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This book promises unreasonable happiness. Dan Millman, both author and fictionalized protagonist of the novel, has the answer: read Way of the Peaceful Warrior, and you'll have the answer too and happiness will be yours. Too good to be true? Read on and decide for yourself.
Since its launch in 1980, plenty have tuned into this story of a gymnast who overcomes his fear of death by abolishing his mind, cravings, and goals in favor of a Zen-like philosophy: live in the moment and be happy without waiting for reasons to be happy go lucky.
Socrates, the strange but humorous guru who teaches Dan at an all-night gas station in 1960s Berkeley, California, can definitely be pretty compelling. With zero doubt, he rains answers down on Dan with example after example, lecture after lecture, and even mystical visions he shows the youth. Socrates has been intriguing enough to capture a big-screen audience: a movie based on this story was made in 2006.
The novel's message basically boils down to Don't Worry Be Happy. It's a take on Zen. The mind is the source of all your troubles, and the ultimate truth is that nothing matters. It takes the fictional Dan years of discipline to absorb the lesson; he has to meditate, eat scrupulously, and learn many methods of self-purifying before he can stop fearing death and just be here now, as the saying goes.
Historically, Way of the Peaceful Warrior fits into the contemporary self-help movement—indeed, some editions are labeled, in part, for sale in the self-help section of bookstores. The novel's focus is on amping up individual happiness; it says next to nothing about social justice, for instance. It's the core product in the real Dan Millman's line of multiple other books, seminars, audio programs, exotic adventure trips, and other goods and services, many of them featuring the charismatic Socrates. His website even has a Life Purpose Calculator where you can input your date of birth to learn your life path and which Dan Millman products you should buy. In short, this book and the related ones are selling you a cure for unhappiness.
Whether you're a cynic or an advocate of the self-help industry, however, it's clear that Dan Millman's controversial message captivates many. Clearly, something's catchy about it.
Like young Dan, pretty much all of us find our minds troublesome from time to time. We have stressful thoughts we can't shake off, we find ourselves lost in daydreams rather than focused, and we suffer all sorts of mood swings.
Much of the advice we receive for a troubled mind tells us to think harder and even try harder. For example, Atlas Shrugged says you need more of the mind, and self-help guru Tony Robbins teaches that “Progress equals happiness.”
But it's not too often that someone tells you to stop searching for answers altogether, eliminate your mind, and just develop the discipline to be happy without needing reasons for it. That perspective is so far out from what we usually hear that Socrates may surprise you into seeing the world differently.
Maybe he has the answer, or at least some answers you can put into practice. Or perhaps you could contrast his views with those who also point away from the self and point to God or to fighting injustice as the best path towards the life well lived.
One thing's for sure: the mind plagues us, and Socrates' cure is worth checking out.
Dan Millman's Website
You can find out pretty much everything you want to know about the author here.
Life Purpose Calculator
This page on the author's website allows you to enter your date of birth and discover your life path and which Dan Millman products you should buy. For real.
Dan Millman's Twitter feed
Do peaceful warriors tweet? They do!
Peaceful Warrior movie
Here's the Internet Movie Database entry for the limited release film of the book, which came out in 2006.
Interview with the author at The Indie Spiritualist
More info from Dan about the peaceful warrior's way.
Another interview with Dan Millman!
Get your info info info here.
Yep, another interview with the author
Dan Millman answers plenty of questions in this one.
Roger Ebert reviews the Peaceful Warrior film.
Excerpt from Peaceful Warrior the movie
This is from the part where Socrates throws Dan off the bridge.
Interview with Dan Millman
The author at a snazzy yoga retreat, holding forth about the peaceful warrior's way.
Promo Pic for Peaceful Warrior movie
This image of Socrates and Dan is one of the better known frames from the film.