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.
/* 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*/
When we first enter this world, we learn the harsh feeling that pain delivers. As parents, we spend lifetimes trying to keep our children from experiencing as much as we felt when we were growing up. As aged people, we spend on pharmaceuticals and every contraption imaginable to avoid having to suffer from it. And our own imaginations create our hopes of next world existence in places free from pain – heaven, nirvana, the after-life.
We even will often leave ourselves in relationships that are painful simply because we want to avoid the additional pain of having to end it – because in some sense, it may feel worse (mostly from sense of guilt) to end the relationship, rather than endure and continue. This particular point is often seen as one of those “double-edged swords” with what seems to be negative outcome no matter which path you choose. Remember that guilt becomes a trigger for our own negative behavior, as well, as it is triggered from our emotional wish to try and relieve the pain and suffering of others. But also remember the premise that others can only change themselves, just as we can only change ourselves.
Through that same idea, we cannot end the suffering of someone else, even if we are causing it, because we can only remove ourself as a source of pain. Even if you go away, their pain they feel may continue. You cannot achieve a goal of making another person’s world free of suffering. They have to be able to create and sustain that for themselves.
We are even taught that suffering trains us to be tougher, or more resilient. (e.g. “Man up!” or “Tough it out!”) While love may work through the premise, that “All love flows through your own love for you,” pain follows a similar path. When you put yourself through a painful life, it actually tends to transmit the same to others. Ever had an emotional reaction to seeing an senior war veteran, realizing what that person had gone through and still emerged alive? Was that feeling joy and elation? Or was it empathy for their pain?
This is why Shinnyo talks about your attitude when performing voluntary service is really important. If you view contributing your time and efforts as a burden, or a task you’d rather avoid, others will not see the positive nature of our efforts – they feel the pain instead. In doing our work, any work, if we do not retain the joy and happiness related to why we are doing it, we actually can produce a counter-productive result. Instead of more people being encouraged to “follow our lead” and help-out, we end up giving people the idea “Wow, I’m really thankful I don’t have to do what they’re doing.”
Physicians of all sorts learn the concept behind expediency in trauma treatment leading to faster recovery (and ideally, less pain sustained.) The pain of pulling a bad tooth endures less than suffering from the infection. But I think the verdict is still undecided on removing bandages from a healing wound. Some say, doing it quick has a momentary shock of pain, but it’s over quickly. Others find removing it slowly and deliberately causes less incremental pain, though it takes longer to subside. Either way, leaving it in-place doesn’t end the suffering, it merely avoids it, but perpetuates the pain’s eventual emergence.
The difficult thing is that emotional pain can extend long beyond the physical cause. That’s because emotions are triggered from inside your mind, and not a splinter you can just remove. I think it’s this kind of pain that often binds us to inaction – why we stay in bad relationships, or even perpetuate ones that we know aren’t good for either person, but it seems preferable to having to experience the actual pain of breakup and dissolution. Or maybe we even try to convince ourselves that somehow the pain will end if we just suffer through it, even though we’re causing it (which is why emotional pain isn’t a bandage you can simply remove.) From a physiology standpoint, emotional pain is biochemical – which means until you change the chemistry that creates the trigger, the psychological experience will endure.
Even a person with advanced dementia and Alzheimer’s can still feel emotional pain. And all the sedatives and tranquilizers you can take, won’t change the biochemistry that is causing the sensation; they just mask your momentary awareness of it. Only actual change in mind (setting forth the right thoughts), body (cessation of the bad behavior), and soul (this is the motivational part of why you are listening, or reading this – it is your Self you are changing) can heal an emotional wound.
When you feel life’s burdens seem to be never-ending, part of the feeling may also be the result of what we consider karma or the product of previous generations. That is not to say, the blame is from your ancestors – each generation is given the opportunity to address that burden and each generation can address it, or pass it on to the next. You have the capacity to transform burdens into life’s challenges and your opportunity to overcome them, or be overwhelmed by them.
There’s an old illustration of a thief who has a strong attachment to money. Succeeding generations of their spiritual downstream also maintain a similar attachment, whether in the opposite direction (they loath and refuse to accumulate it), or reinforcing it (by hoarding or collecting it.) The attachment becomes a never-ending hunger that cannot be satiated either way. That is where the concept of embracement of life’s events becomes empowering. Shinnyo (oneness with truth) says life never delivers you a challenge you are not ready to accept. How you deal with it determines so many things downstream from your choices. Whether called the Butterfly Effect, or leave it unnamed, this is the actual power you have to affect the world around you.
““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,
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*/
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.
Yet, 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.
From 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).
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,
Injuring a Buddha,
Disturbing the Sangha
8-fold Noble Path
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
From a WikiHow on the subject, Love is expressed as an action and experienced as a feeling. Yet, love has an essence that resists defining in any single way — it encompasses compassion, determination, tolerance, endurance, support, faith, and much more.
noun \ˈləv\ a (1) : strong affection for another…
In the stories about Mara, the lord of demons, one story tells that he sent three alluring and lovely enchantresses to Shakyamuni during his “sitting under a Bodhi tree” period (his early 30’s). He basically replies to their requests for attention with “…eventually everyone grows old and dies. If you base your attraction on something without permanence, eventually it will go away, and you will feel suffering.
Basically, since so much of our lives is spent trying to conquer and prevent something we fear (no money, no love, no food, no answers, etc.) until we accept simply the way things are and move forward from fears, we feel bad every time one of those needs and wants are left unfulfilled. Or conversely, we spend a lot of time and effort accumulating so much excess, that we ultimately are drinking water from a bucket with a hole in it (neverending desire.) This is why the human potential movement always stated, “you can only love someone else, if you love your Self, first.” Without appreciation and respect for what you are, all faults included, there’s still a hole in the bucket (Dear Liza, dear Liza… : from a very old folk song o/~)
noun: /dɪˈluːʒən/ 1 : a belief that is not true : a false idea
From an interesting poem on the subject:
Since you are bound by delusion,
This world becomes full of restraints.
When you are enlightened,
You are free from boundaries wherever you may go.
Because there was no east nor west originally,
How could either north or south exist?
But as we know, having really good intentions and beliefs doesn’t really have any impact if you don’t DO something differently. This is the “actions speak louder than words… and also thoughts, wishes, hopes, dreams, inspirations, education, knowledge, understanding, et.al” concept. Remember the funny paradox of someone who proclaims, “I am humble.” — you either are, or you aren’t. Announcing the intention is an action that counters it. Try not to make the hole in the bucket any bigger as you try to fix it.
not returned or reciprocated
Most painful of the emotions are those associated with emptiness. The key here is to learn to appreciate the absences, as well as the fulfillments. That sense of relief you get when you’ve worked really hard and finished off a great pile of work and savoring the lack of more to do is what you can nurture to bring your appreciation of every situation and circumstance to fruition. A song is more than the notes – it is also the silences between the notes.
Let’s say for example, you really care about someone. You give more of yourself to this other person than you ever thought possible. But the other person simply ignores the effort and walks away. The perceptions at play here are that you believed your emotional transfer to this other person was invaluable and priceless. The other person didn’t perceive the same value. So is the other person responsible for the pain and suffering you feel as a result of someone thinking your efforts are without worth? You still cannot change the other person; you can only change your expectations. This would be like offering English language lessons to someone who only speaks Swahili – unless there is a compelling reason to learn English, it really doesn’t have immediate perceived value. But when you come upon a person who really wants to learn, you become invaluable. Learning to see the true situation and lessening the coloration from your own expectations allows you to begin appreciating the truth, or the silence in-between the notes.
Or perhaps, your hopes for being valued were left unfulfilled – you were left thinking, “if that person was a good person, they would have noticed me and returned my affections.” Strangely enough, that’s like the person who studies religion, attends services regularly, and always talks to others about the way things should be, never noticing the imbalances and troubles in their own lives, nor working towards correcting those first. We can become attracted rather easily to delusions because our own minds are creatively empowered to imagine and dream. And yet, when those dreams become fantasy, we can become determined, or even obsessed towards something, or someone who is not what we want them to be. And the more we try to shape and mold our fantasy into what we think we want, our delusion becomes stronger. Try not to take your bucket of fresh water to the oceanside and toss it in, expecting that the ocean will become magically drinkable, especially if you keep doing it over and over again. That is truly an attachment to a delusion.
Do 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.
What 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
As 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.
Have 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.
When 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.
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.
If you Care a Little More, Things Happen. Bees can be dangerous. Always wear protective clothing when approaching or dealing with bees. Do not approach or handle bees without proper instruction and training.