The PRISMatic Approach to Competence

The PRISMatic Approach to Competence

By Rizio Yohannan Raj

In this article, the author describes the significance of Zen wisdom in refining one’s sensory perceptions and aligning the flow of one’s physical energy with one’s thoughts, words and deeds both as a subject and as a team player/social being.

“By bringing focus back on own senses, one develops a keen awareness of what is happening to ones surroundings at any given time.”

“Seasoning as an act which elevates the dish, thereby strangely negating it, even as it preserves the memory of the original dish.”

One day, a monk asks a woodcutter, shacking away at a tree, “How many hours do you need to cut a tree?” “Four hours,” replies the woodcutter. “And how do you cut a tree in four hours?” the monk persists. “I sharpen my axe for the first three hours and cutting the tree takes me only an hour.”

This Zen story points to the need to develop a deep methodology of acquiring competence that goes beyond limited perspectives. It is not too much of work on site that a master does; he works offsite, in order to invest his task with competence. In an earlier article titled ‘Learning beyond Perspectives:  Towards a Multi-dynamic Sense of Competence’ I had proposed a “deperspectivised” scheme of education across domains and briefly mentioned the importance of incorporating the prismatic aspects of life appreciation. The Zen master I introduced in the above article had pointed to a similar idea: that if one worked too hard, one  would not achieve mastery. A systematic appreciation of multi-dynamism leading to the generation and sustanence of one’s competence is essential for a sense of settlement and consequent happiness.

The PRISM methodology that I outline below in a tabular form draws from various Indic physio-philosophical traditions, yet freely and originally explores and reveals the interconnections between the individual and the cosmic. This correlation table condenses some of my more elaborate reflections elsewhere concerning how various centres and faculties of the human body act as a person’s physical points to connect with universal forces, thus making her human form a tangible part of a greater, universal continuum.

Energy Centres along the Human Spine Associated Senses and the Sense Organs Focal Actions and the corresponding organs of action The Five Elements Colours in the light spectrum and their  significance Human Faculty Addressed PRISM goal towards Competence Distinctiveness Trajectory
The Root Chakra at the base of the spine Smell – Nostrils; Instinctive knowing of what is adoptable Cleansing – Organs of Excretion Earth – Stability Red with greater wavelength and thus more materiality Physical –Self-conservation Performativity of Self paradigmatically related to the changing seasons Identification of individual distinctiveness with respect to one’s sensory faculties
The Sacral Chakra  corresponding to the genitals Taste- Tongue;

Fine taste in using creativity

Creation – Organs of Reproduction Water – Flow Orange reflecting  the in between space of daily human ingenuity, connecting nature and visionary insight   Emotional –

Sense of Community

Relevance of action Acquiring Distinctiveness in a Community
The Solar Plexus Chakra Vision- Tongue; foresight and visualisation Movement in a particular direction- Feet Fire – Inspiration Yellow – the vision of life crossing the limits of the self Intellectual – Individual genius contributing to the evolution of culture Innovativeness for change Employing one’s distinctiveness in society-building efforts
The Heart Chakra Touch – Skin; the ability to empathise and connect Hands – finding natural and vital connections Air – Prana-Life breath Green – the primary and natural linkages between one  and the rest of the world and nature Philosophical – Educational role towards  training future generations Sustainable Transformation Helping others discover themselves with one’s distinctive abilities to connect
The  Throat Chakra Hearing- Ears; the ability to listen carefully Speech – vocal cords- finding the right word and mode of articulation to connect Ether- Sound, Communication Blue – the colour of freedom of expression, as in the sky and the sea Spiritual—the secret of inspirational storytelling Multiple modes of expressing the message to ensure its spread Creating  a Governance connective linking various agents of transformation


These unexpected linkages open up the possibility of an interdisciplinary discourse on an individual’s multi-dynamic connectivity with herself and with the universe. An extended exploration of these associations would reveal more stages beyond communication, which cannot be discussed within the limits of this article. Attempting to translate the interlinks herein into a life practice for individuals and communities could provide a seminal shift in our governance thinking. That too demands a longer contemplation, which must be reserved for another time. For now, we shall focus on how a prismatic training subtly informed by these linkages can promise mastery at the individual level and sustainable competence at the organisational level. Let us understand the PRISM correlations more closely here.

The PRISM Scheme for Sustainable Competence

Performative Potential of the Individual: The first phase of the PRISM scheme for competence understands the body as the immediate and palpable reality of the participant. By bringing her focus back on her own senses, she develops a keen awareness of what is happening to her and her surroundings at any given time. This training to be in context helps her instinctively discern any other context from the very smell of it, and become responsive, rather than being reactive. But it first requires unclogging of one’s mind—shedding of old habits and fixed perspectives—and confronting the question: Who am I? It invites cleansing, invokes an individual’s potential to turn her mind into a tabula rasa at will. A learner thus identifies her true distinctiveness and capacity for performance through an intense engagement with her senses; she understands and begins to clear the habits and stereotypes that prevent her from effortlessly actualising her dream. As the colour red and the element Earth suggest, this is a movement towards building a sense of security about one’s distinctive characteristics capable of unique creations.

Relevance of the Individual to a Community: With one’s senses in the right places, an individual is ready to enter the second phase of the PRISM competence building. She ponders on how to contribute to her community with her distinctiveness. Through a non-linear yet profoundly associative understanding of ‘social responsibility’, the relationship between her individual creativity and her sense of community becomes clearer to her. She gradually develops a commitment to bring changes to her work in a way that benefits not only her, but also her environment.  The element Water allows the flow of creativity across and within the now-secure individual, and allows her creative blossoming. The colour orange associated with the sacral chakra, the second energy centre in the human body, represents human creativity—a hybrid colour reflecting the collaboration of various hues, an artistic site of fine taste relevant to all times. It must be noted that relevance has a culinary association. The French relevé (literally ‘to lift’) refers to ‘seasoning’—an act which elevates a dish. Jacques Derrida, in one of his reflections on translation, interprets seasoning as an act which elevates the dish, thereby strangely negating it, even as it preserves the memory of the original dish. Derrida holds that a translation becomes ‘relevant’ only if it achieves the curious triple end of elevating-negating-preserving an original. If we draw these ingredients of ‘relevance’ into the present discussion, we arrive at a need to evolve a method of at once elevating, negating and preserving the individual distinctiveness in order to relevantly and competently contribute to a community. 

Innovative Dimensions of Team-Building: Innovative means ‘to introduce as new’ and not ‘create new’ as it is normally perceived. The third phase of the PRISM scheme of learning draws from the multi-faceted Indic tradition of dance to connect one’s particular vision (sight) with one’s movement (walk). Translating this into institutional terms, one finds that the vision that guides an organisation will determine the direction it takes through the movement created by a team of believers. The team feels ready to apply the principle of innovativeness in strengthening the team by capitalising on the distinctiveness of its members and working towards specific goals by converging various strengths. It learns the importance of co-operation, feedback, and guidance, and the members lose their defences and resistance to learn, and work in a team to build its competence. The element Fire and the colour yellow animate the sense of vision here, and the team finds competent ways to introduce various traditions as new by contemporarising its aesthetic, and using them effectively in the present times, even as it creates new methods.

Sustainability of Competence: The next phase of the PRISM scheme places empathy at the heart of the organisational/societal/governmental play of competence. Each participant understands that in order to take her distinctiveness and competence to a sustainable level, and to become an inspiration for others in her organisation, she needs to nurture genuine empathy as the core of her personality. The sense of touch and the grip of the hand are the physical keys here to understanding the play element in work. The touch is what tests one’s tolerance—so if the work touches one as too exhausting and forced, it would never yield the desired competence. The physical, intellectual, psychological, and inspirational impacts of a certain recognisable touch on an individual’s/organisation’s initiatives are what will ultimately determine the sustainability of competence. 

Multiplicity Management in a Translocal Context: The final phase of the PRISM training for competence concerns mastery in messaging. This is especially relevant in our times of communication revolution—no one contributes to this epoch without a keen understanding of the art, science and philosophy of communication. The organs of speech and hearing become the focal actors here, and a participant realises that the best way to contribute to the world, and to grow from being merely employed towards becoming institution-builders or nation founders or cultural leaders is to understand and appreciate the coexistence of multiplicities, and one’s own distinctiveness  in relation to that of others. This demands a careful review and rediscovery of one’s words employed in conceptualising, listening, articulating, writing – and being sensitive to plurality and differences. It is the interplay of personal morality and ethical public behaviour with respect to the concepts of justice and equity that will enable one’s individual competence to flower fully, and become instrumental in realising a transformative governance.

So, we enter the Zen wisdom. It will indeed take more time to gain mastery, if one is self-indulgent and perspective-stricken. The immediate result of understanding the “deperspective” associations available within the prismatic scheme for competence presented herein is that it would help one see the prime significance of refining one’s sensory perceptions and aligning the flow of one’s physical energy with one’s thoughts, words and deeds both as a subject and as a team player/social being. It allows the participants to discover their own practical ways and means to respond organically, relevantly and sustainably to life situations. The PRISM methodology allows ‘distinctiveness’ to be creatively used as a tool to enable settlement within the individual as well as the society with which she interacts. The detachment-attachment that this awareness provides will “deperspectivise” them, thus helping them work in non-linear ways and emerge as creative managers as well as happy and self-motivated human beings, willing to share with the world their refracting prism of competence, their Zen of sustainability. 

[1] The PRISM scheme is used in the design of programmes and workshops run by my organization LILA Foundation for Translocal Initiatives (

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