I was reading recently about the US military assassin Carlos Hathcock, and specifically noticed the following:

Hathcock once said that he survived in his work because of an ability to "get in the bubble", to put himself into a state of "utter, complete, absolute concentration", first with his equipment, then his environment, in which every breeze and every leaf meant something, and finally on his quarry.

To any Wheel of Time fan, this description looks suspiciously similar to the Flame and the Void. Interestingly, the author, Robert Jordan, also fought in the Vietnam War. I can't find evidence of whether he and Hathcock ever encountered each other or served together, but it makes me wonder whether this was a known technique in the US military serving in Vietnam at the time.

Was Jordan's fictional technique of "the Flame and the Void" inspired by US military techniques like Hathcock's?

  • 2
    Related, not dupe (about whether the Flame and the Void actually works as a real meditation technique).
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jun 5 '20 at 12:37
  • 3
    Related, not dupe (about whether the Flame and the Void was inspired by philosophical/religious meditation doctrines).
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jun 5 '20 at 12:38

No, it's not.

It looks like he's simply channelling Buddhism. The 'void' in the title is a dead giveaway.

According to one Buddhist expert, any object can work as a focus of meditation and not just a 'flame'. In fact, I've never read of a Buddhist using a flame as focus for meditation. Which given its impermanent nature might seem appropriate. But the idea here is not to focus on the outward show but the inward.

It's worth adding that Buddhism doesn't consider ultimate reality as a 'void', that's just another Western mis-use of Buddhist concepts. But then again, this is just a work of fantasy fiction and not philosophy.


It might be worth adding a quote to show how wrong the author is in characterising Buddhism; for example, in the Eye of the World, he writes:

Clear your mind of everything but the stone. Clear your mind, and let yourself drift. There is only stone as emptiness. I will begin it, drift and let me guide you. No thoughts. Drift.

I Buddhism, you are supposed to notice your thoughts ...

  • 4
    This would work better as an answer to the previous question about the Flame and the Void being inspired by philosophical concepts of meditation. I'm asking specifically about whether there's any connection with US military concentration techniques.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jun 5 '20 at 14:50
  • I agree with this answer. What makes the Wheel of Time books great is that Jordan took inspiration from all over, yet without obviously copying anything as-is. Medieval Japan is one such recurring source of inspiration. The Flame and the Void reminds a lot of Zen in the art of archery, something that pre-dates the US military stuff with some 400-500 years.
    – Amarth
    Jun 13 '20 at 21:12
  • @rand Al thor: I've added the word 'No', to make it clearer that I don't think that there is any connection between Buddhist meditation and US military techniques. Jul 7 '20 at 8:44
  • @rand Al thor: Do you find that helps clear up your confusion as to what I had written? Jul 7 '20 at 8:46
  • 1
    OK, but being inspired by Buddhism doesn't necessarily imply not being inspired by the US military. Authors often combine more than one real-world thing to get a fictional thing for their stories.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jul 7 '20 at 8:47

Unlikely. Hathcock had been quoted in interviews by WaPo in 1987 that

"I did not enjoy the killing," he says. "A person would have to be crazy to enjoy killing another human being."

And later

(When asked if he ever enjoyed killing) For a long time, Hathcock sits silent, and then he says slowly: "I did enjoy it once. And it scared me. Bad."

I think the comment about Hathcock was somewhat taken out of context. The quote was meant he has full concentration of the task at hand.

"Shooting is 90 percent mental," says Maj. Land, who watched Hathcock win. "It's the ability to control your mind, your heartbeat, your breathing. I first noticed that Carlos was special at the championships. There were thousands of people watching, a band and television cameras, yet it didn't seem to bother him at all."

Hathcock was in his "bubble" -- the same bubble he put himself into as a child in the woods and later in Vietnam. "I was able to shut out every sight, feeling, everything, and simply concentrate on my shooting." Overnight, Hathcock became a national celebrity among shooters (after winning the Wimbleton Cup, the 1000-yard shooting championship). A few weeks later, in March 1966, he was sent to Vietnam.


  • 1
    That part about not enjoying killing is also reflected in Wheel of Time, specifically in Elyas Machera's advice to Perrin and Perrin's subsequent internal struggle between the hammer and the axe. Why is this evidence against Hathcock's philosophy inspiring Jordan's writing? It's not a killing technique, but a concentration technique.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jun 5 '20 at 15:16
  • There was no evidence that Carlos Hathcock ever received any religious or meditation training. He was basically hunting since he could first wield a gun, and his hunting skill is what kept his family (and himself) fed, ref the same WaPo article. It may be a technique, but it was self-taught. Jun 5 '20 at 15:18
  • 1
    OK, so Hathcock taught himself, but did Jordan learn from Hathcock? That's what I'm wondering.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jun 5 '20 at 15:46
  • I was thinking that it's a coincidence both used a similar metaphor. Jun 5 '20 at 21:24

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