Friday, June 26, 2015

Self-Reflection - Looking at One's Self

Last time, we went over the 4th Paramita of Effort and how it relates to the concept of our karma

The Law of Cause and Effect teaches us that the more good seeds we plant, the more happiness we will reap. 

Doing good, consistently and on a regular basis, accumulates the momentum required toward acquiring the happiness that we want in our lives. 

It is important to keep in mind which of the Six Paramitas we choose to focus on. That way we can actually find the opportunities to practice that virtue in our daily lives. 

Shakyamuni Buddha taught that by focusing on just one of the paramitas with all our hearts, we end up doing all of the other five virtues.

To review, the Six Paramitas are:

1.) Generosity - Giving wisely to others

2.) Discipline - Keeping our promises

3.) Patience  - Watching our temper

4.) Effort - Working hard toward doing good

5.) Self-Reflection - Looking at one's self

6.) Wisdom - Practicing the Law of Cause and Effect

The 5th Paramita of Self-Reflection means to take a look at ourselves very intently. We review carefully our various thoughts, words, and actions. We focus from within and search inside for who we really are. It can also be called as contemplation

Original Photo by taufiq hussien available on

Etched onto the ancient Greek temple of Apollo at Delphi are the thought-provoking words: "Know Thyself." ... A wise passage, but in what way or how exactly do we come to access knowledge of ourselves?

On the one hand if we are overanalyzing our shortcomings too much, we may punish ourselves harshly for things that don't really matter. But on the other hand if we are overflowing with self-confidence, we may be making mistakes or harming others in ways we don't know.

So how do we become aware of our own blind spots and aspire higher toward serious self-improvement... all in a balanced, steady way?

Before we begin self-reflection, we should try to calm down.

Next we should concentrate on what's been troubling us as well as what's been happening to us lately.

Then it's a good idea to examine what kind of environment we are in currently. What kind of people or influences are surrounding us?

Lastly and most importantly, how are we choosing to respond to the events occurring in our lives?

There are many, many ways to approach and practice Self-reflection.

Think of your mind like a room in your home. Is the room in your mind messy or neat? Maybe both?

Original Photo by Christopher Gollmar available on

If we leave a room really messy often, it becomes hard to find important things. Like your keys before a very important meeting at work or say the day of a final exam at school for example.

You could go to the normal spots to check for them, but what usually happens if they are not there? Sure, you can go digging randomly around the room, but in your desperation you may forget where you've already been. Things begin to get frantic and you go around in circles.

Actually, the best way to find anything in a messy room is to try to clean up the room first. 

Original Photo by Christopher Gollmar available on

As you calmly start to put other things away where they belong, suddenly your keys become more likely to appear.

Photo (Color Corrected) by Jillian, original available on

Self-Reflection is the virtue that encourages us to take a deeper, more serious look around what's in our mind.

Before tackling life's difficulties, are there bad habits stored somewhere within us that we don't need anymore? Have some of our positive traits been forgotten and left to collect dust in the corner of our minds?

Without understanding ourselves and our past well, we will repeat the same mistakes again and again only to get more and more frustrated. We become lost and unaware of the choices we made in those moments. Because if too many things are still troubling us from our pasts, it's hard to move forward, isn't it?

When everything gets bad and we fly wildly out of control, life only seems to get harder for us.

Pure Land Buddhist teacher Kentetsu Takamori describes such a situation within a short poem. It is loosely translated as follows, "You kick your plate of food from its foulness in disgust, but who will clean up the mess?"

Instead of reflecting sensibly and seeing an unfortunate event clearly, we often seem to react quickly with our first impulse. Foolishly, we fail to realize the impact of our reckless choices made in haste.

The present is the key to both the past and the future.

It's of course good to be "in the now" as they say, but gaining from the experiences within the now and being able to put them into practice in your future is best.


If You Are Caught Up in the Here and Now, You Lose Sight of the Future

The great swordsman Chiba Shusaku (1794–1855) went fishing one night with several of his followers. They set out with torches, heading farther and farther to sea in search of fish, until they lost all sense of direction. Which way was the shore?

Shusaku himself grew flustered and had a series of torches lit while he peered in vain into the gloom. 

Original Photo by Bloody Marty available on

As they roamed the sea with mounting panic, the last of the torches burned out. The situation seemed hopeless. But lo and behold, as darkness settled in, there in the distance was the outline of land, looming darker still. The men whooped in relief and joy.

Days later, Shusaku recounted the incident to a fisherman friend of his. The friend said smilingly, “That wasn’t like you. You should know that you can’t see the shore with torches. Torches are used to light up your immediate surroundings. If you want to see into the distance, they only get in the way. When we want to look far off, we douse them on purpose.”

As long as you rely on torches, you cannot make out the distant shore.

Photo (color-corrected), original available on

If you are caught up in the here and now, you cannot look ahead into the future.”

(Something You Forgot Along the Way, p.103)


So when we notice our anxiety flaring way up in that moment, how can we restore ourselves?

The simplest advice: take a deep slow inhale using your stomach muscles. Then exhale. Repeat as needed. Of course, this can be a very challenging piece of advice to remember in a difficult time, but it is a skill that can be learned from practice and experience. When we face a crisis, it is good to maintain healthy breathing.

So we're breathing consciously, and now our immediate attention is needed toward a very troublesome event. Even if it seems we don't have much time, we can still take a brief moment for Self-Reflection.

Try taking a quick walk and getting some sunshine outdoors. We can grab a cold glass of ice water or get a healthy snack to restore our energy. Stress can rapidly deplete our body's energy levels. Another helpful idea could be laying down and resting our eyes and our mind for a few minutes. Find a quiet atmosphere.

Whatever we need takes to cool down... once we feel more centered, then we can have a better check on reality.

Once we find that rare moment's peace within the eye of our mind's storm, we can contemplate on the nature of ourselves with a heart that strives for a gentle honesty of itself. This is how we come to know ourselves better. 

Self-Reflection gives us the opportunity for growth, patience, and maturity.  *And the time we make for Self-Reflection will reward us with insights that guide toward wiser choices.*

By first understanding our own needs, opinions, and ideas, it makes it a whole lot easier for us how to express ourselves. Then we can stand to benefit even more from seeking the further advice and help of our family, friends or support groups.

Usually the first thing we do whenever we see people we like, especially if they look sad, is ask how they are doing. We wish to know if they are feeling alright or not, because we care about them.

But how often do we stop to ask ourselves the same question? It's easy to ask someone else what's on their mind, but it's a different matter entirely when you're asking YOU the questions:

Hey, how am  I  doing?

 What feelings am I experiencing right now?

 What kind of thoughts am I having?

Is what I'm thinking lately constructive or destructive?


Could I have improved my actions in some way?

Am I just reacting here or am I seeing things clearly?

Does what I'm doing, right now,
reflect the person I want to be?

What positive condition or support can I find right now
 to help me make the best, healthy choice?

If I already know the right thing to do,
what's stopping me?

As this asking-within process becomes more routine, then the importance of surrounding ourselves with good conditions and avoiding bad conditions becomes more apparent.  

Diving deeply within, we see that pressing problems in our life are really nothing more than challenging reflections of ourselves and our karma at that present moment. These problems actually help us to see the elusive form of who we are. Realizing full well how we are behaving in difficult situations allows us to grow and change in dynamic ways we never thought were possible before.

In Buddhist philosophy, we all start out by learning and practicing the Law of Cause and Effect. These are the ABCs of Buddhism. We have to know very well that our present state is the result of our past actions. And what we decide to do from that present state forward is what determines our future.

But when times are going really well, we think we know the Law of Karma already and become satisfied with our lifestyle and our conduct as is. That's when the mind of conceit can emerge within us.

Without a regular, moderated, and steady approach toward our own mindset, we become self-absorbed with a "me-first" attitude.

When we do a lot of internal work, we have a tendency to reach a point where we think that our journey is pretty much complete. As we are, we must have made it to being semi-perfect already. We compare our own awesomeness to what others have done with their life. That's when we'll often jump at the chance to correct or counsel others because it makes us feel and look good.

However, what other people need is encouragement, not criticism or improvement. Finding and correcting the mistakes of our own attitude and conduct should be our focus.

Don't worry so much about everyone else. Buddhism reminds us again and again, just look at yourself. 


Your Fly Is Open, Too

Observe the Behavior of Others and Correct Your Own

Back in the early postwar era in Japan, when cars were scarce, everyone got around by bus or train. One day I found myself riding on a nearly empty bus. I picked a seat, sat back, and relaxed. Across from me sat a distinguished-looking man in his fifties whose fly, I couldn’t help noticing, was unbuttoned. (This was in the days before zippers came into common use.) I contemplated what to do, but of course he had to be told. I slipped over beside him and quietly let him know the situation, man-to-man. Some men might have taken offense at being told such a thing, but not he. After a momentary look of surprise, he thanked me politely and gave a rueful smile as he covered himself with the magazine he’d been reading and did up his fly.”

“Relieved, I returned to my seat, planted my feet on the floor, folded my arms, and looked around again. Lo and behold, the distinguished-looking man across the way got up and came over to sit beside me. Wondering what on earth he could want, I tensed with expectation as he brought his lips to my ear and murmured with a smile, “Your buttons are undone, too.”

With a start, I reached down and realized he was right... 

Photo (cropped), original by Alex Proimos available on

My cheeks burned in embarrassment. To cover my confusion, I gave a rueful smile and thanked him.

The proverb has it, “Observe the behavior of others and correct your own.”

I was made to realize then that even such apparently obvious sayings must never be taken lightly.”

(Unshakable Spirit, p.25)


Buddhism places its emphasis 

on fixing one's own self 

rather than judging

or wanting to "fix" others.

Growing up, our parents should have taught us that when we did something really good, we should feel awesome about it. "Great job!"

But other times when we did wrong or hurt someone, they should have corrected our errors in an assertive, yet soft way.

It is so much healthier to use positive reinforcement and avoid negative reactions as much as possible. This applies to misbehaving adults in our lives as well. Haven't you noticed the more something is forced or stressed on someone, the less likely the person will want to do it of their own good will?

The best we can do is to be consistent with our own conduct and exemplify the beneficial attributes we wish to bring out in others.

Are we being a good teacher or a bad one for others to follow? (Note: This can be really hard to spot!) Sometimes the things we despise in others the most is present in some way within us as well.

Buddhism encourages us to open our heart through Self-Reflection. The teachings guide us to not spew anger or shut down whenever we don't get our way.

We should Self-Reflect first before opening our mouths or taking action.

This level of conscience requires growing up and assuming responsibility.

Of course we should feel good about our own accomplishments, but even better, we need to take time to recognize and have gratitude toward all those people who helped us along the way in big ways or little ways. When's the last time you said, "Thank you very much," with all sincerity?

And in those times when we are at fault, we should try to correct those wrongdoings as soon as possible. We have to make the effort and apologize to those we have harmed. When's the last time you said, "I apologize for what I've done. How can I make things better?" It's tough to do this!

Self-Reflection is a huge challenge we have before us everyday to maintain a healthy balance between celebrating our strengths and improving upon our weaknesses.

In Buddhism, we are actually encouraged as best we can to have gratitude *for the people who cause us trouble.* Why is that?

"If we learn to open our hearts, 
including the people who drive us crazy, 
can be our teacher."

-Pema Chödrön

It seems impossible at first. But the more we practice forgiveness and patience in adversity, the more our suffering can heal inwardly.

The Law of Cause and Effect teaches that blaming others or seeking revenge only brings more harm upon us.

Even laughing at our enemy's misfortune and calling it "their karma" is a complete misunderstanding of how Buddhism works.

Original Word Art by BK available on

If our intentions are negative and spiteful toward a negative person or event, we will receive negativity in our own future. It's because what matters most is what is in our mind.

Sure we shouldn't beat ourselves up after someone else has hurt us. Of course, the other person doing wrong to us should correct their behavior. If they continue to do us direct harm, then you may want to consider distancing yourself from that person. But it is ultimately up to you to make that kind of decision to stay around or not. No one can convince you but you.

For now, just know that forcing any kind of change upon others doesn't work.

This next story from the book, Unshakable Spirit, tells us the only way is to be the change


Change Yourself, and Others Will Follow
The Samurai and the Horse

When the Zen priest Bankei (1622–93) was still an acolyte, every night he would sit in meditation. One morning after meditating he was resting by a stable when a samurai came along to train his horse. As Bankei looked on idly, it became apparent to him that the horse was out of sorts, and balking at its rider’s commands. The samurai yelled at the animal and beat it.

Bankei shouted, “What do you think you’re doing!”

The samurai paid no attention, but only whipped the animal all the harder. Bankei kept on shouting, until finally the samurai dismounted and walked over to him.

“You have been scolding me for some time, I believe,” he said quietly. “If you have something to teach me, I am willing to listen.” His words were exceedingly polite, but it was clear that depending on what kind of answer he received, he might erupt in anger.

Without hesitating, Bankei told him, “It is foolish to blame only the horse for failing to listen to you. The horse has its own reasons. If you want it to listen, you must encourage it to do so. To do that, you must start with yourself. Do you understand?”

This was a humble and intelligent samurai, for he nodded, bowed, and left. Then, with a change of attitude, he remounted his steed. Sure enough, the horse too was now a changed creature, and docilely obeyed his every command.

Original Photo by Mary Harrsch available on

People constantly blame others for their own faults, and find no peace. The essential thing is to take an honest look at oneself and correct one’s own attitude. Do that, and others will change too. Your home life is guaranteed to be happier.”

(Something You Forgot Along the Way, p.173)


The best we can do to help someone else is to improve ourself and demonstrate the change through our own improved attitude and behavior.

Each individual just has to come around from the error of their own ways in their own time.

And we don't need to focus on fixing others, 
because there is always plenty of work 
to be done on ourselves. 

By practicing self-reflection
and focusing on our own improvement, 
we can learn to thrive and grow
from more experiences.

Whenever bad things happen, our first impulse can be to lash out at whoever or whatever is causing us pain. But Buddhism challenges us to rise above the other person's attitude or what they've done wrong.

Instead of revenge or retaliation, let's self-reflect using the following questions when we are in a time of adversity.

"How can I grow 

and rise above 

this terrible situation?"

"Have I ever done 

something even remotely similar 

like this to someone else?" 

Let's say there is somebody who we think is really spoiled, lazy or way too selfish. We should then reflect on ourselves. Have I been spoiled, lazy or selfish ever? As soon as we find a trace of that behavior within ourselves, we are more lenient and kind to the other person and are able to maintain better harmony.

Our perception shifts entirely when we do this. We find the commonalities we have with others, rather than false notions of comparison or superiority.

Here's another example for Self-Reflection. You feel another person is too stubborn, way too conceited, and never apologizes for anything. Think of the next question.

"Have I ever exhibited

 some of these traits 

to other people

at least once?

Our pride is one of our biggest challenges, largely because it remains unseen.

But through Self-Reflection, we have the choice to reflect first and then actively project the best positive choice we want out into the world.

** If we only see the flaws in others, 

that shows our understanding in Buddhism 

is very shallow. **

These days we often think that letting someone else have their way is a sign of weakness on our part. We seem to be the one who is "losing" at that moment.

Yet actually the more powerful person is the one who has the ability to overcome their selfish desire and yield to another. Giving in requires a lot more mental stamina to do than getting what you want.

Instead of declaring our own right-of-way, let's consider yielding to someone else. Kindness is thinking of others rather than always giving to the self. Think of how kinder the world would become if we all initiated this principle first.

Giving more than taking is what brings us more happiness, and Self-Reflection is what helps us see more opportunities for generosity.

The compassionate choices we learn from our Self-Reflections then make others happy as well as guide us toward the lasting happiness we want to create in our lives.

The Six Paramitas will lead us on a journey of self-discovery to see our own imperfections. Only by trying to do the most good does this become clear.


On Self-Reflection

Everyone makes mistakes.

Whether we put our mistakes 

to use depends on how deeply

we reflect on our actions. It is

desirable to reflect until the 

tears come.

(Something You Forgot Along the Way, p.##)

Self-Reflection helps us see when we're wrong. And it helps us gain the courage to apologize and say that we were wrong to someone else. 

If we don't take the time to look deep enough, we won't even realize that we're wrong. And if we don't realize our mistakes, we will continue to repeat them and hurt others the same way.

This brings us to a more difficult Self-Reflection question.

What's worse doing evil intentionally...

 ...or doing evil unintentionally?

Let's think about this one for a moment.

Our first guess is to say that intentional evil is obviously the worst of the two.

But is it?

Imagine you have the flu, and you know it's the flu because you just came from the doctor's office. You're tired of being stuck at the house all the day which has too many piling mountains of used tissues. So even though you know you are highly contagious, you decide that you want to go to a movie theater. You laugh in the crowded theater, but as you laugh you are spreading germs.

But then one time as you belly laugh too hard, you hear your own cough and are reminded of the flu. You start to feel guilty and you begin covering your mouth with a napkin. On the way home, you even pick up a surgical mask to wear so that you don't spread your infection to anymore people.

The person who knows he is sick will takes preventative steps to keep from infecting others.

Original Photo by Swerz available on

On the other hand, a person who is sick and DOES NOT KNOW they are sick will go around infecting everyone without a moment of remorse or guilt.

They don't even know they have a flu, so they cough and sneeze as hard as they want without covering it. They spray their saliva and phlegm everywhere into the air proudly into people's faces without a single care. They don't know about the harm they are inflicting.

Original Photo by CDC Public Health Image

We self-reflect based on the teachings of Buddhism. It's like our check-up that guides us toward the truth. The teachings, conveyed correctly, help us gently become more aware that we have a biased way of evaluating ourselves.

Only through Self-Reflection can we know that we're in a negative or toxic mood in the first place. Once we see it, then we can adjust ourselves so we don't spread our infection and hurt others from our condition. The more we observe and learn about how contagious or toxic our actions can be, the more responsible we become by taking preventative measures. 

We turn to the Law of Cause and Effect for guidance, because it is unwavering, universal truth. It tells us simply and clearly how we should stop evil and do good.

We've learned about some good things we can do in earlier posts, so what are some of the negative things we should stop doing?

We should refrain from committing the Ten Evils, which are taught in the sutras. Doing these negative actions will only bring us more and more misfortune.

Ten Evils

Each of the Ten Evils can be put into one of three groups: Karma of the Mind, Karma of the Mouth, or Karma of the Body.

Karma of the Mind can be further classified as Imperceptible Karma, because our thoughts can't be observed by others. Even though each thought is invisible, it is still stored in the form of invisible karmic power within us. Surprisingly, we receive karma from all of our thoughts, even the ones we cast aside. 

1.) Desire - Thoughts that want more and more

2.) Anger - Thoughts that rage when we don't get what we want

3.) Envy/Ignorance - Thoughts that crave what another has acquired for themselves or despises others with intense hatred

Karma of the Mouth can be classified as Perceivable Karma, because it can be heard by others. Everything we say is also stored as invisible karmic power within us.

4.) Lying - Saying things that are not true in order to harmfully deceive and get what you want

5.) Double-Tongue - Telling one person one thing and then telling the other person something completely different for one's amusement or gain

6.) Flattery - Praising someone for the sole purpose of winning the person over so they will perform our desires

7.) Bad Mouth - Using bad language and insults to put others down so that we can feel good about ourselves

Karma of the Body can also be classified as Perceivable Karma, because it can be seen by others. Every movement our body makes is stored as invisible karmic power within us.

8.) Killing - Taking a human life is an extreme act, but so is the killing of an animal. If we eat meat, we are actually ordering someone to kill a living being for our consumption. Even though we receive nutrition, taking the life of a living being, no matter how simple it may be, is still wrong. The animal didn't want to die for us.

But even vegetarians are killing other living beings. In order to grow vegetables, pesticides are used that kill insects. Some vegetarians have been known to become violent and attack those who do eat meat in defense of their cause.

** True Pure Land Buddhism teaches that eating or not eating meat is not the main issue to dwell on, but to observe deeply and continually what kind of mind we have in our daily life until we discover the purpose of life for ourselves. ** 

Whether you are a carnivore or a herbivore, you may still have angry thoughts that attack others in your mind. Such thinking is dangerous because failure to recognize our own capacity for terrible thoughts can be disastrous. Left unchecked, it can lead to the murder or injury of fellow human beings.

That's why it's important to always keep Self-Reflection in our heart.

9.) Stealing - Taking what belongs to someone else and using it as if it was one's own. The mind that takes a little will begin to take more and more. Even taking someone else's pen or using another person's paper without permission is wrong.

10.) Adultery - Lusting after someone who is married or in a serious relationship disrupts a promise between two people who have made to each other. Only anguish and hardship can come to oneself from this kind of selfish interference. Don't let envy or desire make this lewd action seem appealing, even if it is glorified by Hollywood.


Although we may think that we are now on our very best behavior because we don't perform any of the seven evil acts of the mouth and body, we are still frequently concealing the other three evils of desire, anger and envy within our minds.

In Buddhism, the mind is most important because it is the source of the mouth and body.

Let's say that you poured a lot of red ink at the source of a fresh water spring high up in the mountains. That red color would then trickle down all the rivers and eventually accumulate in the lakes of the valleys as well.

Original Photo by Esad Hajdarevic available on

Rather than looking only at what we say and do, looking at our mind is the most important thing. One bad thought can gradually corrupt us into performing many evil acts in the future.

Meditation can be a means of Self-Reflection. We can try to meditate to see our nature on our own and see what we come up with in the process.

Some say that how we sit or a certain amount of breaths is required for the right kind of meditation. That's not so important. Seeing ourselves honestly and implementing the change we learn in our lives is what matters.

Practice a way of Self-Reflection that works for you and keeps you happy and healthy. Meditation techniques are really nothing more than suggestions or guidelines to help you achieve and maintain a balanced, conscious approach to your life.

When looking within what's most important is seeing yourself as you really are in way that inspires and encourages kindness to others and personal growth.


Look to the Essence, Not the Form

“One of Shakyamuni’s main disciples, Sariputra, was doing seated meditation in a peaceful and secluded mountain spot when Vimalakīrti, a sage whom he had always admired, happened along and asked him what he was doing. As the answer seemed obvious, Sariputra was put out and answered, with irritation, “I’m meditating!” 

Original Photo by Mutiara Karina available on

Perceiving Sariputra’s distraction, Vimalakīrti retorted, “You call that meditating? If by ‘meditation’ you mean only sitting without moving, you might just as well say the trees around you are meditating, too.” In this way he pointed out that Sariputra was following only the outward form of meditation, having lost its true spirit.

When we pursue the outward form while neglecting the inner essence, the result is always pitiful.”

(Unshakable Spirit, p. 160)


Here are three other suggestions besides meditation that you can help with Self-Reflection.

1.) Reflect on kindness as you wake up and go to bed.

In the morning, get up a little bit earlier and plan your day for a few minutes sitting peacefully. Think of how you can practice kindness. What do you need to feel good, so that you can be helpful to others?

In the evening, review your whole day slowly in the evening for a few minutes. What were the highlights? What were things you could have done better?

2.) Freely write down your challenges and share them with a trusted friend or family member.

Journal your thoughts and write down any intense feelings or the events that you are facing. Working things out on paper can sometimes give insights into your blind spots.

3.) Calmly take in your past.

Form a timeline of your whole life and reconcile all the events, both happy and sad, that have happened to you along the way. Learn from the past and decide where you want to go in the future.


There are countless other methods and ways. However we decide to do it, the ability to do sincere Self-Reflection regularly begins an enormous ripple effect. 

Nelson Mandela, who fought against racial separation and apartheid in South Africa was jailed for 27 years. Later he triumphed by leading a movement for social reform and even rose to become president of the country.

Original Photo by South Africa The Good News

In an interview after his presidency, Mr. Mandela was quoted as saying,

"One of the most difficult things is not to change society - 

but to change yourself." 

All people who have changed the world first strived for something greater inside themselves.

We must all gain the courage to look within. 

If our hearts are closed to who we are and how we are behaving in our daily life, we can't see any benefits to changing.

Self-reflection is all about keeping our vulnerable channels open to receive, so that we can grow from what we perceive. Without this, our progress is limited and we can't learn.

"The greatest of faults is to be conscious of none."

-Thomas Carlyle

We are human, and we will make mistakes. All the time. Self-Reflection makes it possible for us to recognize and improve upon our less than proud moments.

By nurturing ourselves but still maintaining an analytical perspective on our behavior, it teaches us over time and experience, both how to be more forgiving and how to move on from the mistakes others commit against us.

As we continue to dive within who we are, we come to realize that we can't really know everything there is about ourselves on our own. One model in modern psychology seems to support this notion.

Two famous U.S. psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harrington Inghram, put their minds and their names together to form what's now famously known as the Johari Window.

The Johari Window is a psychological group exercise that explores the known and unknown relationship between the self and others. Luft and Harrington investigated knowing who we are by looking through a window divided into four categories.

1.) The first category on the left is called the Arena. This is our public self, what's known to us and what others know about us. 

2.) The second category, on the top right, is the Blind Spot. It represents all the things that others know about us but we ourselves don't know. 

3.) The third category, bottom left, is called the Façade. This is what we know about ourselves but what others can't see. 

4.) In the fourth category, bottom right, is the Unknown. According to the Johari model, there is a part of us that always remains a mystery to ourselves and others.

Diagram (edited), original available from

If we are indeed on a journey to find out who we really are, how can we know ourselves at all, if parts of who we are always remain unknown to everybody? 

Psychology helps us explore three of the four windows, but it cannot penetrate the realm of what is unknown to the others AND the self

Buddhism teaches us that there is a way to come to know that great unknown, the full 100% of who we are. We can realize our True Self and our purpose of life with certainty in this lifetime. And we will at last know where that True Self is going in the afterlife.

Knowing who we are completely is essential in attaining absolute happiness. Without knowing who we are, we can't really be happy.

But the only way we can make earnest progress toward this grand, once-in-a-lifetime achievement is to listen to the teachings of Buddhism earnestly. This is why Self-Reflection remains important.

Listening well to the Dharma means putting its lessons into practice diligently. It means we must think deeply on ourselves and try to do as much good as we possibly can. Along the way, we stumble and see more and more of our flaws that remained previously invisible.

The aim of a wise person is to see and know one's self as it really is
and still continually strive toward growth. 

This leads us to the 6th Paramita of Wisdom, which is improving ourselves by practicing of the Law of Cause and Effect. Whereas Self-Reflection can be seen as the coming to an awareness of the best course of action, Wisdom is actually knowing how and when to implement the change.

Wisdom is said to contain the practice of the other five paramitas combined

Generosity + Discipline + Patience + Effort + Self-Reflection = Wisdom

Practicing the Law of Effect deeply is what moves us forward on the path. In the next post, we will explore the Paramita of Wisdom through an explanation of the Law of Cause and Effect of the Three Worlds.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Effort - Doing Your Very Best

                  As the earth has finally rolled around the Sun yet again, many have used this time marker to carefully form their New Years’ resolutions. But how many of these aspirations will actually come true? That all depends on how much effort is devoted to making them come true.

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                  The more of ourselves we put into something, the greater the likelihood of our success becomes.

                  In Buddhism, we’re encouraged to practice the most effort toward attaining absolute happiness. This means:

1.) Listening to the teachings of the Dharma

2.) Sharing Dharma with others

3.) Following the Six Paramitas taught within Buddhism

          When we’re not able to listen or share the teachings directly, that’s when we practice the Dharma in our life and with those around us.  Of course we can give freely to everyone, but we strive the hardest for those who belong to The Three Fields. To review, the Three Fields are the Field of Respect, the Field of Gratitude,  and the Field of Compassion.

Field of Respect:

Buddha, Buddhism itself, Teachers of True Buddhism,
Benefactors of True Buddhism.

Those who give all of themselves
to share the teachings that lead the way to absolute happiness.
This field also includes those who have exemplary character
and demonstrate a high level of ethics and moral conduct.
These kind of individuals work diligently
morning and night, solely for the public good
and the benefit of all mankind.

WHAT WE CAN DO: We can volunteer ourselves to help out at a Buddhist organization, offer donation, food or household supplies to a Buddhist temple, give a hand to someone of outstanding moral character, or lend our assistance to various benefactors of mankind and their charities.

Field of Gratitude

Parents, Family members, Doctors, Caretakers and Teachers.

Those who have given all of themselves
By either bringing us into this world or nurturing us
so that we could live, survive
and learn the way to be happy and healthy.

WHAT WE CAN DO: Treat both our parents with loving kindness and make sure they are well taken care of, show respect to doctors, caretakers, and teachers. We can write thank you cards, give small tokens of appreciation, and try to brighten their days with a smile as best we can.

Field of Compassion

Homeless, Poor, Sick, Unemployed,
Victims of Disasters or Violence.

Those who are in desperate need and are suffering just to stay alive.
 These people are in actual dire need of donation (such as food or water), help and moral support.

Photo (text added) by Ed Yourdon, original available on

WHAT WE CAN DO: Offer extra food or water we have to homeless on the street, volunteer at or donate funds to shelters and non-profit welfare programs, lend a hand to a sick family member, friend, or coworker, offer moral support to people looking for work, and also just be kind to those difficult people in your life. Many times such people are affected by trauma in their past and carry some kind of burden they may not want to outwardly talk about. Even though it may not seem that what you do makes a difference immediately, this will for sure bring unexpected joy and the strength of patience to your life in ways we can’t begin to imagine.


               The three categories above should take up the vast majority of the effort we give toward doing good. But we can of course do good anytime in our daily life whenever and wherever we possibly can.

               So the Fourth Paramita of Effort is a reminder and encouragement for us to actually practice virtue using our physical body and mind to help someone else in need. It tells us we should put the best effort we can into all of what we do, but especially when it comes to others.

                It could also be as little as just picking up something from the floor that someone has dropped. It could be opening a door or lending a helping hand during someone else’s move. At our work, it could be assisting a coworker with one of their projects. It could even be putting in a little unpaid overtime just for the company’s sake to ensure that the job was done properly. At home, it could be picking up extra groceries for our roommate or taking out the trash for our loved one.

                  We can apply the paramita of effort toward improving our lives in its many aspects. This can include school, work, relationships, hobbies, skills, or health. But as we strive to accomplish our own dreams and goals, let’s remember to also think of others along the way.

                 Contrary to what we think, helping others in their dreams in no way slows us down. We only stand to gain according to the Law of Cause and Effect. For our own happiness and well-being, it is essential for us to build and maintain harmonious relationships by understanding the needs of others. They will then, in their own time, follow our example and come to our aid when we’re in need. By sticking together, we can all help each other succeed even more than on our own.

              Because every time we lend a helping hand to someone else, we are in actuality helping ourselves feel better. Although it seems we lose effort or a material of ours by giving it away, the spiritual value of our lives and the satisfaction and joy we feel in life increases exponentially. What little we have suddenly doubles or triple right before our eyes the moment we open our hearts to share it with someone.

               Bottom line, the more we help others with anything we can, little by little, the more and more abundance and gratitude we start to feel. This is the fundamental Buddhist concept of Benefitting Others Benefits the Self. It is at the very heart of Buddhism and all its teachings.

               The more we brighten our mindset through the practice of good deeds, the more it will for sure brighten our own future with radiant worldly happiness.

The Law of Cause and Effect teaches us:

Good deeds bring good results.
Bad deeds bring bad results.


Our own deeds bring our own results.

                  So all this extra effort we put in, whether it is seen or unseen, accumulates good karmic seeds within our Alaya Mind. All the more motivation to get off our rear ends and get out there and do good more work!

                  Everyone on the planet has some special talent, gift, or ability to share with humanity. It could be as simple as telling a funny joke, having a keen sense for business, being a great friend, or simply having a warm and wonderful smile. Some have already found what makes them shine, and there are some who haven’t found it yet. Some find it early in life, while some realize it much later in life. It takes everyone a different amount of time.

                   But what separates people who have what we would call “success” or an abundant amount of relative happiness from those who do not? It is usually not because some are lacking in creativity or inspiration. Success arrives to the people who practice working toward their goal everyday – the mindset of diligence. We all desire the very best out of life, but very few of us perform the necessary routine and often tedious steps required to bring wild, amazing success to fruition.

Original Word Art by Celestine Chua available on

                  What we do instead (all too easily) is envy the rich or people better off than us for their success. Rather than be jealous of them, we should instead be encouraged by our rivals. Rather than feel down about it, we should take it in stride and try to work harder for ourselves. In this way, competition can be done in a healthy, sporting way where everyone can benefit together.

                    The following story from Unshakable Spirit explains how a swordsman became bitter about his rival until he learned what made his competition so excellent.


What Makes a Master Swordsmith

                    This happened in fourteenth-century Japan. In a bid to decide who was the greatest swordsmith in the land, eighteen people were chosen, and each one made a sword. Among the submissions were swords by master smiths Okazaki Masamune and Go Yoshihiro. After rigorous examination, Masamune’s sword was judged the best.
Yoshihiro was from central Honshu, near the Japan Sea, and enjoyed a reputation as the finest swordsmith of the day. He was full of braggadocio and unable to forgive anyone who got the better of him. “There must be some explanation,” he thought, deeply disgruntled. “Masamune must have bribed the judges.”

                    He traveled east to see his rival in Kamakura, determined to settle the matter with a duel. When he arrived, Masamune was just tempering a blade.

                   “Sounds of rhythmic hammering came from within the foundry. Yoshihiro cautiously looked inside and was astonished by what he saw.

Original Photo by arbyreed available on

                   Inside the spotless foundry, Masamune was dressed in formal hakama and wielded the hammer with clean, regular motions. There was something majestic in his appearance.

                    Suspecting nothing, Masamune welcomed his visitor from afar with full hospitality.

                    Yoshihiro made a full confession. “Until now I doubted you, resented you, and was even determined to challenge you to a duel, but that was a grave mistake. Now I have seen the dignity with which you work, pouring yourself heart and soul into the making of a sword. In comparison, when I get hot I strip down, and when I’m thirsty I drink my fill. In fact there is no comparison between us. You have shown me that technical skill and strength alone are not enough to make someone a true master.”

                     Yoshihiro then begged Masamune to take him on as his disciple. At first Masamune modestly declined, but Yoshihiro insisted, and so in the end he agreed.”
(Unshakable Spirit, pg. 177)

                     In order to succeed ourselves, we first have to understand what is the effort required to create the happiness that appeals to us. Then and only then can we make the steps toward bringing it about.

Contemplate your plans in advance, then execute them.

                  Being laid-back or relaxed all the time, we can’t expect our lives to improve dramatically. We can’t expect A+ results to appear on our report card without first studying for the test AND doing the homework.

We’ve gotta do what we gotta do;
because it’s the only way
 we can make our dreams come true!

                 If we have a really great wish in our hearts that we want to fulfill, we must put in the effort required to make it happen. That’s what the Law of Causality teaches us.

                  A cause is what leads to an effect. If we don’t work hard toward that cause, the effect isn’t going to manifest any sooner. It’s that simple.

                  So if we want something really AWESOME as an EFFECT, it requires us to put in an AWESOME AMOUNT OF WORK as the CAUSE. A story from Something You Forgot Along the Way shows the how we should perceive life’s challenges.


Success is the Fruit of Effort

                 Long ago, there were two merchants who always crossed a narrow mountain pass with dry good loaded on their backs.

Original Photo by emzepe available on

                 One day, one of them plopped down on a rock by the roadside. “Exhausting, isn’t it?” he sighed. “Let’s rest for a while. You know, if only this mountain pass weren’t so high, we could cross it easily and make more money.” He looked up balefully at the steep pass.

                 “I disagree,” replied his companion. “In fact, I wish this pass were higher and steeper.”

                 “You do?” said the first man in astonishment. “Whatever for? Do you enjoy suffering? How strange!”

                   His companion explained, “If this pass were easy to cross, everybody would use it to do business, and our profits would go down; if it were higher and steeper, no one would cross it, and our business would prosper even more.”

                 Successful tradesman must be not only astute in business, but bold in endeavor. Success is the fruit of one’s effort. All that comes easy is poverty and shame.

                 The harder the task, the more glorious the triumph.

(Something You Forgot Along the Way, p.176)

                  Successful people have a totally different mindset than ordinary people. They push themselves to their limits, so that they can enjoy success beyond the norm.  People who have a lot in life know the importance of saving versus spending money as soon as its earned. They plan ahead for great fun, but they also meticulously build a safety net of their assets in case misfortune should arise.

                    These hotshots do vast amounts of research to learn their trade and master life. They travel great distances often on their own money to get the education or resources they need for success. They are friendly and reach out to many different people, establishing valuable contacts in many different fields. They put in the effort to follow through on their promises, and people trust and respect them for that. Whether they feel good or bad, they carry a strong smile to everyone they meet. The spirit of good customer service as well as good business practice is none other than to provide as many people as possible with a product or experience that adds value and happiness to their lives.

                      But all others see around successful people is the luxury that the rich live their lives in. They fail to recognize or understand the great effort that was put behind the scenes. People bent on success work around the clock, and it’s that commitment to excellence that brings about the results they wanted and earned.

Original Word Art by Celestine Chua available on

                   Someone may be born rich, but it takes wisdom not to lose it all as an adult. Ever wonder why so many people who win the lottery go bankrupt? It’s because being rich doesn’t automatically make you financially secure or magically better at managing a budget. In reality, the more you have, the more difficult it is to manage!

                   But most people don’t care to think about or see this big picture. They just put in an ordinary or so-so amount of effort in. And what happens? They will only get an ordinary or so-so result. This point should be very clear by now.

                 Practicing the 4th Paramita of Effort means going through the extra trouble that others don’t. Most people when they finish a job have only put in 80 to 90% of their efforts at best. They conserve their energy so they can spend the majority of their energies on fun, goofing around or watching TV.

                  That’s fine. If you’re happy where you are, keep on keeping on.

                  But know the only way to get your biggest dream to come true is to strive higher and higher than everyone else everyday. Reach toward that 100% more than anyone else does! Only through serious, concentrated practice can we expect a dramatic, life-changing breakthrough. You can do it!

                Going to college and getting your degree is a very important benchmark for young people today. It marks the entrance into the professional labor force. 

Original Photo by COD Newsroom available on

                 But these days, there is a lot of criticism of the academic system because many people with degrees are unable to get jobs. Even people entering the labor force with master’s degrees are not necessarily guaranteed employment these days.

                  Many exercise furiously at the gym and enroll in weight-loss programs that boast many new and inventive ways to get in shape. Some boast a certain style of fitness like kick-boxing or yoga is the ultimate aim to health. They show testimonials and photos of before and after. Others consume a variety of specialty foods or vitamins. But what is the key ingredient to fitness or vitality in any of these programs? What is the difference between a body like Arnold and a couch potato?

                    It’s not the programs or the products themselves. Of course eating right is important. But it’s the mindset of consistent effort dedicated toward a goal. The product is just a means toward that aim. Our will power is what actually makes it happen for us.

                    How about the applicants who got the best jobs from the ones who didn’t? What happened there? It’s not always intelligence or being connected. The answer is concentrated, consistent effort. A story from Unshakable Spirit shares insight on how effort is all about doing the dirty work and at the same time challenging our limitations.


Perseverance is Greater than Proficiency
Cuda-panthaka’s Perseverance at Cleaning

                 One of [Shakyamuni]’s greatest disciples, Cuda-panthaka, was dull by birth and unable to remember even his own name. One day Shakyamuni found him crying and asked him kindly, “Why are you so sad?”

                Weeping bitterly, Cuda-panthaka lamented, “Why was I born stupid?”

                “Cheer up,” said [Shakyamuni]. “You are aware of your foolishness, but there are many fools who think themselves wise. Being aware of one’s stupidity is next to enlightenment.” He handed Cuda-panthaka a broom and instructed him to say while he worked, “I sweep the dust away. I wash the dirt away.”

                Cuda-panthaka tried desperately to remember those sacred phrases from the Buddha, but whenever he remembered one he forgot the other. Even so, he kept at his practice for twenty years.

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                Once during those twenty years, Shakyamuni complimented Cuda-panthaka on his constant diligent effort. “No matter how many years you keep sweeping, you grow no better at it, and yet that does not cause you to give up. As important as making progress is, persevering in the same endeavor is even more important. It is an admirable trait – one that I do not see in my other disciples.”

                 In time Cuda-panthaka realized that dust and dirt did not only accumulate where he thought they would, but in places he least expected. Surprised, he thought, “I knew I was stupid, but there’s no telling how much more of my stupidity exists in places I don’t even notice.”

                  In the end Cuda-panthaka attained the enlightenment of an arhat, a stage at which one I worthy of receiving respect and offerings. Besides encountering a great teacher and the true teachings, it was his long years of effort and perseverance that crowned him with success.

(Unshakable Spirit, p.156)


                 In the last blog post, we learned about the Third Paramita of Patience. We plant good seeds and wait, knowing full well that they will produce good results. Now we can start to see that patience and effort really go hand-in-hand. The more we balance these two elements, the more success we can welcome into our lives. It’s important to work furiously and quickly, but it’s more important to hasten toward our goal step-by-step without making waste. Remember that the turtle wins the race, not the rabbit.

                  So for the very best results, we should try focusing our efforts steadily just like Cuda-panthaka who cleaned and cleaned, as best he could. He was well aware of his limitations, but tried his best anyway. As his awareness of his inability grew, it only made him try harder and harder. Suddenly, he began learning new things and growing. From his experience, he noticed small things that others never even thought about before. This is the nature of wisdom and how it is developed. We clean out the darkest part of minds, knowing full well that no matter how hard we try, our thoughts will never be spotless. But we do it anyway.

                   Just like Cuda-panthaka, we can and will achieve insight and success in time that we never thought possible. We do this by constantly challenging ourselves and becoming aware of our own shortcomings. The Buddha admired this follower so much because of his tremendous resolve. That’s what made him stand out from the rest. Success can come and go easily. But our resolve is the underlying characteristic that brings about success.

Original Diagram by Duncan Hull available on

                    But only the wiser people can concentrate their energies toward a single endeavor in this way. A story from Unshakable Spirit tells us the disastrous consequences if we don’t.

“Sticking to a Single Path in Life

                       One night, a mouse fell into a bucket. At first he tried mightily to jump out, but the bucket was deep, the task hopeless. Next he tried to gnaw a hole in the side of the bucket, but the wood proved too hard and too thick for him to gnaw through. Giving up, he moved frantically to another place and tried gnawing there for a while, but the results were the same. Again he gave up and tried a different spot. The stout wood was impervious to his efforts.

                       After gnawing in vain all night long, toward dawn, worn out in body and spirit, the mouse collapsed and died. If only he had kept gnawing at the same spot the whole time, he might have gnawed all the way through and escaped.

                      The world is full of people who cannot afford to laugh at the story of the hapless mouse. Failing at one job, they try another and fail again, changing their job over and over. Such people may be called weak-willed; yet weakness is a general human failing.

                       Sticking to a single path in life is hard to do. It requires a will of steel and ceaseless effort. The more you waiver, the more your life’s efforts go to waste. Since this is the case, the thing to do is weigh your options carefully to begin with, make a careful decision, and carry it through with firm and unremitting effort. The entrance to a commuter train at rush hour can be so crowded that it seems impossible to squeeze another person on board—yet if you push on through, you’ll often find there is plenty of room further in. No one should ever despair because the entrance to his or her chosen career path is clogged.

                         There is an ancient saying: ‘The persistent drip wears through stone.’”

(Something You Forgot Along the Way, p.125)

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                Many people give up too soon on their dreams rather than charge forward through the most difficult parts. They feel like they have already worked too hard, and they feel that happiness should come sooner. 

                Demanding recognition, they often doubt cause and effect because the results are not showing in the way they wanted.

Original Word Art by BK available on

               The Law of Cause and Effect can also be thought of as the Law of Cause, Condition, and Effect. It’s only known as the Law of Cause and Effect to make the name easier to say. A cause cannot become an effect without first encountering a condition.

                If you’ve ever had your own garden, you know that planting an abundance of quality non-GMO seeds is important. Healthy seeds will grow into a large plant that will bare many fruits.

                 But also as a wise gardener, you must know the importance of just the right conditions. For a plant to sprout and then grow up strong, it of course requires a certain amount of sunlight, water, and the right type of soil. Too much or too little of any of these elements and the plant could suffer or even die.

Only after constant care and attention
over the conditions
surrounding the cause
can flowers then emerge and bloom.

                    For flowers to bud, they need certain conditions unique to their own kind of plant. These conditions have to be around and in just the right amounts for the buds to open up and reveal all the dazzling color that is stored within it. The warmth of the season of spring allows this special process to take place for most flowers. That’s when all the beautiful arrays of purples, reds, yellows, and blues become a feast for our eyes.

                    Later on in winter, flowers aren’t able to bloom because the conditions for them to exist are not present. The invisible, karmic energy of blooming flowers is suppressed until the snow melts away and temperatures warm up again. (However, you can make an artificial condition using science like building a greenhouse. Then it becomes possible to grow almost any kind of plant even in snow!)

                    Knowing how plants grow, live and die serve as a metaphor that applies directly to our daily life. We have to be the ones to clear out the snow that is accumulating in our own lives, or we must work hard to find a way for flowers to bloom in our life by building ourselves our own kind of greenhouse.

Photo (text added) by Doug Brown, original available on

                      People doubt the Law of Cause and Effect because they don’t understand that it operates well beyond this lifetime. They look at the results of their efforts in the short-term and say, “Look at all the hours I’ve put in at this job, and nothing’s happened.”  OR “I think I’m a great person. I do charity and volunteer work, and yet only bad stuff happens to me. Where’s all this good I’ve been promised?”

                      Rather than blame others or the bad conditions around us, we should be striving to do the actions we want to attract to our lives. We have to go out and seek those better conditions for our lives.

                       We have been transmigrating for a long, long period of time, since ages past. It’s beyond the scope of our imagination as human being. Only now have we come to be a human after incalculable aeons. Each one of us has uncountable karmic seeds, good and bad, stored in our Alaya minds. That’s why each one of us has a completely different destiny based on these karmic deeds from the past.

                        It’s true, sometimes the deeds of many lifetimes past will show up and it seems like we have no control over them. We suffer tremendously and don’t know why. Yet it’s important to know that life will always have suffering, even after one attains absolute happiness. However, when one attains absolute happiness the suffering of life transforms completely. This is why it’s our purpose of life. It’s our common purpose to have the root cause of our suffering eliminated.

                         Until then, however, there is always something we can do about our situation right now in the present. We can listen to Buddhism. We can do positive things for ourselves and those around us. We can avoid doing negative things that keep us from being happy. By doing more good and less bad, we are planting the right kind of seeds for our future.


On Seed-Planting

Don’t worry about when the
seeds will sprout. Just plant them.
The world is full of people who
spend all their time thinking
about the crop they’ll reap,
without ever planting anything.

(Something You Forgot Along the Way, p.98)


                       So we can’t let ourselves get down when we don’t see good results right away. Like the farmer whose livelihood depends on the success of his crop, we’ve got to keep trying to do good until the harvest finally comes. Vicious droughts and thriving rains come and go. But lasting happiness is something we have to work steadily toward.

Original Photo by IRRI Photos available on

                         By listening to the teachings, it may seem we have already received momentary peace of mind and understanding. We should remember the dharma in our daily life and put our best effort forward to put it into practice every day. Once we do this, our perspective begins to transform dramatically.

                        And once our true self and the truth finally become one at long, this is the split-second moment when we attain absolute happiness forever, permanently.

The one who knows the truth is happy. (LISTENING TO DHARMA)

The one who seeks after the truth is happier. (EFFORT)

The one who has attains the truth is the happiest. (ABSOLUTE HAPPINESS)

                         So let’s listen to the Dharma and make serious efforts. Share the teachings with family and friends. Practice the Six Paramitas. You only stand to learn more and more about yourself on the path toward enlightenment.

Original Photo by Ed Escueta available on