Tag Archives: buddha

2017-01 Shinnyo Podcast Peace Through Strength

2017-01 Shinnyo Podcast Peace Through Strength

  • Contradiction
  • A Strong Fence Has Two Sides
  • Fear Builds Walls
  • The Middle Way

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A dandelion grows through a brick path - Bernhard Kreutzer/Getty Image
A dandelion grows through a brick path – Bernhard Kreutzer/Getty Image

There is often confusion about what we think is a stereotype of a buddhist monk – shaven head, wearing robes, poor in material but rich in spirit, etc. And then we hear of monks fighting for rights in Myanmar, Shaolin monks training in martial arts for decades, and armed monks in Thailand and ask ourselves, “Where’s this violent behavior found on the road to Nirvana?”

Back in the 1980’s, one of the common catch-phrases in the aerospace/defense industry brought about during the Cold War years was the concept of “Peace Through Strength.” The idea was that by having or possessing technology or weaponry which instilled fear in your opponent that the entire notion of committing an act of aggression would be dissuaded by the immediate and present fear of losing the confrontation (the premise of Mutually Assured Destruction). Then we further escalated the tension by envisioning “First Strike” capability, wherein upon even the threat of a potential nuclear conflict, we’d simply launch first. But what if we disable their ability to launch, then we’ve truly won? What if they disable our ability to disable them first? This rather nauseating discussion continues even today.

But let’s examine the behavior on a much more local scale, what keeps a potential burglar from entering your home?  An obvious security system?  A strongly locked front door? A loudly barking dog? Think about the situation from the perspective of the thief. Seeking the path of least resistance is common human behavior, even in the most monumental efforts. Each form of deterrence presents a form of resistance – another boulder in the stream. Some thieves may be deterred by strong evidence of defense, and yet others may be actually attracted with the potential of greater rewards hiding behind an iron curtain of protection. Is what’s in Fort Knox perhaps more valuable than something sitting in an open box on the curb?

A different way of seeing the differences might be comparing a skunk and a domestic cat. When you observe skunks, you might notice they don’t travel very quickly, and are almost casual in their pursuit of food and shelter. The high contrast colors of their fur, and certainly their smell bring an aura of caution and warning to every thing that encounters them..While they have sharp claws and teeth, they rely mostly on intimidation by scent and fluffing out their body and tail fur to make themselves appear bigger, hopefully scaring away a potential predator. Cats by comparison come in a couple of noticeable varieties – those that are quite easily skittish and very wary of approaching anyone or anything, and those that seem to be affectionate to everything and anyone. To a predator, the easy target might be the affectionate kitty, whereas it might avoid entirely going after the skunk.

Is our vision of our perfect existence a world full of skunks, or kittens? Doesn’t it depend a bit on whether you’re a predator, a skunk, or someone seeking companionship?  In the latter case, you might find it much more difficult to make friends with a skunk.  Or not – maybe you’ve lost your sense of smell.

And why would we see “violent” monks? Because we are still human. Yes, even monks. They are still people; people who have fears. Their attachment may be to their faith believing only they can defend properly its teachings or even its existence. Perhaps they are afraid that their example is not sufficient for others to follow. Maybe they believe that by providing a tough exterior it will shield the precious contents from theft or harm.

But re-examine the thief scenario from above – and imagine that you have given up attachment in the sense that you are secure in knowing everything you will ever need to survive and prosper will eventually come back into your life when it is needed. That every challenge you face is an exercise in your ability to adapt to change and apply your creativity and draw upon the strength you have developed by helping others to succeed for themselves. And in this world, we are actually surrounded by both skunks and kittens, and predators, and each plays its own role in everyday life in nature.

The thief who has everything will still always be hungry for more (termed Asuras or hungry spirits). You however, can satiate your desire for more by deciding to view things differently. You can accept that there will always be those that hunger for more. And also accept those who are unbelievably generous. The inner peace will come from wanting nor needing either. Through that peace, you become impenetrable, and thus, strong. Simple concept, but perhaps difficult to achieve.  That’s the many-faceted path of being human.  Try to be thankful for that gift of having a choice.
/* That’s it for this session. Thank you for listening. For more information feel free to e-mail me at jlui at jlui dot net, or twitter @jhlui1 With Gassho, James*/

2016-07 July Shinnyo Podcast Getting Enlightenment

2016-07 July Shinnyo Podcast Getting Enlightenment

  • Gotta Catch Them All
  • Living with Hungry Spirits
  • Losing My Marbles
  • Alternative Reality
  • The New Cycle Awakens

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Pokemon Go meme - Expectation vs. Reality
Courtesy of http://www.videogamesblogger.com/2015/09/19/pokemon-become-real-with-pokemon-go-in-2016-ios-android.htm/pokemon-pride-go

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. — Yoda

But there is more.  Suffering leads to desire. Desire leads to attachment.  Attachment leads to attainment. Attainment leads to loss. Loss leads to fear. And the cycle continues.

Augmented Reality has been around awhile, but until the little Nintendo game came up this week that shadows Foursquare’s original check-in GPS technology (leading to 4SQ points, badges and virtual hierarchies of achievement), with the connection to the popular collect-until-infinity game Pokemon, we didn’t see people walking distracted into moving traffic, getting mugged and robbed by wandering where they shouldn’t, nor putting themselves in the beyond-selfie dangerous places.

People’s desire for things they don’t have (yet) was described in the original Buddhist depiction of hungry spirits (jpn. Gakido or skt. Preta-gati) as the realm of existence that one finds a mere level above Hell itself.  (Shinnyo et.al describes ten realms of existence – six lower ones are consumed by desire or earthly limits, and 4 realms of heavenly or getting closer to Nirvana existence.)  The difference between a human and a hungry spirit is that a human has the ability or will to say “no” to desire (the spirit is kind of perpetually suffering from desire unless it transcends.)

But in my depiction of the odd cycle of fear described above, you might see how an incidence of any kind of violence, intentional or not, tends to lead oneself into the cycle, and has a relatively predictable outcome, despite rejecting the original emotion that triggered it. I remember this as a child when some other child took a marble from me (one of those “I know it was there a moment ago – Hey! Give that back! That’s mine!” moments.) While I didn’t fear losing that one marble, within six months I had started carrying around this 5lb (2kg) sack of marbles, which I’m sure provided great strength training, but was eminently impractical, especially for actually playing marble games.  Maybe that was my own little sack of karma.

Marbles back then, human lives now. I was reflecting to my life in the 80’s when our President and his staff dealt with an amazing number of fear factors all during the decade – financial ruin, insider trading, junk bonds, deregulation, AIDS, the Cold War, Iran-Contra, technology boom, Yuppies.  We responded by buying guns, putting on Walkman earphones, and going online. Maybe VR and AR are just a lead-in to realization of the world of Tommy (don’t hear, speak or see… happy, safe and secure)

But there are always those who, for whatever reason, decide to open their eyes, listen carefully, and speak up.  Their fear is transformed into compassion.  Compassion leading to caring. Caring leading to love. Love leading to enrichment. Enrichment leading to embracement. Embracement leading to freedom. Freedom leading to acceptance. And acceptance leading to enlightenment. And thus, a new infinite single-ended cycle begins.

[YouTube] 8th Grader Recites “White Boy Privilege” Poem! 8th Grader Recites “White Boy Privilege” Poem!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqbM1jsIr_0

/* That’s it for this session. Thank you for listening. For more information feel free to e-mail me at jlui at jlui dot net, or twitter @jhlui1 With Gassho, James*/

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2015-April Shinnyo Podcast Elevations and Heightened Expectations

2015-April Shinnyo Podcast Elevations and Heightened Expectations

  • Paradise, Almost.
  • Embracement and Nothingness
  • Waking up and Making Some Coffee (not just thinking about it)

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Lou Lawrence, Port Angeles WA US
Lou Lawrence, Port Angeles WA US

““I hear that this month practitioners are getting ready for my birthday celebration. I’m grateful that you all want to express your appreciation to me in this way. But what I hope for more than anything is for all people to live with joy in their lives. I pray that you will take this occasion as an opportunity to take action so that even one more person can find joy in the world around them.”

— Master Shinjo Ito, 1973

About this same time last year, I described the general process of spiritual elevation at Shinnyo-en and conceptually what it was about. At last month’s meditative sitting, our spiritual guide had a few interesting observations about the Los Angeles training that were worth sharing. He had travelled from Japan, first stopping up in San Francisco, and then Chicago and now in Los Angeles. The first 2 stops were typical of this time of year – still fairly cold and either rainy or snowy outside, and a general feeling of people still hibernating, so to speak. But upon arrival in Los Angeles, whereupon he was greeted with 90+F temperatures, and even now, a rain-less, overly sunny climate that defies historical record, he said “this must be a form of Paradise!”

During our training, he felt we shared a brightness and warmth similar to the weather outside, with much happiness and joy throughout the group. But as the meditation deepened, he felt the room growing darker and dimmer, and our corresponding moods and spirits turning inward and more self-centered. It’s as if we started out with a sense of communal support and joy for our training, and then shifted towards a much more singular “I must elevate. Must focus my thoughts. Be determined.” mindset. And while this sort of internally-centered focus works well for the beginning stages of learning to meditate and clear your mental dissonance, it really doesn’t work to develop the openness and compassion needed to develop embracement and oneness.

Often we find ourselves in this odd balance between the chicken and egg syndrome of sharpening our own mental and spiritual awareness, but at the same time, not shutting out the rest of the world, and ultimately compassion, in the process. it’s a little like the Zen concept of “learn everything, then learn to know nothing.” Learning to accept not only ourselves (which is an important first step), but also the rest of the universe as it is, where it is, and what it is – means embracement (jpn. Shoju or Shojou) in its truest sense.

Remember that when we pay respects to our spiritual figures, we do so as a gentle reminder that we wish to change not only ourselves, but inspire others to have aspirations and positive hope, just as the figure of the Ever-Present Tathagata Shakyamuni represents the timelessness and universality of the Buddha’s enlightenment, in other words, the potential of all people to bring forth their own innate potential (aka buddha nature) to awaken.

To become one with G*d, to walk in Christ’s footsteps, embrace Tao,

Moss or Forest?
Moss or Forest?

develop buddha nature, or simply be a good person – whatever you end up calling the process of incorporating compassionate practice into your daily life, it is the steps you take each and every moment that lead you somewhere else, and not the imagining what it will be like to get there.

“No matter where you go, there you are.”
— Confucius, Buckaroo Banzai, Luca Bloom, et.al.

/* For more information and discussion feel free to e-mail me at jlui at jlui dot net, or twitter @jhlui1; With Gassho _()_, James*/

2015-March Shinnyo Podcast – Understanding Impact

2015-March Shinnyo Podcast – Understanding Impact

  • Responding to Icky Moments
  • 1 -> 10 -> 10 million
  • Every Seed is Important
  • Try Not to Watch Your Pot When Boiling Water
  • A Snowflake Starts an Avalanche

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rain_bird
Found on YouTube

There are many inconsistent and confusing examples of contradictory spiritual behavior in the world. We seem to have buddhist monks behaving aggressively in Myanmar, people beheading people in the name of a belief system, children with explosives strapped to themselves being sent as human bomb carriers, and in Japan, toxins were unleashed on the public in a subway all in the name of a religion or belief system. 1,000 years ago, we had the Crusades marching across a continent in the name of spiritual liberation. Last month we talked about alignment between actions and our principles. But what exactly happens when misalignment occurs?

When we witness behavior that is contrary to our beliefs, humans generate a typical “fight or flight” emotional response. This is part of our built-in survival mechanism to avoid things that make us shudder, go “Eeek!” or “Blechh!” and generally keep us sane because we reinforce our own belief system. If you were in a constant state of questioning your own beliefs, you might find yourself overwhelmed by a sense of confusion or disarray in a very short time. But these are all short-term and immediate responses to aversive behavior. What I find more interesting is the relationship between these exposures to repellant behavior and what we call Karma or the concept of how positive and negative actions have impact over time.

Let’s say someone is harmed or killed in the name of a particular belief, that is the victim is perceived as being an enemy of the beliefs, or otherwise would cause some kind of harm to it. And the person who causes the harm or death is not directly impacted or addressed by their actions, meaning a witness or onlooker doesn’t see an individual person as the cause of the negative action –  we don’t perceive someone specific to blame for the incident. To keep this example simple, 10 random people witness this act. What happens in these 10 different impressions of the action of one person? What happens when this same act is magnified by media coverage to expose this same act to 10 million random people? What if it were just you, who saw what happened?  What would you do? What would you say to others? What if you did absolutely nothing?

The parents, family, friends, and even enemies of the person who performed the act above have impressions, too. And each of those people create a downstream effect of how that act will be perceived by generation upon generation of others. Was it good or bad? Was it righteous or tyrannical? Was it selfish, or generous? Each of these individuals contributes to future actions of whether this one act will be repeated in the future, and to what extent it will occur (positive perception generally leads to magnification of the effort).

In the nature of cause and effect, each of the above actions or inactions results in something else. The seed that doesn’t get planted, doesn’t result in a plant, which doesn’t have roots that hold soil, which results in:

  • the dirt can more easily be washed away in the rain,
  • one fewer plant to grow and filter the air,
  • one fewer parent plant to produce seeds,
  • less shade on the ground leading to hotter soil temperatures,
  • one fewer plant to act as a home to a few insects,
  • and so on.

plant_in_hand_thYet, all it takes is one positive act to have the same and opposite effect. Whether you “Do unto others..,” “Pay it Forward,” watch for “Butterfly Effects” or plant a seed, things start to happen when you do something. The odd and sometimes frustrating thing is that in all of these actions, there is no guarantee of instant gratification of seeing the results of your action. It may happen centuries in the future. This is why detachment from attachments is emphasized in philosophy; try to not have the expectation of a result every time you cause something to happen. By becoming an agent of change, you automatically subscribe to the results – you really don’t need to sit around and wait for the “Lessons Learned” meeting to happen.

Photo courtesy of Earth Science Picture of the Day @esra.edu
Photo courtesy of Earth Science Picture of the Day @esra.edu

The concept of inertial change isn’t new. Over 40 years ago, John Naisbitt wrote about Megatrends and studied how they occur and what we can learn from them. 40,000 years ago, someone scratched into the wall of a cave that a big four-legged animal might be a thing to eat and feed a village, or you could plant something and get a similar result. Ultimately, how do you react to things and how do you affect your downstream relationships (all 10 generations worth)?

/* For more information and discussion feel free to e-mail me at jlui at jlui dot net, or twitter @jhlui1; With Gassho _()_, James*/

2015-February Shinnyo Podcast – Taking Action

2015-February Shinnyo Podcast – Taking Action

  •         How Actions Lead to Perception
  •         Consistent Form -> Consistent Results
  •         The Rules of Engagement Require Actual Engagement
  •         You Are What You Do
  •         Taking the Next Step

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action_thFrom an address by Her Holiness, Keishu Shinso at the commencement of this year’s Annual Training period on January 25, 2015:

“Shinnyo refers to the qualities that we find exemplified in the lives of the Shinnyo Parents and the Two Dojis, most prominently in the way they demonstrated what it means to embody a spirit that is selfless, unbowed, and full of harmony. Shinnyo Ichinyo (oneness with truth) is about the effort that we make to express these qualities of shinnyo in our daily life, and by so doing, we are always connected with our spiritual masters”

Spirituality is often interpreted as being an internalized concept in that while various groups of people will have a common belief system, it is the beliefs and practices of the individual that comprise how the philosophy impacts the rest of the world.  We see that demonstrated in our contemporary life by the acts of a few individuals affecting the impressions that others form about a whole religion, or even simply the label of alliance with a philosophy. Whether or not the actions by those individuals are conscribed or taught by the actual philosophy are not part of the perception.

This is often illustrated in many idioms and proverbs:

  •         Do as I say, not as I do.
  •         Actions speak louder than words.
  •         It’s the thought that counts (implying, not the action, or lack thereof).

Effectively, these are saying, “Take my advice, even though I am acting contrary to it.” (Sometimes used as an apology for behaving hypocritically.) – McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

What most philosophical schools teach is that individual actions should always strive to be in alignment with the principles of conduct, or the laws of commonly decent behavior. In Buddhism, these are illustrated as the Dharma, which comes in many different expressions:

Four Noble Truths

  •         There is suffering
  •         A source of suffering.
  •         The cessation of suffering
  •         Attainment of Nirvana

Five Cardinal Sins

  •         Killing one’s father,
  •         …mother,
  •         …a saint,
  •         Injuring a Buddha,
  •         Disturbing the Sangha

8-fold Noble Path

  •         Right views
  •         …thoughts,
  •         …speech,
  •         …acts,
  •         …livelihood,
  •         …efforts,
  •         …mindfulness,
  •         …meditation

And others.

Nonetheless, memorizing the guidelines becomes pointless if actions taken aren’t in alignment with what performance is expected. We know children pick up on this concept rather quickly at a young age. If parents always say to do something, but either don’t do it themselves, or don’t make efforts to correct or demonstrate desired behavior, kids figure out, “they say it, but they don’t really mean it.” And likewise, so do our pet dogs and cats, and even our co-workers.  We learn from the actions we observe, and much less so, the words we read or hear.

Similarly, we also learn more from our own actions (and mistakes) much more than from what we write, or say. Repeated actions reinforce memory. Learning how to golf takes practice, and that doesn’t mean watching videos or reading books about it. The “muscle memory” comes from repeated guidance in the correct form (or conversely, incorrect form repeated over and over leads to really lousy golf scores.)

Returning to our sales-related analogy, once you have assessed the needs of the customer and figured out a solution that would address them, you have to actually finish the transaction (“seal the deal”, follow-through, make it happen.)  In a nutshell, if you don’t take action to write the sale up, you go home with less pay, thus there’s a direct positively correlated relationship between taking action and personal gain.

In life, the relationship is not so clear to those who don’t take action. But as in physics, not taking action is in and of itself another action. And there are consequences for inaction, too. And every action should emanate from a compassionate source or it tends to have an opposite effect.

In Shinnyo Buddhism this belief in action has been distilled into three basic practices:

  •         Connecting to others (jpn. otasuke)
  •         Making voluntary effort (jpn. gohoshi)
  •         Contributing time or value (jpn. kangi)

Just as the symbolism of cleaning things and places is also referred to as “polishing our hearts”, it is the actions that when repeated and reinforced through positive guidance that lead to actual transition, and transformation.

2015-January Shinnyo Podcast – Awareness of Needs

2015-January Shinnyo Podcast – Awareness of Needs

  • Defining Selflessness
  • Qualifying our Conversations
  • Know Yourself as You Get to Know Others
  • The Difficult Task of Acting as Themselves

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Hitsuji - Year of the Sheep
calligraphy by Shinso Ito

From the Shinnyo 2015 Annual Guidance notes:

This year’s items of practice:

  1. Contributing to the world through selfless acts
  2. Nurturing good roots through practice

Guidelines are simple, until you read them. Let’s take a look at “selfless acts”  By definition those would be acts for anyone (or anything) other than yourself.  But if you thought someone needed something, isn’t that a selfless act? When you look in a mirror are you able to see yourself as others see you? This is why doctors and scientists invest so much of their education learning diagnostic and forensic routines, because really what you see and perceive is being filtered through a mind that was produced as the sum total of your entire life’s experiences (good and bad), and that results in an alteration of the perception.

The observation that “we are our own worst critics” is another way to see the same dilemma. We can’t judge ourselves very accurately nor constructively, so how good can we be at judging others? How can we possibly guess what the other person’s need is if we can’t trust our own perception of that need? We listen to the other person. By listening carefully and with clarification of what we are hearing, we can come much closer to an accurate, if less self-satisfying answer.

[reit: the model of the sales cycle is used herein because the accuracy of the communication cycle directly and measurably relates to the satisfaction level of both parties involved, whether material, financial or even emotional satisfaction with the process – in other words, it’s simpler to study and understand]

Continuing the discussion of the principles of selling, in order to “qualify the customer,” we intend to determine several things; () will indicate the sales-related concepts:

  • Identify the person’s needs (what do they want to achieve)
  • Determine if anything we have to offer would fulfill any of those needs (what do we sell that meets that want)
  • Establish ability for the person to adopt fulfillment of the need (are they willing to buy it)
  • Find out if the person is willing to pursue the change needed complete the transaction.(write up the sale)

Note that not one of these asks, “Can the person afford what we are selling?” “Does the person have actual skill or talent needed to use what they are buying?”  That’s the big difference between basic selling and the basis for this podcast – setting a good example for others through living. Selling is about addressing immediate needs, often because in a competitive market, you can never be sure how loyal a customer can be for each and every sale. We might feel better as a customer, if the salesperson simply said, “You know… I don’t recommend you buy this. You’ll never really be able to do with it what you want to accomplish.”  But that salesperson’s livelihood depends on the sales dollars, and not so much good (or bad) advice.

The odd thing is we often approach giving support to others in the same fashion. We take a guess at what they are trying to achieve, and immediately try to provide a solution that in our mind would solve everything. That would be akin to having a conversation with a friend such as,

“Hi, how are you doing?”

“I’m okay. Just a little depressed these days.”

“I know. Just follow these 12 steps, join this program, and start doing this training course, and you’ll be all better forever! Just follow me, and sign here.”

In our interactions with others, it always reinforces the likelihood of having a successful communication by listening first. If you feel motivated to start a conversation with a someone because you wanted to vent about how stressful life had become, or to listen to all of your recent triumphs and accomplishments, that conversation would probably be better received if you asked permission of the other person first, “I just had a horrible experience. Do you mind listening?” And be sure that response is an affirmative, “Yes, I’m ready to listen,” and not a qualified, “Yeah, sure.”
By starting with self-reflection, whether through meditation, counseling groups, journaling, or whatever works for you, the discovery of what makes you move, feel and grow (or conversely shrink, avoid and immobilize) leads to transformation of how you deal with others, and ultimately reinforcement of every relationship you share with others.

This reminds me of an interesting observation about actors and acting (which often comes up during the “Why do we want to become an actor?” portion of many introductory workshops on the subject.) Actors are often more comfortable being extremely detailed and emotionally-rich when playing anyone other than themselves. That’s not to say they don’t like themselves, or don’t like looking into mirrors. But they develop a certain skill at being able to portray a character with amplified attributes, and can emotionally invest in that character in a way which is not as simple to do with themselves.

Why does it feel safer to play a homicidal maniac (or hopelessly romantic) character than dealing with one’s own neuroses and troubles? Because actors have their own “safe word” – the director says, “Cut!” In life, we are the only ones who have the true capacity to tell ourselves, “Cut!” – meaning that’s enough, you did it, let’s move on.  Psychologically, when you know there’s an end to the pain, madness, sadness, endless joy, or any of these hyperbolic emotional states, it’s easier for you to “go there” and realize you can come back.  When you “go there” and don’t come back, we term that as psychosis, and identifying that by yourself is pretty difficult.

In buddhism, we talk about how we are the product of 10 prior generations of our ancestry. That’s how far back (or far forward) every action you or someone else takes, affects someone else, whether you know them or not (and most likely, not.) The reasoning behind the generations is because as a communal species, we reproduce generally with those whom have had a significant influence on our lives. If ten generations of lovingkindness and care-filled harmonious parentage produced you, the likelihood that you’re pretty worry-free and emotionally content is pretty high. For those of us with a less than perfect 10 generation lineage (which is about 99.999998% of people), there’s many reasons we feel the need for dependency, infidelity, lying, stealing or attraction to wealth, power, elitism and arrogance. We can point a finger at any of those 10 generations worth of individuals and declare, “Hah! That’s why I do that!”  Or, you can take action and do something about it.

For completeness, this year’s 2015 annual guideline is:

As we enhance Oyasono,
Let us further share the light of saisho—as revealed in shinnyo
In the spirit of upholding the Dharma.

2014-December Shinnyo Podcast – Introductions and Listening

2014-December Shinnyo Podcast – Introductions and Listening

  • Why Do We Listen?
  • Flat-lining Conversations
  • Listening As-if Your Life Depended On It
  • Increasing the Value of Your Time Spent Listening

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My wife said I never listen. At least I think That's what she said.
Hearing versus Listening

In order to communicate effectively, we just need to listen. As much as we may like to hear ourselves talk, it is the first reflections by our listening partner, whether a single person or an audience of thousands, that determine whether what we are saying is getting through, or politely being heard, but not necessarily understood. Listeners also need to want to listen. The motive that drives active listening could be psychological, emotional, technical, educational, financial, or even spiritual and metaphysical in nature. But divining the purpose behind the listening is later on during the conversation.  For now, we need to start somewhere, and that place is the beginning of any communication – the introduction.

Sometimes it is as simple as saying, “Hello.” But often that is met in return by an automatically polite response of another, “Hello.” Or, “Hi.” Notice how that sort of puts the conversation right back to where it started? The communication became a statement without an action, like saying, “I’m here.” And, “I am too.” Gets nowhere pretty quickly.

The same situation happens with the opening, “Hi, how are you doing?” if the respondent replies, “Fine.” If you left the conversation there, it’s already dead. Taking that one step further, let’s say the respondent is engaged in the conversation and replies, “Fine. And how are you?” If you replied to that with, “Fine.” Voila’, another dead conversation.

How do we fix this situation? You could read any number of books on etiquette, communication arts, or even dating and memorize a bunch of static conversation starters, but since we like getting to the point, it’s about listening – Active Listening. In order to have active listening, we have to care about the communication being sent.  We have to have a vested interest in hearing and understanding what is being said. Strangely enough – that interest or motivation does not have to just be compassion (though it’s a nice place to start.) Sometimes we listen because of fear, such as cases where, if we make a mistake in listening, it costs us something whether financial, emotional, or even physical.So when appearing in court before a judge, or a doctor talking to us about a disease or problem that’s been diagnosed, we tend to listen much more carefully than if the motivation were more cosmetic or political in nature.

We learned (at Guitar Center) that when a person comes in the door, there’s a purpose for their visit, and our job was to figure out what that person’s motivation was – and if at all practicable, meet it by selling them something, or providing a service. So, we’d start with the usual, “Hi,” but quickly follow that with something that would lead to giving us more information about the person’s motivation. That follow up was not always verbal (some people are naturally less talkative than others) so we also learned to observe behavior (Where in the room is the person looking? Are they touching particular items with interest? Does the way they are dressed give us any clues as to why they are here?)  Asking yourself, “Why are they here?” helps frame your own intent in the conversation.

For any interaction, if you start valuing the time involved, for both yourself as well as the other person, you start realizing the precious value of time and especially in service industries, when there are many people to serve, wasting time on chatty smalltalk not only wastes the time of the other people  in the conversation, but leaves everyone else waiting. They might need even more answers, or create the most frustrating situation, when someone just wants to get their transaction over with, and the service person is tied up in a lengthy talk with someone who will take hours if given the opportunity.

Your best interests are served for both of you in a conversation to become aware of what the other person needs, assess the situation with efficiency and determine an actionable path of solution. How many times have you encountered a conversation which started off with an innocent, “How are you doing?” and the other person immediately launches into a non-stop description of their problems, situation, troubles, tribulations and didn’t take a breath to ask if you actually were ready to listen to that?  Think about which words you are choosing during introductions, as there is often an implied nature to these innocuous commonly chatty ways to start a conversation, but the key to changing the value in these conversations is to start with words much closer to your intent.

We were trained to become acutely aware when someone randomly came in and wanted to basically either tap all of our knowledge by asking every conceivable question, or was there to basically “vent.”  And if the time wasn’t appropriate to entertain such a conversation (whether we didn’t have the immediate patience to listen at the time, or there were too many other people waiting for our attention), we halted everything and set up an appointment in the future where we could reserve time to go through all the details needed (and pay the proper amount of attention to the person’s needs.)

As you begin opening your awareness to how other people communicate with you, you might find yourself being surrounded by more and more people seeking your advice or counsel, or simply looking for someone to listen.  Try not to sacrifice your own valuable time and quality of presence by feeling as though you need to make up for listening quality with lengthy listening quantity.  Develop your deep and thorough listening skills – listening with intent. At some point, your ability to listen may have more impact in another person’s life than your ability to talk.

2014-November Shinnyo Podcast – Sales and Selling

2014-November Shinnyo Podcast – Sales and Selling

  • How I Came to Know Something About Selling Stuff
  • Establishing Rapport
  • Qualifying the Prospect
  • Closing the Deal
  • Overcoming Objections
  • Everyone Can Be Satisfied
  • What Does Selling Have to Do with Spirituality?

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Image courtesy of ASCE.org

From this month’s “Shinnyo Teaching for November 2014”:

  • Everyone — each and every individual person — is equally precious.
  • This is because deep within us we all have “buddha nature,” the nature of becoming a buddha.
  • As a “child” of the Buddha, everyone has that potential, which is called buddha nature. It is what makes you so precious.
  • And if you are precious, then it means that others, who also share this quality, are also precious.
  • Recognizing the value in each of us—that mutual recognition—is one of the meanings of the hand gesture—the gassho mudra—that we form, in which we place our palms together reverently toward each other.
  • Buddhism, and in particular the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, teaches this principle [that we all have buddha nature, something that we should cherish in each other.]
  • So, just as you are precious, so are others. When we all acknowledge this, that’s when we will have true harmony, true friendship, and true respect.

One of my many forays into different career paths took me to the auspicious sales rooms of one of the most polished and misunderstood selling organizations on the planet – The Guitar Center (aka Music123, ZZounds, MusiciansFriend, and a whole cadre of other pseudonyms from acquisitions and mergers over the years.)  Few people understand how the professional salespeople that inhabit Guitar Center come to roost there, selling musical instruments and equipment of all sorts.

Well, it’s a “cool” job. The estimate is that approximately 30% of all professional sales people from well-trained fields such as food and beverage, car, truck and motorcycle sales, real estate and even luxury goods (jewelry, fashion, marine vehicles, etc.) have also at one time or another in their lives also wanted to be musicians or vocalists at some point – Rock Stars, so to speak.

Heavy-duty sales jobs often lead to burn-out after having to deal with haggling customer after customer, or failing to meet quota because of a lowered interest in getting out there and hitting the target yet one more incessant day. And at some point, they realize that the same stores that they browsed and wandered through in their youth, picking up and playing (affectionately known at GC as “wanking”) multi-thousand dollar instruments and momentarily living out the fantasy, also happen to require the very same skill sets that their other lines of business required, with pretty much the same potential income. Sell a few hundred thousand dollars worth of audio equipment, and you, too can have one of those Top-Dog Corvettes just like the other selling organizations like to dangle as “carrots.”  The difference is, you might be selling to other cool big-name musical artists (or more often their show producers sent on acquisition missions), all the while actually “living the dream” by being surrounded by the industry of a billion musical fantasies.

Image courtesy of stores4music.com

Whereas working at a Ferrari dealership probably doesn’t get you the opportunity to drive around in an California T every night, working at a GC actually does put someone into contact with the very same instruments that the dream artists use (albeit usually the salesperson doesn’t quite have the same chops or skills to sound like their object d’ musical worship)

Musicians tend to be very emotionally-driven customers, and unlike a painter visiting a local art supply, most musicians like to feel comfortable when they’re committing to new equipment, a sort of psychological connection with the instrument (or even software, in the case of DJ’s these days).  Developing that connection is the task of the musical sales professional (or MSP for short).

Every person who walked in the door of a store is a prospect, whether past, present or future. The primary goal of the MSP is to make a positive memorable impression on that person and cultivate the sale into its next logical stage (whether that is thinking about buying, figuring out how to buy something, buying something, or buying more afterwards). The goal of this impression is to establish trust and a return relationship with the customer.  You “break the ice” of this cold-start relationship by demonstrating interest or concern for the customer.

As the customer may be at any of the 4 aforelisted stages of buying, the MSP then needs to figure out where that person is in the buying cycle. Is it mere casual curiosity about the item? Or is the person down to the last two contenders and they’re still not sure which to pick? Do they even know what they need to achieve their goal? And what is that goal?

If the person is at that pivotal moment of committing to buying, they usually need to have evaluated the purchase as being exceedingly positive in comparison with the investment cost of the item. This evaluation is often emotionally-driven, so the person must feel “right” about buying or there is no point in trying to finish the transaction.

Image courtesy of fearless-selling.ca Blog

At this point, there is often all of the premature purchase regrets that settle into the transaction. “I can’t afford this.” “I won’t be able to use all of these features.” “I’m not good enough at playing to warrant this.” And even, “My parents/spouse will freak if I bought this.”  The MSP deals with each of these, hopefully with redirection and assurance so that none of these aversive thoughts continue to plague the customer.

Ultimately, the MSP becomes a partner to the customer, both supporting the sales process itself, as well as guiding the customer to an ultimately more positive experience with the new item of possession.  Having the item must feel better than the regret of walking away from the purchase, and that is the single-most important goal of the MSP to ensure that it happens, otherwise the dreaded eventual return for credit or refund will boomerang next.

Image courtesy of wikimedia.org

What did all of this have to do with your spirituality? As a person on this planet dealing with all sorts of people every single day, our own enlightenment depends a lot on how others see us as a demonstration of our own beliefs. Effectively, we are virtually selling our personality or presence to others, and if we are not actually doing the right things to assure that process is continuously productive and positive, we can suffer the very same failed sales, over and over again (the cycle of Karma continues.)

Next month we’ll take a deeper dive into each of these stages and see what we can do to assist our own greater chances for success at achieving our goals. But think about how you feel the next time you’re interacting with a salesperson – you can tell a lot about that person’s awareness of you just by how you feel.

For more information feel free to e-mail me at jlui at jlui dot net, or twitter @jhlui1 With Gassho _( )_, James

 

2014-09 Shinnyo Buddhism Podcast – Attract or Avoid: Perceptions in Life

2014-09 Shinnyo Buddhism Podcast – Attract or Avoid: Perceptions in Life

  • Attraction and Emotion
  • Avoid the Void
  • The Nature of Perception
  • It’s Still a Rock
  • Revealing The Path

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Mice_trapsDo you believe there is a difference in strength between attraction and avoidance? Or to put it a colloquial way, which would win in a fight, being attracted to something/someone or avoiding it/them? Let’s take a look at some of the attributes of each and see how your own values line-up.

Attraction, as every similar form of influence, has both a positive and negative nature. The positive seems almost obvious, being a form of emotional enrichment and satisfaction. The negative qualities might be that attraction can negate objectivity and perspective. You can really like something that turns out to be really bad for you, or having a fondness for someone, which is either not returned in-kind (unrequited love, for example).  Attraction could be considered a way of breaking away from patterns or repeating behavior, or conversely becoming stuck or addicted to the same — all because of the emotional triggers involved.

fawn_hidingWhat about avoidance? At a number of levels, avoiding something or someone is related to safety and self-preservation. Avoidance triggers the “fight or flight” responses. We can become driven by preferences, which can block awareness or create limits in many ways. We might avoid foods, avoid traffic, and avoid confrontation to only become limited in our tastes, isolated from collective activities, and form barriers to our interactions with others. If left unchecked, avoidance can develop into fear, which has its own dire consequences.

Both attraction and avoidance are behaviors triggered by perceptions.  Ultimately it is the action you take as the result of a perception that determines the positive or negative result. Do you realize that for someone to argue with you, they must care about you enough to want to influence your opinion? That’s a form of attraction, even though you may wish to avoid the argument.

At my work, my group often wonders why we receive so many of the service requests that seem completely out-of-scope for our group’s responsibilities. Then I noticed, we tend to be really quick and redirect the requests to the appropriate specialists, and don’t tend to let a lot of requests pile up in our queues. Our group is perceived to be able to handle the redirections gracefully, and even though we complain about having to do it, it turns out assignment to our group is the path of least resistance for the service operators.  When assigned to other groups, the requests either get ignored (avoidance), or await for a customer to follow up before action is taken. Ours is handling everything efficiently, even though the only incentive (attraction) to us is to keep our waiting queue clean.

Enlightenment is often attributed with a greater awareness of the truth, reality or absolute nature (jpn. Shinnyo.) And inside this awareness, even the most basic ideas of good and bad are discovered to be also triggered by perception. In nurturing your mind to begin to see as-is, where-is, what-is instead of only seeing attractive and avoidable things, events and people, you start becoming aware of many things, including how diversity and uniqueness, are at the same time bound by identicality and commonality. Every rock, stone and pebble, regardless of size, shape or substance, can also simply be called a “rock.”

How many other adjectives are similarly driven by perceptions?

  • Good and Bad/evil
  • Right and Wrong
  • Tasty and Yucky
  • Best and Worst
  • Friend and Foe
  • Like and Dislike
  • Famous and Anonymous
  • Opportunity and Misfortune

avoid-attracting-thomas-jefferson-377829As you continue along your life’s path with open eyes, mind and heart, think about what you perceive through your senses. Remember that we’ve had thousands of years of reminders about this same concept whether you called it The Law of Analogy, Positive Mental Attitude or are assessing Your Life IQ. You may discover one day that The Path is simply wherever you place your next step.

Which one is stronger? It all depends on your perception.

2014-08 Shinnyo Buddhism Podcast – The Lights of Reflection

2014-08 Shinnyo Buddhism Podcast – The Lights of Reflection

  • Shiny Points of Light on the Freeway (of Life)
  • Finding the Brightness (in Everyone)
  • Seeing Beyond the Grime and Noise
  • Cleaning a Little Every Moment

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traffic_reflect2Have you ever driven down the road on a sunny morning and looked at the other cars? Usually in the early morning, or late afternoon, sunlight seems to reflect off of the cars in front of us, and often the cars coming towards us in the opposite direction. The sunlight doesn’t seem to pay attention to the particular make or model of the cars. Nor does it seem to always be brightest on the biggest ones, or the fastest ones, or even the oldest ones. Sometimes all of the cars are very bright; and other times a random few seem to glimmer back at you.  Sunlight doesn’t pay any attention to how much a car is worth, nor how it was manufactured.

traffic_reflectWhen we talk about every person having a Buddha nature within, sometimes it’s hard to imagine _every_ person having one. So, instead, look at the lights reflected on the cars.  Can you predict which ones will be bright, versus the ones which have no reflection at all?  Are the light reflections based upon where they came from, how they were built, or how expensive they were to buy? And yet, every single car, at one point or another, will reflect light; and sometimes that light cannot be seen by you, because of your perspective. But that same car could be brilliant to another person. Sometimes the person inside a car cannot see any reflections at all, especially upon their own vehicle.

And that’s how this concept of Buddha nature works. And the challenge becomes to imagine every single car you see before you and behind you with its own brilliant reflection, whether or not it’s immediately obvious or apparent. Even if that brightness is hidden behind years of dirt and rust, it’s still in there lying quietly beneath the grime.  That little light even is there if the vehicle is angrily honking at everyone, or smashed in an accident. Or even if the car sits idly every day, there is a reflection there somewhere waiting for someone to see it.

Also think about your own shiny reflection, that for the most part, you cannot see yourself. You can polish yourself to shine as brightly as possible. You can appreciate when others see those reflections becoming visible to others. And you can even come to appreciate when someone else notices a dull spot that can use a little more attention, because they would like your brilliance to shine brightly, too. Shinnyo members think a lot about cleaning, because it’s often a direct analogy to not only hygiene, but also to our spiritual cleanliness. Looking at our own limitations, prejudices, criticisms and need to get rewarded, or finding fault in others can be thought of as dirt sitting in our own spiritual vessels.  Every time we go to fill ourselves up with the waters of good or positivity, the more dirt and sediment that sits at the bottom, the quicker that same water becomes cloudy or even muddy once all that dirt is stirred up by the water.

So we learn to start with ourselves – cleaning out the dirt at the bottom of our own lives first. We ask others to see if our vessel is clean; or simply take note when someone else points out we have some dirt left over within. And we polish and sweep and wipe as many times as needed to keep our little containers ready to fill with pure water. Of course, just like any pail left outside, it will start to collect more dirt and dust as it sits, because that’s part of being a part of the great outdoors of society and the world. But if you keep cleaning a little each and every day, that task becomes easier and simpler each time.

2014-07 Shinnyo-en Buddhism Podcast – On Loss

2014-07 Shinnyo-en Buddhism Podcast – On Loss

  • Social Media and Physical Loss of Life
  • Energy Transformations
  • The Ever-Turning Wheel of Dharma
  • You Create Permanence

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While life in the eternal world (whether you call it heaven, mecca, nirvana, spiritual or the any other term) goes on, and on, existence in this world is most definitely of limited term, and in many respects amazingly short in consideration of the billions of years of the planet itself and everything around it in the universe.

When we lose someone near to us, we feel both the pangs of remorse towards missing a person we can no longer talk with, write to, or even choose to ignore. And we feel a sense of powerlessness in not being able to do anything about the person who is gone. It is a soul gone and hopefully never forgotten, but unlike un-friending someone on Facebook, or un-following someone on Twitter, the person’s physical being has left us to become part of the soil once again. Your choice to reconnect with that person’s physical presence is obstructed as though their social life account had been deleted and removed entirely. Building tribute pages and leaving phantom accounts open provides solace to those left behind, but the bits and bytes of storage making up those frozen images are a scarce fraction of the powerful presence of a living, breathing person.

Based upon science, wherein observations relative to energy as being a thing that cannot be destroyed, but only transformed into another form of energy (such as electricity becoming heat or cold, or wind against a mountain becoming a sound, or light becoming stored as potential energy through photosynthesis or photoreaction) – we should think about all that energy that made the person we knew, who they were.  The thoughts, emotions, actions and memories were all forms of energy moving and flowing within a physical shell, processed by a cerebral cortex, and transformed by muscles into words, writing and actions. But when the human body finally stops operating, where does all that energy go?

One physics-based theory is that the memories of others, our own recollections of people gone but not forgotten, are the manifestation of the transition from a physical person, to someone that continues to exist in the synapses of all those who remember them. To think that our own cherished thoughts about someone we loved perpetuate their virtual existence is something worth pondering. Over time, the memories may fade, but each time we bring a quality of their life back into our forefront thoughts, we re-energize the little batteries that keep that light shining. And it’s not just ourselves, but every person who that person touched contribute their own microvolts of remembrance to keep the energy from dissipating as heat loss.

Or metaphysically, we consider the possibility of the cycle of dharma, which also is based on the principle that energy (or spirit) cannot be destroyed, but continues to transform from state to state. In this form, we might consider the concept of karma to be the particular formula that transforms energy from one state of permanence, to another one, whether ascending or descending in form, based upon the qualities of life during that person’s time in a particular realm.  Perhaps the concept of reincarnation is just that same transformation of ethereal energy back into another living being.

So for every candle you light in memory of a lost one, or every prayer you offer in solace, or whenever you simply think about someone you’ve lost, you become the energy source which acts like a little battery keeping that person’s spirit alive, if not in physical form because ashes once again became ashes, and dust became dust. But that person’s soul energy may perpetuate and continue to flow, never lost and never destroyed.  Shinjo and Tomoji Ito (the Shinnyo Parents) used to say, “Live and act to be a person who is missed.”  And maybe that is the definition of what permanence really means.

2014-03 Shinnyo-en Buddhism Podcast – Namu/Eza/Spiritual Awakening

2014-03 Shinnyo-en Buddhism Podcast – Namu/Eza/Spiritual Awakening

  • Namu – What is it and Why do we say it?
  • Eza/Elevation Training – What is it? Why do we participate in it?

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Namu (Japanese, 南無, lit. devotion) from the Sanskrit word “namas” or “namo”, which means resigning one’s soul to something.

So when we chant (the core chant):

“Namu Shinnyo…” it means, “Devotion to the Truth.”

“Namu Shinnyo Ichinyo…” meaning, “Devotion to The Truth and Oneness.”

“Namu Shinnyo Ichinyo Dai-hatsu…” meaning, “Devotion to The Truth and Oneness with Greatness.”

“Namu Shinnyo Ichinyo Dai-hatsu Nehan…” meaning, “Devotion to The Truth and Oneness with the Great Nirvana/Heaven.”

And finally, “Namu Shinnyo Ichinyo Dai-hatsu Nehan Kyo,” meaning, “Devotion to The Truth and Oneness with The Great Nirvana/Heaven Sutra.”

Eza (Japanese, 会座, lit. seated meeting) – part of Shinnyo-en which bridges the world of esoteric buddhism with the lay follower practice is the creation of what I would describe as an “enlightenment preschool” of sorts.  Eza, in the traditional esoteric sense, is the monastic practice of extended deep meditation and prayer, usually in an isolated environment (for example, a cave deep inside a mountain) for months or years of individual reflection and contemplation.

In an earlier podcast, I covered the topic of Shinnyo guided mediation, or Sesshin training. Well, just as missionary school is the training grounds for priests (or Dharma Teachers), Eza is the training process for those endeavoring to become spiritual guides for Sesshin training. Please note that these two disciplines, dharma teachers and spiritual guides, are complementary, but not co-dependent roles. That is there are dharma teachers who are not spiritual guides, and vice-versa.  And through dedication and perseverance, you can achieve both in a single lifetime.

Eza, as practiced in Shinnyo-en,  involves a gradual awakening of the heart and spirit towards a seeking of pure truth. You can view the process of enlightenment as gradually increasing your awareness beyond the five primary senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch), to self-awareness, and finally beyond awareness of the self, to awareness of others and everything. It is awareness without judgement nor critique. Enlightenment embraces the development of yourself into a mirror of your surroundings, void of coloration and filtering, and yet, able to reflect the innate goodness present within each and every living being.

Since spiritual elevation is part of the esoteric practice, or put simply, the part of the buddhist practice that comes with experience, knowledge, education and self-development, there is no “Step 1, 2, 3 and presto, you’re elevated!” kind of project plan. Some people progress very quickly, and others can take decades. But as with most things in life, it is the journey itself that brings the most fulfillment and reward, not the goal. And philosophically, since attachment is one of the things we seek to lessen (and please, do be aware that the definition of “attachment” for the purposes of Buddhism is often misinterpreted, because of the original translation from sanskrit was a closest-matching definition, and not an exact matching word), ultimately it is the freedom from being goal-centric and more process-centric that begins to eliminate the worry and stress over whether we get there, or not.

For now, I will relay what I have been taught by the many who came before me:  Have gratitude in your heart for the opportunity to train each day. Be determined to succeed no matter what direction your path takes, and how many obstacles are presented to you (because you are prepared for them, even if you think you aren’t.) And focus your energies, thoughts, and spirit on becoming one with all that flows around you. Through your daily practice, eventually your perspective will have changed. And one day, when you were always looking up at the skies above you, you will find yourself among the same very clouds and sky, ready to take the next step in your path.