We sometimes hear, “True victory is victory over the self,” that real or meaningful battles are the internal ones, and that each moment is new and unique. It occurred to me at some point a while ago that I had not really grasped what was meant by these ideas. Or more precisely, it occurred to me that there was a deeper, and probably more accurate way of grasping them.
If I am angry and consequently tempted to kick my dog, we might say I am going through an internal battle in which I fight that temptation, even for several minutes. However, the deeper battle would be one that I lost already. I had the temptation. I was already existing under it. The battle was whether I was disturbed at all.
There is this prototypical, possibly comic book or pulp fiction scenario of two samurai or fighters facing off against each other in a duel. They are extremely high level and so before they ever physically go at it, they are already locked in a duel of mental/spiritual strength. This mental duel is very abstract, but we could imagine that they are both up against each other’s potential openings and weaknesses, and any lapse would let the opponent in. So in the scenario, one warrior’s attention/energy would waver and the opponent, who is so in touch or entwined with him, reacts immediately. (Even the word “react” isn’t accurate – it’s like air automatically filling a vacuum – the air doesn’t react.)
In any case, the match is decided when the warrior’s attention lapses or wavers. The margin for error is that narrow. So if a warrior must devote 100% to the opponent, but he wavers by devoting 1 or 2% to aggression, scheming, doubt, etc., then he loses. In other words, even having the distrubance is a battle lost. Likewise, having the temptation to kick the dog is already a battle lost, despite a battle possibly won on a shallower level if I end up not kicking the dog.