Review – The Art of Spiritual Warfare by Albert S. Moorin
When covering Sun Tzu’s 2500-year-old text of The Art of War, teachers usually notice that students struggle with the translation, the unusual names, and the discursive organization of its message. Taught in history of ideas classes and the military war colleges, this book of ancient wartime strategy was used quite successfully in winning the Gulf War with minimum casualties. Ironic and cryptic to the modern reader, its persistent message is winning the war without fighting is the acme of skill, a theme reminiscent of Lao Tzu Tung’s equally baffling strategy of political rule in the Tao-te-Ching.
Grant Schnarr, author of The Art of Spiritual Warfare, explains how the message of The Art of War is not only confined to battle situations between countries but also to battles within the mind. Strategic disposition to prepare for war is to make the fighting force invincible and watch for the enemy’s vulnerability. Paralleling this position, the spiritual warrior identifies in his thoughts and emotions his own “enemy” traits such as anger, procrastination, laziness, resentment, self-pity, and anxiety. Watching these traits pass by in his mind like clouds passing overhead, he remembers his strength and security and, if necessary, calls on his higher power. Thus he vanquishes his weaknesses, maintains control, and triumphs in the midst of challenges.
In a similar way The Art of War suggests that the warrior avoid futile or needless battles and instead set new priorities. Likewise the spiritual warrior avoids futile emotional scenes by simply not participating in them. Should he have to fight his most formidable enemies – namely his fear or loss of relationships or even death – he could slay these dragons by remembering his strengths: reviewing scripture or studying the ancient tents of wisdom and remaining ever conscious of the present moment, a Buddhist concept known as mindfulness. Perhaps the greatest enemy is becoming a victim of one’s shortcomings, but even these losses will teach the spiritual warrior some valuable lessons.
Overall, Grant Schnarr reminds the reader that The Art of War, seemingly foreign and out of touch with modern life, contains a two-fold benefit: a set of rules to win the battle against another country and, just as important, a secret, less easily discernible message that this same struggle goes on within the individual. The good news is that both enemies can be conquered, not with direct confrontation but with indirect strategies that call on the spiritual warrior’s awareness and willingness to try new approaches.
Traditionally, the theme of the outer world mirroring the inner world is no stranger to the history of ideas. Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” causes the reader to imagine himself in a cave of ignorance that can be overcome by traversing above the cave to attain enlightenment. Dante’s Divine Comedy, Milton’sParadise Lost, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and the medieval morality plays all portray the archetypal Christian battling the forces of evil, a role model for the spiritual aspirant to overcome his own temptations. The Renaissance man, with his belief in the Great Chain of Being, also recognized the hierarchal order that showed similar correspondences in weather patterns, classes of animals and minerals, with human behaviors, and destinies. Today quantum physicists predicate a protean universe in which each atom is literally a microcosm of the whole cosmos, each human being a collection of millions of atoms that share incomprehensible vistas of space and energy. Such ideas stir the imagination and boggle the mind.
As for pedagogy, The Art of Spiritual Warfare can serve as an admirable ally in producing thoughtful critical essays. The mysterious, paradoxical link between the subject of a text and the inner world of a reader is at the center of rhetorical inquiry. Might students discover and solve conflicts within themselves as they ponder their own relationships or relationships found in other readings? “Letter from Birmingham Jail” shows how Dr. King’s incarceration and letter identify the racial conflicts and their possible solutions. By extension students could write essays about the mental incarceration from the freedoms they deserve. They could then write a letter discussing their own inner techniques of passive resistance. The possibilities are endless. What we read becomes not only what we think about but also what we apply to our own personal lives, a kind of personal myth taking form. Grant Schnarr in The Art of Spiritual Warfarereminds us that reading is not only cerebral but also intrapersonal.