Study Guide

Way of the Peaceful Warrior Themes

  • Happiness

    Pretty much everyone's got a philosophy for how to be happy, and Socrates, the Buddha-like mentor in Way of the Peaceful Warrior has got one too. He teaches that the human mind, with its need for explanations and distractions, is to blame for unhappiness. He says happiness comes instead from giving up the search for answers and accomplishments. That's a very different view than the ones we usually hear, so his ideas are worth checking out.

    Questions About Happiness

    1. Describe how, according to Socrates, the mind is at fault for people's unhappiness.
    2. What is the relationship between Dan discovering death to be an illusion and becoming truly happy?
    3. What is the role of sensory awareness in becoming genuinely happy?

    Chew on This

    The only real way to be happy is to not need reasons for it.

    People are correct in needing reasons to be happy.

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    Ah, the big questions. Socrates, the mentor in Way of the Peaceful Warrior, and his student Dan, by the time the book finishes, have a clear point of view on life, consciousness, and existence. They say we need to let go of our stressed-out minds and understand we are, each of us, one with all of existence; we are an eternal, changing Consciousness. Our mortal lives are unimportant and humorous, just brief moments when Consciousness has forgotten itself. Take a look-see at this philosophy, since it's quite different from more familiar ones.

    Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    1. In what sense are we mortal and in what sense are we immortal, according to this book?
    2. Explain what Dan means when he refers to Consciousness with a capital-C. How does that differ from the general use of the term consciousness?
    3. What is the mind, according to Socrates? How does he distinguish between it and the brain or the intellect? Is his distinction a fair one or is it just convenient for his point of view?
    4. Dan says death is an illusion not to be feared and life is nothing more than a humorous incident. Contrast his view with that of another writer, philosopher, or religious figure.

    Chew on This

    The right thing is to do away with the mind and its stressful thoughts, finding relief in the big picture that everything dies and changes, and we are that everything in a grand cosmic sense.

    The right thing is to figure out some goals and implement them to alter this world somehow, taking our lives very seriously even if it stresses us out.

  • Mortality

    Many of us have had a long night when we can't sleep because we start worrying about the inevitable fact that we'll die. Yep, grim stuff, but it's the truth. Way of the Peaceful Warrior sees mortality as the big fear behind unhappy lives. So it's not just keeping you up at night—it's the cause of all your unhappiness.

    Socrates, the teacher in this novel, offers a way of solving the problem. His idea is that we learn to dispose of our worrying minds and realize our mortal lives are pretty insignificant next to our true nature as an eternal and ever-changing Consciousness. What the heck does that mean? Well, read the quotes to find out!

    Questions About Mortality

    1. According to Dan and Socrates, what is the relationship between the mind and the fear of death? What must we do in order to conquer our fear of our mortality?
    2. What reasons, if any, are we given to explain why the fear of death is Dan's ultimate bogeyman? What reasons, if any, are we given to explain why the revelation that we are all Consciousness is the ultimate cure for that?
    3. What is death, according to Dan and Socrates? What is life?

    Chew on This

    Death is the ultimate fear people must get over in order to have happy lives.

    There is no single, ultimate fear you can point to as the problem behind unhappiness.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    Plenty of us set goals or dream of a better future or hope for a different life. Stop right there, says Socrates, the guru in Way of the Peaceful Warrior. He'd say you should actually abandon your cravings to accomplish whatever it is you want to accomplish, and be chiller about whatever happens.

    You might still accomplish things, by the by, but dreams, hopes, and plans are not what you should focus on. According to Socrates, you need to dispense with your mind, and, as the saying goes, be here now. So check out this book for a completely different approach to goal-setting than you might have heard before.

    Questions About Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    1. What are Socrates and Dan's perspective on goals? Do they give any advice that might be taken as supporting goal-setting (such as eating well)?
    2. What is the relationship between the mind and chasing after achievements, according to Dan and Socrates? What role do they see accomplishments playing in life? Do any characters in the book disagree with them?
    3. After his cafe burns down, Joseph says it doesn't matter if he moves north or south. How would he make a decision which way to go, then? How does Dan, once he's achieved enlightenment, make decisions?

    Chew on This

    Socrates, Joseph, and Dan are correct to say what job you take is irrelevant as long as you do it well, that where you decide to live is unimportant, and ultimately, nothing can possibly matter.

    Your choices in life—such as what job you pick—are important and make a difference in the world.

  • Perseverance

    We've all seen sports movies where the athlete makes a comeback after a devastating injury, right? Way of the Peaceful Warrior puts a different spin on that familiar spiel. This time, the athlete wins a gymnastics championship but then essentially says "meh" and quits the sport. What could explain this?

    The book's guru, Socrates, offers the unusual advice that one should give up searching for meaning and pursuing goals. At the same time, he teaches that discipline and focus are required to become a truly happy individual.

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. How does persevering help a peaceful warrior or somebody trying to become one? Are there instances when perseverence is actually a hindrance?
    2. How does Way of the Peaceful Warrior, with Dan's gymnastics training, fit in with the stories of other real or fictional athletes? How is his struggle to overcome his leg injury like or unlike other athletes' struggles?
    3. Where might Dan's persistence come from? In other words, what factors might motivate him to persevere in the face of obstacles?

    Chew on This

    The ability to persevere, to become disciplined, is crucial for reaching enlightenment and unreasonable happiness.

    The instruction to persevere and become disciplined is overrated. It can, for instance, make people feel unreasonable guilt for not being good enough.

  • Versions of Reality

    What is reality? Hard or impossible to answer, but Socrates, the guru in Way of the Peaceful Warrior, tells the athlete protagonist Dan that his version stinks and that he should learn the better one that he, Socrates, offers. It's all about being in the moment, fully aware and alive, without thoughts clogging up your head.

    Dan has to choose between the conventional world of college and the ninja-like path of Socrates… and we bet you can guess which one he eventually picks. The book is basically one giant lecture in why a Zen-like perspective on reality is best.

    Questions About Versions of Reality

    1. How does Socrates describe his version of reality? How does it differ from the version of reality Dan is familiar with at college?
    2. Dan faces a choice between Socrates' reality and the conventional reality offered at school. What other options might there be, however? What other versions of reality might Dan have considered?
    3. What does Socrates blame for most adults' difficulty in perceiving reality directly, freshly? Could there be other explanations than his? Are any alternate views offered in the novel?

    Chew on This

    Those who follow Socrates' teachings awaken to a fresher, truer version of reality than those who follow more conventional paths.

    Socrates' teachings are not the single path to a good understanding of which version of reality is best.

  • Dissatisfaction

    We're always being offered solutions for our dissatisfaction with life. Buy a new car, take up a new hobby, get better grades in school. But what if none of those solve the problem? Way of the Peaceful Warrior offers a solution, too.

    The big idea of the mentor Socrates is that you should stop trying to find answers and develop the discipline and awareness to simply enjoy the ride. The novel shows his student, Dan, trying to implement that philosophy in his life and struggling with the fear that he won't ever be happy. Is Socrates' vision the right one? Read on and decide for yourself.

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. Describe what Socrates diagnoses as the cause of Dan's dissatisfaction. What is the way out of this predicament, according to the teacher?
    2. How does Dan try to find satisfaction when he's not following Socrates' teachings? Why do these efforts result in dissatisfaction?
    3. How does Dan's experience of dissatisfaction compare or contrast with the emotions of other characters in the book, such as the customers who come to the gas station?
    4. Is Socrates right in his perspective on dissatisfaction? Is Dan's experience something specific to America or specific to his era, or is it a global phenomenon that has existed throughout history?

    Chew on This

    Despite all their entertainments, love lives, consumer purchases, and other ordinary sources of pleasure, most people are, deep down, dissatisfied with life.

    Most people are actually more or less content with their lives, and don't need to take on serious discipline and training, as Dan does, to find happiness.

  • Admiration

    Way of the Peaceful Warrior is basically the story of a mysterious old man, Socrates, mentoring a young athlete, Dan, into taking a Zen approach to life. Where does admiration fit in? Well, a teacher is a lot more persuasive if he has charisma, and Socrates is certainly a unique fellow.

    Soon enough, Dan admires him enormously. But does that admiration maybe make Dan a bit biased toward Socrates' philosophy? Or are Socrates' teachings independent of the man himself? Or do they need to be separated at all? Read and decide.

    Questions About Admiration

    1. What does Dan admire about Socrates? How do those qualities influence Dan to follow the path Socrates recommends?
    2. How does his experience going through the gate change Dan's understanding of where Socrates belongs in his life?
    3. Do characters in the book besides Dan admire Socrates? If so, how do they show it, and what is the effect of their admiration for him on Dan?

    Chew on This

    Socrates' teachings are valuable apart from his personality; it's not Dan's admiration of him that leads the youth to a better life.

    You can't separate Socrates' teachings from the man; without him to admire, Dan would not have been able to find a better life.