Tag Archives: Podcast

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*/

2016-12 Shinnyo Podcast Regarding Hope

2016-12 Shinnyo Podcast Regarding Hope

  • What is Hope?
  • Does Hope Go Away?
  • Creating Hope
  • When Is Hope Lost and Found?

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Image of Where There's Life, There's Hope
Where There’s Life, There’s Hope – Courtesy of: http://www.hdnicewallpapers.com/Walls/Big/Thoughts%20and%20Quotes/Beautful_Thought_on_Life_and_Hope_HD_Wallpapers.jpg

If we define hope as wanting, wishing or imagining something that isn’t in our present existence, we could say that hope is an imaginary concept – something that isn’t real.  If we think of hope as a state of consciousness, or the state in which we are visualizing this changed existence, then hope becomes a more tangible idea – something that persists.

The four virtues of enlightenment are expressed as permanence, bliss, self and purity, and in this context, the state of permanence is elusive depending on how we define our concept of hope.  Each of these states is related to embracing the dynamics of change as an ever-present condition. But to also realize that hope becomes ever-present as long as we can imagine a state of improvement beyond where we are today. You give up your imagination, and you can say you gave up hope.

Nature accepts things as they are – whatever happens, happens. People like to change things, like creating clocks to track time instead of watching the sun and moon. We try to move and push our environment around to better suit what we think is easier, more advantageous, or even more efficient.

When facing extreme changes, that’s when humans often resort to despair instead of hope, losing that sense of a better tomorrow. But really, tomorrow is by its own peculiar definition, something that hasn’t happened yet. We may have a less shiny and perfect vision of that which has yet to come, but basically, it still is beyond the present. And until it happens, it’s still not our reality (barring existence in a parallel universe and warpage of time, of course.)

Our reality is how we perceive it. A fish out of water is kind of stressed, and probably certainly not happy about that. But it has relatively little capacity to change its own condition.  We, by comparison, have amazing capability to change our presence, where we are, how we live, and in what manner we decide to co-exist with everything else.  Question is, do you realize that potential?

Hope becomes real as we define and change ourselves, whether that means being content with whatever we have already, or transitioning and developing ourselves to see beyond our self-imposed limitations. In the path of transformation, we materialize our vision or goals into reality.

Looking at the situation in a more pragmatic light might be that we can consider ourselves either “stuck in traffic” or “faced with the opportunity to choose alternate paths to our destination.”  Either way, the traffic is there. It is up to us to figure out how we perceive it and how we deal with it..

My own hope in this case is that you find that hope isn’t something someone else gives you. Hope is what you give to yourself.

I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful. –Bob Hope

Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/b/bob_hope.html

/* 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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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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2016-06 June Shinnyo Podcast – The Three-Wheel Dharma Bodies

2016-06 June Shinnyo Podcast – The Three-Wheel Dharma Bodies

  • Why Three (and not 4 or 12?)
  • Intrinsic – The Nirvana Buddha
  • Compassionate – Kannon Boddhisattva
  • Strict – Mahavairochana Achala

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Shinnyo Nirvana Image

http://classconnection.s3.amazonaws.com/897/flashcards/388897/jpg/yumedono_kannon.jpg

http://sixprizes.com/wp-content/uploads/mc-escher-self-reflection.jpg

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/26/Okunoin_FudoMyoo.JPG

 

Let’s explore further the realms of the three areas of Intrinsic, Compassionate and Strict styles of the Shinnyo Teaching (the 3-Wheel Turning Bodies of the Buddha, Kannon Bodhisattva and Mahavairochana Achala.) Throughout the volumes of dharma teaching are a seemingly never-ending list of numerically related lists and figures. Some examples:

  • Four Means of Embracement
  • Four Immeasurable Minds
  • Four Noble Truths
  • Four Dependables
  • Four Grave Offenses
  • Four Virtues
  • Four Illusions
  • Four (or Eight – depending on which edition you’re reading) Sufferings
  • Five Cardinal Sins
  • Six Periods of the Buddha’s Life
  • Six Paramitas
  • Seven Levels of Consciousness
  • Eight Tastes
  • Eight-fold Noble Path
  • Ten Realms of Existence

Yea! – Memorize all those, and you probably still haven’t found enlightenment (but people may be very impressed with your mastery of lists.)  Every teacher comes up with their own way to help remember what you’re supposed to learn. Master Shinjo Ito noticed that the Nirvana Sutra (aka the Mahaparinirvana Sutra) kept reinforcing the basis of buddhism being founded on what are known as the Three Jewels – the Buddha, the Sangha (or community), and the Dharma (or teaching).  Alone, each element exists, but only together do they form the basis for what we know as Buddhism.

Relating back to last month’s podcast about Practice, and the story of the three kinds of practitioners, he also thought about the common threads between each of the myriad sub-schools of Buddhism – each of which had a particular focal point of study (quite parallel to the various sub-sects of Christianity and Catholocism focusing on different saints, or missionaries, or how Shinto groups each have their own particular Kami (or god) as reference for their respective focus.) Within the founding of Shinnyo’s goals was the objective to unify and fuse the esoteric practices commonly found under the compassionate wisdom sects with the elements of the exoteric sects promoting determined practice, and disciplined self-regulation. Translating the three essential Buddhist elements into objective examples to study,we get:

  • Buddha => Buddha => Insight/Self
  • Sangha => Kannon (aka Guanyin) => Compassion/Ego
  • Dharma => Achala (aka Acala, Fudo Myo) => Discipline/Super-Ego

Coming from a psychology background, I tend to translate the religious themes into scientific or concrete-reasoning examples for my own consumption, but nonetheless, I think you may start to see how things fit together in this model. Within every person lies the buddha nature inside, and each person also has free-will, and also moral or ethical boundaries.  And it is the process of both self-examination of these values, and the outward expression (or practice) of these values that form the person we know.

The Intrinsic stream is our model or would-like-to-really-be-one-day self.  If everything in the world were perfect, and this were Utopian existence, these are our target elements to existence in a super-happy care-free world.  To really imagine or visualize this stream takes more than imagining a bunch of good luck comes to you; for example, you get a trillion dollars. Is having that being happy?  Or is it the potential to spend it, the happy part?  Or is it obtaining anything you want, the satisfaction you want?  And once you have everything, are you happy yet? Power, money, control, success, respect, admiration, love – what is going to get you to that happy place, and keep you there?  Our example given to us, is to imagine the opposite – never worrying about how much you have or don’t, surrounded by compassion, and being really satisfied with whatever happens to come your way.

As you noticed, compassion is part of our Utopian vision for our self. And it’s a dilemma, that to be cared for by others, you have to care about them, too.  If it’s just a one-way situation, not only does it not sustain over the long-term, but starts to transform into other things – envy, greed, jealousy, and even hatred. You might even see all this one-way caring as false – people are doing it just to get something from you. That’s paranoia, and not part of our happy place at all.

Discipline is not control, nor is it about punishment. Knowing that you have a genuine sense of where you want to be, and that you care that others can help you in creating that reality, now you need to actually pursue it and not just let it fade into the night as a nice dream.  To do that, is the work. But it’s not work if you enjoy what you’re doing. Just like any career formed around something you love to do, it transforms what was mundane, busy and irritating because it just must be done, into something gratifying and even pleasurable. Like building a house you get to live in, you take pride in doing a great job at something when you know what qualities went into creating it.  You don’t do it because you have to, you do it because you want to. Kingdoms are not strong because of the King by themselves. They become transformed because every single member contributes towards making the whole a greater presence of stability, growth, and even respect.  Each person’s discipline to go above and beyond becomes the Sangha, which ultimately satisfies the Self. And since somewhere inside you is a buddha wanting to emerge, the cycle perpetuates itself.

/* 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*/

2016-05 May Shinnyo Podcast – Practice

2016-05 May Shinnyo Podcast – Practice

  • What is a Practice?
  • Why do we Practice (and not Preach?)
  • The Story of Buddha and the 3 Monks
  • Practice is Not Perfect
  • Balance of Time – Working with Karma

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theoryintopractice
Courtesy of creative-remembering-techniques.com

What is a practice? Pretty much anything you do.  What is not practice? Thinking without action, although philosophically-speaking, inaction is still action, as it results in an outcome whether intended or not.

Practice in this context, is not limited to something specific you’re trying to learn, Philosophically, we could say we’re learning throughout our lives, each and every day, so that’s how our “practice” extends throughout our days, indeed throughout our lives.

But isn’t it good enough to be really loud and speak your thoughts like a broadcast?

the-brixton-evangelist
Street evangelism 1950’s Brixton, UK

What happens when you hear such a person?  Is it a moment to stop, listen and contemplate carefully what they’re saying?  Or do you mentally try to block out the extreme noise, and make a mental note to avoid that place in the future.  After all, if it works for cheerleading, why wouldn’t it work for all communication?

51176-318x283-megaphone2
Cheerleading with megaphone

If you observe the difference in context, you can see or maybe hear, the difference between an audience that wants to hear you (and can’t because you’re very far away,) versus one who is trying to tune you out and being viewed as an irritant rather than a example.

Master Shinjo once related how different types of people react to guidance with a story about Shakyamuni Buddha and his disciple Ananda walking home one night. They came across three monks who had been drinking something that was forbidden for monks at the time. The first monk quickly hid on the side of the road behind the bushes hoping not to be discovered.  The second monk averted his gaze and walked quickly past the Tathagata hoping not to be noticed.  The third monk thought that the money he spent was his own and boldly walked calmly right in front of the Buddha without care.  Master Shinjo’s notes on this encounter mention that the first monk represents readily instructable people who are open to new ideas, the second person might need more specific examples and might question reasoning but are motivated by emotional care and compassion, and the third person might need actual correction and regulation in order to learn a new behavior.  Depending on the person, your words and actions might be absorbed readily like a thirsty sponge, or discarded as so much hearsay and opinion.  For those interested in delving further into this story, next month’s podcast will explore the realms of the three areas of Intrinsic, Compassionate and Strict styles of teaching (the 3-Wheel Turning Bodies of the Buddha, Kannon Bodhisattva and Mahavairochana Achala.)

About 2 years ago, I decided that collecting guitars was not the same as actually playing them and signed up for formal lessons.  A long time had passed since I last had something that needed periodic and continued effort to get past my own mental and physical blocks to mastery, and this instrument had become one of those – the kind of situation where you can play “Stairway to Heaven” until people don’t want to hear you any more, but you can’t pick up a random music score and play it because you’re not familiar with how it goes. It’s very similar to saying, “I’m a very religious person,” and everyone nods their heads and thinks, “yes, and one day we’ll see it by actual example.” In this way, you can be doing or saying something quite clear, honest and with great intent, but without reflection upon the outcome of such actions, there really isn’t any measure for improvement or failure.

Just as much as every day we are sedentary, we lose some 1% of our muscle mass per year after 50, the same goes with both our minds, and our efforts to practice. Like that slowly leaking balloon that looks really great floating around, but it’s ever so slowly losing its helium and eventually grounds itself as a deflated rubber raisin, when we don’t do something each day to offset our little sack of karma, it too gets slowly heavier and heavier through natural entropy. To keep our momentum going and that sack staying as light as it can be, it takes daily efforts, and renewed exertion to offset the gentle though persistent waves of sediment that slowly build up over time, and eventually can solidify into much harder to break stone.  This is an example of the same person transitioning between starting out like the first monk described above, and later developing into the third monk even without intent to do so.

/* 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*/

2016-01 Shinnyo Podcast Divine Protection and Luck

2016-01 Shinnyo Podcast Divine Protection and Luck

  • A Heap of Good Fortune For Some
  • Bullets and Bracelets Against the Bad and Wicked
  • Being Fed to Death
  • The Lesser Trodden Path
electrical-work-funny-safety-fails
https://nationalsafety.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/electrical-work-funny-safety-fails.jpg?w=587

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Ever noticed when some people seem to live a charmed life? Not referring to being lucky, or fortunate success-wise, but more towards how some people haven’t had a lot of bad things happen to them. Accidents are few and far between, or never broken a bone, or became really ill. Some are winning every contest they enter, and seem to go through life with an ever-present ray of sunshine falling upon them, never casting a shadow.

Every accident I’ve ever had came from my own action or inaction. I was either unaware of my surroundings because of distraction or focus on something else, or thought I could do something that would get me there faster or presumed someone else was responsible for an action (whether avoiding me because I was there, or was otherwise responsible for predicting what I was about to do.)

I’ve driven always as though I’m invisible, because for all practical purposes, people have the most accidents when something predicted doesn’t happen (the person isn’t supposed to be there; the fan I tripped on wasn’t supposed to in my path; the food I’m eating wasn’t supposed to be spoiled, though it tasted oddly metallic, etc.)

One of the puzzling observations I’ve made has to do with how some people have many people in their lives that are in some way negatively influential, or critical, or even just chronically unhappy with life.  While I don’t have any definitive idea where that comes from, I know that for myself, those kinds of people simply aren’t naturally attracted to me.  I do encounter plenty of people who have ideas for improvement, or ways to do things better or more effectively in my daily life, but none who see the world as impossible to solve, or are faced with challenges beyond their capacity to cope. Much of that could be attributed to my belief that I can’t really do anything in someone else’s life other than show a different way of handling things. But it’s ultimately still their choice to make a difference for themselves. Whether that forms its own kind of invisible force-field against being surrounded by naysayers and prophets of doom, is up to pure speculation, but it is what it is.

Many years ago, I subscribed to the concept of rescuer mentality, developing sort of a Pygmalion attitude about relationships, which in turn attracted many people of similar belief. You became attractive both to those seeking refuge from circumstance and wanting a hand-up to a better life, as well as those who sought to rescue those in need. By itself this would seem to be an amicable relationship, seeing that those wanting support are matched with those seeking to provide it. But I think you can also see the co-dependency aspect of this situation – how the hungry never learn to satiate their own hunger, and the providers never fulfill the illusion of creating independence. Instead of a symbiotic relationship of mutual support, it becomes a parasitic relationship with each party needing the other to continue unfulfilled, lest the relationship (and the emotional satisfaction derived from it) collapse.  The tensions of the need becomes the energy fueling the connections.

To this very day, I still find an innate sense of wanting to rescue, but with a realization that people are not stray dogs and cats, you do what you can to provide an example of self-sufficiency and ability, and do your best to embrace whatever life deals you. There’s a subtle but real difference between when one of those stray animals wanders into your life, looking for solace, versus the ones you go out and trap and domesticate.  Similarly, you can be a great teacher and inspire people to learn, or just talk a lot about great things, and never pay attention that your audience isn’t really listening or learning.

While it makes no sense to try and draw direct relationships between bad luck and how one behaves in life, it may be worth noticing that the little rumbles and ripples from broken promises, and living a life of incongruity is often accompanied with a certain over-abundance of misfortune and misfeasance.   Or if screaming at the top of your lungs that life isn’t fair and the world needs to treat you better hasn’t worked, maybe it’s time to instead invite a few faeries of good fortune and the leprechauns of luck into your life by trying the nicer road. Bad times are challenging, but not a curse, and at the time you encounter them, you do have the muster to overcome them. But if you insist on encouraging the worst by spouting your bravado, I’m pretty sure it will prove to be an entertaining event at the very least. Enjoy the lesser trodden path of life; it often comes filled with surprises and unforeseen opportunities.

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

 

2015-July Shinnyo Podcast One on One Communications

2015-July Shinnyo Podcast One on One Communications

  • …as I have heard.
  • Differences Between Group and Individual Listening
  • Tailoring the Message to the Recipient

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Each of the various sutras (sacred writings) related to buddhism ends with a common phrase, “…as I have heard.”  (technically, “Thus, I have heard..” begins the phrases in Sanskrit, and we translate the grammatical structure in-reverse for English – and that’s more than you wanted to know about why there’s a difference.) Going back to the beginnings when Siddhartha was walking around talking with people about what was on his mind, many people couldn’t read written text (education being something only for the wealthy, and having a few thousand different dialects didn’t make it any easier), and so, he spoke. He also noticed something interesting about speaking with people – people listen and hear differently from each other.

http://shanghaiist.com/2015/08/05/bbc-documentary-chinese-teaching-style-british-schools.php
http://shanghaiist.com/2015/08/05/bbc-documentary-chinese-teaching-style-british-schools.php

There’s a BBC2 programme called “Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School” that is studying the differences between UK students, and those in China, relating to how and why they learn, and the struggles of attempting to teach students that are from very different social backgrounds. One of the many take-aways in the program relates to classroom management, wherein there are classroom monitors (elected by their peers) who are designated to act not only as supervisory extensions for the instructor, but also become role models for the others by demonstrating desired behavior.

The observed difference for a teacher attempting to mass educate a large group in a standardized way, without that group being very consistent and homogenous in focus and intent, becomes very chaotic.  By comparison, speaking with a smaller focused group, or even one on one, becomes much simpler for the speaker to adjust the content and manner of speaking, or even vocabulary, so that the instruction doesn’t get lost.

Similarly, when the students are given a physically engaging task to accomplish, that requires both focus and determination, they are as a population, able to achieve their individual goals at their own pace, some needing assistance from facilitators, and others determining their own path to success.

When students at Shinnyo-en attend dharma school (kind of a 5-year Masters program in Buddhist theology), the attending students are all focused on the same objectives and attending for pretty much the same reasons. In these situations, it is fairly simple to develop a standardized way to communicate a complex topic because the audience is consistent.

By contrast, when you encounter individuals asking a question, or seeking guidance, you will tend to shape your style and manner of communication to most effectively reach your goal of the other person understanding what you are trying to say.  There is also a difference in the way you speak with someone close to you, with whom you share a common connection, versus what you say to a stranger, with a corresponding difference in objective (for example, to a stranger about to misstep, you might say, “Be careful!” and go about your business; but if that same person is your child or parent, your intent and purpose become not only insistent, but also highly protective.)

This is also the difference between this podcast, going out to a random population, versus how and what I would say to an individual.  The content here is general information presented in a very common form, which some may or may not understand. But for those who reach out and ask individually for clarification, or when a familiar person encounters a situation needing similar advice, the information herein becomes tailored to the unique needs of that individual, restated in whatever ways are needed to make the message clear and understandable.

That’s the power of one on one conversation, at least so far as I have heard (and experienced it.)

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

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.