I’m now reading two books. One was written ten years ago and its ideas are still influential and appreciated among tens of thousands of people. The other was written at least 2300 years ago, and its ideas are influential and appreciated among hundreds of millions of people.
I recently discovered the same point made in both books. One is about the practice of Dialogue in groups. The other is about the practice of Yoga for achieving a “settled mind.”
I’m sure there are many more points in common, but here are the two points that just stood out for me as the same:
The first book is Dialogue – and the Art of Thinking Together by William Isaacs. This book was directly inspired by the work of David Bohm, a renowned physicist who combined his deep understanding of physics with long study of Eastern spiritual thought to develop principles and methods of dialogue — for helping groups of people think together.
One of the principles of Dialogue laid out early in Isaacs’ book is the principle of participation. This principle is used to remedy one of the problems that prevents thinking in groups. The problem is that our scientific and logical legacy has trained us too well to create abstractions that break ideas apart (fragmentation). People then identify strongly with one such abstraction or another and find reasons to argue or not enjoy talking to each other.
As Isaacs describes it, the principle of participation can help by consciously training ourselves to experience:
“…the ways in which we are an intimate part of the world around us. This means learning to pay attention to the details of our experience. One way to discover this principle is to practice the art of looking at something without needing to have a name in our heads for what we are looking at.“
The other book I’m reading is a very short book of 194 short verses called The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, written in India in the third century BCE. The Yoga Sutras systematically describe the causes of suffering and the remedies. In the first chapter Patanjali makes it clear that the deepest cause of suffering is ignorance: Confusing our thinking minds (a stream of thoughts, images, and feelings) with the underlying source of thinking, Consciousness, which he refers to as the Self.
Consciousness in its settled state is a lively field of pure awareness which is essentially silent and unchanging. Very few people are able to experience their own source of Consciousness, and the Yoga Sutras include understanding and practices that can help a person along the path of realizing his or her true Self.
Toward the end of the first chapter are three little verses that recommend the same practice that Isaacs recommended, above. (And in both cases, this practice is only one of many; and many of the others are quite a bit more advanced.)
The verses are:
41. As a flawless crystal absorbs what is placed before it, so the settled mind is transparent to whatever it meets – the seer, the process of seeing, or the object seen. This is samapatti – the state of mental absorption.
42. The first stage of absorption is when the object of attention is gross, and its name and other thoughts are mingled together in the mind.
43. The second stage is when the memory is purified and the mind is quiet enough to be absorbed in the object of attention.
The next few verses describe the third and fourth stages which lead to Self realization. Since most people are still in the first stage (verse 42) it is the second stage (verse 43) that Isaacs is recommending as part of a Dialogue practice.
It’s obvious to students of Bohmian Dialogue that Dialogue is a spiritual practice for groups. Dialogue of course can have radically important social effects by helping groups of people with different perspectives think creatively and productively together. Yet it works by applying spiritual techniques discovered thousands of years ago.
Again thanks to Alistair Shearer for his translation of the Yoga Sutras.