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«Entering the Seven Meditative Spaces of Leadership Conversation with Master Nan Huai-Chin Hong Kong, October 25th, 1999 Claus Otto Scharmer1 Nan ...»

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Entering the Seven Meditative Spaces

of Leadership

Conversation with Master Nan Huai-Chin

Hong Kong, October 25th, 1999

Claus Otto Scharmer1

Nan Huai-Chin is a teacher and scholar famous in China but little know outside of

China and Taiwan. He has written over 30 books, which have sold literally tens of

millions of copies in China, mostly on the black market until recently. Few of his

books have been translated and made available outside China. He is an advisor to the

government as well as a noted spiritual figure. Today, it is not unusual to find whole sections of bookstores in China devoted to his works. He is noteworthy for his knowledge and attainment in all three major strands of Chinese culture: Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism. When I visited Master Nan he had just finished a new interpretation of one of the two Confucian classics, “The Great Learning.” This essay, originally written by Confucius’ grandson 2400 hundred years ago has been a mainstay of Chinese culture ever since.

C.O. Scharmer: Master Nan, I am so grateful for the opportunity to meeting with you. I came here with four questions. Should I go through all of them upfront?

Master Nan/Translator Ken: Yes. Please.

COS: The first question concerns what is going currently on in the world. We feel that we are at the incipient stage of a new time. This transition is characterized by three revolutions: the rise (1) of new technologies, (2) of new and networked social structures, and (3) of new spiritual awareness. We know a lot of the first two. We only know a little about the third development. Thus, my first question is: Do you agree that we are at the incipient stage of a new spiritual awareness and what is the nature of this underlying shift?

During the last third of the twentieth century, we have seen three different manifestations of this rising new consciousness in the Western world. These three The conversation with Master Nan took place as part of a global interview project with 25 eminent thinkers on knowledge and leadership. The project was sponsored by McKinsey & Company and the Society for Organizational Learning (formerly the MIT Center for Organizational Learning). The interviews and the summary paper are accessible as free downloads from www.dialogonleadership.org.

Huai-Chin Nan manifestations are known as the grassroots movements of ecology, of social change, and of spirituality. The underlying issues that these three movements dealt with where the split between man and nature (ecology), the split between center and periphery of social structures (social issue movements) and the split between matter and mind (spirituality). Although these three movements are manifestations of the same underlying deeper stream of new consciousness, they have ended up being separated from each other. I.e., each one tried to develop a solution without really embracing and including the other two aspects of the triangle. Thus, my second question is, what would it take to relink these three aspects and streams according to their common underlying source?

The third question has to do with practices. We know a little about individual practices, but what would social or collective practices for a group or a community look like? How do you bring together a group at their highest karma?

The fourth question relates to the origins of our actions. Where do our actions come from? This usually is a blind spot in our everyday experience. In working with groups, organizations, and communities, how can we relate to the true essence of those communities, groups and social beings?

Master Nan/Translator Ken: Anything you want to add? Or just start talking?

COS: My impression is I’ve already talked too much, so I would rather listen.

Master Nan/Translator Ken: Okay, so lie back and listen. Or have some tea.

Have some tea, relax, just relax.

COS: Thank you, later.

Master Nan/Translator Ken: Later, okay. The best thing to listen to Teacher is just to relax as if you are meditating. That would be the best way to do it. Just relax, just be yourself.

COS: Okay.

Master Nan/Translator Ken: Lie back on your chair. I don’t know whether you want to be in the lotus position, whatever. Now that you are in the United States, are you joining Peter Senge’s work?

COS: Yes. I have worked with Peter Senge for the last five years.

Master Nan/Translator Ken: You studied in Germany before you went to the United States?

COS: Yes.

Master Nan/Translator Ken: What is your background in?

–  –  –

COS: Economics and Management, and a bit of Western philosophy.

Master Nan/Translator Ken: What is your basic degree in?

COS: My basic degree is in economics and business administration. My Ph.D. thesis was on the philosophical assumptions in the various schools of thought in economics and management. The main proposition was that today’s conflicts among different paradigms in economics and management mirrors the philosophical fault lines between materialism and spiritualism, and realism and idealism, in philosophy.

Master Nan/Translator Ken: The root of Western civilization is in Europe not in the United States. A lot of people think the West is represented by Americans.

Because, of course, America is the biggest power on earth now. But the root of the Western civilization is in Europe.





He [Master Nan; COS] says he would probably have to write a book of 200,000 words to answer the questions you have raised.

You have really high goals and high hopes. The influence may not be as significant as you might hope for.

COS: Say that again?

I. Management Is An Outdated Perspective Master Nan/Translator Ken: The influence on society, or whatever, may not be significant as you want.

We all know that Peter Senge and his Center have talked about management.

Management as a significant focal point probably started in the 40s, and using management as the center for ones study is probably now outdated. From the Eastern viewpoint, management is a new infant. Twenty years, thirty years ago it was very, very popular. Everybody’s talking about management now, even in China and Asia.

Teacher [Master Nan; COS] thinks that there are limitations to just using management as a starting point if you really want to influence the world in the next century. What you are doing now at your Center at MIT can only impact on the sort of the higher level of management people, to help them to manage better. But then its impact on the whole society is actually relatively small.

II. The Blind Spot Of The 20th Century What has been lacking in the twentieth century is a central cultural thought.

There is not a single cultural thought that unifies all of these things together.

There are no great philosophers or great thinkers that can develop the thinking that

–  –  –

unifies all these questions. They used, maybe, logic as a substitute for the underlying philosophies.

If you ask anyone what future lies ahead, nobody can really give you the answer. In the past, yes, in the East and the West, there might have been some great thinkers who could answer the question.

III. Materialism and Spirituality of Our Current Age The current materialism still has a lot of influences. Everyone talks about how to make money, the business. That’s all everybody concentrates on now, even the political leaders.

If you talk about leadership, leadership in the next two decades, it will still be money.

Teacher tried to use the words, say if it is ecomonics, not economics. Is there any other thing? No, it is basically just money that is leading. This is the culture of this generation.

But this culture, has its limitations. It can not go on forever. Now, of course, we are in the really high-speed technology age, with computers, and the internet.

But sooner or later people will get sick of this. In many places in the world, for instance in your group, they are raising the question, what is the spiritual content of human life? It will definitely go this way, spiritual. But this route will be different from the spiritual route of past, either in the East or the West. It will be a new spiritual path. It will be a combination between natural science and philosophies. It will always go back to some of these questions that have been with human beings endlessly. What is the purpose of life? What is the value of life? Why do we exist? It will always come back to these basic questions.

Even in the 40s, many European countries, including Germany and France, had a lot of movements seeking spiritual liberation. They may go to Hinayana Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, and meditation, of course. But they haven’t really gotten into the center: What is human nature, the question of human nature?

Where does life come from? What is life for?

There are two great essays in Confucianism in the East. One is the The Middle Way...

Professor Zhao: The Middle Way is Teacher’s new book.

IV. Seven Meditative Spaces Of Leadership

–  –  –

not very long. This essay was a must-study by other scholars in ancient China. It was written about 2400 years ago by a grandson of Confucius. Every emperor respected it.

It talks about management, how to be a leader. It actually mentions seven meditative spaces. Basically if you want to become a great leader, you need to go forth into these seven meditative spaces. You recognize the true meaning of life before you can actually become a great leader. The leader in those days would become the monarch, the emperor. If you become the emperor, then you are a senior officer of the government. Then what you should be as a senior government officer.

And if you are a father, what should you do as a father? And if you are a son, what your attitude should be as a son. If you are a friend, what you should do as a friend.

Teacher gives an interpretation of his essays in his book. It breaks a lot of new ground. Like there was a certain kind of dogmatic interpretation his essays in the Ming Dynasty and in the Ching Dynasty. No scholars can go beyond those dogmatic interpretations. And there were a lot of problems in that interpretation, which partly caused the decline of the Ch’ing Dynasty.

Master Nan/Translator Professor Zhao: He said in Chinese philosophy if you want to be a leader, you have to be a real human being. Because a real one doesn’t mean just be a common person, but a real human. The relearning starts from words. Whether you’re an emperor, whether you’re a leader, or whether you’re just a common person. All of you should actually follow this, so that is where it starts.

It starts by saying this: The principle of great learning, or the goal of good learning, is to achieve three major goals. One is to truly understand, be truly enlightened to know this world. The second one is to be of help to society, to the people. To be truly helpful. The third goal is to be able to reach a state where everything’s all around it, you know, that higher state. And in order to achieve this, there are like seven steps, or dimensions.

The Seven Meditative Steps, Or Dimensions Of Leadership

Those seven steps look like one step. Actually it’s a long, long, long process. The first one is you have to know where to stop. Only when you know where to stop will you have a calmness and stillness. You will know when to turn and when to stop.

Actually Teacher said that when we say where you’re supposed to stop, we meant you should know the directions. So that’s the first one. But this is already very, very hard. Because usually people don’t know where to stop. They just don’t know, and continue with wherever they are going.

–  –  –

(Figure 1: The seven meditative steps of leadership)2 The second step is only after you reach that first one, meaning that you actually stop.

This then leads into the third stage, samahdi, or calmness. When you have entered this, then you’ll be able to reach true quietness. When you reach true quietness of the mind, then you’ll be in a state of grace, grace and peacefulness. When you have the grace or peacefulness, then you can truly think. When you can truly think, then you’ll be able to obtain. Obtaining means achieving the goals that you’re supposed to achieve. And then he says that everything has its beginning and its end.

Master Nan/Translator Ken: He just excused himself and then he’ll come back to join us later.

Professor Zhao: Right, okay. And then he said that the summary of this paragraph, that everything has an end and a beginning. If you really know when to start and when to end, you’re almost there, right? It sounds simple, but this is really the essence of everything. This is the beginning paragraph of this. He then goes on and talks about the ancient times. In ancient times, if you really want to have the whole world or other people in your society reach a state of true awareness then you first will have to manage your country well, or govern your country well. Now to govern your country well, you have to be able to govern your family well. It starts with the atom of the family. To govern the family well, you first of all have to cultivate yourself. Without that you cannot govern your family well. Now to cultivate yourself, you have to have the right principles for your mind. For the right principle for your mind, you have to be truly sincere to yourself.

To truly be sincere to yourself and to everyone else, true sincerity you have to be able to know. To be able to know, you have to be able to be able to study the sun, everything. So in a sense, it’s actually going in backwards, right?

So you can see that for emperors who want to achieve the final goal, which is to allow everybody in the society to reach the highest goal or the highest state for human beings, you have to be able to accomplish all this. Then the next paragraph says the same thing about governing the country, self-cultivation, but in the reverse order. So

–  –  –

when you do this you have to do that. Whether you’re the emperor or just a common person in society, self-cultivation is the fundamental thing that you have to do. It’s fundamental for everyone, no matter whether you’re a leader or whether you’re just a common person.



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