The Relevance of Ancient Teaching in Modern Society

by Guhen Kitaoka


This article was first published in Rapport Magazine Issue 54, Winter 2001,
and is reproduced here with their kind permission.
You can also read this artcle in a photographic format (a 900KB pdf file) by clicking here.


Many NLPers may think that the title of this article is totally irrelevant to them. The purpose of this article is to let them know that it is indeed very relevant to them as modern people who are currently experiencing the communicational revolution of the new millennium.


I have for some time suspected that humanity may have begun to go through the process of various integrations, or at least attempts at integrations, during the second half of the 20th century. Firstly, after World War II, the tourist industries in the world mushroomed, thanks to the advent of aeroplanes, and produced massive flows of tourists between Western and Eastern countries. This contributed to 'cultural integration'. There was then the Woman's Lib. Movement, started in the sixties, which produced 'gender integration' where women have begun to claim strong social power to a degree simply unimaginable to previous generations. And then there was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which precipitated European integration, or 'economic integration' for that matter. More recently, the end of Apartheid in South Africa in 1997 epitomised 'racial integration'.

It is clear that TV has been very probably the single most important communicational tool which precipitated the above integrations, notably the economic and racial ones, by enabling 'oppressed' people to see 'the other side of the world' or what would be possible to them. Without this tool, such integrations would simply not have been possible.

With this background, I believe that humanity has taken a further step in inventing the Internet to secure global flows of information without any discrimination of culture, gender, economy or race. What is ahead of us now may be 'global integration', which would both include and transcend all the recent integrations that we have been going through for the last 50 years or so.

Let's imagine how people would have communicated 100 years ago. Then it would have taken probably more than a year to have one round of correspondence between Europe and Japan; a letter needed to be sent by ship to Japan and, in Japan, it needed to be delivered to the other person by foot, and the same process was reversed for an European to receive a reply from his or her Japanese correspondent. On the contrary, at present, one round of correspondence with anywhere in the world is possible in a matter of minutes, if not seconds, by e-mail. This is simply staggering and awe-inspiring. Before the advent of the Internet, ordinary people had been able to benefit from telephone, radio, TV, facsimile, computers, jet planes, satellites, nuclear energy, etc., and the process of our daily communication had been accelerated at an astronomical rate since the 19th century, without usually being recognised as such[1]. This must be all the more true with the advent of the Internet.

Communication Psychology vs the Internet

I sincerely believe that the acceleration of rates of interpersonal communication is not foreign at all to the advent of NLP in California around 1975. NLP, which I personally call the ultimate 'Communication Psychology'[2], may not have been a direct cause of, or a result of, the integrations enumerated above, but it is not very difficult to intuitively sense the interconnectivity between these outer social changes and this fascinating intrapersonal technology.

That is, in my opinion, NLP is the first (and paradoxically probably the last) psychology which has existed in human history as a branch of inner science, which can cope with the astronomical rates of speed of outer communication epitomised by the recently born Internet. I can expound how it is the case, based on the following three facts:

  1. It is commonly accepted that NLP was practically first established as an alternative school of psychotherapy; in my opinion, it had gradually transformed itself into a progressive communication psychology by 1980. I personally experienced around 2,000 hour-long psychotherapy sessions including Gestalt, Humanistic Psychology, Encounter, Primal, Rebirthing, etc., among other things, before coming to know NLP in 1988, but none of them had been able to eradicate the particular deep-seated problems I had wanted to get rid of for my whole life. It is true that, when I underwent these 'traditional' psychotherapies, I felt freed, and even euphoric at times, but their effects necessarily wore out after a while and, again, I found myself exactly the same person I used to be before going through these psychotherapeutic sessions. It was only NLP that brought me everlasting effects and changed me (or my behavioural patterns, to be more precise) for ever, in a real, existential sense. I therefore can experientially understand Anthony Robbins' metaphors that: a) all the existing psychotherapeutic schools try to open the lid of the kettle (the client) whose pressure is accumulating, only to find that the client feels better temporarily but has to come back to the same therapist again and again to get rid of the newly accumulated pressure, while b) NLP is like a juke box, where, if button A is pressed, and bad music is heard, and if button B is pressed, and good music is heard, then the juke box can be re-wired, so that each time button A is pressed, good music begins to be heard, or the disk with the bad music itself can be removed, and replaced with a new disk with good music[3].
  2. The Palo Alto Group[4], and notably Paul Watzlawick, contributed to the mapping of practically all the patterns of human communication[5] some 35 years ago, and also elucidating how Brief Therapy - developed by the Palo Alto Group, or NLP for that matter, can bring everlasting effects to clients by manipulating the 'contexts' of their problems, where all the traditional psychotherapies miserably fail to do so by only dealing with the contents of the clients' problems. This elucidation of Watzlawick is based on The Theory of Logical Types introduced by Alfred N. Whitehead and Bertrand Russell in their Principia Mathematica (1910-13)[6].
  3. Gregory Bateson declared, in his posthumously published book[7], that the problems proposed by Aristotle 2,500 years ago, and compounded by Descartes, had been already solved by his and/or Russell's epistemology. Although Bateson is so humble as to qualify his claim by adding that, after these problems have been sorted out, new problems may be generated, this statement of his is truly awesome; it means that the problem of 'body/mind' dualism since Aristotle has been solved once and for all, and that the efforts of all the genius philosophers in the 2,500 year long history have finally paid off.

What these above three facts suggest is that such thinkers as Whitehead, Russell, Bateson, Watzlawick, and the co-founders of NLP, have somehow managed to take a 'quantum step' to transcend the content level to go up to the context level, utilising such powerful tools as 'the Theory of Logical Types' and 'the Theory of Probability'. I personally think that this 'one small step for man' may be far more significant than Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon.

The reason I suggest that NLP is the first psychology which can cope with the astronomical rates of speed of outer communication, is that the rate of development of the recent massive outer communication technologies, first represented by telephone, radio, TV, facsimile and computers, and finally culminating in the Internet, has been reflected also in the field of inner science, to produce what I call Communication Psychology[8].

Also, the reason I suggest that NLP is probably the 'last' such psychology is that, although the first 'quantum step' along the logical types may have required 2,500 year-long human philosophical investigations, the series of subsequent quantum steps could be achieved rather easily by repeating what has been already proven to be possible. There will be nothing new any more in those subsequent steps after the very first one.

The Other Side of the Same Coin

I have so far suggested that we will probably go through the 'global integration' at the beginning of the 21st century, brought about by the outer communication tools like the Internet, and that we have communication psychology, notably NLP, already in our hand, which will fortunately enable us to cope with the massive acceleration of outer communication technologies - without which we may become easily mad in front of the overwhelming quantity of information we need to face and intake in our daily life.

However, this is not the end of the story. It is only one side of the coin, and there is also the other side of it. And this missing side is indeed related to the title of this article, and is about ancient teaching in India.

For the purpose of this article, and in order to simplify the subject, I would like to discuss here only a branch of Indian philosophy/psychology called 'Vedanta' and, in particular, one of the branches of Vedanta called 'Advaita Vedanta' initiated by probably the most important philosopher in human history, Shankaracharya, who lived in the 8th century AD.

Vedanta means the 'end of Vedas', and is an ancient Indian system of inner science based on the three kinds of scriptures, i.e., 'Upanishads' (which are the part of the Veda where purely philosophical discussions are expounded), 'Brahma Sutra', and the renowned 'Bhagavad Gita', a chapter of Mahabharata. One of its branches, Advaita (non-dualistic) Vedanta expounds that our real self ('Atman' in Sanskrit) and the Universal, Transcendental Self ('Brahman' in Sanskrit) are one and the same.

The reason why I claim that Vedanta, notably Advaita Vedanta, is the other side of the same coin, and has a rather urgent relevance to modern people going through the global integration, is that what has been discovered by modern progressive sciences such as quantum physics and by Communication Psychology such as NLP, had been already expounded and mapped in those thousands of years old ancient philosophical scriptures in India[9].

I have expounded in detail in my recent book[10] how Advaita Vedanta and NLP have presented one and the same thing as concepts/models, but can here mention several such examples:

  1. One of the most important writings by Shankaracharya is his commentary on Mandukya Upanishad[11], and its philosophical conclusion is that time, space and causality are all illusion. This conclusion of thousands of years ago is nothing but that of modern quantum physics[12].
  2. Advaita (non-dualistic) Vedanta posits that Absolute God ('Brahman') and our true self or identity ('Atman') are nothing but identical. This notion is closely related to modern Cybernetics, which considers the whole of each system (e.g., locomotives, automobiles, computers, living organisms, etc.) and is based on the assumption that what happens in one part (element) of a given system will necessarily affect all of the other parts in some way.
  3. There is a very important Vedanta concept called 'Samskara', which can be defined as 'habitual patterns of psychophysical activity'[13], or as 'the sum-total of impressions left in the mind by past actions'[14]. Amazingly, this is nothing but 'programming' in computer terminology, or NLP's 'Anchoring' for that matter.
  4. Vedanta posits the concept of 'Five Sheaths ('Koshas' in Sanskrit)' which cover our existence. They are - from the bottom 1) the physical sheath, 2) the sheath of vital energy, 3) the sheath of mind, 4) the sheath of the intellect, and 5) the sheath of blissfulness. This concept is very closely related to Robert Dilts' 'Logical Levels'[15], and to Connirae Andreas' 'Core Transformation'[16].
  5. Vedanta doesn't discuss NLP's '4 Tuple', in an explicit way but, in my opinion, is one step ahead of NLP. That is, in another very important scripture commented by Shankaracharya[17], it is repeatedly suggested that our real self (Atman) is something which our five senses can never experience, and is the witness or the 'experiencer' operating beyond them. Now, perhaps no NLPers have asked the strange question: "Who it is that is describing my own experience in terms of the VAKO(18) representational systems?," but this is the very question - and an extremely serious one - which may provide an existential answer to whether the title of this article is indeed relevant to NLPers or not, because, logically speaking, we cannot describe our experience in the VAKO rep systems, unless we are something which transcends them. The conundrum here is that all of our inner experiences are intrinsically describable in terms of the VAKO representational systems, while the rep systems certainly cannot be their own describers!


Here, I want to demystify a couple of major myths about ancient teaching in India before presenting my conclusion.

  1. 'Vedanta is a religion full of superstitions': As I indicated above, Vedanta consists of purely philosophical investigations. The reason for this myth seems to be that Vedanta is based on scriptures like the Upanishads. However, in ancient India, science was not compartmentalised as it is now, where we have all kinds of disciplines of study, including physics, chemistry, mathematics, philosophy, psychology, etc. Therefore, in order legitimately to express their ideas, these old philosophers had to resort to the form of 'religious' literature which alone was available to them. Once one knows the way to decode what ancient philosophers encoded in their scriptures, one cannot help but being surprised by the level of thoroughness and astuteness of their inner investigations.
  2. 'Ancient India was certainly less advanced than modern Western countries': For this, I want to give an account of some fascinating anthropological research[19]:
    A team of anthropologists once compared the Japanese civilisation with the Bushmen's civilisation in Africa, using a combination of interviews and field work. At a first glance, the Japanese civilisation apparently seemed to be superior because the Japanese were able to build skyscrapers, high speed 'bullet trains', computers, etc. However, when the researchers studied the Bushmen's civilisation, they discovered that the Bushmen can tell the direction of the movement of a herd of giraffes, how long ago they passed, and how many there were, simply by examining the excrement left by them on the ground; that they can wash their face, body and clothes with only a glass of water; that they are able to see clearly what is on the horizon, etc. It was obvious that none of these achievements were matched by the Japanese. From this point of view, therefore, the Bushmen's civilisation could be considered superior to the Japanese. For the study, the anthropologists used 20,000 items of comparison (criteria) to reach as 'objective' a result as possible, and when they came to the end of their exhaustive research comparing the two civilisations in question, it turned out that the Japanese civilisation was 'superior' to the Bushmen's according to 10,000 criteria and that the latter was 'superior' to the former according to the remaining 10,000. The scientists therefore had to come to the logical conclusion that neither of these civilisations can be said to be superior to the other, i.e., that they are equal. Further, they continued to apply this method of research to civilisations around the world, and, whenever they compared two given civilisations - A and B, they always arrived at the same conclusion that A was superior to B by 10,000 criteria, and vice versa. This meant that all civilisations are equal. I am of the opinion that this conclusion is also the case with the myth in question.

I suggested above that the problem of 'body/mind' dualism since Aristotle has already been solved once and for all by Communication Psychologists, and that the whole efforts of all the genius philosophers in the 2,500 year-long history have finally paid off. But the conclusions that Western thinkers have arrived at after these tedious and tormenting efforts for 25 centuries have turned out to be only something which ancient philosophers and psychologists in India already knew and expounded in their writing well before Aristotle. In this connection I wrote elsewhere: "It is nothing but awe-inspiring to know that the one end of the curve line which started to be drawn by the 'inner science' of Vedanta, has finally been reconnected with the other end (i.e., the starting point) of the curve [by Communication Psychology], only after the development of the 'outer science' for thousands of years; namely, a human development which might not have been necessary."[20]

This is the whole story. Like Einstein's metaphor that the whole universe is so warped that, if you continue to go straight for ever, you will come back exactly to the back of your head, the two extremities, or the two sides of the same coin for that matter, are after all the same thing; or the alpha is the omega.

I strongly suggest that, after going through the 'global integration' as indicated above, we will need to close the loop started by Aristotle, by going back to the starting point, and seek a real integration of the newest in the West and the oldest in the East. I call this integration the 'epistemological integration'.

©2001 Guhen Kitaoka

Notes & References

1. Kitaoka, Guhen, NLP and Spirituality, (partially published over the Internet, 1991).
2. It was Alan Watts who used this term to describe Gregory Bateson's psychology in his "Psychotherapy East and West."
3. Robbins, Anthony, Unlimited Power, (London: Simon & Schuster, 1988).
4. The Palo Alto Group was a group of researchers engaged in a study of schizophrenia, etc. at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California in the 50's and 60's, under the clinical guidance of Don Jackson and the theoretical guidance of Gregory Bateson. It included Jackson, Bateson, Paul Watzlawick, Jay Haley, etc.
5. Watzlawick, Paul; Bavelas, Janet B. & Jackson, Don D., Pragmatics of Human Communication, (New York: Norton, 1967).
6. Watzlawick, Paul; Weakland, John H. & Fisch, Richard, Change, (New York: Norton, 1974).
7. Bateson, Gregory & Bateson, Mary C., Angels Fear, (London: Rider, 1988).
8. Here, Communication Psychology includes Batesonian Epistemology, the psychology of the Palo Alto Group, and the technology of NLP.
9. Most of the writings by Shankaracharya, who lived 1,200 years ago, are his commentaries on those ancient scriptures.
10. Kitaoka, Guhen, CYBERBOOK: An Integral Epistemology for Enlightenment (a CD-ROM book), (London: Creativity Enhancement Ltd, 2000).
11. Shankaracharya, Sri, The Mandukya Upanishad with Gaudapada's Karika and Shankara's Commentary, (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1987).
12. For instance, see the article: 'HNLP': Quantum Theory Applied to NLP' by Michael Carroll in Rapport 41, Autumn 1998.
13. Watts, Alan, Psychotherapy: East & West, (New York: Vintage Books, 1975).
14: Vivekananda, Swami, Raja-Yoga, (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1982).
15. Dilts, Robert, Changing Belief Systems with NLP, (Cupertino: Meta Publications, 1990).
16. Andreas, Connirae & Andreas, Tamara, Core Transformation, (Moab: Real People Press, 1994).
17. Shankaracharya, Sri, The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (commentary), (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1988).
18. This should be 'VAKOG' to be more precise, but 'G' ('Gustatory') may be included in 'O' ('Olfactor'), because these two representational systems may be rarely used.
19: This is based on the account given by Prof. Masanori Nishie, one of the most prominent anthropological professors in Japan, in one of his lectures at Waseda University in Tokyo.
20. Kitaoka, Guhen, NLP and Spirituality, (partially published over the Internet, 1991).

First published in Rapport Magazine Issue 54, Winter 2001 (Association for NLP in Britain).
This article is reproduced here with their kind permission.