Tag Archives: Meditation

Nelson Mandela, Leadership and Meditation

Nelson Mandela, Leadership and Meditation                                             Ian Prattis


This extract is from Ian’s forthcoming book “Keeping Dharma Alive”.

Nelson Mandela in his 1994 inaugural speech as President of South Africa was unflinching in his reverence for God and for the magnificence he saw in the heart and talent of every South African citizen.  In a quotation from Marianne Williamson he said:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

            Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

            It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.

            We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant,

            gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

            Actually, who are you NOT to be?

            You are a child of God. Your playing small does

            not serve the World.

            There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so

            that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

            We were born to make manifest the glory of God

            that is within us.

            It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.

            And as we let our own Light shine, we unconsciously

            give other people permission to do the same.

            As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence

            automatically liberates others.


I invite the reader to pause for a moment.  Then read out loud the words spoken by Nelson Mandela.  His message to all South Africans is about reconciliation, renewal and transformation.  He stands as a true parent to everyone – black, Indian, white, mixed bloods – and as an inspiration to the world.  In the twenty-seven years Mandela spent in prison, the connection between truth, ethics and leadership became very clear to him as he matured as a leader.  There is no political leader like him in the world today and he inspires the world with the quality of leadership that brought down the South African system of apartheid.  He forgave his oppressors because he knew he would be destroyed if he did not.

Mandela is the closest thing the world has to a secular saint though his gift was certainly not dharma.  It was an astute and skilful use of tactics.  Mandela was a master tactician and strategist.  These qualities were sculpted and refined during his incarceration on RobbenIsland where he often feared for his life.  He endured with great fortitude and emerged as a mature statesman who knew what to do and how to do it.  He knew he had to inspire – fellow prisoners, South Africans, the world – and serve as a role model.  “Invictus” is a short poem written in 1875 by the English poet William Henley.  Nelson Mandela kept the poem in his prison cell on a scrap of paper during his long incarceration. Invictus is also the title of a 2009 movie directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.  Well worth seeing, especially as Morgan Freeman plays the role of Nelson Mandela superbly. Matt Damon is pretty good too as the captain of the South African Springbok rugby team.

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.


In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeoning of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.


Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.


It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Mandela was aware that negotiations with the South African government were not so much about principles, but a question of tactics.  The most pragmatic of idealists, Mandela saw the world not in simplistic terms but as infinitely nuanced and complex.  He lead from the back – not entering debate too early – persuading people to do things and think it was to their credit.  He knew to keep his friends close and his rivals and enemies even closer.  He studied the language and mentalities of the latter.  The past caused him to suffer greatly, but he let it go and did not refer to it publicly.

Upon his retirement from politics in South Africa, he championed worldwide awareness for the problem of AIDS in Africa – the forgotten continent.  His star shone brightly wherever he spoke and he was a lightning rod for reconciliation between racial and cultural groups in his own country and worldwide.  At the present time, only a few leaders of such quality exist in political, corporate, bureaucratic and religious domains of life.  Leaders who root themselves in a deep spiritual understanding and knowledge of themselves are in a position to bring peace to their nation and to the world, for they will see deeply into the morass of the world’s crises.  Like Mandela they will search for the solutions that balance the existential necessities of life – body with spirit.   Their leadership can guide us to happiness for they will have the wisdom to show everyone the pitfalls of ignorance, racism, greed and neglect.  The general state of emergency in world affairs causes so much pain and suffering that re-education is crucial.  The re-education I have in mind is through meditation, so that ignorance about our true nature is removed.  This need not only be regarded as a spiritual solution per se, simply that the basic necessities of life have not been taught to the current generations inhabiting the earth.  With re-education through meditation and mindfulness practice, we experience the territory of the heart and learn that love and compassion are a necessary part of our daily bread.

Without the quality of resting in our true nature, nobody is in a position to take care of the world, whether this is our home, workplace, school, or the global ecosystem.  In The Diamond Sutra, the Buddha very carefully mapped the reality of our being interconnected with everything, so that if we wish to make a difference to the world, to care for it, we must at the same time journey inwards and take care of our true nature and do the same for all that we interconnect with.  Once there, we will find the strength, wisdom and clarity to be the new leaders for the twenty-first century and actualize the teachings on interbeing.

Mystics in tune with the Truth of God simply live and become the mystery through their example.  Because they know from experience, they understand Truth.  They simply are THAT.  Despite the limitations of words and concepts to convey what is full and perfect, it is possible to provide a map with some travel directions.  Truth belongs in the Ultimate dimension of Nirvana and Samadhi.  In this Ultimate dimension, there are no concepts, discriminations or distinctions, simply a knowing of the wondrous interconnection of everything.  Lying outside of time and space, the Ultimate dimension provides a truly mystical experience of all consciousness, which can only be lived, not talked about.  Our everyday notions rest in the existential domain of our lives.  This is the Historical dimension and many of our discussions about Truth remain caught here, as every particular interest group and set of identities has its own “Truth”, which is quickly elevated to the Ultimate.  But it remains Historical truth only.  This is the basic error of all fundamentalist thinking.  Inserting ego-laden agendas into that Historical truth provides the source of authority for the political and ideological aspirations of those who would make God small and dharma limited in scope

The importance of daily meditation is for the experience of silence and Samadhi to be increasingly brought into daily activities and circumstances.  When you continue to meditate, remarkable changes occur in your attitudes towards life’s situations – the people, events and objects with which you engage.  You will notice your actions aligning to your meditations effortlessly, although it is your fidelity to daily practice that has brought you to a deeper awareness of your strengths.  You start to know your true nature and the truth of it shines forth through your expression.  The mind calms, clears and becomes flooded with happiness, for happiness is your true nature and available once you remove false identifications.  It is not so much that you gain knowledge; you remove ignorance about the limitations of body, thought and desire identifications.  You are an unbounded self – actually a non-self – where happiness, freedom and responsibility coincide to make of you a natural and true leader.