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Code of the Warrior

The code of the warrior has the basic qualities of courage, loyalty and willingness to sacrifice for the larger group, to be connected to something larger than simply the individual. Human beings are group animals. Even though individualism is of a huge value for us, it's clear that none of us really can exist by ourselves, that our values were forged in groups, that human beings live in groups, and so one of the values of a warrior is being protective of the group no matter what the group is, or how the group is defined.

In her book Blood Rites, Barbara Eherenreich quotes Israeli military historian Martin Van Creveld: "Given time, the fighting itself will cause the two sides to become more like each other, even to the point where opposites converge, merge, and change places. . . . The principal reason behind this phenomenon is that war represents perhaps the most imitative activity known to man."

Eherenreich says, "There is a mechanism—almost a human reflex—that guarantees that belligerents will in fact be "given time" for this convergence to occur, and that mechanism is revenge: A raid or attack or insult must be matched with an attack of equal or greater destructive force. One atrocity will be followed by another; and no matter how amicable the two sides may once have been, they will soon be locked together in a process from which no escape seems possible. To the warrior, the necessity of revenge may be self-evident and beyond appeal."

At a certain point of history, the idea of not taking revenge arises as a religious idea. It arises in China, in India with the Buddha, and in the Middle East with Christ. And all of a sudden, somebody is saying "turn the other cheek" or as the Buddha says, "hatred is not ended by hatred." This is very unusual. The question always is: what is the viability of a society that espouses these ideas in the face of societies that don't? And the answer is not very hopeful. The Tibetans, for example, incorporated the Buddhist world view into what was a very active warrior society. China attacked and now the country is occupied, the culture is practically destroyed, the monasteries are destroyed, the women have been raped, and the whole country is physically occupied.

It seems that now there has to be a movement that says we're not going to buy into revenge. This is kind of a forgiveness, or seeing that a way out of this logic, out of this deadly logic, is more valuable than continuing the revenge cycle. It's always a scary thing. The code of the warrior takes a lot more than fighting the other side or conquest. It takes the courage to die. And the Buddha's notion of a Bodhisattva as somebody whose ideal is striving for enlightenment for the benefit of the other person takes great courage, and it takes seeing through the whole revenge cycle.

That's why I think that the Buddhist or the spiritual alternative is so incredibly important; because without some way to break that logic—which is the logic of samsara—the suffering just goes on and on. When you think about the Bodhisattva vow in Buddhism, you know it's awesome to say that I'm giving up my own enlightenment in this lifetime, I'm giving up my own nirvana, I'm going to keep coming back into this world until all beings are eventually enlightened.

Humans are a mixture of ignorance and arrogance at the same time, which is a most dangerous combination. One of the things the species needs to do is to cut through our own arrogance, our sense that we know what we're doing, because we don't. And the other thing we need to do is to cut through our own ignorance. In Buddhism, this is the root problem that human beings have. That's why meditation and the development of wisdom are so crucial. And that's why the development of wisdom is seen as going hand and hand with the development of compassion. There doesn't really seem to be another possibility as far as I can see. And I'm not talking about Buddhism as a religion itself, I'm talking about that kind of approach to the problem.

What Gandhi was able to do, in part, was appeal to the British code of the warrior, a sense of fair play and respect, but he spent a lot of time in jail. Ultimately, when somebody wanted to kill him, they killed him. And the reason they wanted to kill him was because they thought that he was giving in to the idea of a Muslim state. It was a Hindu nationalist who killed Gandhi—not a Muslim—and that in turn unleashed massacres; a lot of people died. So it's a question of how successful that strategy was, as admirable as it might be, or might have been. Gandhi himself said that the person who faces a cannon without another cannon is a braver warrior than the one who simply fights back. That takes a great amount of warrior virtues, of discipline, of courage, of sacrifice, of all those things. You have to be highly motivated and highly trained. It only worked because large masses of people revered Gandhi so greatly.

So, in the Code of the Warrior , I end with a little chapter on bringing the warrior down to earth, where Ed Abbey says the idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders. So Earth First ends up being a kind of warrior society; it takes on a particular code of, say, nonviolence because of the recognition that if you use force against the nation-state, the state will seek revenge and you will be crushed. So you're sort of looking for a kind of jujitsu. You have to be smarter, figure out how to use the power of the state against itself or to get out of the way of the state. Or you pledge yourself to nonviolence, which only really works when things have progressed far enough that people respect it.

Sun Tzu says that the greatest general wins by not fighting. In Aikido, you do the same sort of thing. You fight by using your enemy's aggression against himself, not by meeting him head-on in battle, but by deflecting his energy. We all have to figure out a way to do that or else we're caught perpetually in the situation we're caught now: no matter what, warfare seems to go on. Warfare has its own kind of energy.