December 14, 2014

Achieving Social Transformation Through Embodiment.

Buddhist Mandala spiritual

In August of 2012, I was invited to speak to about social transformation to the 30 or so people of the Leadership Circle of GATE (Global Alliance for Transformational Entertainment).

GATE is a nonprofit charitable organization providing knowledge, resources and services to professionals in the media, entertainment and arts industries, to aid in their personal transformation and to help them create and distribute content that expresses their transformational worldview.

I would like to share the transcript of that talk with you. I feel the theme has relevance today, given that our country is shaking in the storms of protests following from the “verdicts” in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice cases.

The theme of my talk was that even as we work to change society out there, we ought not forget to first, or simultaneously make the change in here. If we want to ask the entertainment community to use less gratuitous violence in television shows and movies, then we ought to understand and restrain our own acts of violence, however small they may be, however justifiable they may be. This is what will give real credibility and power to our work out there in society.


Good afternoon. Thank you.

When I first arrived, I asked Wendy how much time has been given to my talk. Though you have many other things to do in this meeting, she graciously gave me up to 30 minutes. That is more than enough time to say something meaningful, so let’s hope I brought my “A” game. Still, I will take my cue from you: if you seem to be getting tired of me, I’ll stop sooner.

If we were to spend a few minutes sitting quietly, it would be a good use of our time. It’s midday on Thursday. You’ve all come from work or someplace else; it’s been a busy day so far. I could tell because you jumped right into the meeting, as if you were still in the midst of the busyness you left to come here.

There is a lot to do; there always is. Where are we in all this doing?

This is a fantastic organization. I spent several hours on the website, reading all your biographies, and really finding out about GATE. The individual and collective education, accomplishment, achievement and vision of the people here is overwhelming. Whatever I am going to say, please know that it is in the context of my extreme respect for you, as individuals and as a group, and for the vision of GATE.


Can you hear that? I like to hear that, the stillness.


Well, let’s start with this and see where we go. By way of establishing my friendship with the cultural and social transformation vision of GATE, which is to transform the content of entertainment and media, let me say a speak to a bit of my own history.

In 1973, I met my meditation teacher in India and that began a life path that continues to this moment. It is a path of, first and foremost, inner transformation, but married to social transformation. During the 10 years I spent with my teacher I was a student; but also I worked in the organization that supported his work. Muktananda’s essential mission was to create a global meditation revolution—social transformation through inner transformation.

After he passed away, I left the ashram and began my own work. In the late ’80s, I wrote a column called “The Corporate Mystic” for The New Leaders newsletter. At that same time, I founded the Hamsa Institute for Enlightened Leadership, with a mandate to teach principles of mysticism to leaders. Cultural transformation through inner transformation.

In 2003 and 2004, I launched two projects—TruthForPresident.org and Radical Sages—which were initiatives to bring the 22 million American yogis and meditators into the political process, into the election booth. When I lived in Australia, from 2005 till 2011, I started a company called RealTime Speaking (now Speaking Truthfully) through which I offered authentic public speaking programs, with an idea to transform the public speaking culture of that country.

So these comments are only to say that over the past many years, I’ve had twin longings and aspirations and endeavors: to both look deeply within to discover the truth of myself, but then also to put my discoveries out into the world in action with others. So there was always that element of wanting to transform the world, but through inner transformation.

Now, I’d like to share some of my experiences, some of what I’ve learned along the way.

When we get involved in changing the world through a noble and important cause, it’s easy to lose sight of the personal transformation. Passionate convictions can do that. I kept coming back to that in all these 30 years. I’d move out in the world to transform business, to transform the yoga world, to transform the political process or the cultural landscape. And something would happen, and I’d ask myself, “What are you using to transform the world with? What have you achieved in terms of your own transformation? Are you trying to lend money without having any?”

For years, my motto has been Have Mouth, Will Travel. All my work has involved some form of speaking. It is through speaking (and writing) that I have sought to transform the world. I began to notice that if I were going to speak about something, if my speaking were to have real credibility, and real effect and influence—if what I was speaking about was going to reach out and touch someone, and awaken, or ignite, or transform—then I had to have something more than the ideas. I had to have more than speaking skills.

I had to have more than cleverness. I had to have more than the ability to argue my point of view. I had to be able to speak from. If I’m going to speak about stillness and silence, and peace, and freedom—whatever it is, then I had to at the same time be able to speak from that.

In looking back from this moment I would say that whatever effect I may have had at different times along the way was due to the degree that I could embody and express what I was talking about.

If people couldn’t see that in me, nothing worthwhile would happen. I’d just be another noise-maker.

Some years ago I went to hear Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, speak at the Berkeley Community Theater, in Berkeley, California. It was a full house. There are 3,491 seats in the Berkeley Community Theater. And every seat was occupied. On the stage was Thich Nhat Hanh’s padded zafu, his meditation cushion. Next to it was another one. That’s all there was on stage.

A female student of his came out and sat down on the zafu facing his, and in front of her was a little gong. That was it. And then Thich Nhat Hanh came out. And he sat down. That is all. A simple entrance, not like Tony Robbins.


It’s all good. It’s all good. And some of it’s very different, one from the other but it’s all good. Nothing happened for a while. No one introduced him, as I remember. There were no trumpets, no fireworks, no elephants, no zip lines, no chest thumping. Just a young lady sitting and Thich Nhat Hanh sitting. Nothing else. In this cavernous theater full of people: nothing.


See? The same thing happened just now. Everything started to get very still. He didn’t say anything. And it became very still and silent. It wasn’t just the stillness of people not speaking, or not rustling things about, or not scraping their feet on the floor. It wasn’t that. Their thoughts stopped. You can hear people think. And when they don’t, you can hear that, too.

He hadn’t spoken. He hadn’t done anything but walk quietly and mindfully to center stage and sit down. You could just feel the stillness. Then the female student hit the little gong. And the vibration of that rolled out into the theater, and the silence and the stillness deepened. And then he said something. I don’t remember precisely what he said. It was something about mindfulness, and awareness and compassion. His speaking was not about these ideas, but from the realization of them within his own being.

Pick a metaphor: silent as a tomb or you could hear a pin drop. Nothing was moving. No one was breathing. No one was thinking. It is my contention that through the power of his presence, the power of his embodying, and being, and speaking from that which he talked about, he created a irresistible field of stillness that drew 3,491 people into it.

I couldn’t imagine an angry, or a hateful, or a violent thought or act arising in that theater. I couldn’t imagine any dissonance. I couldn’t imagine anything other than the profound, collective, palpable journeying and arriving together in the center of awareness, and silence, and stillness. It must have been 15 years ago and that has really stayed with me as an example of embodying, speaking from, acting from, even as we speak about those things.

I realized because of that experience and many others, that whatever my work product was supposed to have been—maybe it was leadership development—it was really the byproduct. The product was expanded awareness. And I had to be that.

So GATE is fundamentally a global initiative to transform media and entertainment so they begin to create content that is reflective of the transformational lifestyle. So that would seem to be the product; that’s what you’re here to do. But I would see it as the byproduct. The product is the expanded awareness, the elevated consciousness. In order to affect change in the world, in order to get people to create different content in media and entertainment, not from the good idea of it or showing the profitability of it or arguing for it, but from the inevitability of it because it’s a reflection of their state of consciousness—we have to embody the transformed consciousness. We have to show what the idea points to: we have to be that. Then really what we’re doing is affecting their state of consciousness and then letting the people who work in these areas apply it and inevitably the vision will be realized.

I was working in Australia with a senior government official who had come to me for what he called presentation skills. But I never taught presentation skills. I taught self-awareness applied to public speaking, which he finally understood. At one point in a workshop, he said, “Robert, you don’t teach presentation skills, do you?”

“No, I don’t.”

“This is all personal growth.”

“Yes. You could even call it spiritual development.

And then he left and I never saw him again.

You’re about transforming consciousness and then applying that to media and entertainment. If the actual transformed consciousness is applied, we can naturally expect different content. If just the idea is applied, we can not.

J. Krishnamurti said quite beautifully, “The crisis is not out there in the world, in society. It’s in our own consciousness.” Which brings me back to what I suppose is my point for today: we don’t want to lose the focus of our own transformation for the busyness of transforming society.

Realization has to be connected to how we live or it has no integrity; it has no wholeness. It’s one movement. Insight and action.

It’s very easy though, to get caught in the action and get caught in what’s wrong out there and think we’re going to transform and fix it. But do we have the capacity or are we working toward having the capacity to walk to center stage in front of 3,491 people without doing or saying anything other than sitting—and compelling every person there to fall headlong into their Buddha nature?

Can we walk into a meeting, a pitch, a conference, and change the climate of the room simply by entering it, through our presence, the quality of our being, the quality of our connection, the quality of our listening? It’s my view that this is what transforms. We have to see it somewhere, don’t we?

We’ve all heard the term enlightenment, for example. What does it look like? The idea points to something. What does it look like? Where do we see it? Transform media and entertainment industries so they will create different content. Okay, but that’s the byproduct. Let me see the product somewhere. Let me see the product. Let me see someone who without argument, without convincing, without anything other than their own being is that.

I so respect who you are, individually and collectively, and I so respect what you’re doing. So if I could speak on behalf of the world for just a moment, thank you for doing that and for being that.



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Author: Robert Rabbin

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: Wonderlane at Flickr 


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