a journal of analysis and comment
advancing public understanding of religion and education
Vol. 36 No. 2
A Contemplative Response:
The Part Is the Whole
We appreciate our respondents’ thoughtful engagement with the range of perspectives and pedagogical commitments represented by the authors in this forum. They and the authors have expanded our appreciation for the complexity we face in the arena of “Spirituality in Higher Education.”
Our concluding remarks aim at emphasis rather than rebuttal.
Swami Satchidananda from India, the principal teacher of Integral Yoga in the West, responded with a story when one of his disciples asked: “Swami, we hear a lot about peace. Could you tell us how to find it?” The Swami answered: “The peace should be found within oneself first. If you do not have the peace within yourself, you cannot find the peace outside. This reminds me of a small incident.
“Once, a businessman was having a serious conversation with his friend but they kept being interrupted by his young little son. And so the father found a world map and tore it into pieces to form a jigsaw puzzle. He gave the pieces to his young son saying, ‘Son, will you please put the pieces together again to form the world?’ The boy said, ‘Okay, I’ll try.’ Being a young boy, he knew very little about world geography. All of a sudden, he turned one piece the other way. There, he saw a small part of nose sticking out. Then he turned over another piece and saw a hand. The third piece showed a leg. Then he turned all the pieces upside down to find different parts of the human body. As you know, it is very easy to locate where the hand should go, where the head should be, where the feet should be. And so, very easily he arranged the whole human body in the proper order and then he turned the whole thing over to see the world in order. In grand excitement, he ran to the father with this material. The father was surprised!
He asked: ‘How could you do this so quickly?’
‘Oh Daddy it was easy!’
The father was amazed. ‘But how can it be easy?!’
His son explained: ‘I turned the pieces over and saw the parts of a human body. So I put together the human body and the world became all right!’”
The Swami concluded: “So you set the man right, and the world becomes all right. First we should have the peace within to see the peace outside. Everything is in the mind. So by changing the mind, we change the world outside.”1
The story illumines what many contemplative guides have taught throughout the centuries: self-mastery makes possible collective liberation. Gandhi’s famous dictum: Be the change you want to see in the world.
In our own time, modern sciences present a corroboration of this contemplative truth. Quantum physicists such as Henry Stapp confirm the connection between “mind” and “matter,” and they assert the global impact made by every “participant-observer” who exists in the “mindful universe,” which is alive with consciousness. In other words, the part is the whole.2
The “Map of Consciousness” developed by psychiatrist David R. Hawkins synthesizes East-West spiritual literature, transpersonal psychology, quantum physics, chaos theory, and nonlinear dynamics.3 One of Hawkins’ key findings, matching those of quantum theorists David Bohm4 and Henry Stapp, is that inner development benefits the world. Since every person is connected to the wholeness of the whole (or, what Stapp refers to as the “mindful universe” and Bohm as the “implicate order”), the way to alleviate world suffering is to devote oneself to persistent inner work: “Every increase in the level of consciousness affects the consciousness of all …. We change the world not by what we say or do, but as a consequence of what we have become.”5 Or, as Kenneth Kraft wrote, “social work entails inner work, [and] social change and inner change are inseparable.”6
According to this perspective, the crucial question is not, “Do my thoughts and inner reality impact the world?” because they most certainly do. Rather, the crucial question is, “What is the quality of the impact of my inner life on the world around me? Do my thoughts and inner awareness contribute peacefulness and compassion, or do they contribute anxiousness and strife?”
This brings us to the central point made in our essays: most humans have the capacity to cultivate inner depth. And, with that capacity, comes a responsibility for self-mastery and self-knowledge, both of which are aligned with -- rather than diversions from -- the liberal arts tradition. Simmer-Brown explained the intellectual empowerment that comes from such inner mastery: “Learning to experience thoughts directly empowers our students to use thoughts rather than having thoughts use them.” Likewise, a student in the Meditation course at Redlands discovered: “I am no longer a prisoner of my mind.”
We are grateful to teach Religious Studies, a field infinitely rich with the sources of liberation. And we are grateful for our students who are eager to join us for a “lion’s view” curriculum: following the questions to their source and honing the quality of their own humanity. We do not presume that all students would benefit from a contemplative approach, or that all professors would do well to teach contemplatively. Rather, we trust that, as each part is true to its own nature, its contribution benefits the whole.
With Gratitude and Respect,
Fran Grace and Judith Simmer-Brown
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