Archive for March, 2017

A number of years ago I had the privilege of being a thought-partner to a number of folks in the Netherlands.  During one of my visits my host took me to the Rotterdam Zoo.  He wanted me to have a particular experience.  The experience taught me a great deal about ‘Eye Contact.’

When I was young I was told over and over by the significant adults in my life that ‘when you are communicating with another make sure that you look the person in the eyes.’  I still hear adults telling children to follow this bit of advice.  In our culture we believe that making and holding eye contact with another is crucial.  Now, we return to my lesson.

After an hour or so of walking and riding around the zoo we came upon the gorilla area.  Prior to entering the enclosed area we were handed special eyeglasses.  These glasses did not change what I saw, they changed what the gorilla saw.

The glasses had a picture painted on them with the eyes looking to the side.  This prevented the gorilla from believing he or she was making direct eye contact with you.  Gorillas, I learned, do not like direct eye contact.  Direct eye contact for the gorilla does not invite connection; it is experienced by the gorilla as a direct threat.  To put it mildly, direct eye contact freaks the gorilla out.

For us humans the context is crucial.  Generally, if the context does not indicate ‘threat,’ we, in our culture, will not experience ‘threat’ when we make eye contact with another person.  On the other hand, if the context is one where there are a number of folks present increases (the number will change for each person) it is not uncommon for eye contact to become a threat.

Generally, the ‘context’ says to the person – All eyes are now upon you; you are now being noticed!  This is a major reason why the number-one fear/threat reported by people in our culture is a fear of speaking in public [not only will you be ‘noticed,’ you will be ‘evaluated’].

Culture becomes crucial.  There are a number of cultures (think: Chinese Culture, for example) where it is impolite to make and hold eye contact.  Again, context is important.  For example, during my first visit to Singapore I noticed that some folks would not hold eye contact for long.  This was, I was told, a sign of respect for my ‘status’ and ‘age.’

On one of my trips to Asia, I had a ten hour layover in Japan.  A Japanese elder I knew met me at the airport and took me to a hotel located near the airport.  I was able to shower, take a nap and enjoy a long conversation (and some good food); a great way to spend a ten hour layover.  My friend, Kichiro brought his younger brother with him.

As we greeted one another I noticed that standing behind Kichiro was a man.  He was standing tall and his eyes were lowered.  Kichiro noticed my eye movement and told me that the man was his ‘younger brother’ (Kichiro was in his early 50s and his brother was in his late 40s).  Kichiro’s brother owned a successful business in Japan.  Kichiro stepped aside and this was a sign for his brother to step forward.

Kichiro’s younger brother stepped forward, bowed low, and waited for me to extend my hand.  He only held eye contact after I literally invited him to do so.  The experience reinforced for me the power of culture.

I have learned that it is crucial to understand ‘Culture’ and ‘Context’ if one is going to understand ‘Eye Contact.’

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Gentle reader, you might remember that I love stories.  Recently I read the following Native American story.  The story involves the ‘Trickster’ – in this story the ‘Trickster’ is ‘Coyote [the ‘Trickster’ has appeared in stories for thousands of years generally as an animal – Fox, Raven, Coyote, Snake, etc.].  Each ‘Trickster’ story offers us a lesson; thus, they are ‘teaching stories.’

In this Native American story, Coyote has helped out Buffalo Bull; he had lost his horns and Coyote made him a new pair.  In gratitude Buffalo Bull gave Coyote a gift, a magic cow, and he also gave Coyote some sage advice: ‘Never kill this cow!’  The Buffalo continued: ‘When you become hungry, cut a small piece of fat off the cow and then rub ashes on the wound.  The wound will heal.  If you follow my advice you will have food forever.’

For a few months Coyote followed the Buffalo’s advice.  Being a Coyote he traveled about and one day he found that he had entered a new land.  The Coyote – being the ‘Trickster’ he was – said to himself: ‘I am in a new land.  I bet the Buffalo’s advice does not hold here; this is not his land.  So, the Coyote decided to fatten up the cow, kill it and have a feast.

The cow became fatter and fatter.  Finally, Coyote decided it was time to kill the fatted cow and enjoy his feast.  Coyote killed the cow and skinned her.  Immediately hundreds of crows and magpies appeared, swooped down and feasted on the cow.  Coyote, the ‘Trickster’ was tricked (as is always the case in the ‘Trickster’ stories); he was left with nothing, not even the hide.

Coyote ends up with nothing; the magic cow is dead.  The plot is a typical plot: the ‘Trickster’ is given something valuable with a condition set on its use, time passes, and before too long ‘Trickster’s Insatiable Hunger’ leads him to violate the condition.

As a consequence, the plenitude is severely diminished if not destroyed.  ‘Hunger’ devours the ideal, and the ‘Trickster’ suffers.  In this type of story there seems to be two options: limited food or limited appetite.  Coyote, unable to choose the latter, has the former forced upon him.

We human beings have been given a planet to watch over.  If we follow Buffalo’s advice we will have enough forever.  If we continue to act like ‘Coyote’ our insatiable appetite will lead us to our own destruction.  For thousands of years the ‘Trickster Stories’ have given us (continue to give us) advice.  Advice which we continue to ignore.  We humans are the ‘Trickster’ incarnate.  Our ‘Hunger’ to ‘Consume’ is ‘Insatiable.’  If we do not choose to curb our ‘Appetite’ we will be ‘Consumed’ by it.

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This morning, gentle reader, we will continue our exploration as we focus a bit on Socrates and Jesus.  Both of these philosophers had a number of things in common, not the least of which was their being condemned to death for the ‘good news’ they offered us.

SOCRATES: Socrates’ main focus was on how to live a good and virtuous life. The claim attributed to him by Plato that “an unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology, 38b) seems historically accurate, in that it is clear he inspired his followers to think for themselves. Socrates was a man who cared nothing for class distinctions or `proper behavior’ and who spoke as easily with women, servants, and slaves as with those of the higher classes. The Oracle at Delphi declared that Socrates was the wisest man alive.

At the age of 70 (399 B.C.) Socrates was charged with impiety. Ignoring the counsel of his friends, Socrates chose to defend himself in court. There were no lawyers in ancient Athens and, instead of a solicitor, one would hire a speechwriter. The speechwriter usually presented the defendant as a good man who had been wronged by a false accusation, and this is the sort of defense the court would have expected from Socrates.

Instead of the defense filled with self-justification and  pleas for his life, however, Socrates defied the Athenian court, proclaiming his innocence and casting himself in the role of Athens’ ‘gadfly’ – a benefactor to them all who, at his own expense, kept them awake and aware. When it came time for Socrates to suggest a penalty to be imposed rather than death, he suggested he should be maintained in honor with free meals. As was his wont, Socrates defied protocol: accused criminals on trial for their life were expected to beg for the mercy of the court.

Socrates was convicted and sentenced to death (Xenophon tells us that he wished for such an outcome and Plato’s account of the trial in his Apology would seem to confirm this). The last days of Socrates are chronicled by Plato in a number of ‘dialogues’ with the last dialogue depicting the day of his death (by drinking hemlock) surrounded by his friends in his jail cell in Athens and, as Plato puts it, “Such was the end of our friend, a man, I think, who was the wisest and justest, and the best man I have ever known” (Phaedo, 118).

Socrates wrote nothing, but his words and actions in the search for and defense of Truth changed the world and his example still inspires legions of people today.

JESUS.  Jesus was a carpenter, a sadhu, an itinerant preacher, a teacher and a living role-model.  He did not organize anything.  He was a servant, not a leader (today some of his followers insist that he is the model for leadership rather than being a model for servant, first; he did everything he could NOT TO BE A LEADER and some of his followers were not pleased with his choice).

Jesus did specifically invite a number of folks to ‘come follow me’ and he also set clear expectations for those who sought him out with a desire to follow him (think: ‘Go sell all you have; give it to the poor and come follow me.’).  He did not suffer the self-righteous lightly (which I find to be ironic today as a number of those who claim to be his followers today take pride in being self-righteous).  Like Confucius, Buddha and Socrates, Jesus lived the ‘Golden Rule.’

Jesus taught via parables and via example.  At times he was clear and at others times he was subtle, even confusing.  He gave us his ‘Be-Attitudes’ – they continue to disturb and challenge us today.  He spread the ‘Good News.’  He easily forgave.  He modeled forgiveness – many of us today continue to resist the model he gave us.  He believed and demonstrated that faith-rooted in doubt-resulted in abundance (think: ‘loaves and fishes’).  He was ‘sure’ yet he did not demand that anyone else be sure (in fact, he did not suffer lightly those who claimed they were ‘sure’ – think: Peter, for one).  The only people he judged were the ‘self-righteous’ and those who ‘sinned against the holy spirit.’  He upped the ante when he declared that ONLY those who sinned against the Holy Spirit would not be forgiven (to this day there is disagreement regarding what this sin entails).

These ‘Four Philosophers’ continue to provide us guidance, they continue to be powerful role-models for us.  They are the embodiment of Hope.  They are the ‘light’ that pierces the ‘darkness.’

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This morning gentle reader we will continue our brief exploration of our ‘Four Philosophers.’  We continue with our second Philosopher, Buddha.

Gautama Buddha (c.563BCE/480BCE-c.483BCE/400BCE), also known as Siddhārtha Gautama, Shakyamuni Buddha, or simply the Buddha, was an ascetic and sage, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded.  He is believed to have lived and taught mostly in the eastern part of ancient India sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE.

Gautama taught a Middle Way between sensual indulgence and the severe asceticism found in the śramana movement common in his region.  He later taught throughout other regions of eastern India.

Gautama is the primary figure in Buddhism.  He is recognized by Buddhists as an enlightened teacher who attained full Buddhahood and shared his insights to help sentient beings end rebirth and suffering.  Accounts of his life, discourse, and monastic rules are believed by Buddhists to have been summarized after his death and memorized by his followers.  Various collections of

Teachings attributed to him were passed down by oral tradition and first committed to writing about 400 years later.

BUDDHA: The workings of the mind are examined with great precision in these teachings of the Buddha that originated in India more than 2000 years ago. However the way to freedom lies not in a scholarly study of these teachings, but instead in practicing meditation and mindfulness.  Our challenge: Strive to be a Buddha, not a Buddhist! 

Buddhism’s ‘Four Noble Truths’
1. Suffering exists
2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires
3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path

Buddhism’s ‘Noble Eightfold Path’

 Three Qualities  Eightfold Path
 Wisdom (panna)  Right View
 Right Thought
 Morality (sila)  Right Speech
 Right Action
 Right Livelihood
 Meditation (samadhi)  Right Effort
 Right Mindfulness
 Right Contemplation

Three Characteristics of Existence
1. Transiency (anicca)
2. Sorrow (dukkha)
3. Selflessness (anatta)

Unwholesome mental states that impede progress towards enlightenment.
1. Sensuous lust
2. Aversion and ill will
3. Sloth and torpor
4. Restlessness and worry
5. Skeptical doubt

Factors of Enlightenment
1. Mindfulness
2. Investigation
3. Energy
4. Rapture
5. Tranquility
6. Concentration
7. Equanimity

To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him. –Buddha

What we think, we become. –Buddha


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Each of these ‘Four Philosophers’ (Confucius, Buddha, Socrates and Jesus) were ‘light-filled’ and thus were (and continue to be) antithetical to the ‘Darkness.’  Each of them attracted a diverse group of ‘disciples.’  Some of the disciples captured the words and actions of the Philosopher, wrote them down and shared them with others – and, over time, their words and stories became available to all who lived after them.

These ‘Four Philosophers’ were not bringers of comfort or solace; they were disturbers and awakeners.  They were criticized, two of them unto death, not because they were bringers of ‘bad news’ but because they were bringers of ‘good news.’  Talk about irony and paradox!

They did not suffer the self-righteous lightly.  They embraced those who were suffering. They embraced the outcasts.  They embraced the searchers and the seekers.  They lived the ‘Golden Rule’ to the max.  They were clear that if you chose to follow them that the way would not be an easy way; it would be, however, a grace-full way and a peace-full way and a love-full way and a compassion-full way and a forgiving-healing-full way.

Gentle reader, as you know, many books, articles, essays and critical thinking articles exist that focus on each of these philosophers.  Given that, I will share a bit about each one.  These ‘bits’ are, for me, major tap roots when it comes to understanding each Philosopher.

CONFUCIUS: Confucius attempted to add a moral dimension to many accepted ideas, beliefs, and social categories. For example, for Confucius, “Dao” meant more than the ‘Way,’ it meant the ‘Moral Way.’  He believed that a virtuous life would bring people into harmony with the ‘Moral Way.’  Confucius ‘lived’ the concepts of what proper moral behavior should be.

Confucian Ethical Teachings:
is the keynote of Confucian ethics. Jen variously translated as “love”, “goodness”, “humanity”, and “human-heartedness”. It is the highest Confucian virtue which represents human qualities at their best. In human relations, Jen is manifested in Chung, faithfulness to oneself and others.  Other important Confucian virtues include:

De: virtue and good manners.
Hsiao: love within the family, such as love of parents for their children and of children for their parents.
Li: includes ritual, propriety, etiquette, etc.
Shu: altruism which means do not do to others what you do not want other done to yourself.
Wen: peace.
Xin: honesty and trustworthiness.
Yi: righteousness.
Zhi: wisdom.

The Five Relationships:
The Five Relationships are the basis of all social connections between persons. They are parents and children, husband and wife, elder brother and younger brother, ruler and subject and friend and friend. In each of the relationships, the superior member (parents, husband, etc.) has the duty of benevolence and care for the subordinate member (children, wife, etc.). The subordinate member has the duty of obedience. The only exception is the relationship between friend and friend, which is often rooted in equality. If, however, one friend was the ‘elder’ to the other then, for Confucius, the relationship would turn it into a relationship like that between older and younger brother. When embraced and lived into and out of, this ‘system’ of the ideas of loyalty, truthfulness and filial piety can result in a peaceful and ordered society (for Confucius, a ‘peaceful and ordered society’ was his dream).

Yin and Yang:
The Yin is conceived of as earth, dark, negative and feminine, Yang is conceived of as heaven, light, positive and masculine. They complement one another. Both are necessary.  When one dominates bad things happen.  Yin and Yang demonstrate the need for interdependence between the world of nature (think: the five elements – metal, wood, water, fire and earth) and human events. Yin and Yang symbolize, signal and signify harmony.



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