You may have seen the tattoo on my left arm. I get asked about it a lot, so here’s the scoop.
It says Discipline Warrior (Tsultrim Pamo) in Tibetan script. This is a name I was given when I took refuge vows in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition. When anyone takes these vows —to take refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha (community)—they receive a dharma name from a senior teacher or Acharya. The names are intended to be touchstones as we continue on our spiritual path, a way to help us see both our gifts and things we may want to work on.
Other people in my class were getting names like Turquoise Dancer and Lotus Waxing-Moon. I got Discipline Warrior and couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. I didn’t feel much like a warrior and certainly cringed at the notion of being disciplined. I puzzled over this for a long time— I mean, what was it that the teacher saw in me that made her choose that name? Why couldn’t I have a pretty, colorful name like Radiant Mountain or something?
So with a sigh, I started digging in, researching, and trying to cultivate whatever seeds she seemed to think were in me somewhere.
The Shambhala understanding of warriorship is a fearlessness about being who you are, a simple dignity in showing up as a whole human being. There is nothing to conquer and nothing in particular to fight against, or as Chogyam Trungpa says, the spiritual warrior is “all-victorious.” As I’ve studied shamanism, too, my understanding of this concept has deepened. A warrior is one who sees that they are working on behalf of others, that there’s a much bigger picture than their own ego and stories. Warriors aren’t afraid to be uncomfortable, especially if something good is at stake. They aren’t afraid of fear, and in fact can use their fear as a teacher and motivator. Warriors keep their eyes on the prize, and they don’t shrink or become pessimistic before challenges.
Alright, I thought, I can get down with that. Being called a warrior kinda makes me feel like a badass. Where’s my helmet? Let’s do this!
But then Discipline… this one was harder to wrap my head around because it demanded effort. If you look it up in the dictionary, you’ll see references to obedience and punishment. Ew. I didn’t want discipline – I wanted pleasure and freedom. I wasn’t interested in exercising my willpower. That seemed like no fun at all— until I realized that I can choose to be disciplined for set periods of time to accomplish specific things. I can be disciplined about making sure there’s fun and comfort in my life. I can master a discipline.
I began to see discipline as the basic understanding that certain things are good for me, and that I’m worthy of good things. There are the disciplines of making it to my yoga mat, eating vegetables, and waking up early. There is also the joy that comes, for instance, from daily affection, and the wonder and inspiration that come from spiritual practices. I exercise consciousness and awareness to experience more of what I want— and this kind of discipline is the key to freedom.
When this all started to click, I got the tattoo. I felt like I’d grown into the name a little, as I began to see in myself what that teacher had seen a glimmer of years ago. I wear it hoping I live up to it, and confident that it’s mine for a reason.