This reading group guide for The Hidden School includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In this final leg of Dan Millman’s spiritual odyssey around the world, referred to in his iconic work Way of the Peaceful Warrior, a samurai statuette found off the coast of Molokai points Dan toward Japan. But when he discovers a letter from his old mentor, Socrates, his plans and life abruptly change. Redirected to the Mojave Desert, where Socrates has hidden—or lost—a valuable journal, and pursued by a shadowy figure, Dan continues a quest that will take him to a mysterious forest in Asia where his transformation continues, preparing him for the death, rebirth, and awakening that awaits in the shadows and in the light.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Socrates’s letter to Dan Millman includes a parable that Nada shares about Death waiting in Samarra. How do Nada’s dying words bestow on Socrates “a blessing and a burden” (page 15)?
2. When, on a hunch, Dan asks Papa Joe if he ever met a woman named Nada, Papa Joe responds that he has “known many women by many names” (page 36). How does this enigmatic response represent Papa Joe’s love of riddles?
3. Indulging himself in Las Vegas’s casinos, Dan describes the dark magic of the city as capable of “undoing epochs of evolution” in himself (page 77). How do you interpret his contrasting of urban and natural environments here and throughout the book?
4. The author-as-protagonist interprets the scorpion he encounters in the desert as a sign or omen. In what way does the reappearance of the scorpion in the cave where Dan finds Socrates’s journal aid in his escape?
5. Once he has Socrates’s journal, Dan determines that it is “time to leave the country” (page 104). How do you think he comes to this conclusion in light of Socrates’s earlier advice to go to the East “only when [he] can bring value to the table of wisdom” (page 8)?
6. Hua Chi offers that the fact her brother has a hidden school, just what Dan seeks, is “an interesting coincidence [. . .] if you believe in such things” (page 125). How does the author present the role of coincidence and destiny throughout The Hidden School?
7. Consider Papa Joe’s reference to Alexander the Great and the Gordian knot. In what ways do Mei Bao’s congratulations to Dan for “[focusing] on the goal, not on the obstacle” (page 157) with the pin test mirror Dan’s approach to the obstacles and goals of his journey?
8. Review the author’s four paradoxical truths on pages 176 and 177. How does the resolution of these paradoxes relate to the dissolution of the “limited self” described on page 193? Do you agree or disagree with any of these apparently opposite, paradoxical truths the author proposes?
9. Master Ch’an’s school serves as a kind of haven beyond the reach of Maoist policies. Based on the author’s narration, how might the hidden school’s ideology contrast with the People’s Republic government from which it tries to isolate itself?
10. In light of the evidence Dan uncovers along his journey, were you surprised to find that Pájaro was the gardener’s son and Joe Stalking Wolf all along? Do you think that the realization that “at some point the elderly need to die and be recycled [. . .] Love of life is one thing. Fear of death is quite another” (page 225) undermines the gardener’s quest for eternal life?
11. The final days of Dan’s quest find him confronting multiple deaths and his own “dread of nonbeing” (page 259). Why do you think meditation on death and finding the samurai statuette’s home on page 276 give him a sense of completeness?
12. What do you consider to be major elements from the journal—the book within the book? How might paradox be a key to grasping both conventional and transcendent truths?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. In addition to the Peaceful Warrior saga, Dan Millman is a prolific writer of nonfiction about his core teachings. Choose one of Millman’s prescriptive titles, such as The Four Purposes of Life or No Ordinary Moments, for your next book club meeting and discuss.
2. Watch the film adaptation Peaceful Warrior with your book club. How do the messages of the Peaceful Warrior books compare to their translation on the big screen? Do you think there are elements that resonate more through either the books or the movie? Why?
3. The practice of t’ai chi features prominently in The Hidden School. Plan a trip with your book club to a martial arts studio near you that teaches t’ai chi forms and reflect on your experience.
4. Millman also provides online courses and workouts through his website, peacefulwarrior.com. Sign up for one of these with your book club and discuss what you learn as it relates to the book.