Tag Archives: right speech

Nothing to Gain, Nothing to Lose – continued

Continuing on yesterday’s theme…

The beauty of this teaching of no gaining mind is that no gaining also means no losing. That is, you have nothing to lose if no one recognizes your most generous acts, your most selfless words, your most harmonious gifts. You have nothing to lose if there is no discernible reward for being your best self. This can be said because you are already one with all things, so the recognition is intrinsic.

It reminds me of the parable of the Bodhisattva Never Disparage. It’s a tale from the Lotus Sutra (Saddharma Pundarika Sutra) and it tells the story of a being who had vowed to never disparage other beings. It’s said his practice was to tell people that they too would be Buddhas, as is predicted in the Lotus Sutra. However, some people didn’t like this, and would shun him, yell at him, or even throw rocks at him. At those times, when his safety was at risk because people not only didn’t appreciate his compassion but disagreed with it, the story tells us that the Bodhisattva would “run away to a safe distance and continue” telling folks that he could see their buddhanature.

And so it is with each of us. We are called to bring compassion into the world, called to see the best in others and to “do good,” and perhaps we meet with some resistance or we are ignored. But a practitioner who truly sees non-separation, truly sees nothing to gain and truly sees nothing to lose.

Hide and Seek c. Center for Media and Democracy


Leadership on the Eightfold Path

Shakyamuni Buddha taught the Eightfold Path of practice as the Fourth Noble Truth, as a path of liberation from suffering. Though this occurred more than two millennia ago, these teachings are relevant to leadership in modern times.

NOTE: The word “right” is the usual translation of the Sanskrit word “samma,” but that is a bit rough. The word samma does not have the understanding of right versus wrong. It has the meaning of integral or whole. Some have used the word “sound” as a translation. As in, “that is a sound decision.” This more closely reflects the sense of skillfulness that arises from the Path.

Right View – Our way of being in the world can be a way that increases our suffering, reduces our suffering, or liberates us from suffering. It is our fundamental view of the world, of our experience, that makes the difference. The Buddha taught that the view which would liberate us from suffering, rather than make it worse or mitigate it temporarily, is the view of emptiness. When Buddhists speak of emptiness it simply means empty of inherent existence, empty of the ability to arise completely independently. This makes sense intuitively. All things arise due to causes and conditions. They cannot come into being or cease to be without reliance on causes and conditions. Then, from this standpoint, you can begin to see why the corollary to emptiness is impermanence, the fact that people and things are always changing. The conditions of each instant are shifting and moving, in ways that you can see and in imperceptible ways. The ability to accept change, and understand that it is inevitable and neutral, is the starting point for sound leadership. That is, sound leadership accepts that change will occur. Sound leadership incorporates this fact in planning and makes the most of change.

Example: State governments requiring electric companies to develop wind turbine farms.

V838 c. NASA

V838 c. NASA

Right Intention – Naturally, it is not enough to know how to view the world. You must put it into action, but action stems from intention; it starts with our motivation. A great practitioner once famously said that he wakes up every day and cultivates his motivation. This is because actions and speech reflect intention, even when you don’t want them to. So it is important to establish right intention, which stems from the fundamental acceptance of change and the vow to work in harmony with it. This is not passivity, but rather seeing clearly what actually is, so that you can respond most skillfully. Right intention is based in the ability to respond, rather than react. Sound leadership flows from the motivation not to ignore or resist change, but to respond in a skillful manner.

Example: Establishing Virgin Galactic even while developing Virgin Atlantic.

Right Speech – The extent to which your words express acceptance of what is, and an intentional response, is the extent to which those words express right speech. There is a lot that can be said about right speech, but the Buddha offered five simple guidelines. He said that right speech is timely, helpful, truthful, kind, and not spoken out of ill will. These aspects of right speech remind you that words are meaningful, and it is important to consider their impact, both on yourself and on those who hear them. Sound leadership knows the impact of speech and uses it skillfully, to express an understanding of impermanence and an intention to harmonize with it. It uses speech to bring clarity to any situation.

Example: “Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.” – James Thurber

Right Action – Based upon a sound view of emptiness and impermanence, and a sound intention to live in accord with that view, your actions must also be in accord with the Way. As with speech, right action will provide clarity and harmony. Thus, right action is usually associated with ethical action. It involves finding a skillful way to operate in the world, guided by what is most fundamental. It acknowledges ambiguity, and does not use it as an excuse to set aside the necessity to respond. This is why the Buddhist precepts, or moral guidelines, are not commandments but rather vows, expressions of your underlying intention. Sound leadership recognizes ethics as an integral aspect of life. It acts in harmony with life.

Example: After finding a handful of bottles poisoned, Johnson & Johnson pulled Tylenol off the shelves.

Right Livelihood – This teaching is specifically about work. It is based on the understanding that, in emptiness, each instant contains within it the causes and conditions for the next instant. So this is the teaching that the work that you do has consequences, and it is important to consider those consequences and ensure that they create harmony in the world. Sound leadership recognizes that work is not different from other action. Sound leadership takes responsibility for its results.

Example: If you are a fisherman, not fishing a particular species into extinction.

Right Effort – This is the teaching of sustainability. The Buddha practiced asceticism to the point of death, and then realized that this kind of effort would not lead to liberation from suffering. So he taught the Middle Way. This is the way of wholehearted engagement, because anything less than that is not enough. Yet, it is also the way of embracing limitations, because your effort should not damage your capacity. It must be sustainable, or it misses the mark, risking the full rewards due to shortsightedness. Sound leadership knows that effort must be balanced in order to be effective.

Example: Staying home sick, instead of vomiting at a fancy dinner.

Right Mindfulness – While much of the Eightfold path is focused on activity, right mindfulness is about finding the still point in each moment. It is discovering the inherent steadiness of the mind, and the way that can be a foundation for everything else. This teaching is typically associated with meditation, stripping away momentary distractions to encounter the essence of what is already there. It is pausing to gather the mind, living in the present moment. Sound leadership values steadiness and a clear head.

Example: Phil Jackson teaching the Bulls basketball players to gather themselves before a game.

Sunrise c. NASA

Sunrise c. NASA

Right Awakening – The teaching of Buddhist wisdom is that this very life can be one of awakening to your innate freedom and the abundance of the world. It is within your capabilities, if you are willing to live in the present moment and respond skillfully, in harmony with the natural function of cause and effect. Wisdom is not something that can be given to you, yet it is manifest in relation to others. In Zen it is sometimes expressed as “not one, not two.” Wisdom is both an individual experience and a group function, and it is based in true discernment. Sound leaders are like great conductors, they help to make a symphony by energizing many individuals.

Example: Cooperative competition all over Silicon Valley.


The Generous Gift

The past week at Zen Center, the celebration of our 50th anniversary as an organization, has elicited many strong feelings. Whether you live at one of the three practice centers, visit them, or engage in activities from a far, it’s likely that you cannot help but be moved by the events that have taken place. There are quite a few reasons that one can explore for these intense emotions, but there is one in particular that I’d like to address. It is the feeling of connection.

The world of the ten directions

copyright Locust

By connection I mean the sense that we are all of a piece, that we are joined to each other, that we share a common experience. I have felt that sense of communion this week, and I have heard others express their experience of it. And I believe it’s safe to say that one particular practice is most responsible for this feeling in our community in recent days. That practice is the practice of apology.

Offering an apology is one of the greatest gifts we can give each other. It is such an act of generosity that we instantly feel a shift in our innermost feelings about the person that offered it and about the situation. I think that this is true even in the instances when we aren’t yet prepared to accept or understand another’s apology. Still, we can’t help but experience at least a small softening toward the one who gives the gift of saying “I’m sorry.” And I believe that this happens at our most basic level of functioning, because humans are beings that are meant to rely on one another for our survival. We do not live out our lives very far from other people. So we have to know, in our most primitive minds, the way to salvage a sense of connection. At times our lives have depended on it, both in the days of primitive man and in modern times.

Also, we can appreciate the cultural aspects of apology. There are many aspects of Zen practice that can be mystifying to newcomers, but perhaps none more so than the Japanese cultural influences in our practice. We chant in Japanese, bow to one another, dress in clothes that look appropriate for martial arts, and eat miso soup from special bowls. A noticeable and noble practice of generously offering apologies is widespread in Japanese culture. Westerners sometimes make jokes about how regularly their Japanese friends apologize, sometimes for behavior so trivial that it doesn’t seem to make sense. But the Japanese have recognized the gift of it, the simple ease that it can provoke, the way it answers our most fundamental needs. Sometimes I marvel at just how gracious the Japanese art of apology can be.

So, taking up the noble way, in the past week, Richard Baker Roshi made heartfelt, public apologies for what he referred to as “the mess” he made and “the damage to Suzuki Roshi’s legacy.” In doing so he continues the ancient way, and makes possible a new beginning. May I, the sangha of Zen Center, and the whole world truly accept this precious gift.

Looking Backward in the Mirror

This morning, in conversation, I found myself receiving the admonishment of Shakyamuni Buddha. “There is no need to convince another of Right View. Simply conduct yourself in such a manner, and the world will co-create itself according to the Way.” Ahhh yes. The desire to have a positive influence, to leave a legacy, to be seen as offering discernment – these desires are all simply an expression of the ego self. They reflect a wish to protect some small-minded identity that habitually defines the world in a way which is incredibly petty when placed into the real context of a universe of co-created activity. Wow! Thank you to the vehicle of the Dharma, a long-time practitioner who is himself humbly finding a path amidst mind, small and large and beyond measure.

This offering arose in the midst of a conversation about how to have a conversation. Recently I’d been approached by a person under whom I have worked. She wanted to talk about disappointment and an expectation that had not been shared. She was direct, but gentle about it. Still, I hesitated because I feel that once the decision is made and the first steps are taken, it’s a little too late to offer feedback. It’s a bit like asking someone what they think of your new hairdo. Once the hair has been cut, to criticize can only be painful. There’s no putting it back, at least not until it grows out. Asking for input before the haircut is more likely to elicit a constructive response.

So the question arose: what is a skillful way to talk about a state of affairs which you undoubtedly view differently, and which is not likely to be undone anytime soon? And what my friend suggested this morning is to avoid trying to convince the other person of my view, or to show the other person who I am by expressing my view. This is a great reminder about renunciation, in this case renunciation of the view of self. That is to say, he recommended that I not impose my view of myself on the situation, but simply express the experience of it.

In this way, if I can cleanly describe my feelings and thoughts and perceptions and respond to what arises in that moment – not the moment that is already history – then the self that arises is simply a skillful interaction, and can be characterized but what’s seen and heard. This is a very different self than the one that is a fixed view, set up in advance and defended over the course of many interactions. So, for example, if I think that I am a compassionate person, then I must always be trying to say something or do something compassionate, and I am constantly judging myself against this view. I will want to hear feedback from others about how compassionate I am, and I will want to see myself as behaving in a compassionate way all the time.

Looking backward in the mirror – c. PR Newswire and American Broadcasting

But, if I forgo the fixed view of myself, and simply act in a skillful and compassionate way, then I can be authentic in the moment and know that sometimes I will act compassionately and maybe sometimes I won’t. But it doesn’t define me or define the world in relation to me except, perhaps, in retrospect, as the consequences of my words and actions have their impacts. This is like looking in the mirror backwards. If you want to see who you are, “you” can only be defined arbitrarily as an accumulation of activities of body, speech and mind. Even this activity of looking back is not necessary, but it can be helpful as a form of studying the self in order to forget the self.

Right Speech: Turning Your Back

Yesterday I stepped out into a sunny afternoon, intent on finding some respite. I was aware that this is a bit of a funny thing to do for someone who lives in a sanctuary. Nonetheless, I was on my way to a local coffee shop in hopes of sitting behind my sunglasses, sipping a very large espresso drink, and waiting for delicious boredom to set in.

Then it happened. As I sat with my beverage, a woman in a short red sweater and those narrow jeans that are so popular these days walked in, breezing by me with her eyes on the pastry cases. I know her. She is someone who has been a regular at the temple for many months, or maybe much longer, and she had been taking a class in which I was involved. I was pretty sure she hadn’t seen me – yet.

Slouching down into the big leather chair, I picked up the newspaper and considered the situation. I realized that I had just made a split second decision not to raise my hand and call her attention as she entered. And, now having retained my anonymity, I wasn’t quite sure what might happen next. Surely it was inevitable that she’d see me. After all, it wasn’t that big a place. I had no intention of leaving, but no intention of conversing either. So I sat there reading the paper and not looking up.

Still, out of the edge of my field of vision I saw her walk past me again, this time with her coffee. I thought that I sensed a moment of hesitation but I studiously peered at the paper. A flicker of a question – did she recognize me? It didn’t matter so much to be seen, as to be polite, for if she had identified me I couldn’t avoid her altogether. This I recognize as a trait from my upbringing, the impossibility of being rude.

But I had my answer right away, without so much as a word exchanged. She sat down across the room at a small table with her back to me. This might seem coincidental but, actually, she had to face a wall rather than a brightly lit room full of wooden furniture in order to do it. And she was directly at the wall, not turning even a little to one side or the other. She was ignoring me.

A moment of relief came over me and then the thought that she was doing this to be polite, having interpreted my intense interest in the newspaper as a sign that I would prefer not to be social. Or maybe she had a preference not to have to make small talk with me, and chose the polite wall gazing over a polite conversation. Either way, I was struck by the fact that two adults could wordlessly decide that it was a kindness not to speak to someone they know. Fascinating.

The Buddha taught to that there five things to consider when speaking, so as to ensure that you will be offering kind speech. He advised that one consider whether the thing that one wants to say is: timely, truthful, helpful, polite and compassionate. So in this situation timeliness was not present, and both of us clued into that fact before it was too late. Kindness was not present, and we agreed on that.

Have you ever done that? Ignored someone in a public place because you thought it was kinder or more appropriate than having a conversation? Fill in the poll and let us all know!