“The only hope for the world of time lies in being constantly drenched in that which lies beyond time.”
–Aldous Huxley on the need for experiencing the Divine Ground of Being
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
Dana Sawyer is a Professor of Religion and Philosophy at the Maine College of Art, and for more than 20 years taught in the graduate program of the Bangor Theological Seminary. He is the author of two critically acclaimed spiritual biographies, of Aldous Huxley (2002) and Huston Smith (2014), and has written on a wide range of topics related to consciousness expansion, Tibetan Buddhism, Hindu mysticism, psychedelic experience, and alternative philosophies. Besides teaching at the academic level, Prof. Sawyer is a popular speaker on the lecture circuit, having taught workshops at the Esalen Institute, the Kripalu Institute, and other such centers of psychological, spiritual and philosophical inquiry. His work has appeared in Tricycle, the Buddhist Review, Parabola magazine, Yoga Journal and other such publications.
Prof. Sawyer was born in Jonesport, Maine, on July 4, 1951, and grew up on the ocean (“my first and deepest spiritual experiences were there by the sea”) with a father who worked in the fish business. He graduated from Western Connecticut State University in 1973 and holds Masters degrees from the University of Hawaii and the University of Iowa, where he was also a Ph.D. candidate. He has two daughters, Sophie and Emma Sawyer, from his first marriage.
Early in his career he researched the views and practices of a sect of Hindu swamis descended from the 9th Century philosopher of Vedanta, Adi Shankara. This work carried Prof. Sawyer to India thirteen times, where he often lived in monasteries and meditated with the monks, but it also led to an interest in Westerners who have appropriated Vedanta into their viewpoints. Prof. Sawyer was interested in answering the question: why are westerners increasingly attracted to Asian religions? In this regard, he has mainly focused his writing on Aldous Huxley, and Huxley’s use of Vedanta in the construction of what Huxley termed the “perennial philosophy,” an experience of the “Divine Ground of Being” that Huxley believed is the core of all religion and spirituality. Prof. Sawyer recently finished writing the authorized biography of Huston Smith, the well-known scholar of religion, who was strongly influenced by both Vedanta and Huxley.
Prof. Sawyer first began studying Hindu spiritual practices in the late 1960s as a college student, and became a teacher of Transcendental Meditation, studying with the Beatles’ guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, soon after graduation. While in graduate school, his interest broadened to include Buddhist practices and he undertook a long period of Zen practice and an apprenticeship with Nechung Rinpoche, a Tibetan Lama teaching at the University of Hawaii. Beginning in the late 1980s, he began studying with - and translating for - Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobzang Tsetan, the current abbot of the Panchen Lama’s monastery, and edited Khen Rinpoche’s first book, Peaceful Mind, Compassionate Heart. However, over all that time, Prof. Sawyer held onto Huxley’s view that there is a perennial philosophy implicit in nature and underlying all human existence, and for that reason he draws inspiration from many religions as beyond them. “Time spent in nature, time spent in an art museum, time spent listening to music or dancing at a concert, time spent in the company of a loved one, each can be as efficacious for grasping the true nature of reality as time spent meditating or listening to religious figures.”
Prof. Sawyer is interested in theories of mystical experience, paranormal experience, psychedelic experience and higher states of consciousness, and admires the work of other perennialist writers besides Aldous Huxley and Huston Smith, including Stanislav Grof, Ken Wilber, Andrew Harvey, Deepak Chopra, Jeffrey Kripal, Alan Watts, Ralph Metzner, Joseph Campbell, Michael Murphy, Terrance McKenna, and the artist Alex Grey. Because he looks across the religions and beyond them for insight and inspiration, Prof. Sawyer is a regular lecturer at the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine, a center for training interfaith chaplains.
Prof. Sawyer is an avid backpacker, kayaker, and camper. He lives in Portland, Maine, with his wife, Stephani Briggs, a jewelry designer, and is available for lectures and workshops.