Study Guide

Way of the Peaceful Warrior Quotes

  • Happiness

    The world was peopled with minds, whirling faster than any wind, in search of distraction and escape from the predicament of change, the dilemma of life and death—seeking purpose, security, enjoyment, trying to make sense of the mystery. Everyone everywhere lived a confused, bitter search. Reality never matched their dreams, happiness was just around the corner—a corner they never turned.

    And the source of it all was the human mind. (1.107-108)

    This revelation, from one of the visions Socrates gives Dan, looks at all the unhappiness in the world and says the human mind is to blame. Unlike, say, Atlas Shrugged, this book is 10,000,000,000% against the mind.

    “Your "upset" at the ruined picnic and your "happiness" when the sun reappeared were the product of your thoughts. They had nothing to do with the actual events. Haven't you been "unhappy" at celebrations for example? It is obvious then that your mind, not other people or your surroundings, is the source of your moods.” (2.71)

    Once again, the mind is to blame—this time for moods that are seemingly the result of changes outside Dan, such as the weather. Bad mind! Bad! No treat!

    All these years I had been sustained by an illusion—happiness through victory—and now that illusion was burned to ashes. I was no happier, no more fulfilled, for all my achievements. [...] I saw that I had never learned how to enjoy life, only how to achieve. All my life I had been busy seeking happiness, not finding it. (5.196-197)

    Achievements and victories don't bring happiness, in other words. This book is completely insistent upon that point.

    "So keep practicing, Dan. Refine your senses a little more each day; stretch them, as you would in the gym. Finally, your awareness will pierce deeply into your body and into the world. Then you'll think less and feel more. That way you'll enjoy even the simplest things in life—no longer addicted to achievement or expensive entertainments." (6.43)

    Socrates says you don't need a reason to be happy, but don't get the old man wrong—you still have to learn stuff in order to understand that truth. In this case, Socrates advises Dan to sharpen his awareness of sensory experiences: tastes, smells, and so on. That will help him focus on the present moment and not thinking. Stop thinking!

    "The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less." (6.47)

    You know what they say: It's the little things in life.

    "You cannot attain happiness; it attains you—but only after you surrender everything else." (7.75)

    Socrates is saying you can't find happiness by chasing it. You have to give up the search, and then it comes to you.

    "A fool is "happy" when his cravings are satisfied. A warrior is happy without reason. That's what makes happiness the ultimate discipline—above all else I have taught you. Happiness is not just something you feel—it is who you are." (8.22)

    It takes discipline, Socrates says, to become someone who is happy regardless of whatever is going on in life. It's not a passing feeling, but a way of living. Sounds pretty nifty.

    "Dan," he said softly, "this is the final task I will ever give you, and it goes on forever. Act happy, be happy, without a reason in the world. Then you can love, and do what you will." (8.23)

    This is a key message of the book: You don't need reasons to be happy. Maybe you agree with Socrates, maybe you don't—check out the Questions section of this guide for other views.

    "Feelings change, Dan. Sometimes sorrow, sometimes joy. But beneath it all remember the innate perfection of your life unfolding. That is the secret of unreasonable happiness." (8.25)

    Even if you're a peaceful warrior, unpleasant feelings will come and go, according to Socrates. But the point is to remember how perfect and wonderful your life is, so you'll be happy regardless.

    And so I awoke to reality, free of any meaning or any search. What could there possibly be to search for? All of Soc's words had come alive with my death. This was the paradox of it all, the humor of it all, and the great change. All searches, all achievements, all goals, were equally enjoyable, and equally unnecessary." (8.78)

    Realizing that death is just another illusion is the gate through which Dan finally goes in order to become happy without needing goals or achievements or a search for reasons behind life.

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    He handed me back the wrench, saying, "The world's a puzzle; no need to make sense out of it." (P.48)

    Philosophers and religious teachers usually try to tell us why reality exists, or what the answers to intellectual puzzles are. Socrates takes the complete opposite approach. He says the trick is to learn not to worry about it. You know, like the song: "Don't Worry Be Happy."

    The world was peopled with minds, whirling faster than any wind, in search of distraction and escape from the predicament of change, the dilemma of life and death—seeking purpose, security, enjoyment, trying to make sense of the mystery. Everyone everywhere lived a confused, bitter search. Reality never matched their dreams, happiness was just around the corner—a corner they never turned.

    And the source of it all was the human mind. (1.107-108)

    This passage from one of Dan's visions hammers home a key point of the book: your mind is the source of your troubles.

    "I'd better redefine some terms for you. "Mind" is one of those slippery terms like "love." The proper definition depends on your state of consciousness. Look at it this way. You have a brain that directs the body, stores information, and plays with that information. We refer to the brain's abstract processes as "the intellect." Nowhere have I mentioned mind. The brain and the mind are not the same. The brain is real; the mind isn't.

    "Mind" is an illusory reflection of cerebral fidgeting. It comprises all the random, uncontrolled thoughts that bubble into awareness from the subconscious. Consciousness is not mind; awareness is not mind; attention is not mind. Mind is an obstruction, an aggravation. It is a kind of evolutionary mistake in the human being, a primal weakness in the human experiment. I have no use for the mind.” (2.35-36)

    This quote is Socrates' answer to Dan's objection that the mind is to be credited with many accomplishments such as science and art. The teacher distinguishes between the mind and the intellect. While the latter can be helpful, Socrates says, the former is a problem. So yeah, he totally trashes the mind in this quote. He isn't divided in his opinion at all.

    “The brain can be a tool. It can recall phone numbers, solve math puzzles, or create poetry. In this way, it works for the rest of the body, like a tractor. But when you can't stop thinking of that math problem or phone number, or when troubling thoughts and memories arise without your intent, it's not your brain working, but your mind wandering. Then the mind controls you; then the tractor has run wild." (2.40)

    When Socrates says he's against the mind, he's not opposing math or science or poetry. He says those things aren't of the mind; they're of the the brain or the intellect. The mind is all the bad stuff. One might find this correct or a little too convenient.

    "Stressful thoughts reflect a conflict with reality. Stress happens when the mind resists what is." (3.8)

    Okay so imagine you're stressed out over your paper that's due tomorrow, and you haven't even started. According to Socrates, the stress is because you're not accepting the truth of the situation. If you were a peaceful warrior, you wouldn't wish reality were otherwise. In fact, you wouldn't care one way or the other about the paper; you'd just do your best and be happy no matter what.

    "The birth of the mind is the death of the senses" (6.22)

    In other words, once the mind and language take over just a few years after birth, people tend to lose their ability to appreciate their sensory experience. Basically, Socrates is saying everything was better back in the day when you were six months old and had no mind.

    Socrates waved his arm in a sweeping gesture, taking in the palms high above our heads that nearly touched the Plexiglas canopy of the geodesic dome. "You now see everything through a veil of associations about things, projected over a direct, simple awareness. You've "seen it all before": it's like watching a movie for the twentieth time. You see only memories of things, so you become bored, trapped in your mind. This is why you have to "lose your mind" before you can come to your senses." (6.27)

    Thoughts, concepts, names, memories—all these things dull sensory experience like grime on a window, according to Socrates. You gotta wax on, wax off that grime.

    "But the mind is like a phantom that lives only in the past or future. Its only power over you is to draw your attention out of the present." (6.80)

    The mind takes your attention away from its current job and over to the memory of that time in middle school when the buttoned-up Latin teacher suddenly quit his job and became a biker metalhead and—what were we saying?

    I realized now that the Grim Reaper, the Death Dan Millman had so feared, had been his great illusion. And so his life, too, had been an illusion, a problem, nothing more than a humorous incident when Consciousness had forgotten itself. (8.67)

    According to Dan near the end of the book, death and our lives are just temporary little illusions not to fret over; what we actually are is Consciousness, an eternal awareness that is forever changing. Compared to that, everything in this mortal life is unimportant.

    Well, I thought, now I am playing Dan Millman again, and I might as well get used to it for a few more seconds in eternity, until this, too, passes. But now I know that I am not only the single piece of flesh—and that secret makes all the difference! (8.76)

    Returned from his final vision to an ordinary mortality, Dan sees that life is no big deal. The big secret he's figured out from going through the gate is that he's one with everything. He says that brings him peace and happiness.

  • Mortality

    Nearly every night, I jerked awake, sweating. Almost always, the dream was the same:

    I walk along a dark city street; tall buildings without doors or windows loom at me through a dark swirling mist.

    A towering shape cloaked in black strides toward me. I feel rather than see a chilling specter, a gleaming white skull with black eye sockets that stare at me in deathly silence. A finger of white bone points at me; the white knucklebones curl into a beckoning claw. I freeze. (P.9-11)

    Dan's recurring nightmare sets up the antagonist of the story: Death. Basically, the Grim Reaper is the final boss of this book. Dan's fear of dying is the ultimate enemy he must overcome.

    Suddenly I felt a terrible, nagging fear, the worst of my life. Was it possible that I had missed something very important—something that would have made a real difference? No, impossible, I assured myself. I cited all my achievements aloud. The fear persisted. (1.140)

    This passage is from one of the visions Socrates gives Dan, the one where Dan sees himself aging. At this point in the vision, he's elderly and very close to death. He tries to list his achievements, but they don't stop his fear that he's lived life mistakenly. What do you think? Do achievements bring confidence in the face of death, or are they ultimately not a defense?

    "You want Forever, you desire Eternity. In your deluded belief that you are this "mind" or "spirit" or "soul," you find the escape clause in your contract with mortality. Perhaps as "mind" you can wing free of the body when it dies, hmm?"

    "It's a thought," I said with a grin.

    "That's exactly what it is, Dan—a thought—no more real than the shadow of a shadow." (3.101-103)

    As it is throughout this book, the mind is at fault for Dan's hope that his unique personality can persist after death. That hope, Socrates says, is a mere thought—and thoughts are unreal, mere illusions. All this talk of mortality is pretty grim—so here, have an emergency kitten.

    "For now, just think of death as a transformation—a bit more radical than puberty, but nothing to get particularly upset about. It's just one of the body's changes. When it happens, it happens. The warrior neither seeks death nor flees from it." (4.410)

    Here Socrates emphasizes that death is just one more change. That's what Dan's final vision, near the end of the book (8.61-79), also reveals, when he sees animals feasting on his corpse, basically the great cycle of life and death. It's not something to get upset over, he concludes like Socrates, because we are really everything. We are part of Consciousness, not our unimportant individual personalities.

    "Death is not sad; the sad thing is that most people don't really live at all." (4.411)

    In other words, mortality is a fact of life, so it's not something to get sad about, any more than 2+2=4 is something to get sad about. The real question is how to live a good, fulfilling life.

    "Consider your fleeting years, Danny! One day you'll discover that death is not what you imagine; but then, neither is life. Either may be wondrous, filled with change; or, if you do not awaken, both may turn out to be a considerable disappointment." (7.117)

    Throughout this novel, Dan is, deep down, afraid of death. That's what's holding him back from a life of peace and happiness. It isn't until he passes through the gate—see the Symbols, Imagery, Allegory section for more on the gate—that Dan is able to get over his ultimate fear.

    "Wake up! If you knew for certain that you had a terminal illness—if you had little time left to live—you would waste precious little of it! Well, I'm telling you, Dan—you do have a terminal illness: It's called birth. You don't have more than a few years left. No one does! So be happy now, without reason—or you never will be at all." (7.118)

    Life is one big terminal illness, Socrates says, so you have to make every moment count. And to him, what counts is being happy. You might contrast this with the views of other philosophers, teachers, or religious thinkers who pick out other things to be the big dealy-o that matters… whether that's obeying religious laws, fulfilling a duty to help society, or something else.

    Socrates had told me, long ago, that even for the warrior, there is no victory over death; there is only the realization of Who we all really are. (7.120)

    This passage is from Dan's lonely, desperate search to find enlightenment in his years after the gas station. It foreshadows what he'll encounter passing through the gate—see the Symbols, Imagery, Allegory section for more on that.

    I realized now that the Grim Reaper, the Death Dan Millman had so feared, had been his great illusion. And so his life, too, had been an illusion, a problem, nothing more than a humorous incident when Consciousness had forgotten itself. (8.67)

    After his vision of his body's inevitable decomposition, Dan realizes that in the big picture, our little lives aren't worth worrying over, since we all turn to dust anyway. We can be reassured knowing we are one with everything, a grand Consciousness. Unfortunately, mortal life makes most of us forget that, but with a teacher such as Socrates the truth can be reclaimed.

    Well, I thought, now I am playing Dan Millman again, and I might as well get used to it for a few more seconds in eternity, until this, too, passes. But now I know that I am not only the single piece of flesh—and that secret makes all the difference! (8.76)

    Here Dan tells us that the super-duper secret that grants him peace is the knowledge he's not only his mortal body. He's everything, the Consciousness of it all. It has taken all of Socrates' training and all of Dan's discipline to prepare him to arrive at this awareness well enough to truly adopt it and give up his attachment to his mind and mortal life.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    "Well, I have these goals. I want to be a champion gymnast. I want my team to win the national championships. I want to graduate in good standing, and that means books to read and papers to write. What you seem to be offering me instead of staying up half the night in a gas station, listening to—I hope you won't take this as an insult—a very strange man who wants to draw me into his fantasy world. It's crazy!" (P.197)

    When the story starts, Dan is totally full of goals. Look at all the things he wants to accomplish. Socrates is going to send him in the exact opposite direction, but the idea of having no goals, hopes, or plans is so foreign to Dan that it seems like a fantasy world. Anyone who has been through a conversion, say from one religion to another, is familiar with just how much another philosophy can seem unreal.

    The world was peopled with minds, whirling faster than any wind, in search of distraction and escape from the predicament of change, the dilemma of life and death—seeking purpose, security, enjoyment, trying to make sense of the mystery. Everyone everywhere lived a confused, bitter search. Reality never matched their dreams, happiness was just around the corner—a corner they never turned.

    And the source of it all was the human mind. (1.107-108)

    This key passage, from one of the early visions Socrates gives Dan, shows up in multiple of our Themes. The point in this case is that unhappy people chase their dreams, and according to Socrates' philosophy, that never works. You have to give up seeking achievements or reasons or meaning in order to be truly happy.

    "If you don't get what you want, you suffer; if you get what you don't want, you suffer; even when you get exactly what you want, you still suffer because you can't hold on to it forever. Your mind is your predicament. It wants to be free of change, free of pain, free of the obligations of life and death. But change is a law, and no amount of pretending will alter that reality [...] Life is not suffering; it's just that you will suffer it, rather than enjoy it, until you let go of your mind's attachments and just go for the ride freely, no matter what happens." (2.25-27)

    You might be familiar with this lesson from Buddhism or Zen. The basic gist is that we get our hearts set on (attached to) things turning out a certain way. And that's why we suffer, since we start saying, for example, "I'll be happy if only I get into that college or graduate school", or "I'll be happy if I win this contest"—but even if the dream comes true, happiness never seems to stay for very long. The way out of the dilemma is to give up goals entirely, according to Socrates.

    "Don't worry about me, though; I've been ready for a change. I'll probably move south soon—or north. It makes no difference." (4.338)

    After his cafe burns down, Joseph, a former student of Socrates, says it doesn't matter where he goes next. This might seem like wisdom, or it might seem amoral or selfish; however it seems to you, it's a philosophical view that has been around for thousands of years in different flavors… so it deserves a fair hearing.

    "All these years I had been sustained by an illusion—happiness through victory—and now that illusion was burned to ashes. I was no happier, no more fulfilled, for all my achievements." (5.196)

    Even if you aren't Zen Buddhist, it's pretty well accepted that the positive feelings that come when you ace a test or win a trophy are short-lived, and that the key to real, long-lasting happiness lies elsewhere. Dan, as taught by Socrates, goes much further than this, however, to the point of happily saying (elsewhere in the book) such things as, "Nothing could possibly matter."

    "It doesn't matter what you do, only how well you do it." (6.122)

    This is Socrates' advice to Dan when he's picking a career after graduation. It stands in stark contrast to those in history, such as the abolitionists, who have believed what you decide to do in life can actually make a big difference. Socrates says a very few things about practicing kindness, but he never much emphasizes it at all, and he certainly doesn't advocate getting stressed out about other people's plights. It's all about gaining your own happiness by accepting reality pretty much as it is, doing your best, and letting go of dreams, hopes, and plans.

    We were married in the Los Angeles Municipal Courthouse in a beautiful private ceremony. Part of me felt very happy; another part was unaccountably depressed. I awoke in the middle of the night and gently tiptoed out to the balcony of our honeymoon suite. I cried soundlessly. Why did I feel as if I had lost something, as if I had forgotten something important? The feeling was never to leave me. (7.97)

    For all its emphasis on letting go of purpose and meaning and goals, Socrates shows Dan that the way of the peaceful warrior still requires effort. You have to develop the discipline to hone your awareness, eat in a healthy way, and so on in order to stay content in the present moment. This passage shows that Dan feels he has betrayed something by beginning a conventional life, perhaps by forgetting Joy or letting his training begin to slip.

    Then, from thousands of years away, it all came back, and I felt momentarily saddened by my return to mortal form. Then I realized that it didn't matter—nothing could possibly matter!" (8.71)

    Whew! Nothing matters. What a relief! After witnessing his body decompose and thousands of years of history pass, Dan realizes individuals don't add up to all that much in the grand scheme of things. So why worry about anything?

    And so I awoke to reality, free of any meaning or any search. What could there possibly be to search for? All of Soc's words had come alive with my death. This was the paradox of it all, the humor of it all, and the great change. All searches, all achievements, all goals, were equally enjoyable, and equally unnecessary." (8.78)

    Dan concludes that all goals are equally enjoyable and equally unnecessary. For example, according to him and his teacher, it doesn't matter if you work for a draft resistance movement or a weapons manufacturer. It makes no difference, as Joseph says a few quotes back. Just do your best, be kind, and enjoy the little things in life. We're all going to die anyway. This perspective opens the gate to unreasonable happiness, according to Dan.

    There is no need to search; achievement leads to nowhere. It makes no difference at all, so just be happy now! (8.95)

    This short passage near the very end of the story is a good quick summary of the book's message. We think you've probably got the novel's point by now!

  • Perseverance

    "You are a persistent young man, aren't you?"
    "Yes, I am. I didn't get where I am today without persistence." (P.122-123)

    One stand-out characteristic of Dan is his persistence. Socrates later refers to it by saying Dan has the will to find the gate to unreasonable happiness (4.78). Throughout the whole novel, Dan demonstrates strong perseverance with his training in gymnastics, recovery from his injury, and study under Socrates.

    "To survive the lessons ahead," he continued, "you're going to need far more energy than ever before. You'll have to cleanse your body of tension, free your mind of stagnant beliefs, and open your heart to loving-kindness." (P.192)

    Nobody said being a peaceful warrior was easy. Certainly not Socrates. You have to do all this health stuff, for example, and as we all know, that alone takes serious perseverance. This passage is also notable in that the brief mention of loving-kindness is one of the very few instances of Socrates talking about how a person should treat other people.

    "For you, Dan, a conscious process of transformation has begun. There's no going back. To try and do so would end in .. well, no sense talking about that. I need to know you're committed. [...] You will be tested severely before it's done. You'll need great inner strength. I only hope it comes in time." (3.184-188)

    This is one of the suspenseful bits in the book. We want to find out what the test will be. It's his leg injury, of course. And oh yeah, there's the part about how if Dan quits his transformation, something bad will happen to him. That's suspenseful, too. Through it all, of course, Dan perseveres.

    "A warrior doesn't seek pain, but if pain comes, he uses it." (4.35)

    This line is advice from Joy to Dan after his leg is shattered in his motorcycling accident. Peaceful warriors are to make the best of any circumstance. He heeds her advice, probably in no small part thanks to the fact it is coming from her (and he has a huge crush on her).

    I created a daily routine until classes started: Each morning, gripping my crutches, I'd make my way to the gym, train on the weight machines, and fall exhausted into the swimming pool, where, assisted by the water's buoyancy, I'd force my leg to the point of pain, trying to walk—always, always to the point of pain. (4.49)

    This is pretty much the standard plot dealy-o out of sports movies, where the hero trains persistently toward a comeback. What sets Way of the Peaceful Warrior apart is that Dan ultimately retires from gymnastics without caring too much about it one way or another. In other words, he does all this super-duper training, wins the championship, and then… quits. That's because he's following Socrates' teachings about giving up goals in order to become happy.

    "Neither resolutions nor understanding will ever make you strong. Resolutions have sincerity, logic has clarity; but neither has the energy you will need. Let anger strengthen your resolve. See you next month." (4.237)

    Though Socrates-style warriors are peaceful, they may still have intense feelings. In this case, the teacher is telling Dan anger can be used for good. It can strengthen his resolve or commitment to persevere. So maybe next New Year's, don't make resolutions—get mad!

    I knew that if I forgot the disciplines again, it would be the end. With new determination, I promised myself, no seductive woman, donut, or piece of roasted cow flesh is going to benumb my will again. I'll master my impulses or die. (4.238)

    Plenty of us know how difficult it is to stick to a diet. Dan has a pretty severe diet to follow, too (4.193). But he's persistent enough to make it happen. Over here, we are still stuffing donuts into our Shmoop-y mouths… when burgers are referred to as "roasted cow flesh" they kinda lose their appeal. How about you?

    Too late I remembered that the purpose of his insults had always been to show me my own pride and resistance, and had taught me to persevere. (4.268)

    Socrates' unique style of teaching is one of the most memorable aspects of the book. He constantly needles Dan, getting under his skin and otherwise making him uncomfortable—even with outright insults. Here Dan points out just how that teaching helped him. He was basically convinced he knew all the answers before he met Socrates, so the old man had to take him down several pegs and continue doing so.

    "But this wasn't a test of your body; it was a test of your spirit—a test to see if you could push on—not just with the hill, but with your training. If you had stopped, it would have been the end. But you passed, Danny, you passed with flying colors." (5.78)

    Dan's races with Joy serve as nice, concrete ways for the story to show how the guy perseveres in the face of difficulty. He run-run-run-run-run-runs and doesn't give up. Go peaceful warrior, go!

    I was to visit many places around the world—Hawaii, Japan, Hong Kong, India, and elsewhere, where I encountered extraordinary teachers, and schools of yoga, martial arts, and shamanism. I had many experiences and found great wisdom, but no lasting peace. (7.112-113)

    Even when he's despairing post-Socrates, Dan exemplifies perseverance, going all over the world looking for enlightenment. Of course, it is only when he gives up the search that he finds it.

  • Versions of Reality

    "How do you know you haven't been asleep your whole life? How do you know you're not asleep right now?" he said, watching me intently. (P.63)

    And so it begins: Socrates messing with Dan's head. The teacher's questions are geared toward startling the youth out of his complacent acceptance of the ordinary, goal-oriented reality he's familiar with, so that he can really hear Socrates' point of view. Plus, the old man believes that only those who follow his path are truly awakened to life.

    "I want to be a champion gymnast. I want my team to win the national championships. I want to graduate in good standing, and that means books to read and papers to write. What you seem to be offering me instead of staying up half the night in a gas station, listening to—I hope you won't take this as an insult—a very strange man who wants to draw me into his fantasy world. It's crazy!"

    "Yes," he smiled sadly, "it is crazy." [...]

    I realized then that the crazy world that Socrates had referred to was not his world at all, but mine. (P.197-204)

    So here we have two starkly different versions of reality. Which one is real? Dan has his long list of goals, and Socrates has his strange, calm peace at the gas station. Which reality is the crazy one? The story makes its position very clear: Socrates is right about everything. Do you agree?

    I lost myself in the semester's last classes. My hours in the gym were spent in the hardest training I'd ever done. Whenever I stopped pushing myself, my thoughts and feelings began to stir uneasily. I felt the first signs of what was to become a growing sense of alienation from my everyday world. For the first time in my life, I had a choice between two distinct realities. One was crazy and one was sane—but I didn't know which was which, so I committed myself to neither. (P.268)

    Get down off that fence, Dan. Pick a side: the everyday world, or Socrates' world. It's fitting that these two versions of reality are neatly divided by night and day. The everyday world when the sun is up, Socrates' world when the sun goes down. Eventually, of course, Dan begins to merge the two, and it's Socrates time all the time.

    Something kept me from telling her about Socrates. He was of another world, a world in which she had no part. How could she understand when I couldn't even fathom what was happening to me? (P.281)

    Poor Dan. For years, he divides his world with Socrates from everybody else. Dan talks about how the discipline Socrates teaches him ruins his social life. We might all be familiar with that: where you change your beliefs or choices so drastically that you no longer fit in with your old friends. It's tough. Poor Dan.

    After that, when I wasn't cleaning toilets, I was learning new and more frustrating exercises, like meditating on internal sounds until I could hear several at once. One night, as I practiced that exercise, I found myself drawn into a state of profound peace unlike any I'd known before. For a period of time—I don't know how long—I felt as if I was out of my body. This marked the first time that my own efforts and energy resulted in a paranormal experience; I hadn't needed Soc's fingers pressing into my head, or hypnosis, or whatever he'd done.

    Excited, I told him about it. Instead of congratulating me, he said, "Don't get distracted by your experiences. Experiences come and go [...] Meditate all day, if you like; hear sounds and see lights, or see sounds and hear lights. But don't get seduced by experience. Let it all go!" (4.310-11)

    By this time, Dan's made some considerable progress in his training. His difficult meditation exercise brings him far-out experiences, paranormal realities. But as usual, Socrates makes the point that he is to become attached to none of it. Weirdnesses of reality, like everything else, are simply passing, unimportant phenomena.

    "Every infant lives in a bright Garden where everything is sensed directly, without the veils of thought—free of beliefs, interpretation, and judgments.

    You "fell" from grace when you began thinking, about—when you became a namer and a knower." (6.21-22)

    Socrates contrasts the reality of infants, who perceive the world without thoughts mucking up their experience, with the reality of most adults, who have lost that bliss due to the mind. Of course, one of the goals of the discipline Socrates teaches Dan throughout the book is to recapture child-like innocence.

    We entered a giant greenhouse. The air was warm and humid, contrasting with the cool morning air outside. Soc pointed to the tropical foliage that towered over us. "As a child, all this would appear before your eyes and ears and touch as if for the first time. But now you've learned names and categories for everything: "That's good, that's bad, that's a table, that's a chair, that's a car, a house, a flower, dog, cat, chicken, man, woman, sunset, ocean, star." You've become bored with things because they only exist as names to you. The dry concepts of the mind obscure your direct perception." (6.26)

    Children are curious people; most adults get jaded and bored. Socrates advocates a return to the fresh perspective children have, which is sometimes called beginner's mind.

    Socrates waved his arm in a sweeping gesture, taking in the palms high above our heads that nearly touched the Plexiglas canopy of the geodesic dome. "You now see everything through a veil of associations about things, projected over a direct, simple awareness. You've "seen it all before": it's like watching a movie for the twentieth time. You see only memories of things, so you become bored, trapped in your mind. This is why you have to "lose your mind" before you can come to your senses." (6.27)

    Socrates wants experience to be lively, direct—like the time he makes Dan catch knives (5.86-95). The way most people slog through their days, bored with habit and routine, ain't the peaceful warrior's reality.

    "There are no well-defined edges of reality, Dan. The earth isn't solid. It is made of molecules and atoms, tiny universes filled with space. It is a place of mystery, light, and magic, if you only open your eyes." (6.129)

    Well, that explains Socrates' magic tricks throughout the book. Reality just isn't clear-cut, and the peaceful warrior is awake to that truth.

    Lao Tzu fell asleep and dreamed he was a butterfly. Upon awakening, he asked himself, "Am I man who has just been dreaming that he was a butterfly, or a sleeping butterfly, now dreaming that he is a man?" (7.123)

    This famous story illustrates one of the many puzzles of life that Socrates says we ultimately can't solve and must simply let go of. What is reality? Let the question go, Socrates would say.

  • Dissatisfaction

    "In fact, you have no knowledge of where anything is or of what anything is or how it came to be. Life is a mystery.

    "My ignorance is based on this understanding. Your understanding is based on ignorance. That is why I am a humorous fool, and you are a serious jackass." (P.153-154)

    Wow, quite an insult there, Socrates. He thinks Dan's desire to figure life out is a pointless cause of dissatisfaction that makes him look like, well, a jackass. Socrates just laughs at life and chills. He's convinced you'll never figure out cosmic riddles—so why bother with them?

    Softly, he said, "It is better for you to take responsibility for your life as it is, instead of blaming others, or circumstances, for your predicament. As your eyes open, you'll see that your state of health, happiness, and every circumstance of your life has been, in large part, arranged by you—consciously or unconsciously." (P.257)

    Quit making excuses, in other words. Your dissatisfaction is caused by you. Take responsibility and don't see yourself as a victim of forces beyond your control. This is just one of the many lectures Socrates will continue to hit Dan with throughout the book.

    The world was peopled with minds, whirling faster than any wind, in search of distraction and escape from the predicament of change, the dilemma of life and death—seeking purpose, security, enjoyment, trying to make sense of the mystery. Everyone everywhere lived a confused, bitter search. Reality never matched their dreams, happiness was just around the corner—a corner they never turned.

    And the source of it all was the human mind. (1.107-108)

    This key passage pins the blame on the mind. People are always trying to figure out the mystery of life and death—and Socrates essentially says, "That's a total waste. It only makes you dissatisfied. Don't worry, be happy." But it takes discipline to implement that philosophy consistently, so that's why he makes Dan train for pretty much the whole novel.

    One day I looked in the mirror and realized that forty years had passed; I was old. Where had my life gone? With the help of my psychiatrist I had overcome my drinking problem; and I'd had money, houses, and women. But I had no one now. I was lonely. [...]

    I now passed the days in my favorite rocking chair, sipping wine, watching TV, and thinking about old times. I watched children play in front of the house. It had been a good life, I supposed. I'd gotten everything I'd gone after, so why wasn't I happy? (1.131-133)

    Dan's vision shows him a future where he's done all the right things, according to the conventional view of life, but still finds himself vaguely dissatisfied, left unhappy without knowing why. Socrates basically gives him this vision to scare him into taking up the difficult training.

    "Dan, you are suffering; you do not fundamentally enjoy your life. Your entertainments, your physical affairs, and your gymnastics are temporary ways to distract you from your underlying sense of fear [...] for you they're addictions, not entertainments. You use them to distract you from your chaotic inner life—the parade of regrets, anxieties, and fantasies you call your mind." (2.13-15)

    Whoa, this is a pretty intense dismissal of Dan's way of life. Deep down, Socrates says, the youth is unhappy. His despairing mind drives him to distraction. Everything looks good officially—he's got girlfriends and movies and so on—but really, he's dissatisfied with all that and suffering. What could be the answer? Tune in to Socrates to find out, of course.

    "If you don't get what you want, you suffer; if you get what you don't want, you suffer; even when you get exactly what you want, you still suffer because you can't hold on to it forever. Your mind is your predicament. It wants to be free of change, free of pain, free of the obligations of life and death. But change is a law, and no amount of pretending will alter that reality [...] Life is not suffering; it's just that you will suffer it, rather than enjoy it, until you let go of your mind's attachments and just go for the ride freely, no matter what happens." (2.25-27)

    All this suffering makes us want tissue paper to wipe our eyes. But really, the point is that pinning your hopes on anything, Socrates says, isn't the way to go. Whether you get what you want or not, you're going to be dissatisfied, at best just kind of "meh" about it all, wondering why you're not happy. Instead—you've got the point by now, right?—you need to just enjoy life no matter if things are supposedly turning out well or poorly for you.

    “Your "upset" at the ruined picnic and your "happiness" when the sun reappeared were the product of your thoughts. They had nothing to do with the actual events. Haven't you been "unhappy" at celebrations for example? It is obvious then that your mind, not other people or your surroundings, is the source of your moods.” (2.71)

    Don't let a little rain get you down. If you do, Socrates tells Dan, it's you letting your mind decide the rain is bad news. Instead, just be happy no matter what. Sounds like a tough discipline to develop. It's a lot easier just to blame what's happening around you.

    "Stressful thoughts reflect a conflict with reality. Stress happens when the mind resists what is." (3.8)

    Or as the common saying goes: It is what it is. And if you can't accept that, Socrates says, you're going to get stress out and dissatisfied with life.

    A year went by almost without my noticing it. Everything was going so well; I couldn't understand my persistent feeling that I had lost something, a long time ago. The sharp images of my training with Socrates—running into the hills, the strange exercises late at night, the hours of talking and listening and watching my enigmatic teacher—were fading memories. (7.107)

    Dan, dude, you let your training go. We are disappointed. Letting his discipline fade away sinks Dan back down into dissatisfaction with life.

    As my travels neared their conclusion, I became even more desperate—compelled toward a final confrontation with the questions that rang out in my mind: "What is enlightenment? When will I find peace?" Socrates had spoken of these things, but at the time, I didn't have the ears to hear him. (7.114)

    It appears you gotta make it all the way to the moment of enlightenment to get past your mind and its unhappiness. It seems like it might be easy to just shrug your shoulders and decide to stop worrying, but Socrates says again and again that it takes discipline to cultivate the attitude of happiness. It isn't until Dan gets through the gate (see the Symbols, Imagery, Allegory section for more) that he truly gets over his dissatisfaction.

  • Admiration

    It wasn't the glowing, however, that impressed me most about him; it was his simplicity, his economy of motion and of action. I hadn't truly appreciated any of this before. It was as if I saw more deeply into Socrates with every new lesson I learned. As I came to see the complexities of my mind, I realized how he had already transcended his. (4.59)

    This passage marks one of the first times Dan expresses profound admiration for his teacher. His early days of being utterly frustrated and insulted by the old man have basically passed.

    Too late I remembered that the purpose of his insults had always been to show me my own pride and resistance, and had taught me to persevere. But before I could apologize, Soc said, "Dan it's time we separated—at least for a time. You may come back once you have learned courtesy—and how to breathe properly. The one will help the other."

    Sadly, I shuffled out, my head down, my world in darkness. Not until now had I realized how fond of him I had grown—and how grateful I felt. As I walked, I considered how patient he had been with my tantrums, complaints, and questions. I vowed never to yell at him in anger again. (4.268-269)

    More admiration for Socrates. One question that might arise: How much are Dan's changes a result of the persuasive power of his teacher, and not the teachings themselves?

    The following night, for the first time, Socrates was completely silent about my behavior. I got the message: I was going to have to be responsible for watching myself from now on. That's when I realized the kindness in all of his criticisms. I almost missed them. (4.315)

    As part of Dan's training, Socrates relentlessly criticizes the youth's work around the gas station, but as he realizes here, the point was to help him. Socrates doesn't sugarcoat much, and ultimately, Dan admires him for it.

    Socrates would not die—I wouldn't let him. I felt energy surging through my arms, legs, and chest. I would give it all to him. If it meant my life, it was a price I would gladly pay. (7.15)

    Okay, whether this is corny or not, this goes to show just how much Dan admires his teacher. He would die for the dude. That's pretty intense.

    I looked down at him, realizing the extent of his sacrifice—how he had trained with me, never holding back, even though he knew he had a heart condition—all, just to keep my interest. My eyes filled with tears. (7.42)

    Sniff. Dan and Socrates have some serious bromance going on.

    I had grown to depend so much on his counsel, on his certainty. Trembling, I walked to the door. Then I turned and looked one last time into those shining eyes. "I'll do all that you've asked, Socrates—except one. I'll never forget you." (7.85)

    This passage is yet another indication of how much Dan looks up to Socrates. The youth feels himself dependent upon the teacher's advice and confidence. After graduating, he moves away from Socrates for several years, but feels an emptiness in his life. It is only later that he realizes Socrates is present everywhere.

    The only sign of Soc's age or susceptible heart was the slowed pace of his climb. Once again I was reminded of my teacher's vulnerability and his sacrifice. I could never again take my time with him for granted. (8.27)

    Always send your teachers thank-you notes!

    "Well, Soc, here I am, between past and future, again, floating between heaven and earth. What can I say to you that would be enough? Thank you, my teacher, my inspiration, my friend. I'll miss you. Farewell." (8.116)

    Aww, how sweet. Dan may be the protagonist, but it's clear the heart of this book is Socrates.

    Then I felt the truth of it. Socrates hadn't come, because he had never left. He was only changed. He was the elm above my head; he was the clouds and the bird and the wind. They would always be my teachers, my friends. (E.34)

    Before passing through the gate (see the Symbols, Imagery, Allegory section), Dan feels as if his life is missing something without Socrates in it. After the gate, he realizes Socrates is everywhere, and feels complete. You know, Socrates is everywhere since everything is all one, and all that.

    Before walking back to my wife, my home, my friends, and my future, I surveyed the world around me. Socrates was here. He was everywhere. (E.35)

    Dan admires Socrates so much that he makes the teacher the final image of the book. For more, see our What's Up with the Ending? section.