My Inherited Archetype: The Warrior.

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What fundamental archetype half-subconsciously defines your life?

The path means getting over myself: even getting over how worthwhile it is to get over myself.

Let’s start with a few relephant videos:

(start at 8:10 in for the Barbarian Warrior Martyr archetype)

Ideally you could watch these videos before reading the below.


Strength and Honour!

…and Cooperation, and Peace.

Growing up—perhaps it was a side effect of reading Tolkein at the early age of eight—certainly it was being raised in a Buddhist community in Boulder, Coloradah, where the notion of gentle, non-aggressive warriorship is important —probably practicing kyudo and ikebana didn’t hurt—maybe it was just being a boy.

…but the notion of “The Warrior” was fundamental to my life.

“Strongbow,” a character in a graphic novel called Elfquest, was an early idol. Why? He was silent, certain. Reserved, bold, decisive, precise, talented, fierce, tireless, loyal, inspired by a mission, by honour (I spelled it, romantically, with a “u”)…

And though I’m far from eight now, and have been for many years, and I don’t think about the archetype of “the Warrior” so consciously—you know, these days I’m pretty ordinary: I’m just a human being. A citizen, a cyclist, an entrepreneur, a dog owner, and mortgage payer, a son. I’m many things—but not a warrior, at least not in the romantic way I used to think of it.

But warriorship—the path of meditation, of fearlessness through fear and dedicating my service, my every action to “my only father guru” and all others—is the pilot light of my life, the reason I wake up in the morning energetically, no matter how tired I am.

There’s a scene in Gladiator [see above videos] that, for whatever reason, has always come to my mind when things are hard. There’s a huge noble yet savage leader of the barbarians, giant, overcome by little Romans on every side, who’s taken down. There’s a similar scene in a samurai movie…where the hero, Toshiro Mifune, is shot repeatedly in a rice field until he finally falls and stays down.

Today, climbing at the gym, I wondered why I thought, almost subliminally, so often of that Gladiator scene of the fallen warrior. Of course, I identify with that barbarian—I often feel beset on all sides—by lack of money, lack of staff, too many emails, to-do lists, troubles, yadyadayada. I feel unhappily selfless—literally, viscerally, in that I put my service before what I’d like to do—going to weddings, bbqs, wining, dining, traveling, making a easier living, or watching a movie instead of (again) working allll night.

Today, sitting in the gym (where I love to work out, ’cause there’s wifi, and I can laptopitup between climbs) it bothered me that this reflexive archetype is that of a martyr. Buddhism doesn’t dig martyrdom: as Trungpa Rinpoche said,

it’s not enough to be a martyr: we have to win—the forces of compassion have to win out.

The nobility inherent in thinking of oneself as a martyr, is too full of self-pity and self-regard. It’s…immature. Say, eight years old…

It’s better to just suck it up, again and again, stop talking about myself, thinking about myself, make smart decisions, and learn how to grow my business and walk my life forward step by mindful step so that I win, so that I can overcome elephant’s countless obstacles.

Even better, I thought, today…wouldn’t it be great if I reexamined that archetype? Do I regard myself as a warrior beset by enemies? Competitors? Haters? Problems that I have to fight, or that will kill me?


No, I don’t, really. I’d rather cooperate with a rival web site or business than fight them. There’s plenty of room for all and we all expand each other’s missions or markets, however you want to talk about it. More to the point…elephant is about creating peace, in and out—so I have to learn to transform obstacles into allies.

As the Lincoln quote goes,

I defeat my enemies when I make them my friends.

As the Tibetan Buddhist archetype of the dharmapala or mahakala goes, Fudo (etc) in Japanese Buddhism, we can transform our neurosis into what it is, fundamentally: display, humor, wisdom. We can do that on the outside, too. Someone doesn’t like me? Reach out to them. They don’t respond? That’s up to them. But I can try. I can live my life genuinely, with joy and sadness borne of sucking it up.

And that’s my archetype: the joyful, sad, loyal, troublemaking, fierce dharmapala. Sorry, noble German barbarian—you’re cool, but you should have either negotiated with your enemies, or retreated and saved your men, women, children. Because dying in battle might look good in a movie, but as Sherman said, in reality, War is Hell.

And life’s too short for War, or Hell.

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anonymous Jun 14, 2015 10:34pm

The Romans were scared of my ancestors.. Good place to start. Must of been the wings lol

anonymous Oct 15, 2013 11:16pm

I don’t often comment on these articles as I feel kind of like an outsider looking in on a style of life I haven’t yet fully embraced or had the courage to pursue and because I’m not currently a subscriber – though I hope to be in the near future (I kind of feel that because of that, I shouldn’t have the privilege of voicing my opinion here). But I felt a strong desire to tell you that, watching as I do, it seems to me that you have been trying to work through this conflict (can I call it that?!? It’s late where I am, and my mind is not too clear – so please forgive my less-than-ideal words) particularly lately with all of the nasty comments that have been floating around. I could be wrong (and often am!) but it has appeared to me that you weren’t quite sure how to make them (those doing the commenting) understand/win them over/”win the war”…however, this article handily addresses the solution to that issue, I think, and I hope that battle becomes easier for you. This was, in my opinion, a brilliant article and showcases your quiet wisdom. It has inspired me to look deeper into myself to see what archetype I most closely identify with – I think it would help me to resolve some inconsistencies in my life. Thank you. Another note: Elephant has introduced me to so much – not the least of which are two people whom I admire greatly and consider myself blessed to have met, so thank you twice for that as well. You are touching more lives than you probably know and I – and others, I imagine – appreciate your dedication to your path.

anonymous Mar 6, 2013 11:44am

[…] Where Mercurial relationships are based on proximity and equality, Martian romances often look more like competition. These are fiery encounters where the participants often climb and clamor over one another for dominance. They dance the tango and wear pointed high heels. They won’t settle with being just as good as their partner at the things they do. Not only do … […]

anonymous Oct 17, 2012 10:53pm

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[…] purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived […]

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[…] probably the fastest way to get where you want to go. You, skin tight jeans, thigh high boots and a Samurai sword? First of all, be very careful where you swing that thing. Second, no one expects you to […]

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[…] Rinpoche talked about how the warrior isn’t brave on his or her own strength. It’s because of our sad, tender broken-open […]

anonymous Dec 19, 2011 8:35am

[…] the Caped Crusader never read Trungpa. Still, you have to admit he’s a great example of the warrior archetype Trungpa […]

anonymous Oct 25, 2011 3:09pm

[…] Being a man has more to do with a peaceful warrior than a barbaric brute, with a yin and yang of vigor and vulnerability; with responsible action more […]

anonymous Oct 5, 2011 10:46pm

nice one, way. keep it up.

anonymous Sep 30, 2011 11:31pm

I'm battling stage4 lung cancer with my mom- how to be a warrior?…. I don't even know. I wish for a batlle I could wage and win. I would be a warrior for her. Thanks for the inspiration to try though. : )

    anonymous Oct 1, 2011 10:28am

    Fight! Fight, jodie j, without consideration of victory or defeat, not because you will win (although you may). Fight because you love your mom and she loves you. You only need two weapons: love and knowledge. You will know when the time comes to negotiate. I wish you victory, and if that doesn't happen, joyful surrender. Don't forget to take care of yourself too.

anonymous Sep 30, 2011 7:36pm

[…] a few years and in my early teens, I became quite the entrepreneur. OK, to be clear, I sold pot. But I was really good at it and I took the money I made (I never […]

Benjamin Riggs Sep 28, 2011 9:02am

This is a great article. It is a practical take on another article you wrote a while back, "A Buddhist View of Anger." or something like that. Either way, it is raw and intense… Thanks for posting this. Have a good one.

anonymous Sep 28, 2011 8:03am

I agree with Andrea – raw, beautiful & profound. I have a recurring dream about being on horseback with a bow and arrow, fighting off who knows what, galloping down the mountainside. (Not really relevant, but reading this made me think of it.)

The beautiful part of being "the joyful, sad, loyal, troublemaking, fierce dharmapala…" is that your weapons are ones that heal rather than destroy. Get on your horse and ride down that hill and shoot those arrows of peace wherever they are needed (after you get some sleep of course;)

anonymous Sep 28, 2011 5:51am

Ouch! This is so raw, beautiful and profound it almost hurts to read. Thanks for making a way for the 21st century peaceful warrior. It’s all true. Don’t die in the battle. The mindful army is still small and they’d be left uninspired. Though you should probably get some sleep. 🙂

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Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: “the mindful life” beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, touches on modern relationships from a Buddhist point of view. His dream of 9 years, the Elephant “Ecosystem” will find a way to pay 1,000s of writers a month, helping reverse the tide of low-quality, unpaid writing & reading for free online.