Initiation, Individuality, and the Alchemy of Danger

One of the most interesting entries found within the pages of Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai is as follows:

The Way of the Samurai is found in death. When it comes to either / or, there is only the quick choice of death. It is not particularly difficult. Be determined and advance. To say that dying without reaching one’s aim is to die a dog’s death is the frivolous way of sophisticates. When pressed with the choice of life or death, it is not necessary to gain one’s aim.

We all want to live. And in large part we make our logic according to what we like. But not having attained our aim and continuing to live is cowardice. This is a thin dangerous line. To die without gaining one’s aim is a dog’s death and fanaticism. But there is no shame in this. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai. If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as thought his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.

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Modern eyes and ears read and hear this excerpt as a frightening glimpse into a long forgotten past, a past better left behind for safer and secure realms. Yet we do not live in safer times. The image of the Samurai has become a caricature to most, a symbol of honor and respect for a few. The idea of a class of warriors ready to embrace Death at a moment’s notice elicits fear in the mind in the modern age of ersatz security, the age where Death is kept hidden at all costs. However the Samurai found freedom in Death. This “freedom” does not have the literary ring of a happy ending for most and consequently is not an option for the modern concerned with the creation of a world of safety and security. This idea echoes the words of Ernst Junger, one selection taken from Glass Bees,one taken from Eumeswil:

Today only the person who no longer believes in a happy ending, only he who has consciously renounced it, is able to live. A happy century does not exist; but there are moments of happiness, and there is freedom in the moment.

Freedom is based on the anarch’s awareness that he can kill himself. He carries this awareness around; it accompanies him like a shadow that he can conjure up. A leap from this bridge will set me free.

Junger’s words of “happiness” and “freedom” seem as frightening as the Samurai’s Way of Death to a world hell bent on creating security and guaranteed safety, a thin dangerous line few wish to walk. However it’s the element of danger which provides the alchemical environment conducive to the creation of transformation and the creation of something rare and threatening to the modern world: the individual. In the modern age of commodification and homogenization, both humans and animals alike are seen as products or numbers which can be manipulated, marketed or consumed.

Two of the most dangerous threats to this commodification is the reality of death and the presence of the individual. We have effectively erased the reality of death from the modern mind, prohibiting images of war to be broadcast, banning and criminalizing video from factory farm slaughter houses are examples of this which are often quickly brushed aside in casual discussion. The elimination of danger is in many ways the ultimate attempt to eliminate the creation of the individual. The illusion of safety and security is consistently used to allow for mass manipulation and control; any voice which dissents from this facade is accused of being a radical and believing in “conspiracy theories.” William Burroughs deftly describes this:

Danger is a very rare commodity in these times, monopolized by intelligence agencies and stuntmen.

The individual who thinks on his own and is courageous enough to create and think outside of the boundaries of dogma and institution is an endangered species and a threat to all levels of order and stability. We can see this even amidst groups claiming to be avant-garde or cutting edge where individuals are still expected to assume the party line and provide unending support for the leader and are branded as “troublemakers” when daring to speak out or manifest an individual presence. More often than not, these groups are in reality social clubs providing a support system for individuals seeking an underground subculture and social networking with a spiritual veneer.

Spiritual transformation itself is dangerous. Often portrayed as a blissful peaceful process, much like birth from the physical womb in reality it can be bloody and messy, at times dangerous. Yet we cannot avoid birth any more than we can avoid death. The more we seek to eliminate danger from our lives, the more we remove the opportunities for growth and radical transformation. Freedom exists deep within the dark heart of danger and this is why it is demonized and avoided at all costs in the modern age. The true individual now has to seek out danger to escape the clutches of the status quo.

This journey into the heart of danger is the seeking of pure experience outside of the confines of dogma, institution or established teacher. The path of danger provides the ultimate alkahest to the ego, dissolving its illusions and allowing a person to break free from social conditioning and alchemically transform into the individual. This is the advantage of unsure and troubled times. Rather than seeking a form of futuristic escapism to avoid the realities of the modern age, we should see danger and uncertainly as the ambient background for incendiary alchemical transformation! There is no need to seek a Faustian bargain of safety in exchange for freedom from the potential of danger as this only sinks one deeper into the quicksand of the ego and the status quo.

The taproot of creativity so crucial to the elan vital of the Soul is suppressed and dulled by the absence of the potential of danger. This is commonly manifested today by the widespread experience of existential ennui and feelings of depression and fatigue which are far more commonplace than expressions of inspiration and passion so important to the manifestation of spiritual maturation. Much of this occurs due to the dulling of the mind and the lethargy of the physical body. The medical system of Ayurveda and the integrative pursuit of martial arts are key tools for navigating the thin dangerous line of the integration of death within life, life within death. This is the true internal alchemy, the true incubation of the individual. The Sanskrit term prajnaparadha, “mistake of the intellect” or “crime against wisdom”, is an apt term used in Ayurveda to apply to the modern obsession with banal safety.

Our perceptions create our reality. Living in a homogenized climate controlled, media saturated and state monitored environment does not allow the mind to thrive or grow; instead it instills deep seated stasis. Stasis breeds apathy and ennui, the perfect milieu for depression and dis-ease. The mind mistakes the sanitized manufactured reality to be comfortable yet this “reality” is in actuality the taproot of existential malaise. This is perfect for control and manipulation of people both from the perspective of governments and spiritual groups; there is no place for the individual within these respective areas.

Anyone who challenges the state or the “guru” will be labeled the heretic yet is in actuality the courageous individual. Ayurveda stresses the importance of the inner limbs of Yoga and the systematic exploration of the structure of the mind in order to free the person from the archonic delusions of the artificial world and return the person to the true state of the unique and unrepeatable individual. Then and only then can someone truly claim to be “safe.”

The path of martial arts also seeks to decondition the mind and body in order to recreate from the bottom up, a true dismantling of the ego and incendiary reconstruction of person into the rare individual who does not seek the illusion of “safety” in order to escape the reality of danger. On the surface and to the untrained eye, the path of martial arts is simply “fighting.”

However the fighting which draws blood and colors bruises is also an alchemical journey into the darkest recesses of the ego providing the rare opportunity to become an individual. The status quo is constantly challenged and destroyed in study of martial arts, danger becomes comfortable, reaction becomes spontaneous. The aches and pains of stasis and stagnation recede and in their place appears a quiet yet puissant confidence, a confidence born from the fire of confrontation; the distillation of the individual. One is concerned less and less with the apparent limitations of the body and mind and becomes able to walk confidently on the lonely path of the individual within a world threatened expressions of uniqueness. The physical body can be conditioned and manipulated by stasis as easily as the mind. Martial arts addresses both the mind and the body just as Ayurveda recognizes the subtle yet powerful interface of the mind / body and its complementary role in the distillation of the individual within the flames of suffering. In the words of Yukio Mishima:

The acceptance of suffering as a proof of courage was the theme of primitive initiation rites in the distant past, and all such rites were at the same time ceremonies of death and resurrection. Men have by now forgotten the profound hidden struggle between consciousness and the body that exists in courage, and physical courage in particular…..To embrace suffering is the constant role of physical courage; and physical courage is, as it were, the source of that taste for understanding and appreciating death that, more than anything else, is a prime condition for making true awareness of death possible. (Sun and Steel)

The individual is forged in the pursuits of martial arts even when modern myopic eyes can no longer see the methods or the expressions of this art of the flesh.

We can also consider the elegantly simple words of Ludwig Wittgenstein:

Resting on your laurels is as dangerous as resting when you are walking in the snow. You doze off and you die in your sleep.

We must remember that dangerous times produce exceptional opportunities for growth and transformation. Rather than seeking safety at all costs and seeking to avoid any suffering or painful experiences, we should strive to avoid the “mistake of the intellect” and forge the perception of the individual in the fire of our passion for life. We must keep moving and embrace the uncertainty of danger or risk sinking into the sludge of the status quo. We must become the individual.

craig-williamsCraig Williams is the author of Tantric Physics Vol I: Cave of the Numinous. He has been a practitioner of Yoga, Ayurveda, Tantra, Jyotish and Vedanta for more than 25 years and has undergraduate degrees in Religious Studies, Philosophy and English Literature and a Master’s Degree in Oriental Medicine. He is also an ordained gnostic Bishop and an adept of Esoteric Voudon.

Craig lives in Austin, Texas where he operates a busy private medical practice specializing in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture and Ayurveda (www.AyurvedaAustin.com). He is a licensed Acupuncturist and a Professional member of the American Herbalist Guild and the National Ayurvedic Medical Association.