Posted by: twinkiewrangler | November 21, 2011

James Arthur Ray: This is NOT What a Spiritual Warrior Looks Like!

In the past week, James Arthur Ray has demonstrated to the whole world that he has no right to define what a spiritual warrior is, or to call himself a spiritual warrior. In his desperate attempt to avoid accountability for his reckless actions, he as demonstrated behavior and values that are antithetical to the principles and values of a true spiritual warrior. He spent the last week behaving in a very un-warrior like manner– crying, appealing to emotion, blaming his profession for his megalomania and trying to emotionally manipulate the judge and the survivors of his negligence into allowing him to shirk responsibility for his actions.

Traditional values of a Lakota warrior are: respect, generosity, courage, fortitude, compassion, prayer and wisdom. James Ray exhibited none of these values. He used words like “harmonic” without any understanding of how to struggle towards harmony in a community through generosity and shared power. He preached about living “impeccably” while living only for himself. His prayers were nothing more than theater to trick people into believing he had some spiritual knowledge. He didn’t respect his followers enough or the Lakota people to humbly go to legitimate spiritual elders and ask permission to conduct sacred rites. He claimed to possess the wisdom of all the ancient spiritual giants, but all he could do was regurgitate the vapid works of charlatans like L. Ron Hubbard and Carlos Castaneda.

In indigenous communities, warriors are given a place of honor for their generosity, their leadership, and their bravery.  James Ray holds no honors in any indigenous community. A warrior is honored in indigenous societies for his selfless choice to dedicate himself to the welfare of all his people: his extended family, his clan, and his nation.  A warrior will endure anything if he believes it will create a better future for the generations to come. In contrast, James Ray dedicated himself to a life of ambition and self-aggrandizement. He knew how to manipulate people’s emotions by speaking frequently of helping others, but he lived a life dedicated to justifying the accumulation of much, much more than he needed. This type of selfishness and lack of generosity is the one characteristic that has universal disapproval in indigenous communities.

Ray tried to market identification with indigenous warrior societies while teaching his followers to be the exact opposite of spiritual warriors. Instead of standing up for the principles and values they were raised with, and unflinchingly defending the welfare of all their people, Ray taught his followers to be acquisitive, competitive, and to think only of themselves. He perverted the sweat lodge ceremony into an individual endurance competition and stripped it of any sense of community, compassion or duty to sacrifice for others. He twisted warrior values of bravery, generosity and sacrifice into a Western willingness to conform and to submit to an authority figure in order to gain a personal advantage. Because he knew that he needed to defeat their spirits in order to exploit them completely, Ray conditioned his followers to be the opposite of warriors. He knew that in order to maximize profits, had to diminish any strength his followers could find in unity with or compassion for each other.

Ray’s anti-intellectualism shows contempt towards what is the true essence of a warrior. A warrior is intelligent. He is always clear minded and takes direct action from his wisdom and understanding of the world to protect, women, children, elders and his land. Ray’s teachings taught people to distrust, not only their principles but their intellect as well. This is the opposite of the indigenous concept of a warrior. A warrior always strives to balance wisdom and understanding with compassion for those weaker than himself.  Ray exploited the popular conception of the warrior spirit for profit without any intention of helping others.  A warrior, raised with original instructions, traditional values and principles will naturally seek out environmental and social justice for others and for himself.  Ray sought out wealth and personal glory. These are things that have no value to a true spiritual warrior. Spiritual warriors do not equate material success with spiritual attainment, but Ray made this odious concept central to his teachings.

The warrior spirit isn’t something that you obtain by slapping down a credit card and blindly following the orders of the person who plays the role of an authority the most convincingly. Blind trust is not at all valued in indigenous communities. Every individual is valued for his unique thoughts and way of looking at the world and spiritual leaders do not discourage questioning. Indigenous warriors are judged by their willingness to act on behalf of their people, not on their eloquence or how adamantly they can state their “good intentions”. Intentions carry little weight with indigenous people, because actions mean everything.  Ray offered his followers an easy way to shop-lift the honor earned by a warrior by offering a short cut through “positive thinking” that involved no action, no sacrifice, no discomfort and no threat to the customer’s existing world view.

Because they have been taught love and compassion for their community, warriors make sure that power is shared equally among all. James Ray was all about power. He was addicted to it. He couldn’t get enough of it and he wasn’t at all concerned with sharing it others.  A warrior is defined by his commitment to something outside of himself. James Ray was all about himself, striving only for his own personal aggrandizement.

A warrior needs to display a balance of wisdom, compassion for those less powerful than he and generosity of spirit. Ray taught that “balance is bogus.” A warrior’s commitment to and passion for his people run deep. James Ray’s emotions were shallow. He didn’t feel strongly for any community, so he invented thrill seeking exercises to try to stimulate his own lack of feeling.   Living in undeserved privilege in Beverly Hills, he had no causes for which to struggle. His feigned concern for the environment was only to bait for potential followers.  A true spiritual warrior has a passion for social and environmental justice. He is compelled to take action to make things better for everyone. James Ray lacked a warrior’s sense of inter-connectedness to either the land or the people living on it.

Many Native scholars have written extensively about the humility of individuals who show true spiritual leadership. Those who we honor as spiritual leaders earn our respect through years of sacrifice to the community they were born into. Everyone in the community recognizes their abilities and their accomplishments. If someone is a medicine person or a spiritual elder, there is never any need to advertise on the internet or to go on national television to promote one’s abilities, because he is already known to his community. There is no need to instruct outsiders in the protocol of ceremonies, because this protocol is already known to everyone in the community.

Instead of using his rhetorical skills to inspire people towards generosity, compassion and bravery for their fellow citizens, Ray provided rationalizations for them to relinquish any responsibility to the people around them.  He re-defined self-interest and self-absorption as spiritual evolution. He redefined blind obedience as a path to spiritual enlightenment. He disrespected the individuality and intellect of his followers to an extreme degree because it was a hindrance to his own quest for power over them.

Indigenous warriors serve as an example to the youth on how to deal with colonialism, institutionalized racism and extreme poverty, addiction and lack of opportunity. To date, James Ray had an easy life selling the privileged class the ideas they so desperately wanted to hear. Ray possesses no wisdom or coherent analysis of the society he lived in. His only interest is in finding the easiest way to accumulate wealth and power. He has no compunctions about creating disunity and imbalance by telling the wealthy that they deserved their privileges due to their superior thoughts. He happily reinforces the destructive ideas and values of the status quo — that those trapped in racist institutions deserved to be there due to their inferior thinking.  A person who loves is community doesn’t do this. A spiritual leader doesn’t do this.

Perhaps the greatest show of cowardice is Ray’s ploy to elicit pity from the judge by claiming that Native American inmates were threatening him in the Yavapai county jail and will be “out to get him” in the Arizona correctional facility that will be his new home for the next 2 years. A warrior is direct and honest in his communication. Ray is incorporating racist stereotypes about the “savagery” of Native Americans in institutions to manipulate Judge Darrow into feeling sorry for him. Ray claims that a “Native American” slipped a threatening note under the door. I find it hard to believe that inmates are just allowed to wander around the Yavapai County facility slipping missives to each other. I also noticed that there wasn’t any documentation offered as to all these threats that were allegedly made by Native American inmates.  It seems to me that if Ray were being targeted by a specific inmate population, there would be some documentation of this. Yet, no documentation was admitted into evidence. Don’t correctional facilities keep track of threats? Ray paints a shocking lack of supervision in the Arizona correctional system that is difficult to believe. Furthermore, if there were any threats made at all, it seems more likely that a New Age white person who identifies as “Indian” would be impulsive and daring enough to make a physical threat to a white inmate.  It’s a further indictment of Ray’s lack of character that he would use a racist stereotype in an attempt to mitigate his sentence. A warrior admits his wrong-doings and accepts responsibility for his actions.  He doesn’t use the weaknesses of humanity to his advantage.

James Ray is no spiritual warrior and he was never qualified to talk about what one is.  No warrior would ever engage in such quackery, nor would he hoard all the profits he made from it without sharing it with his extended family, clan, and nation.  No warrior would ever manipulate a “channelor” into suggesting that someone in his community consented to dying in a spiritual ceremony . No warrior would have someone speak so flippantly about those who have passed just to avoid having to make restitution to the surviving relatives.

Klee Benally stopping and excavator from destroying a sacred place

While all the media attention was on the James Ray trial this year, the social and environmental issues of indigenous people were ignored. Klee Benally, in my opinion, is an example of what a spiritual warrior would look like.  If we lived in a society dominated by indigenous values, Klee Benally would be honored as a warrior. This summer, Benally made a conscious choice to sacrifice his safety for the good of everyone in his tribal nation and 12 other tribal nations. While James Ray was paying attorneys to argue that his victims consented to his depraved lack of concern for their welfare, Benally chained and handcuffed himself  an excavator in an effort to stop it from destroying mountain held sacred to 13 tribes in Arizona. Benally is not living in a Beverly Hills mansion. He doesn’t seek out publicity. He is not a superficial style warrior, like James Arthur Ray.

When you hear him speaking clearly and directly to the officers on the video, you can see that the courage, love and wisdom of this spiritual warrior come from the principles and values instilled in him by both the men and the women in the community in which he is raised. While Benally decided to act on his values, many friends and relatives  from his community stood by him and supported him as he confronted the Forest Service. A true warrior always thinks of the women and elders who made him the person who he is and he always puts them first. He would never use them to get himself out of trouble as James Ray has done.

Klee Benally has no catch words or pricey retreats to sell to anyone. He’ll probably never be on Oprah and he’ll never have thousands of devoted followers. He defined himself by taking a risk to fight against an ecological danger that understood as a threat to his whole community. He didn’t stop to think of his safety, or how to make money from the situation. He didn’t pompously advise anyone to think “positively” about the excavator. He knelt down in front of it and put his body between it and the Forest Service workers and risked his safety to defend what he held sacred. There is nothing James Ray would risk his life for, because he doesn’t hold anything sacred. Ray has no understanding of the concept of sacred other than as a means to manipulate people into paying him for the illusion of an encounter with it.

When a warrior makes a choice to risk his life for something he believes in. The greatness of that gift is based on the greatness of the love that the warrior has for the life that he’s willing to sacrifice. Benally clearly has a great love for the land he holds sacred. In contrast, James Ray risked other people’s lives to trick them into thinking that the symptoms of heat stroke were really a transformative experience.  He loves only the status that material things can bring and seems to have no feeling at all for the people he claims to help. To James Ray, human beings are only a means to an end.

Benally stood up the Forest Service and the corporations behind the Snow bowl who are violating the human rights and religious freedom rights of his people by desecrating this sacred  mountain. James Ray made himself into a corporation and tried to use that as an excuse for his recklessness. A warrior accepts responsibility for his actions. He doesn’t lie. He doesn’t justify. He doesn’t rationalize. He presents himself as what he is: a humble member of the human race.

There are dozens of indigenous environmental struggles going on all over the world.  James Ray could have taught himself and other people about: Yucca Mountain, Dooda Desert Rock, Black Hills, Kanehsatake,  Keweenaw Bay , the battle to stop the Keystone XL pipeline or to preserve any number of sacred sites. The half a million dollars he collected for his impersonation of a warrior would have gone a long way towards educating the public about indigenous environmental concerns. He could have taught about real indigenous struggles, but instead he wove fantastic stories from the most popular misconceptions about indigenous spirituality.  He cherry-picked  ideas about indigenous people from pop culture that challenged no one and sold them using the easiest techniques, copied from others who also lacked the courage to stand up for what is right. There is no integrity in anything Ray did to achieve his success and all the tears and hysterics this week only serve to expose him as the bully and the coward he really is.

Klee Benally will be tried in January. There will be no media circus surrounding this trial. He won’t have high powered attorneys to speak for him. He will stand up to the court with integrity, admit what he did with a clear conscience and accept responsibility for being a warrior for his people. CNN will not find his trial newsworthy enough to cover. James Ray will continue the appeal process. He will continue to refuse to accept responsibility for his actions and as soon as he is released he will re-make himself into another false persona and continue to exploit people’s emotions in order to chase the fast, easy buck.

If anything is to be learned from this tragedy, I hope Indian and non-Indian people will see that they need to have the courage to confront people making boastful claims to spiritual knowledge. If they want to be honored as spiritual leaders, they need to start their spiritual quest with honor. If James Ray were any kind of a man, let alone a warrior, he would have had the courage to go to a legitimate Lakota tribal community and ask what is involved in being entitled to conduct sacred rites such as the sweat lodge and the vision quest. And when he was certainly told that he was not entitled to lead any ceremonies, he would have been man enough to respect the words of the rightful guardians of the ceremonies. A true warrior respects his elders. He willingly admits his shortcomings, his lack of knowledge and accepts being told that there are things he is not entitled to do with humility.  Those who still think the ends justifies the means and are willing to sacrifice integrity and principles to take a short cuts to spiritual warrior status, should stop and consider James Ray’s fate. Every step on a spiritual path must be taken with the courage and humility. James Ray’s break down and loss of control toward the end of the trial should be a wakeup call to all the “seekers” who still think short cuts are justified.  It has been said that being a warrior is learning how to cry, but not in the self-serving way that James Ray was crying this week.  A warrior knows how to cry for other people because he has compassion, wisdom and understanding . The crying of a real warrior is never for himself.  A warrior’s humility helps him see  beyond his own needs and empowers  him to act honorably towards the common welfare of his community.  The tragic sweat lodge trial is finally over. It’s time to talk about true spiritual warriors who sacrifice for others.  It’s time to forget about James Arthur Ray.


Klee Benally: Direct Action to Protect Holy Peaks Continues

Indigenous Action

True Snow

Klee’s upcoming trial

YouTube video of Klee chained to excavator 8/13

I’m hoping this uncharacteristically unskeptical post will spur further discussion and debate about the ethics of declaring oneself a “spiritual warrior”

All graphics and writing is copy-lefted. Feel free to share where appropriate.



  1. Thanks for this thoughtful post. You have written clearly, with insight, and with heart. I have been asked many times about Mr. Ray’s actions, and have, on many levels, found them incomprehensible. At the same time, I realize he was also a victim. He was seduced by the hungry spirits who prowl the land and milk the pain created by mass culture (itself a form of colonialism), demanding ever more food, wealth, gold. They offer much and return little, save suffering. Unfortunately, many people turn to those who seem powerful and successful, and who are under the influence of the angry spirits. Thus, the food chain and the suffering are expanded.Blessings.

    • This is very true. I wish more people realized that you can’t get involved with the “business” of spirituality without poisoning their spirit.

  2. This is an excellently presented and very well written post. I learned a lot more about James Ray and his “fabricated life” and his self imagined spiritual warrior-ness. I learned about Klee Benally and his courage.

    Thank you for writing this to share with us all.

  3. Excellent piece! Great job detailing how the newage view of the commercialized, individual spiritual quest is in direct opposition to the values of traditional spiritual communities, notably the very communities Ray claims to be inspired by.

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