Tag Archives: strength

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*/

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2014-01 Shinnyo-en Buddhism Podcast – The New Year

2014-01 Shinnyo-en Buddhism Podcast – The New Year

  • Saisho – How to Use the Force
  • Using Diversity to Strengthen and Broaden Community
  • Self-Reflection Leading to Global Peace

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(Based upon Shinnyo-en’s Annual Guidance and Points of Practice for 2014 – Year of the Horse)

In HH Keishu Shinso’s New Year’s address she presented the 2014 guideline including working to extend saisho (lit. spiritual wonders) and our annual practices to include contributing in a loving and kind manner with diversity, and using sesshin (lit. self-reflection) to build our world of friendship. Part of our embodiment of the astrological animal traits, is not to just abide by your own birth year’s characteristics, but to also extend your focus and reach according to each year’s sign, sort of like being re-born each year into that year’s emphasis. Horse years include broadening horizons, openness, gatherings and crowds, and certainly  an attraction to many many diverse interests. So with that in mind, let’s explore this year’s guidelines and practice items as a whole.

The concept of saisho can be thought of of being similar to the concept of the “Force” in George Lucas’s Star Wars – an energy which flows through every living thing in the universe, neither created nor destroyed, but simply transitioning from form to form, and state to state.

So if entropy and enthalpy are the scientific study of such energy transitions, what does religion and spirituality do with the same concepts? Well, science does well at interpreting what happens when something occurs, such as when a brain cell is electrically stimulated causing a word to be uttered in a verbal response. And psychologically, we may be able to interpret what natural versus nurtured behavioral elements led to the specific content of those words.

But when someone’s words become altruistic — generated in a way that does not seem to directly extend from internal drives and motives, nor self-satisfying objectives, those we may speak of as being driven through a path other than simple scientific cause and effect. We might think of religion being wrapped around a focus of many miraculous events, such as rising from the dead, or surviving apocalypse, but in reality, there are other forms of “miracles” which we simply need to examine our own history to understand that the definition is temporary. Just 100 years ago, many millions fell victim to invisible virus outbreaks, and bacterial infections which were thought to be terminal (and to some extent brought about by divine retribution.) But as the collective human mind became increasingly open to the concept of “invisible life forms” and synergetic treatments, our own collective suffering diminished in return. A couple thousand years ago, we were pretty sure lead was really safe, and mercury was a form of medicinal cure.

So, the concept of saisho, could simply be humanity’s continued diminishing fear of the unknown (or hard to explain), and embracement of harmonic balance. Wave energy is a good example of harmonic convergence or cancellation. When waves are sent in opposing directions to each other, they tend to cancel each other’s energy, and result in a flattened and still surface devoid of movement. Combining wave forces in the same direction creates reinforcement and greater amplitude and strength than contained within the original separated waves. So as religions and spirituality converge and reinforce, rather than conflict and cancel each other, we may observe a rather miraculous result.

Just as small trickles of melting ice and tiny streams converge towards amazingly huge rivers and oceans, so works the power of diversity, or simply variety. In the early days of Shinnyo-en, when food and resources were scarce, the Shinnyo parents (Shinjo and Tomoji Ito) raised vegetables on the temple grounds and gave them to the neighbors and practitioners  Tomoji was known for silently cleaning and polishing attendees shoes while they attended lessons by Shinjo, simply because she thought it would bring a smile to someone’s face if they came out and found them that way. Similarly, the early morning cleaning practices wherein we go out and clean and polish a nearby public place, are not meant to be huge demonstrations in public service, but simple small efforts to make a corner of the world a brighter and more enjoyable place.

Perhaps you leave a thank you card for a co-worker for their efforts, or +1 someone’s post on Google, or have some other way to positively contribute to someone else experience of life – it’s an action that counts. It builds merit. And it is more than deciding NOT to do something.

From the ancient roots of philosophy – being a lover of wisdom, and seeker of universal truth, and contrasted with another ancient word, phronesis – seeking practical truth and comprehension, tempered with life experience, the simple example often given is about conveying words of truth to someone. Philosophically, those words can be harsh and bitter to someone unreceptive to them. Phronetically, one might avoid saying anything at all, as being the practical way to avoid the conflict. But through self-reflection (sesshin), we achieve a third state of placing ourselves into the recipients shoes, so to speak, and choose words which can enlighten the person to what we mean to say, truthfully, but without the pain, conflict, or avoidance. Sometimes this self-reflection leads to discovery that what we thought was something worth saying, wasn’t anything at all, and turned out to be an effort to persuade someone else. Remember that harmony includes diversity,  and does not strive towards conformity. Balance depends on the relative weight, mass and distribution of each element, and choosing an arbitrary center doesn’t make something balanced. So, be sure you know your own elements, and embrace your own variety (hint: it’s that self-reflection thing), and choosing your centers of balance will  become based upon solid reference points rather than guesswork.