In this tradition, the journey toward awakening is known as the "path of the warrior."  Shambhala teaching speaks of the
bodhisattva-warrior, one who is brave and confident enough to overcome self-centeredness in order to help others.
At the heart of this warrior practice is compassion.

And for the body, as well as the mind, Lee reminds us,
the practice of yoga becomes a training program for being centered, awake, confident and flexible within effortful situations.
Ms. Lee advises the practitioner, in assuming yoga warrior poses, to
try to notice when your body gets tired or your mind gets bored. Stick with it anyway. When it feels difficult, try not to overexert but instead apply “right action”--action composed of rhythm, movement, direction, energy and intention, but never aggression. This attitude is in line with the warrior's code, and engenders courage to face reality and relate to it appropriately, using the weapons of gentleness and awareness. 
In musing about this today, I am encouraged to think of myself building strength and equanimity, both mental and physical, in my practices of yoga and meditation.  I am certainly in need of both as I weave in and out among the obstacles placed in my path, as in all of ours, in the present day.

I aspire at least to introduce my inner chicken to the warrior I can become.  And to keep on training.

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