Skip to Main Content

The Spiritual Practices of the Ninja

Mastering the Four Gates to Freedom

Published by Destiny Books
Distributed by Simon & Schuster



Buy from Other Retailers

About The Book

Explains how the initiatory practices of the Ninja can be used to achieve self-mastery

• Uses the five human archetypes of lover, seeker, magus, soul warrior, and mystic

• Shows how to access kuji-kiri, the positive energy of the Ninja Godai, to dispel fear, disempowerment, and soul fatigue

The Ninja are a mysterious warrior elite said to be so spiritually advanced they knew the mind and will of God. Regarded with awe as masters of invisibility and “warriors of the shadow-self,” their legendary skills include the ability to command the elements and transform themselves into Fire, Water, Air, Earth, and Void--the nothingness from which all things stem. In this book Ross Heaven reveals the training exercises and mental discipline used by the Ninja to develop these extraordinary physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual skills.

Central to Ninja philosophy is the understanding that there is no higher power than the actualized human being. The Ninja believe there are four gates to freedom, and to pass through them we must overcome four initiatory ordeals. Succeeding at these enables us to combat fear, find true power, clarify our vision, and overcome the soul fatigue that is at the root of our personal and social problems in order to embrace our positive energies and realize our talents.

Ross Heaven guides us through these four gateways with exercises and initiations that utilize the energy of the lover, seeker, magus, soul warrior, and mystic as well as dealing with their shadow manifestations that may be causing problems in our lives. We learn how to break the destructive habits of the past and create a bushido, a personal code to live by. Without initiation, we cannot access and channel our energies; they remain uncontrolled or even work against us. Ross Heaven provides the key that allows us to turn these elemental forces into allies.


from Chapter Five

The Initiation of the Lover:
Burning Through Techniques for Overcoming Fear

The only way to find the path is to set fire to your own life.
--Rabindranath Tagore

Fear is a thought-form, a manifestation of our personal or collective unconscious. But it is the body that remembers who we are. What we require, then, to overcome fear, is a signal from the body to the mind. This is an action, a gesture, a body-to-mind communication that things are about to change.

The gestures of the Shugendo Ninja were extreme--hanging from cliffs, walking through fire, sitting beneath freezing waterfalls--but a gesture for freedom does not need to be so vast and magnificent. It could be something seemingly very ordinary. Donna, one of my workshop participants, was concerned about the environment, the loss of beauty, and the kind of world we were leaving behind for our children. For her, a gesture of freedom would be to do something about this concern. Instead of dwelling on her concern and allowing her shadow self to define the world as a depressing and dangerous place and then teaching this to her children, she made a commitment to action--that on any journey she took, she would carry flower seeds and scatter them from the window of her car or train. This creative solution in the face of her concerns enabled her to take back power from her fears by doing something worthwhile for herself and others. It also sent a message of power and personal responsibility to her children, in a language they could appreciate.

Karma for the Ninja equates with the term giri, which means a sense of honor, duty, or decency. Karma--or giri--is about taking back our personal responsibility. It means that every action we take has a consequence for ourselves and for others in this lifetime. The more conscious we make our decisions and actions, the less possibility there is of “negative karma” or, more simply, the less chance of having to sort out the consequences of our unskillful or unconscious behavior, or to rely on others to do so.

Whenever we take a conscious action, we grab back our freedom and enhance our power because we also make a refusal to be bound by limitations and fears. We train the muscles of our heart to act differently by accepting responsibility for our actions. Then we can come to understand that it is not fear, after all, that we have been afraid of, but the dawning awareness of our own authority and power.

Warrior Training
Training for the Ninja began early in life, often as soon as the child could walk. Gentle exercises, masked as games, would be introduced to help the “little weeds” strengthen their physical and mental endurance. There were games consisting of running and swimming, or leaping over fast-growing reeds so that the child would begin by jumping a height of a few inches but by the end of the summer would be diving over reeds some feet high. Because things like this were done incrementally and presented as a game, the children would think nothing of it and would enjoy the experience; but all the time they would be learning about themselves, strengthening their bodies, facing challenges and fears and, through observing their own actions and those of others, would also come to understand the workings of the mind.

Sometimes, however, a child would reach a blockage point where his fears might get the better of him and he would feel unable to continue. Yaqui shaman don Juan Matus tells us that in his tradition, at such moments the mentor must be “ruthless, cunning, patient, and sweet,” helping the disciple to stalk his fears like a hunter after prey. This was a strategy also known to the Ninja, and they would be equally cunning in helping their young get beyond the reach of fear.

Their technique is still taught today. Students are told to locate someone within the dojo or clan who seems, from her behavior, not to share their particular fear, and to model themselves on that person. (The second student will have her own, perhaps quite different, anxieties, of course, and will also have found someone to model herself on. In this way, all students become mentors to each other.) The next time they go into a situation that would normally cause them anxiety, each student is told to act as if they are their mentor. Over time, students find that they become desensitized to fear through repeated exposure to it and because they have the strength of a role model to draw on. By acting as if they are unafraid, they become unafraid.

EXERCISE 5: Your Fear Mentor
My proposal to you is this: find someone who does not share the same anxieties as you. (This can be but need not be someone you know personally; it could equally well be a movie, TV, sports, or music star, or a character from a novel or comic strip.) The next time you approach a situation of fear, act in the way that person would behave. This does not mean dressing like them, making the same gestures, or using lines from their movies. It is about assuming their thoughts and freedoms.

Willingly and deliberately find situations that would normally cause you anxiety and then enter them with the full intention to experience that anxiety, but armed with the different viewpoint and abilities of your mentor. It is as if you have his or her psychological and spiritual strengths for that time. As you expose yourself to these same circumstances again and again, gradually begin to withdraw from your mentor’s image, until it is just you that enters into and experiences that situation. Learn from each experience and reward yourself for each success.

About The Author

Ross Heaven (1960-2018) was a psychologist and healer with extensive training in the shamanic, transpersonal, and psychospiritual traditions. The author of more than 10 books, including Plant Spirit Shamanism, Vodou Shaman, and Darkness Visible, he taught workshops on plant medicines and coordinated trips to Peru to work with indigenous shamans.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Destiny Books (March 13, 2006)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781594771071

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

“Ross Heaven is a spiritual warrior. If you apply the lessons of this book to your life, you will find the freedom and happiness you seek.”

– Howard G. Charing, Director of the Eagle’s Wing Centre for Contemporary Shamanism

"Ross Heaven is the Joseph Campbell of our times. He brings street cool to spirituality."

– J. L. Shreeve, author and journalist for The Independent, The Guardian, The Financial Times, and Max

"Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell meet the Ninja warrior traditions! This is spirituality with attitude--a wide-ranging, sharp psychological analysis of what it really takes to create happiness and freedom for ourselves. This book tells the truth, and because it’s honest, it will help you find your path to power."

– Tania Ahsan, editor of Prediction Magazine

"Reading this book you can discover the qualities of a true warrior, truthfully presented."

– Dave Courtney, OBE, author of Stop the Ride, I Want to Get Off

"I just want to thank you for all your help in getting me to a point where I can accept my true self. I feel so different and see differently. This is where it begins for me!"

– Jenny Rayner, publisher of Spiritual Lifestyles Magazine

"You have been drawn to this book because life has chosen this moment to reveal something of itself to you. This is an extraordinary book. All that is required of you is your commitment and willingness to become all that you are. You are right on time to read what you are about to read."

– Dr. Mark Atkinson, author and complementary health expert for GMTV (Good Morning Television) and Now

"The reader is in for some interesting surprises when reading this book!"

– Lee Prosser,, April 2006

". . . makes common-sense reading as we find new ways to deal with the challenges and fears that we are all prone to, and so regain our power and energy."

– Hoop, Issue 52, 2006

". . . offers a tight focus on mental and emotional self-improvement that can reap benefits in all walks of life."

– The Bookwatch, Oct 2006

". . . recommended reading for those who are actively engaged in therapy and courses aiming towards disclosing the fears created by modern living."

– The Cauldrom Brasil, Feb 2007

"The Spiritual Practices of the Ninja is in the contemporary genre of work that seeks to explore spiritual truth as it developed in local traditions around the world and in the face of the practical challenges of uncertainty and survival."

– New Dawn Magazine, Issue 115, Jul/Aug 2009

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: Ross Heaven