039. Dana Sawyer

From Dana’s Wikipedia page:

Dana Sawyer was born in Jonesport, Maine in 1951. Currently he is a full-time professor of religion and philosophy at the Maine College of Art and an adjunct professor of Asian religions at the Bangor Theological Seminary. He is the author of numerous published papers and books, including Aldous Huxley: A Biography, which Laura Huxley described as, “Out of all the biographies written about Aldous, this is the only one he would have actually liked.”

Sawyer has been involved in fund-raising activities for the Siddhartha School Project in Stak, Ladakh, north India, for more than ten years and is currently vice-president of the Board of Trustees. This project has resulted in the construction of an elementary/ middle school for underprivileged Buddhist children that has been visited twice by the Dalai Lama, who holds it as a model for blending traditional and Western educational ideals. Much of his work for this project has involved translating at lectures for (and teaching with) the school’s founder, Geshe Lobzang Tsetan, who is currently the abbot of the Panchen Lama’s monastery in Mysore, India.

Sawyer’s interest in the phenomenon of Neo-Hindu and Buddhist groups in America led him to become a popular lecturer on topics of interest to these groups. He has taught at the Kripalu Center (Lenox, MA), the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies (Barre, MA), the Vedanta Society of Southern California (Hollywood, CA), the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, and other such venues. This work has also brought him into contact with several interesting and important figures in this field, including Stanislav Grof, Andrew Harvey, Huston Smith, Laura Huxley, Stephen Cope, and Alex Grey.

Sawyer has been to India eleven times, most recently while on sabbatical during the winter and spring of 2005, and has traveled extensively throughout the subcontinent: Nepal, Pakistan, Sikkim, Thailand, Cambodia, Hong Kong, and Japan.

Related to academic work Sawyer has lectured at the Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, Banaras Hindu University, the University of Riga, Latvia, the Huntington Library, and at colleges and conferences throughout the United States (interview footage of Sawyer from the Riga conference was featured in a British documentary, “Brand New World,” on the dangers of consumer culture). In August, 2005, Sawyer was a participant in the by-invitation-only conference on “Government, Education, and Religion” at the Oxford Roundtable, Lincoln College, Oxford University. He is a member of two academic societies: the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy (SACP) and the International Aldous Huxley Society, centered at the University of Munster in Germany.

Current Project: Sawyer is working closely with Huston Smith, noted scholar and author of The World’s Religions, to write his authorized biography.



Other interviews:

Interview recorded 9/29/2010

Video and audio below. Audio also available as a Podcast.

7 thoughts on “039. Dana Sawyer

  1. A very provocative and insightful interview. Many thanks to both dancers for this delightful, conversational dance.

    His thoughts re. the power of attention (particular the unconscious application of it) are spot on.

    It’s not the idea that you’re grasping which matters most. It’s the intensity of your grasp or grip of it.

    Loose grips rule! 🙂

  2. Dana and I followed up on our interview with the following:

    Dana: On the point of which is most important as a measure of spiritual maturity, whether experience of the absolute or development of compassion, etc., I was trying to make the point that compassion IS the absolute, manifesting in a relative context,

    Rick: Isn’t everything the absolute, manifesting in a relative context? Or only positive things?

    Dana: and that many people experience a Truth in that form of the absolute that is missing from its placid, “I am that” variety. In other words, I agree that there has to be an apprehension of our eternal side to constitute a claim of spiritual maturity, BUT I don’t think that apprehension only comes through witnessing. Is that nuance clear? I’m not sure.

    Rick: Yeah, but I’m not sure where I stand on the issue. I’d take Mother Theresa over Adi Da any day. She demonstrated that compassion is much more valuable than witnessing. He supposedly was awakened. She supposedly wasn’t. I’d suspect she was more evolved, but of course can’t be certain. We generally regard witnessing as a necessary condition for awakening. By common definition, awakening means awakening to the Self. It doesn’t usually mean manifesting various positive qualities. Perhaps it should, but that’s not the sense in which the term is commonly used.

    Dana: Yes, everything, but the point is this: are we aware that the phenomena also have an absolute aspect? See my point? You were saying that people who witness are cognitive that there is an absolute aspect to life. I’m saying that people can wake up to an absolute or spiritual aspect of life within the realm of relative phenomena. So I think that some Greepeace volunteers experience transcendence in the context of immanence, and not as witnessing but as a dimension of other phenomena. I think this can be part of the allure of the beauty of nature, for instance.

    Rick: I’m saying that people who witness are that which witnesses. That’s their primary identification. They often report having no sense of a personal self because they have realized themselves as the impersonal. Let’s take hiking in the mountains for example. I may be doing that, experiencing the beauty, being out of breath, cold, hungry, or whatever. Yet all the while, silence permeates and underlies my experience, resulting in the sense that as much as I am hiking and the beauty around me is happening, I am not doing anything and nothing is happening. That’s as far as my experience seems to go at the moment.

  3. One thing that neither of you mention is that outside the TM university, the “rules” aren’t nearly as anal as they are on campus, and you, Rick, at least very well know that the policies on-campus were created because a specific TMer was going around telling people how to modify their TM and TM-Sidhis techniques, and a policy was created to make sure that his students weren’t participating in the group meditation sessions because of the official policty that everyone should be practicing the same technique during the group practice on-campus. Because no-one in the University administration is able to judge the value of arbitrary techniques and spiritual teachers, the policy was generalized to include students of any and all arbitrary non-TM teachers.
    So… while the policy may seem unfortunate and short-sighted, there was, at least at that time, a very legitimate reason (at least in the eyes of the University administration) to make a blanket policy concerning other meditation teachers on the TM campus.

  4. It’s interesting that Dana mentioned that TM comes from the Advaita tradition as carried on through the Shankaracharyas from Shankara. Certainly in Maharishi’s teachings “advaita” was on the back burner and Meditation was clearly emphasized over nonduality. I don’t think Maharishi would have been able to make billions of dollars teaching advaita! My background comes from Doing TM for over thirty years and being an Ayurvedic technician in the TM movement for about twenty years. Ever since I was introduced to Advaita from a former TM Teacher, I’ve totally become consumed with it and consider it to be the highest teaching. Thanks Rick for bringing all these great interviews for everyone to see.

  5. “…compassion IS the absolute…”


    Why do we allow so many teachers to muddy the waters? This is the universal truth uniting all of the great traditions.

  6. Just listened to the interview. I read Dana’s S. book on Huxley (very worthwhile) and one of Huxley’s ideas that resonates is that “the mind can only grasp an intellectual analogue of Truth’. “The truth can only be embodied” as Yeats wrote. We live in an incredible age of hype in our present context. How do we discern what is authentic? Those born in the west are enculturated in an paradigm of scientific materialism that separates objects in space and denies phenomenon that can’t be measured. Science has become what it hated, taking on the characteristics of exoteric religion. It takes an incredibly open mind that questions every idea and takes paradox and ambiguity as given along with qualities such as humility and gratitude. It is a mystery. Thanks for the good work.

Leave a Reply