People, philosophies, beliefs and ideas that have influenced my personal development and growth.
I have always read biographies of interesting people and I have a small library of books behind my desk in the RSC offices, is a part of my greater collection of biographies that represents the thoughts, ideas, achievements and philosophies that have had a major influence on my personal development over the years
Alexander the Great
As a young boy my father told me stories of how this young man had conquered the known world and created an empire which spread the Greek culture this Macedonian prince had learned from his teacher Aristotle.
Alexander’s empire spread culture, science and thinking based on the ideas of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras and the pantheon of thinkers and philosophers who had flourished during the Greek golden age, throughout the known world, from the shores of the Mediterranean, to the foothills of the Himalayas and as far East as the Indus valley.
This knowledge was later concentrated in the Library of Alexandria and from there influenced the ancient world and continued its influence when the Roman empire consolidated Greek knowledge and ideas throughout the empire that grew out of the world view admired and followed by Alexander.
The world we live in today is based on Alexander’s empire and the philosophy of Socrates, Aristotle and Plato formed the foundation of my world view.
I still become sad when I think of the knowledge, science, philosophy and ideas the world lost when the Library of Alexandria was destroyed at the end of the ancient era.
I have read a number of excellent biographies on the life of this interesting and inspiring Prince who walked away from a life of ease and privilege to focus on finding a path to end the continuous cycle of birth, rebirth and suffering he had discovered during his expirations outside the luxurious cocoon he was living in as a price of India. The biographies by Karen Armstrong, Deepak Chopra and a number of other writers have provided me with input on his 4 noble truth and the 8-fold path that he developed to achieve Nirvana.
The life and teachings of this man inspired me and have become core to my practice and development. As a young soldier in the defence force, I put the religion on my dog tags, as Buddhist, although my understanding was fairly superficial. This really made the military leadership very concerned about what to do with me during church parades. Using typical military logic they grouped me with the free churches, which included the various Pentecostal Protestant churches, and along with another follower of the Swami religion, we spent this time vigorously discussing religion with the fairly fundamental members of these churches, being subjected to their conversion techniques.
I learned during this time that they generally had no idea of how other religion works and the concept that Buddhism was not a religion where I worshipped an idol, but rather a system of practice using meditation and study for personal development, was lost on them, but I was shocked at their narrow and often poor knowledge of the Bible and I was often presented with “Christian” beliefs from them that had no basis in the scripture they revered and often quoted narrowly lines out of context to support their beliefs and arguments. This Buddhist or Zen Christian as I called myself at the time who regularly read Old and new Testaments along with the Torah proved to be a thorn in their side and they seened to leave me alone, and give me up as a lost cause.
Later I was exposed to Zen Buddhism during my involvement in Japanese martial arts in the 1980’s and after a long journey for a method of practice, belief system or religion, that best meets my needs I returned to Buddhism and for the last 20 years Tibetan Buddhism techniques and practice have become the core of my spiritual practice.
My mother was a Catholic who was convent raised as her mother, a Jewish girl who married out of the faith and converted, wanted her raised in this system. My mother was not married in the Church and the catholic church would not baptise me, so she had me baptised as a Methodist. My father who was born Church of England but raised in Danish churches and became a free thinker who shares stories of this wonderful man using the wonderful, illustrated family bible. As I have always been intrigued by this man who was the son of G-d, who was a Jewish Rabbi who is recognised as a prophet by Islam, considered to be God Incarnate by mainstream Christian Churches, just a man by many and considered a made up construct invented by the Church using previous deities to create this fictional character by others.
This man and his teachings are part of my DNA and apart from his story in my various translations of the new testament, I have a collected a range of biographies, books and commentaries on the life of the historical Jesus. My favourites are Christ – a crisis in the life of G-d, by Jack Miles, who wrote a literary commentary on the Gospels without a theological focus or bias, and he simply discussed what these books said about this man and his story as if he were writing a critique of work of literature, The Bible – The Biography by Karen Armstrong and Jesus of Nazareth by Joseph Ratzinger or Pope Benedict XVI which gave the classical and traditional Catholic view of Jesus.
After my reading and study of the historical Jesus, I believe he existed, was a Rabbi, was married, as this is traditional for Rabbis, I believe to Mary Magdalene, was clearly touched by G-d and who preached and spread a message to Jewish people with in Israel and these teachings were developed by his followers who developed many different belief systems based on his teachings and their existing belief systems, this spread to the rest of the world by his followers, Paul and the Catholic and Orthodox Church, they removed the Gnostic beliefs from the canon, the Protestant Churches split from the Catholic Church to eventually become this wide range of Christian belief systems in the world today. I respect the man but many of the Churches founded in his name have practices and beliefs I cannot reconcile with, or support which led me to my current spiritual home which I finds works for me and provides a structure and system which resonates with me and has helped me through the highs and lows of life.
When I first hear this man play on the John Mayall and the Blue Breakers album, I decided I wanted to become a musician and guitarist. I have followed his career from the Yardbirds, Cream, Blind Faith, Delany and Bonny, his illustrious solo career. I have also read many books about him and his autobiography is one of my favourites, which provides insights into his music and being a serious musician in the blues rock genre. He introduced me to Robert Johnson and the pantheon of blues men who came before, his playing inspired me to grow and develop as a player and his life provided input on the contemporary music world.
This wonderful poet and songwriter provided me with insight into being Jewish, becoming an artist with integrity, being Buddhist, being human, being a man and writing words and music which stirs the heart and makes the spirit soar. I have devoured his songs, poetry and a number of wonderful biographies. This Canadian was an integral part of the New York scene and he interacted, collaborated and was a lover to many of the ikons of this scene which created the thinking and philosophy that became the social movement of the 60’s and the art world of today.
He was active and part of the world of Bob Dylan, Alan Ginsburg, Patti Smith, Joni Michell, William Burroughs, Henry Miller and many other giants who helped form the thinking of the world today.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
I have always had a love of writers and poets and Samuel is simply my favourite of romantic era which included Byron, Wordsworth, Shelly, Keats, Hugo, Poe and Blake.
Xanadu was possibly the first poem that moved me and changed my way of thinking and The Friendship by Adam Sissman, about the friendship between Coleridge and Wordsworth and how they essentially founded the Romantic movement is simply magnificent.
The dark beauty of the art, literature and poetry that came from the Romantic movement, the impact on modern culture through the new romantics and Goths, and without the Romantic movement we would not have Goths.
My first exposure to Tibetan Buddhism was through a book called the Third Eye by Tuesday L Rampa an Irishman who had never set foot in Tibet but wrote this series of books claiming to be a reincarnation of a monk from Tibet. After some initial success there was much discussion and even a little scandal on how close these books were to reality, if this author was simply a charlatan, so when I decided to revisit Buddhism, I resolved to go to the source I could trust. Initially I read books on Zen but later focused on books by the Dalai Lama and some of his close associates. This was to ensure my reading and study was based on sound information from a source I could trust.
Over the years I have collected a large number of books, on the concepts and practices in Buddhism, and along with the Dalai Lama’s autobiography and an interesting biography that traces the stories of all the incarnations of the Dalai Lama through the ages, have started to develop an understanding of Tibetan or Mahayana Buddhism which has become the core of my spiritual practice.
Leonardo da Vinci
My father instilled a love and respect for the artists, scientists and thinkers of the Renaissance and Leonardo was a man who embodied the Renaissance as a scholar, painter, scientist, innovator, sculptor and thinker who along with Michelangelo, Bosch, Donatello,
Botticelli, Galileo, Machiavelli, Luther and Shakespeare.
This man inspired me to become involved in art, music, writing, science, natural science, philosophy and politics. He embodies what it means to be a true innovator and is one of my major influences There are a number of wonderful biographies and commentaries on this incredible man but my favourite is Leonardo da Vinci by Charles Nicol.
When I started Karate at Budokan SA in Durban this little biography was one of the first books I read about this exotic new world. Karate Do -my way of life by Funakoshi was a delightful little book which covered how he learner empty or Chinese Hand training from teachers in all major systems in Okinawa, Naha-te Shuri-te and Tomari te and how then followed how he and a group of teachers from Okinawa introduced this martial art to Japan and then the world.
The insights I gained from this book have remained with me throughout the 40+ years of martial arts training and research onto the various Japanese styles I was privileged to train in over the years. I was exposed in the following styles over the years – Budokan SA(Budo Ryu), my original home style which was also the first SA style, Shito Ryu, Shotokan, Goju Ryu and another SA Style named after Funakoshi Sensei.
Gichen Funakoshi always maintained there was only Karate Do and did not like or encourage the proliferation of styles which happened after Karate moved to Japan and then the world.
The other tenant he insisted on was that Karate was for defence only and should never be used offensively.
I strongly agree with both of these concepts and they have become part of my Karate and life philosophy.
This brave innovator and scientist, from the Renaissance, changed the world view long before the world was ready for this change. He invented the telescope and used it to observe the heavens and changed the view that the Sun moved around the Earth and this premier scientist of his age nearly ended up burned at the stake as a heretic, with the Church only reversing the guilty verdict with in the last few years. This new biography provides and insight into how he made these scientific findings and how he paid with his reputation and narrowly escaped losing his life due to this discovery.
I was very happy when the Church reversed this decision a few years back and have always respected his bravery in being at the cutting edge of science, during a time when this could result in some real bleeding. I also respected his pragmatic decision to comply with the requirements of the inquisition to save his life.
This man changed the world when he started Microsoft in his garage, and his “The Road Ahead and Business at the speed of thought” provided an insight into how the world should develop and change over years. His new book, “How to avoid a climate disaster”, is on my reading list, I receive regular newsletters from him and Melinda Gates on their work with the Gates foundation and follow them on social media. The story of the success of Microsoft and how it made him one of the richest men in the world and how he has used this wealth to improve the world through the Gates foundation resonates with me and is very impressive.
He is one of my main commentators on technology and how it this changing the world and his predictions have been insightful, accurate and very useful to me in my personal and business life.
When I was drafted as a teenager into the SA defence force I was introduced to this incredible poet and thinker by one of my friends during basic training and I read a “Tear and a Smile and The Prophet” during this strange and stressful time in my life.
The thoughts and commentary made by the prophet on a range of important subjects helped to keep me sane during this time and became core to my belief system and helped form my world view. His thoughts and words on love, marriage, children, giving, eating and drinking, work, joy and sorrow, houses, clothes, buying and selling, crime and punishment, laws, freedom, reason and passion, pain, self-knowledge, teaching, friendship, talking, time, good and evil, prayer, pleasure, beauty, religion, and death, resonate with me and have been a part of my life for over 50 years.
The biography by Robin Waterfield showed the man who created this masterpiece was a very human, conflicted and complex man, and was no perfect individual, but rather a man like the rest of us, who simply had a wonderful revelation and wrote this down beautifully to share with the rest of us.
Steve along with Bill Gates changed the world as we know it and he was one of my main commentators on technology during his eventful but sadly short life. The excellent biography by Walter Isaacson provided insight into this complex and often haunted man who helped to create the world in which we live.
His speeches and interviews provided an insight into his views and belief systems which have become a part of the thinking in business, particularly the new Tech industry.
During Apartheid in SA the regime had a powerful and effective technique to silence individuals or thinkers who put forward ideas that they wanted suppressed. They simply banned the book, film or individual which resulted in making these ideas illegal. Simply owning a banned book or copies of writings or speeches of a band person was illegal.
I knew Chief Luthuli had been the president of the ANC, was banned when the ANC was banned and he had died in Natal in 1967, under mysterious circumstances, but other than this I knew very little about him.
Banned books were available for people studying certain subjects at university, but youw were required to sign them out from a restricted section of the library, and this information would certainly be passed on the security department of the police so they knew who was reading these “banned” and undesirable books.
I found “Let My People Go” the autobiography by Albert Luthuli in the normal shelves of the Durban Municipal Library during the mid 1980’s during a period when Apartheid was still alive but not so well, and discussions had started in secret with the ANC by intellectuals, academics and business, and while the government still would not directly negotiate with “terrorists” they were using these opportunities to open lines of communication. They had also started talking to Nelson Mandela in prison, offering him freedom if he would renounce violence.
At this stage we were unaware of these movements behind the scenes so when I found this on the shelves, I was shocked, then worried that maybe this was a trap to identify radicals who booked out this book, but I did want to read it. I remember asking the librarian if I was allowed to check out this book and she just looked at me over the top of her glasses, gave me a quizzical look and stamped the book and handed it to me.
I discovered a wonderful Christian man who had been awarded the Nobel prize, something I was completely unaware of.
I discovered a man who was certainly not a rabid, radical, atheistic and dangerous communist, who wanted to tear down everything in a revolution, rather a reasonable, balanced, Christian who simply wanted to right the wrongs of colonialism and apartheid and I loved his use of the words of Moses in his call to “let my people go”
This balanced and reasonable man had asked the SA Nationalist government in the 1960’s to start negotiations with reasonable people then or they would have to deal with more radical people later.
Sadly, they rejected this offer, and rather banned the ANC, PAC, Liberal Party, Communist Party and a whole range of organisations and people and continued with an armed solution starting in the 1960’s which ended in early 1990’s. I remember thinking where we could be now if we had not wasted the money, people and effort on a 30 year war which we as a nation, could ill afford.
This incredible man changed my whole political view of the world and reading this book was catalyst that started me on a completely new direction, gave me a perspective of life in my country, I had never understood before, which allowed me to start a journey which has shown me possibilities, I was not previously even aware of.
I remember watching the announcement that the ANC, PAC and Communist Party was now unbanned, and that Nelson Mandela would be released. I watched him walk out of prison, address the people in cape Town but wondered what the future would hold in this brave new world.
One of the questions I ask at the start of my classes on current affairs is how many in the class have read “A long Walk to Freedom”, and I must say I have been shocked how few of my students have read this magnificent book.
I read my copy in 1994, the year of the first election and it was a revelation which gave me further insight into the struggle and the life that helped to develop this incredible man and leader.
From the early days looking after the cattle of his uncle, growing up as a young black man in apartheid South Africa, a student and then joining one of the iconic law offices in South Africa, becoming a revolutionary, living through jail and coming out to lead us to a new South Africa, insight into the CODESA process that created our constitution, and the politics and intrigue that swirled around the creation of the new South Africa.
The sense of humour and warmth of this man shines on every page and I remember when hearing one my friends commenting that how did this man spend 27 years in jail come out as such a wonderful person. Well reading his comments on his early days and his incredible speech during the treason trial answered this question for me. The reason he came out of jail such a wonderful person was because when he went into jail he was already a wonderful person.
This man’s life and this book was an inspiration and helped me to become the person I am today. If you have not read this book, I would recommend you do.
I have two biographies of this giant of the renaissance, and I was always intrigued by the impact his book the Prince has had on politics, management and the world after all these years. This thinker, politician, philosopher and observer of princes and leaders, provided insights into how to operate in the world of power which remain relevant until today.
His pragmatic and practical advice has resulted in him being seen as the king of political manipulation and his name has become, I believe, a little unfairly, has become synonymous with manipulation.
Anyone working in management, politics and social interactions should read the Prince.
This man and his autobiography “More than one life” came into my life recently but the influence of this man has been a large part of my life for over 40 years.
In the 70’s Carol and I started learning Karate at the “Honbu” or headquarters Dojo at Budokan SA, which was the home of the first registered SA Karate style. The style was founded by Hanshi Richard Salmon who had retired from Karate to focus on his wilderness school in the mountains, and we became students of Shihan Raymond Ryan, who was the co-founder of the style.
Budo Ryu Karate, Shihan Ray and a range of wonderful instructors became central to our lives for the rest of our lives. Hanshi Richard Salmon’s was not part of the day to day training at Budokan SA, but his influence was always there, in the style, the instructors and brotherhood that was Budokan SA, Honbo Dojo.
Hanshi Richard Salmon, Shihan Ray Ryan and the senior instructors had trained with the senior instructors of the major karate styles and Japanese martial arts, which included Shito Ryu, Shukokai, Goju Ryu, Shotokan, Aikido and Kenjutsu. They provided a direct conduit from the founders of Japanese Karate to us, as students at Budokan SA.
Reading this wonderful biography provided valuable insights to the early days of Karate in SA, confirmation of the stories we had heard in class and also provided insight to other aspects of the life of the founder of our style of Karate.
I became aware of this man during the days of high apartheid, when he came to the fore in the political debate that was happening, when he use the special privilege provided as Archbishop of Cape Town and head of the Anglican church, to fill the gap in the political discourse caused by the arrest and imprisonment of many of the political leaders and that the others were in exile due to the banning of their political organisations.
Many people were critical of this churchman’s involvement in politics and commented he should stay focused on religion.
He was awarded a Nobel Prize for Peace and through this, became close friends with the Dalai Lama which has lasted for years, and they always make me smile when they get together. Their recent collaboration on the Book of Joy and the video about this collaboration is simply a joy.
When the ANC and other political parties were unbanned, Madiba and other leaders were released and the exiled leadership returned to begin the negotiations for a new South Africa, he withdrew himself from active participation in politics and returned to being a religious leader for the country, which is his real calling.
I was visiting an Anglican Church on the Bluff as a musician and during a discussion with the pastor, discovered he was concerned that a pastors week end he had been looking forward to was to be run by Tutu and would become political rather than spiritual. My advice was to go, and quietly leave if he was not happy. After the weekend he told me that he was amazed and impressed by the weekend. The “Arch”, had not discussed any politics and had spent the week end in Christian brotherhood and ran an incredibly insightful study of Romans. His closing comment has always stayed with me and is, I believe a measure of this incredible man of G-d. he said that he had never before been exposed to a teacher who he actually felt was receiving and passing insights and concepts about this piece of scripture, that he had received directly from G-d through the Holy Spirit.
He has written some of the most incredible books on what Christianity actually is, the nature of G-d and his views on Scripture, and they hold a special place in my heart and my personal library.
His books are my go to resource on Christianity and Christian thought. I do believe the world is a better place because he has been in it.
Shihan Ray Ryan and Hanshi Richard Salmon trained with this founder of the martial art Aikido.
This unique art has a spiritual component and is centred on the use of Ki, the force of the universe. Aikido was always a part of the martial arts at Budokan SA and the influence of O’Sensei Ueshiba permeated though all of our learning and training in the Dojo.
In his Autobiography Hanshi Richard Salmon comments on how privileged he was to have been able to meet, train and learn from the great master. he and Ray Ryan brought back this experience to SA and we were privileged to have been exposed to this great man through them.
This wonderful little book on Aikido, his philosophy, filled with his calligraphy and the influence passed on to me by Shihan Ray Ryan became an important part of the various facets that make up the person I have becoming.
I have shared the biographies and autobiographies of people whose thoughts, ideas and actions have contributed to my personal development over the years, and I do hope I will continue to develop and grow as this is still very much a work in progress.
Teacher, writer, musician, martial artist and person under construction.