Way of the Peaceful Warrior Summary
Dan Millman has it all, or so it seems. A junior at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1960s, he's a popular gymnastics star piling up trophies. His studies are going well; he's got a girlfriend named Susie. What more could a guy want?
But there's a problem. Recurring nightmares about his mortality drag him down. In the dreams, though, this weird, white-haired dude seems to be the answer to everything.
And in fact, the old man is the solution. Dan meets him at a gas station suddenly, names him Socrates, and becomes a student of his way of life. Socrates, with lectures and the ability to give Dan visions, teaches the young man that the mind is the source of his dissatisfaction, and that to become truly happy, he must stop trying to figure the world out and instead learn the difficult discipline of living in the moment, healthy and free.
Dan straddles the fence between Socrates' philosophy and conventional wisdom for a few months, feeling alienated from his classmates and gymnastics team. Eventually he accepts his teacher's advice to take the way of the peaceful warrior. Bonus: he has a major crush on this other student of Socrates' that shows up on rare occasion. She's Joy. Not the most subtle name in world.
Just as Dan is making progress down Socrates' path, the young man gets into a motorcycle accident. His leg is all smashed up, and we're not sure if he'll ever be back to gymnastics.
However, Dan makes a stunning comeback. He follows Socrates' instructions to meditate, eat a super-healthy diet, develop attentiveness, and maintain an inner calm regardless of circumstances. So, thanks to Dan, his gymnastics team wins the 1968 national collegiate championship. Go Dan!
But by this time, Dan has learned from Socrates that achievements aren't the route to happiness. The young man quits gymnastics, finishes up school, and learns a bit more from Socrates. But he's still unhappy. Socrates sends him away to look for answers in adulthood.
Dan lives a conventional, unsatisfying life for several years, with a marriage and a divorce and work in sales and gymnastics-coaching. C'mon, Dan: what would Socrates say to that? Despairing, he finally sells all his possessions and heads off into the mountains, determined to find happiness.
Socrates surprises Dan by showing up in the mountains. The teacher takes him to a cave for a final vision. Dan witnesses his own death: his body decomposes and even the landscape changes, over thousands of years. He also learns that he's one with everything, beyond his mortal self.
Dan, returning from the vision, sees the truth that nothing can possibly matter. Finally free from his mind, Dan dances blissfully with Socrates. Plus, bonus, he marries Joy… and finds joy.
The Gas Station at Rainbow's End
- Here we go. Our future warrior-trainee Dan sets off from home to the Berkeley campus to begin college. A fast-forward through his first two years tells us he wins tons of gymnastics trophies, enjoys steamy visits from his lady friend Susie, and feels on top of the world.
- Seems like everything is peachy-keen.
- Boom. Trouble starts. Living alone, he finds himself regularly waking up in a cold sweat from a recurring dream about a Grim Reaper/Death figure beckoning him with a bony finger. (He's in the Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory section, by the way.)
- In the dream a white-haired man appears and tosses the spooky character away, then welcomes Dan. The student merges into him and becomes a robe-wearing person himself, praying. Weird.
- One night, sleepless at three in the morning (who knows, maybe he downed energy drinks before an exam?), Dan takes off for a gas station to get snacks. And who does he find sitting outside but the old man from his dream.
- The encounter spooks Dan out, but also fascinates him. Disoriented, he leaves the station. Lo and behold, seconds after Dan walks past him sitting, the white-haired man is on the roof.
- Dan gapes. The man offers to help him, which makes Dan even more creeped out. This begins a back-and-forth conversation where this old dude gives odd, vexing answers to everything Dan asks, never answering anything straightforwardly. Kind of like the Sphinx or a Zen teacher.
- The man even starts calling Dan a fool and a jackass, and himself a warrior.
- (FYI, most of this book consists of Socrates and Dan's debate-y, idea-heavy conversations about how to live life. We don't want to clog up your summary with a tedious log of every word.
- Instead, when you want to get the main points of Socrates' philosophy, check out Theme 1: Happiness, Theme 2: Life, Consciousness and Existence, Theme 3: Mortality, and Theme 4: Dreams, Hopes, and Plans.)
- The old dude talks Dan into helping him repair cars at the station. Dan does so and keeps asking him how he got on the roof. The man reveals frustratingly little info. Eventually Dan leaves for home, nicknaming the man Socrates as he says goodbye. You know, that Socrates out of ancient Greek philosophy.
- Dan can't get his mind off Socrates the following day and returns the next night. Sure enough, Socrates is there. Dan tells him about the dream, and the man replies the dream is a good one.
- More question-asking-plus-vexing-answering ensues. Socrates tells Dan he can be his teacher and help him see life clearly, because Dan, he says, is full of false ideas and doesn't understand himself. Dan says this all sounds too extreme, but continues to be intrigued.
- Socrates promises to show the young man body wisdom—which turns out to be the surprise sight of the old man urinating. Gross.
- Then Socrates asks the student where he is. Dan is led into admitting he doesn't know where the universe itself is. Socrates says this means the student doesn't know where he is and tells him he needs to accept that life is a mystery. Next the old man tosses Dan onto the sofa when he tries to show off with a gymnastic trick… and then snaps across to the other side of the room somehow.
- Socrates tells Dan he can teach him how to become a doubt-free warrior. The young man retorts that he's already a success, a world champion gymnast. Socrates taunts him in response.
- Dan says the choice boils down to picking between pursuing his gymnastics goals and listening to a strange old gas station attendant trying to draw him into an insane fantasy world. But, just after saying this, Dan remembers a story about townspeople who, after drinking polluted water, foolishly believed their insanity was sanity, and he wonders if it's his own world that's nuts, not Socrates'.
- The student leaves. He tries to immerse himself in his gymnastics and school until he receives a note in his mailbox from Socrates promising rooftop secrets. Dan returns to the gas station and hears the old man explain who ninjas were in ancient Japan. Socrates apparently is a ninja, with an elite jumping ability.
- The late nights continue. Socrates listens to Dan reveal his life story as they repair cars and keeps him on his toes with a bunch of ninja tricks like tossing him in a river when they take a walk or throwing stuff at him.
- Socrates keeps giving him advice like telling him to take responsibility for his own life rather than blaming others or circumstances.
- Dan remains a mix of intrigued and suspicious. As he focuses on school for a while, the choice between the ordinary world and Socrates' world plagues him with doubts. It even keeps him from enjoying Susie's company. Finally he decides to try taking Socrates seriously.
Gusts of Magic
- Dan returns to the gas station, psyched up to give Socrates' teachings a fair hearing. He feels a mix of excitement, fear, and trust in the old man's warmth and compassion.
- Socrates takes Dan outside to feel the warm, changing winds. He tells the student the weather is a sign of a critical turning point in the youth's life. Drum rolls please!
- Then Socrates does a weird thing. He puts his hands gently but firmly on Dan's temples. It creates a growing pressure in the student's head—loud buzzing, bells ringing, and a bright light. He feels something in him dying, and something else being born. The light takes over everything until Dan finds himself coming to.
- The old man explains he gave Dan an energy bath, with the result that the student will never again be satisfied with ordinary knowledge. Instead he will turn to Shmoop for wisdom. For we too are ninjas.
- No, that's not actually what he said. We are ninjas, though.
- The day after the energy bath, school and the bouncy Susie bore our Dan. He totally shines in gymnastics, inventing moves never done before in the United States. But as he's away from Socrates for a gymnastic championship, doubts about life keep gnawing at him. He wonders if maybe Socrates is evil. But that thought vanishes once he sees him again at the station.
- A limo arrives at the station—this is back when it was more common to have an attendant run out and wash your windows and pump your gas in and provide other services by default—and Socrates pranks Dan by implying the two of them are going on a trip.
- The student tries to get in the car, which forces the old man to apologize to the creepy passenger in the backseat. Socrates explains to him that his friend “Jack” had never seen such a beautiful car before and got carried away.
- Once the limo leaves, an embarrassed Dan asks Socrates why he didn't stop him. The old man answers that it was funny to see how gullible the student is.
- Socrates even tells him the name Jack was short for jackass. Dan storms back into the station office, telling Socrates to just bring it on, whatever challenges are in store: he can take it.
- Socrates leads Dan to a back area and tells him to sit down in the chair and shut up—or else quit the teachings forever. Dan is surprised and hesitates, but then complies. What's even weirder than this sudden bossiness of the old man's is that Socrates starts tying Dan up in a chair
- Socrates puts his hands on Dan's head one more. This time the youth suddenly sees himself and Socrates walking through a foggy corridor and past tress and buildings and up a canyon. Dan is freaked out, but the old man reassures him with a calming hand.
- Suddenly everything disappears and the two are on the rafters of an indoor stadium. It's a gymnastics meet. Dan begins freaking out, giddy and giggling. Socrates hushes him and tells him the journey is real and to pay attention.
- Below them a scene unfolds: gymnasts perform, and the audience watches, thinking about the performances or getting distracted by other topics in their heads. Dan realizes he can hear everyone's thoughts. Soon the two disappear back into the gas station.
- But the old man immediately puts his hands back on the student's head, and Dan turns into the wind. He blows around the world, watching a shopper bargaining in Hong Kong, tourists in Germany playing volleyball, and much more, experiencing every emotion and circumstance.
- The strange experience concludes with a revelation: the world is full of people seeking distractions and escape from the problem of life and death, searching, bitter and confused, for meaning and the answers to the universe's mysteries. Reality never matches their dreams; they can never find happiness.
- And the source of it all, Dan sees, is the human mind.
- Socrates releases Dan, and the student is in tears, feeling there is no escape from the suffering of the human mind. Eep. The old man, on the other hand, is jovial. Dan asks him how he's been able to send him on these magic voyages. Socrates deflects the question, promising the student he'll experience a surprise when he awakes the next day.
- The following morning Dan finds himself surprised to wake his bed on February 22, 1952, his sixth birthday. A modified version of his life goes by in fast-forward. He graduates from college, marries Susie, has a disappointing gymnastics performance at the Olympiad, has a son, gets a life insurance job that takes up his time and leads to divorce, then finds himself looking in the mirror, decades older, wondering where his life has gone.
- The vision continues with Dan sitting in a rocking chair alone and lonely, crying and wondering what he could have done differently. He wonders if he missed something that would have made a real difference. He recites all his achievements aloud, but that doesn't stop his fear. Suddenly he has a heart attack and finds in death the only peace he's ever known. This is dark.
- Dan awakes to find himself back in his apartment, having slept through classes and gymnastics. Anxious about the dream, he rushes to the gas station to ask Socrates if the vision foretold his future.
- Socrates says it was probably the future he was headed for until they met, and might still be. The old man says the training is going to become more intense, and Dan will be tempted to give up. The student confidently says he can handle it.
The Web of Illusion
- Spring is in the air. Dan goes to see a movie called The Great Escape, then heads over to the gas station and tells his teacher about the film.
- Socrates tells him he too needs to escape—from his illusions about himself and the world, and from his addicting distractions, like sex and movies, that keep him from facing the underlying fear, doubts, and suffering plaguing his mind.
- Socrates explains. He tells Dan his mind is the source of his suffering, because it gets attached to goals or to the hope of being free of pain or change or death. He tells Dan to let go of the attachments and just live life for the ride, no matter what happens.
- As they eat vegetables and tofu—the old man enjoys tasting small bites whereas Dan gobbles his food inattentively—they continue discussing the mind. Dan argues the mind is to be praised for achievements such as books, libraries, and arts.
- Socrates replies that those are works of the intellect, whereas the mind is cerebral fidgeting, random uncontrolled thoughts. All and all, an aggravating evolutionary mistake. The intellect is just a tool, but the mind can take people over and swamp them with worries, in other words.
- Socrates tells Dan to observe his mind in action. He says when Dan has an angry thought, he becomes angry, and is controlled similarly by any other thought and emotion. His emotional state is the result of knee-jerk responses to emotions he can't control.
- Dan goes back to school for a few days, Socrates' words stuck in his mind, except during gymnastics, when his thoughts give way to action. Throughout the days, he writes his thoughts down in a journal. This soon makes him aware of the blaring noise of thoughts in his head.
- He returns to the gas station seeking Socrates' help in silencing his thoughts. But he finds him singing and dancing with a young, attractive woman with big dark eyes. Her name is Joy. Dan falls in love at first sight.
- She invites the two men to a picnic lunch on the coming weekend. When the Saturday arrives, Dan heads to the park shirtless, hoping to impress her with his gymnast muscles. Once they're at the park, a sudden rain bursts down. The rain makes the food soggy, and the three are getting soaked. Dan curses, angry at this fate of the picnic; Socrates and Joy, meanwhile, laugh and dance in the rain.
- Socrates uses the rain to explain to Dan that his upset at the weather was caused by his mind, not the rain itself. He could have chosen to see the situation otherwise rather than become frustrated that the two warriors, Socrates and Joy, were having fun. That their fun had aggravated Dan further suggests, Socrates says, that Dan is having trouble accepting that he should change to become more like them.
- Dan finally relaxes and rolls around in the wet leaves.
- Headed back on the bus, Dan snuggles with Joy, ignoring Socrates' lessons. But Joy gets off the bus and leaves him hanging when he asks if he'll see her again. Her response plunges Dan into despair, and he vows to win Joy over at the gas station next time he visits.
- Sure enough, she's there. Laughing, Socrates goes off on Dan for being a slave to his mind's moods and impulses. Joy nods along to Socrates' diatribe. The old man calls Dan a jackass once more. The youth lashes out that Socrates' world is the one of suffering, and that he, Dan, was doing just fine before they met. With that, Dan storms out of the station, sick of always playing the fool around Socrates—and now in front of Joy.
- Dan promises himself he will forget Socrates. He drowns himself in schoolwork and gymnastics, but his teammates notice how sleepless he looks. Dan focuses on his gym training. Everything else is unenjoyable; he can't even bring himself to spend time with Susie.
- His despair comes to a head during a college class with an instructor named Watkins. In the middle of the lecture, Dan yells out, “Bullshit!” We don't recommend you try this with your professors.
- Anyway, Watkins asks the student to explain, and Dan heads to the front of the class. He asks loudly what any of the class has to do with happiness, with life. Students begin to applaud.
- But then the students start to laugh as Dan tries to explain about meeting a wise man at a gas station and his memory of the story of townspeople who had gone mad drinking polluted water. The laughter keeps getting louder. Watkins whispers to Dan that his fly is open. Dan flees, crying, feeling he's the jackass yet again.
- Dan tries to visit Socrates one last time. From a distance, the student sees the old man laughing with station customers. Dan flees—and this time he collapses.
- He awakens in an infirmary. The next afternoon he makes an appointment with Dr. Baker, a psychiatrist, threatening suicide. Poor guy.
- The secretary lets him visit that very day. In the office, Dan feels ridiculous at the prospect of having to explain a gas station ninja who takes him on magic journeys. He leaves the office abruptly.
- Dan goes back to the gas station—Joy isn't there. He admits to Socrates that he, Dan, is stuck halfway between the two ways of life and doesn't want to live.
- Socrates tells the student he won't kill himself. Once more the old man puts his hands on Dan's head. Dan finds himself in a hotel room with Socrates. The old man orders the youth to go save a suicidal undergraduate student, Donald, who's out on the ledge preparing to jump. Dan climbs out and tells Donald that most people effectively kill themselves with the unhealthy ways they live. He suggests Donald go hiking in the mountains.
- Donald isn't persuaded. Dan gives up and says that he might as well jump too. Donald asks why, pointing out that Dan looks healthy, like he has a lot to live for. Somehow Dan begins to merge with Donald, the two becoming the same. Dan, on the ledge alone, slips and tumbles down.
- Dan comes to on the sofa, Socrates smiling over him and encouraging him to persist with the lessons. The student asks about Joy, and the old man says she might appear at some point in the future.
- Socrates tells Dan to stop seeing the world from the perspective of his personal cravings and until he can do so, at least continue observing the debris of his mind.
- In the next several weeks of the now-audible noise of thoughts blaring in his head, Dan keeps going to the gas station to ask for Socrates' help. The old man deflects the question, telling Dan to continue observing his mind and to develop a sense of humor. Finally Dan decides he'll no longer by the teacher's victim, but instead, he'll stalk Socrates.
- Dan hides behind the bushes until Socrates' shift is over. When the old man leaves the station, the student stealthily follows. He sees the old man enter the university library and disappear into the bathroom. Dan waits outside, but Socrates doesn't come out. Finally Dan enters. Socrates is nowhere in sight. The youth checks the stalls, only to discover Socrates inside one grinning at him, obviously aware that Dan had been following. Socrates laughs and reminds Dan who is the teacher and who is the student.
- That afternoon, Dan trains in the gym, raging and bent on becoming a warrior. A teammate gives him a note from the coach's office. It's from Socrates. It tells Dan anger is stronger than fear and so his spirit is soaring. “You are ready for the sword,” it concludes.
- Dan enters the gas station and asks Socrates how to stop thoughts, besides developing a sense of humor. Socrates says stressful thoughts occur due to conflicts when the mind resists what exists.
- To illustrate his point, the teacher takes Dan outside so the student can watch him service an arriving car. The old man does so shirtless, winking at the formally dressed, tense couple inside. Seeing this, the customers speed off. Socrates explains to Dan that they unfortunately couldn't cope with a strange, spontaneous situation he exposed them to.
- Socrates tells Dan his mind is like a pond whipping with the waves of unplanned occurrences. The teacher puts his hands on Dan's head and gives him another vision: Dan is a fish underwater, growing accustomed to ripples from rocks crashing into the water.
- The student awakens from the vision and Socrates continues the lecture. He says that unlike fish, Dan has the capacity to realize the rocks and ripples in life—events and his mind's reaction to them—have nothing to do with him and must not be taken seriously.
- Dan asks how this can be accomplished. Socrates says training in meditation is the answer. He excuses himself and enters the restroom. From the couch, yelling, Dan reveals that he's ahead of the game because he joined a meditation group a week ago. He talks about how much calmer his mind is.
- Socrates suddenly bursts out of the bathroom, shrieking and wielding a samurai sword. Socrates slashes the sword inches above the student's head, then grins. Socrates withdraws the sword; Dan relaxes. At Socrates' direction, the two then meditate. Afterward, Socrates explains that the “sword” of meditation cuts through illusions, but its mystique can be a dangerous distraction.
- As if on cue, a VW bus with a rainbow painted on its side—probably not unlike the Mystery Machine —chugs into the station. Six, identically blue-robed people inside behave self-righteously, as though worldly things might contaminate them. Socrates gets obnoxious and tries to annoy 'em, leering at the women, making sexual innuendos. Angered, the customers leave. Socrates yells at them to keep meditating.
- Next, a jittery forty-year-old man who seems like a teenager pulls in, accompanied by a woman with false eyelashes. The driver asks to buy a cigarette, and Socrates very kindly tells him to try a market down the road. He treats their car with full attention. They leave.
- Dan asks his teacher why he treated the two sets of customers differently. Socrates says the spiritual seekers needed something different to reflect on, while the others needed kindness.
- Dan asks what he treatment he himself needs. Socrates answers that Dan needs more meditation practice. Back in the office, the teacher says the youth needs to see a map of meditation's terrain. Huh?
- Socrates puts his hands on Dan once more. This time he has one heck of a trippy experience wherein he becomes the universe, the pure light of love, and a bunch of other wonderful things. He morphs back into his body and sees a radiant prism. Its light shows him the purpose of the human body is to become a channel for this light, attentive and aware.
- He realizes the purpose of meditation is to ultimately surrender to the light of consciousness.
- Dan awakens from the vision, the map of meditation's terrain. The vision's beauty makes him assume the teachings have been completed. Socrates laughs and explains that visions fade, and this one will just serve as a reference point.
- They sit together. Socrates mysteriously tells Dan that he himself owes a debt due to something he calls the House Rules. It seems to be something connected with his ninja past, but he doesn't elaborate.
- He only gives Dan a business card that reads: Warrior, Inc. / Socrates, Prop. / Specializing in: / Paradox, Humor, / and Change. The old man tells the student he can grasp the card and call for Socrates in a true emergency, and the teacher will somehow be present.
- Socrates begins lecturing Dan about meditation and the mind. (For deeper analysis on the book's philosophy, check out the Themes section.) The teacher says meditation entails paying attention to what arises in your mind, but letting whatever arises go. In other words, not getting attached to it.
- Socrates says Dan defends his mind's thoughts as if they were treasures and believes he is his thoughts because he fears death and craves survival.
- Socrates keeps up the lecture—we hope you haven't fallen asleep. He says Dan acts as if he is a "mind" or a subtle something inside the body. The student agrees this sounds good: he might be able to escape the body when he dies. Socrates goes off on him, about how he is actually Consciousness, is both his body and everything else everywhere, immortal. Not his mind, personal beliefs, history, and identity, which do end at death.
- Dan says he isn't sure if he understood all that. He asks what he is, if not his thoughts. Socrates has him peel an onion until everything's gone. Dan finally says nothing is left. His teacher tells him he's wrong, that the universe is left.
- Socrates lectures Dan on how his attention must burn upon his every moment and action.
- To illustrate how attention should burn, Socrates relates how a roshi—a Zen Buddhist religious teacher—told him if he couldn't figure out a koan (a kind of riddle) fast enough, he should kill himself. The threat of imminent death—we get the feeling Socrates would have done whatever this roshi told him—made him break through the mind's barriers and solve the koan.
- Socrates tells his student that he, Socrates, has to play games for a while—such as his jumping on the rooftop earlier—to keep Dan's attention, but eventually, the young man will have to walk the path alone.
- As Socrates fixes a customer's car, his student reflects on how completely happy the old man is. Back at his apartment, Dan wonders what Socrates' secret to happiness is. He remembers the business card, takes it in hand, and calls out for Socrates.
- The lights go out; Dan trips over his chair. He remains unsure what happened, but the card now has an additional line: Emergencies Only!
- The next day, Dan shows the card to his teammates. But they only see a blank card. Disappearing ink, Dan decides. At the gas station, he asks Socrates to stop the gags. The card begins to glow.
- Flustered, the young man asks Socrates if the card changes or disappears and reappears. The old man says everything changes, and everything disappears and reappears. Mysteriously, Socrates cites the House Rules as the explanation for why the teammates couldn't see the card. Dan continues to press for answers, but Socrates tells him to let it go.
- Summer passes, with more gym training and Socrates lessons for Dan. The young man often asks about Joy, but his teacher says nothing.
- Dan decides to take a trip down to his parents' home in Los Angeles before classes resume. Shopping in preparation for his trip, he encounters a scrawny teenage beggar, who asks for change. Dan refuses him, not feeling sorry at all. Dan thinks the beggar should just get a job, and then feels conflicted “just because some guy” had asked him for money.
- The passage exclusively focuses on making the point that Dan should let such a social justice concern go so his mind won't be troubled. It's basically the opposite of anything by Charles Dickens, such as A Christmas Carol, or by John Steinbeck, such as Of Mice and Men.
- Dan tells Socrates that he, Dan, will be visiting his parents and training with gymnasts in Yugoslavia since the U.S. Gymnastics Federation thinks he's a potential Olympian. Frowning, Socrates says what will be, will be. As Dan heads out, Socrates tells him to meet at a fountain at noon.
- At the fountain, Socrates gives Dan the ominous message that he'll be tested severely, and will need great inner strength to continue his transformation. Dan turns toward Socrates, but the old man is gone.
The Sword Is Sharpened
- Dan arrives home, feeling more relaxed, enjoying growing mastery over his thoughts. His parents pick up on the change; his father compliments him on how nice he is to be around.
- The young man buys a motorcycle, a Triumph—the same make Steve McQueen rode in The Great Escape movie Dan watched back at the start of Chapter Two, we note digressively—rides it, and promptly gets hit by an accelerating Cadillac.
- The gymnast's right leg is shattered. He's taken into an ambulance, remembering his teacher's words about how he'd be severely tested. Soon a surgeon puts his leg more or less back together.
- In the hospital, Joy shows up—the person, not the feeling. She relays a story from Socrates. It's about a farmer whose horse runs away, then returns accompanied by more horses; next the farmer's son breaks his leg taming one of the horses, but therefore isn't drafted by a passing army. At each turn of fortune, the farmer declares, “Good? Bad? Who knows?”
- Joy continues the lesson as Dan is assaulted by a wave of pain. She tells him everything has a purpose, and that this injury is his training. Dan passes out.
- Lying in his hospital bed, Dan meditates. Soon he's up on crutches, and not too long afterwards he's training intensely like some sort of Zenned-out Arnold Schwarzenegger who prefers handstands to bench-pressing. He ponders Socrates and life's mysteries as he trains. Finally the doctor says his leg looks good, unusually good in fact, but gymnastics is likely out of the question forever.
- Back in Berkeley, Dan keeps up his training. He phones Socrates, who tells his student to visit once he can walk without crutches. Teammates take Dan out in the snow to play as best he can. Eventually he gets back to the gas station.
- With new clarity to his gaze, Dan sees wonders about Socrates. He has a faintly glowing aura; he leaves customers happier than when they arrived; he's simple, efficient, and above all, he has transcended his mind.
- Dan asks where Joy is; Socrates says he doesn't know, that the woman is a mystery to him.
- Socrates now introduces the metaphor of the gate (see the Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory section for more). He says it's something within Dan that the student will have to blaze an inner path to. Anyone can find the gate, Socrates notes, but Dan has the unusual will to make it happen.
- The old man notices Dan is sick and tells him to go to the hospital. It turns out the young man has mononucleosis. Socrates shows up at the hospital and feeds Dan plant leaves, rubs urine on his leg (ew!) and conducts other alternative medicine practices. These heal Dan super fast. Yay!
- Before leaving the hospital, Dan makes sexual innuendos to the nurse, whom he doesn't know at all. Perhaps implausibly, she appreciates them. Soon Dan returns to the gas station.
- Socrates tells Dan it's time for a complete overhaul. This begins a new phase of his training. The old man tells his student that anger at his predicament can be a powerful motivator for change.
- Continuing his lecture on emotions, Socrates recommends Dan follow the examples of babies: they accept their emotions completely: they let them flow and then let them go.
- A cafe-owner named Joseph arrives at the station and meets Dan. He invites Socrates and his student over to dinner. Socrates accepts on behalf of both. Socrates explains that Joseph specializes in uncooked, natural food.
- On the way to Joseph's, Socrates tells Dan his new diet will give him real energy, better moods, and better awareness. His old habits are to be dissolved.
- Joseph treats the pair to simple food at his cafe. Socrates nibbles away; Dan shoves his food down his throat. The old man uses the meal as an opportunity to lecture Dan on eating slowly and paying attention to what he tastes.
- Socrates outlines a purifying fast for Dan to follow. For the next seven days, the youth has to eat nothing but diluted fruit juice and plain herb teas. After that, Dan will have to resume eating without refine sugar, refined flour, meat, coffee (cue a collective gasp from all of us at Shmoop—not our precious coffee!), alcohol, or basically anything else that isn't super-duper healthy. Instead, just fruit and raw salads and the like.
- Not only that, Socrates informs Dan, but he'll have to give up sex for quite a while. This throws Dan into a tizzy, but Socrates is unmoved. He tells him he'll simply have to get used to finding fresh food, fresh water, fresh awareness, and the like thrilling.
- The next few days Dan fasts, and during the nights at the gas station, Socrates criticizes his walking, talking, breathing, and pretty much everything else about him. Dan's social life begins to collapse since he's unable to participate in ordinary dining.
- The nurse from the hospital, Valerie, finds Dan training at the gym and invites him over. He ends up sleeping with her and eating all the food she cooks. As a result, Socrates bans him from the gas station for a month. Dan tries exercising discipline again—causing Valerie to reject him one night at her apartment and, soon after, to pick one of his teammates for fun instead of him.
- Nevertheless, Dan sticks with his super-healthy discipline and eventually finds himself feeling much better: his mood swings have vanished, he has more energy, and all sorts of minor symptoms such as headaches have disappeared.
- We don't know about you, but we're currently stuffing our faces with pizza. Oh well.
- Socrates increases his demands. He has Dan working menial tasks at the station to no end, and criticizes his efforts. This continues for weeks until Dan finally loses his temper and yells at Socrates that he, Dan, has been doing all the old man's work for him. Socrates tells him to stop coming to the station until he's learned to show courtesy to his teacher and breathe well to boot.
- After a month of struggling with his breathing and maintaining his dietary discipline, Dan goes to Joseph for help. He and the cafe-owner discuss Socrates; it turns out Joseph was the old man's cook and personal attendant for years. Joseph says Socrates taught him happiness and peace.
- Joseph helps Dan with his breathing. It works; Dan feels a pleasurable effortlessness to his being. Joseph says this way of breathing will keep Dan sane. Once the young man gets the hang of it, he returns to the gas station.
- Socrates continues the youth's training, making him do frustrating, difficult meditation exercises and so on. But he's also now silent about Dan's behavior, giving his student the responsibility of watching his own behavior. Socrates has stopped being his effective parent and is now his friend.
- Dan visits Joseph once more, but finds the cafe burning. Joseph is crying outside, but quickly turns serene, making peace with his emotions. He tells Dan the story of a monk who tends to a child for a year without becoming attached to it, with the lesson being that Joseph is not attached to his cafe. Joseph says he'll move north now, or south, since it makes no difference either way.
- The youth returns to the gas station and tells Socrates about Joseph's cafe burning. The old man cracks a joke and then, to Dan's utter amazement, whips out a cigarette and starts smoking.
- Socrates explains that there's no such thing as a bad habit. Addiction is the problem, he says. Every action has a price, and the point is to recognize it and make free, conscious choices.
- (Yeah, but smoking is still bad, Socrates.)
- Socrates then takes Dan out of a night on the town. They drink and party until five in the morning, at which point they run into a stick up. Socrates ninja-s the would-be thieves and gets Dan and himself away to safety.
- Back in bed, Dan decides he should loosen up a little, but heavy drinking isn't worth the price, especially when his discipline has begun to bring him so much pleasure.
- The next few days, Dan has some new experiences. First, outdoors in nature, he senses a life-giving, nameless Presence. Second, once he resumes classes, he's able to overcome his disappointment at the rise of old urges and anxieties about school; he reminds himself urges come and go and do not matter—only actions do. He understands this with such confidence that he describes the certainty of it as a Feeling with a capital F.
- (We stuck the Presence and the Feeling in the Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory section, by the way.)
- Dan heads to the gas station to tell Socrates about the Feeling, but Socrates has news for him: Joseph has died of leukemia. Socrates tells Dan that death is just a transformation, neither to be sought nor fled from. Socrates cries a little, but Dan realizes the old man doesn't consider Joseph's death a tragedy. Dan ponders life and decides he will live as a peaceful warrior.
- The next night, Dan tells Socrates that he, Dan, is ready for anything. Socrates scolds him, saying that no one knows their time of readiness. The old man puts his hands on the youth's head, and Dan goes on another one of the vision-trip things.
- Dan, in this vision, faces an enemy swordsman giant with multiple false but identical images around him, kind of like a video game boss.
- Dan, who's now conveniently armed with a sword, is told by that Feeling that the giant represents his mind. Dan closes his eyes, realizing that only the real giant would make a sound as he walked. Pinpointing the giant's location this way, Dan stabs upward and impales the demon. Flawless victory, as Mortal Kombat would have it.
- Socrates welcomes Dan back to the gas station. They discuss how Dan cut through his own mind by stabbing the giant. It seems he has made some progress.
- Socrates darkly points out that Dan would have gone mad had he failed to kill the swordsman.
The Mountain Path
- Socrates sends Dan out to sit on a stone behind the station until he has something of value to tell him. Dan heads for the rock, sits there and meditates, and returns with an insight that isn't profound enough for the old man. This cycle repeats a few times until a memory of losing his focus in the gym sparks Dan to think:
- There are no ordinary moments. All are special.
- The old man approves of this insight, and we're on our way to the next event in the story.
- In the next phase of his training, it's actually Joy working with Dan, not Socrates. Joy leads the youth in running for miles and miles in the hills.
- More training. Socrates tells Dan he needs to develop loose, flexible muscles, like Oscar, the gas station cat. Dan follows the old man's guidance in massaging his own muscles, surprised to find himself, an athlete, learning so much more about his body.
- The next day, Joy makes Dan run more and more in the hills. In the rain and everything else. This book makes us feel guilty for not exercising enough. But Dan succeeds in our place, thankfully.
- He tells Joy this amount of running probably isn't healthy with his still-healing leg. She agrees, pointing out that this most recent run was intended as a test of his spirit.
- Back at the gas station, Socrates starts playing catch with Dan using daggers. The mentor uses it as an opportunity to talk about satori, the state of full, free attention resting in the present moment. Many feel it during performances, but the task, Socrates says, is to feel it all the time.
- Socrates teaches Dan some aikido, and Joy leads him on more runs. The youth finds his gymnastics abilities improving as a result of all this extra training.
- One day, in the middle of a run, Socrates suddenly stops and sits down. Uh oh, a hint of some weakness in the guru. Joy takes over the training for him.
- But soon enough, Socrates is back in action, and this time he's teaching Dan in, of all things, gymnastics. He tells Dan that he, Socrates, will be coming to the school gym. Dan invents an excuse for his coach and teammates about how his eccentric grandfather who fancies himself a coach wants to visit. So for the next few days, Socrates is in the gym, telling Dan to meditate his actions by paying just as much attention to non-performance moments, such as taping his wrists, as performance ones.
- Susie hears Dan is back in the gym. She brings two friends, Michelle and Linda the redhead, to watch. Pretty soon Dan is ogling Linda and hoping to see her again.
- Socrates tells Dan to dedicate his training to life, not to the purpose of winning competitions. He says people can control their efforts, not outcomes, though, he admits, it isn't realistic to not care about outcomes at all.
- Dan begins dating Linda, even though he doesn't have much time due to all his training. He misses Joy, but she's always mysteriously disappearing.
- Dan's gymnastics team gets closer and closer to the 1968 National Collegiate Championships. On the final night, Dan's energy inspires his teammates. He is the last man to perform. With all the spirit and focus he's developed from his gas station training, he peacefully performs an amazing routine, scoring a 9.85. His team becomes the champions.
- On the flight home, however, Dan feels numb, at a dead-end. All this achievement has not brought him happiness; the gymnastics has only been an illusion. He still cannot find happiness.
Pleasure Beyond the Mind
- Arriving home, Dan gives Linda a quick kiss and then high-tails it to the gas station.
- ASAP, Socrates puts his hands on the youth's forehead and he's off on another vision-trip dealy-o. This time he's his infant self, and the vividness of the world stimulates his senses more than it ever did in his adult life. When he awakes at the gas station, Socrates explains that the birth of the mind is the death of the senses.
- The next morning the pair meet at a greenhouse. Socrates has Dan dig the vividness of the plants while listening to his lecture on how mental concepts and names make people feel as if there's nothing new to see.
- The following day Socrates tells Dan how attunement to sensory differences allows people to detect minor imbalances in their bodies, such as toxicity in the kidneys, and take corrective action, such as drinking more water. Keep refining your senses, Socrates advises.
- Dan asks if rich people are happier than poor people. Socrates answers that he is rich, for happiness equals satisfaction divided by desires, and he's cultivated the capacity to want less.
- Socrates suddenly tosses Dan into the air and reminds him that the time was, is, and always will be now, and the place is always here.
- Passersby enter the station and ask what's up with throwing people around. Socrates makes up a story about a trampoline, impressing Dan to no end.
- Walking home, Dan thinks of how he feels a new freedom now that he's ditched his expectation that the world should fulfill him. Socrates shows up out of nowhere, reminds Dan the time is now and the place is here, and tells the youth that nothing can change the past and that the future will never come as one expects.
- The old man touches Dan's temples. He finds himself in a musty, windowless attic, standing alone within a pentacle. Long story short, a bunch of decaying corpses start coming at him, and he feels tempted to leave the pentacle, especially once a beautiful woman falls into the room by the door.
- The Feeling (you know, the one with the capital F) tells Dan to stay within the pentacle, which represents the present moment, rather than go to the monsters (the past) or to the woman by the door (the future). Suddenly the woman begs for help, and drunk with desire (that's what he says!), Dan lunges out of the pentacle for her. She shows blood-red fangs; Dan retreats to the pentacle's safety.
- Back on the sidewalk, Socrates confirms Dan got the point of the melodrama—stay in the safe present—and tells him a story about a priest surprised that another priest chose to carry a beautiful woman across a stream. The less inhibited priest replied that whereas he had already set her down, the questioning priest was still carrying her.
- Point being: let the past go.
- Dan finishes up his university education, occasionally phoning Linda, who has moved away. He finds his exams a breeze since, thanks to his training, he's unobstructed by tension or concern.
- Now graduated, Dan asks Socrates for advice on picking a career. The teacher says it doesn't matter what the youth does, as long as he does it well. As Dan leaves, Socrates touches his student's head and then leaps straight up onto the roof. Dan isn't sure if his long-ago question—how did Socrates get on the roof?—has been answered, since the old man touched his head first. In answer, Socrates only says that there are no well-defined edges for what's real and what isn't.
- The next Saturday, Joy is in town. The three have a wonderful, happy picnic. Dan tells Joy he's retiring from gymnastics, that it's time to move on. She nods without comment.
- For fun, Joy and Dan race. Dan wins. Everything seems romantic. But suddenly Joy states that his path in life isn't wide enough to include her right now, and Socrates has decided Dan is to forget her.
- The teacher touches Dan's head and poof, away go all his memories of Joy.
The Final Search
- Dan and Socrates go for a run up in the mountains in the middle of the night. The old man suddenly collapses, his heart going silent. Dan cries out Nooooooooooo! with eleven o's. It's kind of like this scene from Revenge of the Sith.
- Dan shakes Socrates to no effect. But then the youth feels the Presence (capital P!) and begs for his own life to be taken instead of Socrates'. The old man's heart begins to beat again.
- The student carries his teacher to help. The next day at the hospital, Socrates confirms Dan's experience: the Presence started Socrates' heartbeat—and only after Dan had stopped trying. The old man calls this whole near-death incident a good lesson.
- Socrates tells the youth he hasn't opened himself fully to life and love yet. Dan reacts with sorrow, and then with anger, but the teacher says those two emotions aren't good enough responses. Finally Dan laughs, which wins Socrates' approval.
- The teacher says he persisted in exercising with Dan despite his heart defect because teaching by example is the way to go. He illustrates this point with a story about Gandhi, then suggests Dan is headed in the direction of becoming a teacher.
- Dan asks Socrates if he, Dan, will someday learn special powers such as the old man's apparent ability to tell the future. The teacher answers that special powers do in fact exist, but that they're not really important. The important powers are those of love, kindness, service, and happiness.
- Socrates tells Dan he's still trapped by the need to search, and so he should go off and search until he tires of it—for nine or ten years. Dan panics. Socrates says they'll meet again. The youth says he'll never forget him, and leaves the hospital for an uncertain future.
- Dan moves to Los Angeles and marries Linda. On his wedding night, he feels depressed and as if he's forgotten something important. He gets a job in sales, and his training and discipline slowly fade away. Linda and he have a daughter, Holly. He gets a job teaching gymnastics at Stanford. Dan still feels as if he's lost something.
- Linda and Dan grow apart and eventually separate. Dan resumes his search for happiness, training in aikido and visiting places around the world to study yoga, shamanism, and other disciplines with extraordinary teachers. But he can't find enlightenment or peace.
- His search starts feeling more and more urgent. He remembers Socrates telling him life is a terminal illness and to be happy now, without reason. Still, Dan can find no answer.
- One day, Dan has a feeling that Death is a creature after him. You know, the Grim Reaper dude—check out the Antagonist part of our Character Roles section for more.
- Dan returns home to Linda and Holly, but it's clear their marriage is ending. He becomes attracted to a student named Joyce, but is still technically married, so he doesn't pursue her.
- Linda and Dan divorce. Dan teaches gymnastics and aikido at Berkley, but resists the urge to visit the gas station, feeling he has nothing to show for himself. The same goes for the idea of contacting Joyce.
- Dan, living alone, begins his training anew, meditating and writing notes about his time with Socrates. Finally he decides to sell all his belongings and get lost in the mountains, determined to find an answer.
The Gate Opens
- Dan camps in the mountains, eating roots and berries and feeling content. Out of nowhere, Socrates shows up.
- The student says he feels lost, failed. His teacher replies that he's very close to the gate.
- The next night, after a carefree day of hiking, Socrates tells Dan a warrior should be happy without reason, which makes happiness the ultimate discipline and something you are rather than something you feel.
- Dan says it seems impossible to always feel happy. The teacher says feelings come and go, but the secret of unreasonable happiness is to remember the innate perfection of one's life unfolding.
- Socrates and the student arrive at a sacred place in the mountains, a burial site for an early American tribe of warriors, among whom Socrates had ancestors.
- They camp in the mouth of a cave. Socrates tells Dan an adapted version of Plato's allegory of the cave, saying people are trapped in the caves of their own minds and only a few warriors see the light outside.
- Lightning flashes, and Socrates hurries Dan deeper into the cave. The capital-F Feeling tells Dan that Death is stalking. (Maybe a bit like this dude?)
- Suddenly Dan falls back into the cave, his skull shattering. He hears Socrates telling him this is his, Dan's, final journey.
- The student is dying. Socrates pushes him down over a precipice, and Dan falls out of the mountain cave and into a sunlit meadow. His body is all broken and stuff, and rodents and worms and the like feed on his decomposing flesh. Millenia go by until even the meadow disappears.
- Dan realizes he's the Consciousness that observes and is all, and the Dan Millman who lived long ago was just a flash in time. The Grim Reaper/Death whom he feared was just his great illusion. His life too was an illusion, a problem, a moment when Consciousness had forgotten Itself (capital-I!).
- Waking in the cave, Dan smiles, realizing that nothing at all matters. This strikes him as very funny. He and Socrates laugh and dance in the cave. Mission complete.
- They leave the mountains, Dan feeling energetic and free of any meaning or any search.
- Socrates warns him that he'll lose the vision, that it's just an experience, but Dan says it doesn't matter: he has lost his mind. Socrates is pleased and says his debt is paid.
- Dan returns to Berkely and walks the streets, imagining telling people to wake up, to realize achievement leads nowhere, to relax, to realize Love is the only reality, that everything is One. But he knows people would consider him deranged or even dangerous.
- Dan drives to the gas station. He and Socrates work on the car. The teaches gives him a journal about his, Socrates', life. He tells Dan to write and teach, and then says he has to go.
- He enters the bathroom, shuts the door, and doesn't come out. After a while, Dan wonders what the deal is, and sees a flash of light under the crack of the door. He enters the bathroom only to find that Socrates has disappeared.
- Dan thanks Socrates aloud and realizes that the teacher is not really gone, because the two of them were one. Not in the Fight Club doppelganger (ghostly double) sense, but in the sense that everything in the universe is one.
Laughter in the Wind
- Dan, now an unreasonably happy man, moves to San Francisco and becomes a housepainter.
- He phones Joyce and invites her to come live with him in California. She does. Dan tells her about Socrates; having dreamed of the old man, she finds the story strangely familiar. Turns out, her nickname is Joy.
- At their wedding, Dan takes out Socrates' business card and asks the teacher to visit. Nothing happens but a breeze—and then the card changes: the line Emergencies Only! is replaced with the word Happiness, the teacher's wedding gift.
- Dan laughs with delight. Socrates had never left; he was only changed, Dan realizes, into the trees, the clouds, the birds and the wind.
- Before returning to his wife, home, friends, and future, Dan surveys the world around him, and decides Socrates is here and everywhere.