Way of the Peaceful Warrior

by Dan Millman

Reviewed by Michael Danciger


When we hear the name “Socrates” we think “wisdom.” How appropriate it is that the young Dan Millman uses this name for a remarkable teacher in this autobiographical story.  As the author tells of his eight years under the tutelage of Socrates, we see much more than a series of events.  Rather, the story becomes the characterization of the inner transformation that occurred in Dan Millman over those years.

While the remarkable inner changes that Dan goes through are fascinating and inspiring, the extraordinary value of this book lies in the actual teaching that Socrates gives to Dan.  As Socrates teaches his young pupil, he teaches us as well.  For example, Socrates discusses the subject of mind:

Mind is an illusory outgrowth of basic cerebral processes.  It is like a tumor.  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 .... [For example], you have an angry thought bubble up and you become angry.  It is the same with all your emotions.  They are your knee-jerk responses to thoughts you can’t control.

As a reader and receiver of Socrates’ teaching, I was better able to recognize bubbles of anger that pop up in response to memories of past events or fantasies, and to stop the draining prolongation of the reaction to these phantoms.

In another group of passages, Socrates helps us to expand our awareness:

Refine your senses a little more each day; stretch them, as you would in a gym.  Finally, your awareness will pierce deeply into your body and into the world.  Then you will think about life less and feel it more.  You’ll enjoy even the simplest things in life ...[if you] cultivate a simple lifestyle of few desires...[and if you give] full attention to every moment.

The direct experience of working toward inner freedom encourages the reader to reawaken dreams that perhaps he has not thought of since his adolescent years, and to rekindle the effort toward their fulfillment.

Parables throughout the book provide the reader with images and ideas for meditation.  A particularly poignant tale of sacrifice and offering follows:

A saintly woman was walking along the edge of a cliff.   Several hundred feet below, she saw a dead mother lion, surrounded by crying cubs.  Without hesitation, she leaped off the cliff so that they would have something to eat.

This is an intense and moving book for many reasons, but what primarily touched me was the absolutely real possibility of my own inner transformation; not only that, but the necessity of it, the urgency of it.  At the same time I felt no pressure or anxiety to become a “peaceful warrior.” On the contrary, I felt good reading the book, as if someone were really talking to me, talking about life as it is.  Listening to “straight talk” is liberating and energizing.  However, while that experience is powerful, it lasts only as long as the book.  For the way of the warrior is action.  The action of working inwardly and outwardly to transform oneself---each person has to traverse his or her own road. Way of the Peaceful Warrior is not just a book; it is a door.  When you read this book you open the door, and you are invited to walk through.