Friday, October 24, 2014

Discipline - Keeping Your Promises

               The second paramita is keeping your promises which is also known as discipline.

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I think no one likes to hear the word DISCIPLINE.

               Some may want to hide when they hear it. It sounds threatening, like something you really don't want to do. Our first inclination may be to run from all the added responsibility associated with the word discipline. But discipline doesn't always mean you're going to detention or you're being punished.

It's actually a really good trait to have and practice regularly.

               That's why Shakyamuni Buddha taught it as one the Six Paramitas. We must work hard to perform this virtue of keeping our word with others, because it benefits our lives and those around us greatly.

                We receive karmic merit by trying to do our best and by being consistent with our words and actions. All Six Paramitas are meant to help us do the most good so we can then be happy as a result of that effort.

1.) Generosity

2.) Discipline

3.) Patience

4.) Diligence

5.) Contemplation

6.) Wisdom

               In order to keep our promises, we first need to have at least some sense of discipline. This becomes the driving force behind what make us accountable for what we say and do. If we don’t first understand the value in doing this, we won’t make any effort toward being disciplined and people will lose faith in us.

               The only way to keep our promises is to follow them through all the way until the end. Having discipline means whenever you agree to do something, you should actually take the time to do it, just as you said you would, exactly when you said you would. Even when it's difficult for us to accomplish, keeping promises is a wonderful way for us to earn good karmic merit.

               And yet when it comes to getting little jobs done or completing small favors for someone, sometimes we may cut corners. Often because the promise is made with family or friends we think or feel that we can get away with it.

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               “Well, since no one is really looking, I guess I’ll take the easy way out and make an excuse,” we think to ourselves. “I’m sure they won't notice if I skip it this time.” We think that all those minor promises are too unimportant for us to be troubled with our valuable time. “If it’s such a small promise, I bet they won’t care. Then why should I bother? Besides, I’ll just make it up to them later.”

               But these things begin to pile up and store in our Alaya Mind. Broken promises become invisible karmic power that remains within us. The Law of Cause and Effect tells us that every little effort and little decision we make in life comes back to us, both big and small.

               The following short story from the book Something You Forgot Along the Way demonstrates why we shouldn’t "let the small things go." Too often, our mind can fail to catch the different between good and bad.


               A samurai was on a journey. His retainer fell behind, so he paused to wait for him. At last the retainer came rushing up, out of breath.

               "What were you doing?" asked the samurai.

               "My straw sandal broke, so I was fixing them."

               "Who gave you the straw?"

               "No one. I took it from some rice plants laid out to dry by the side of the road."

               "Did you ask permission first?"

               "No," said the retainer. "Nobody would care about a stalk or two of rice. Everybody does it, anyway."

               "You fool," said the samurai. "I won't put up with such an attitude. Everyone else may allow it, but I will not. Go back and ask the owner's pardon."

                The samurai well knew that those two excuses - "Everybody does it" and "It's so small it doesn't matter" - are always on the devil's tongue.

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                Even those two rice stalks could have been used by the family to make sandals for themselves, rope, or matting. Although it may seem like there is plenty, they all still belong to the farmer that harvested them. So when we go the extra distance for even the little things in life, it builds up our character and how we're seen by others around us.

                Your integrity is a great factor in what determines whether you're respected or listened to. The backbone of that integrity is making the hard choices to do the right thing. That means whether you are watched or unwatched... on the clock or off the clock.

                So we should always keep strict tabs of what we say and what we do in our lives. We can’t just let our mouth run and hope that everything we said will work out in the end. It needs to be written down, so we won’t forget. That kind of extra care becomes our own discipline.

                If we say and do things that will later reflect poorly on us, eventually we will experience misfortune from those wrong actions.

                Intentions and kind words are great, but coming through on what we've promised is always the best. This added effort and persistence also strengthens and matures our ethics.

                To make a promise to someone but secretly have a mindset of not doing it or not being able to do it is extremely terrible. It's not only hypocritical, but it's also very mean to deceive others in that way. When people rely on your words and actions, remember that they are relying on YOU.

                 A buddha is different from a deity in that a buddha is not omnipotent. Buddhas are not capable of performing miracles or creating a reversal of someone’s karma out of thin air. They are however omniscient, which means they see all, hear all, and know all. So the wisdom of a buddha is able to see through any mind tricks we may play with ourselves to get out of what we promised.

                What's most important in Buddhism is our coming to know our true mindset. By searching within and practicing self-reflection, we continually improve our own level of moral conduct little by little everyday. We do our best even if we must sacrifice short-term personal gains.

                We work so hard to uphold promises because trust is such an important component to human life. We need it to survive. It makes society function better, and all our lives easier as we come to depend on services and products. 

                 Imagine you go shopping in a department store. There are a lot of different items to choose from. Ultimately, you will end up choosing the product that you think works the best and is the most reliable for the price. As you pay the bill, you are trusting the vendor and the quality of their product. We hope they will deliver what they say will. Our trust in a company or product determines the choice of whether we will buy it or not in the future. Business and profit thrives and depends on this confidence.

                 If a popular restaurant boasts that it has organic foods and high quality ingredients, you might pay more for such a culinary experience. However, if online reviews spread news that the business owner actually buys his or her products from low-quality suppliers, then that restaurant owner’s reputation will inevitably suffer and customers will visit other restaurants instead. 

                  When we buy a product at the supermarket, we want the food there to be fresh. We look at the date on the packaging to determine if it is still good. We inspect produce to ensure it is edible.

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                   If we get home and open the container and find that it’s already spoiled, we lose trust in that product. If we take a bite of the apple we just bought and it's rotten, we get upset with store and demand a fresh one. Trust in business is worth billions of dollars worldwide. And yet our reliance upon each other is worth more. It is of inestimable value.

                   We need people to trust us, and without this trust, it’s very difficult for us to survive. Gaining peoples' trust is critical for our well-being. And the best way to be trusted is to keep your promises. All of them. Try your best to be a person of your word. You will feel a change in you right away.

                    "OK, OK. I get that promises are important," you say. "But what happens when you fail to keep your word a little bit?"

                     Think of it like this. 

                      Say someone you know is always late when they make plans to meet with you. Over time, do you believe this person will arrive on time? Not really. You end up bringing a book or something with you to occupy the extra time you have to wait. You are inconvenienced by this person, and whether you realize it or not, you're confidence in that person plummets as the behavior becomes careless habit. When they promise other things to you, you begin to doubt them because they are already careless with your time as it is on a regular basis.

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Thus, it’s very important to understand that whenever you are late
you are stealing someone else's time. 

               This time could be used for really important tasks. It is time that could be devoted to finding the purpose of life. Our time on Earth is so limited. It is our most precious resource we have as a human being. So don’t take others’ time like it’s some casual matter.

Let’s do the math together. 
 (Don't worry, it's just multiplication.) 

If you are 10 minutes late to a meeting with six people, 
how much time have you stolen? 

10 minutes X 6 People = 60 minutes

You have stolen one full hour of time!

Original Photo by Paul Aloe available on

               We have not even a minute of time to waste, so be cautious of appointments you keep with family, friends, and even businesses. They will come to be grateful to you for your reliability and rest their trust in you.

               The challenge before us is to keep our promises all the time. It doesn’t matter whether that promise is big or small as we stated earlier. Our words should always match our actions, or we will suffer according to the Law of Cause and Effect.

                There is a story that reflects the importance and severity of keeping you word.

                 Once upon a time, there was a very wealthy king who decided he wanted to create a secret underground chamber. He wanted to make sure that no one knew of its whereabouts or its function.

                  Many artisans and builders were selected to build the facility in a very remote location. 

Original Photo by Jari Juslin available on

                  Upon the completion of the project, the king ordered all the workers to be executed. If anyone was left alive, they could reveal the secrecy of his project.

                  However, the last man in line waiting to be killed begged for his life with all his heart. 

                   “I will never tell anyone,” he said on his knees with hands clasped. “Please spare my life!! I beseech thee, Your Majesty!!” 

                    Hearing his earnest plea, the king was still doubtful. “You’ll never tell anyone or even speak of it? Are you sure?”

                    “Yes, your majesty I promise!”

                    So this one person was spared from a death sentence because he made a sincere promise with the trusting monarch.
                    However, over time this promise became too difficult for him to keep. He started to have a lot of mental agony. Only he knew in the entire kingdom of the king’s secret project. It was too much to bare.

                     Put yourself into his shoes. He knew something that no one else in the entire kingdom knew. This burning secret was something he couldn’t tell his parents, his significant other, or even his best friend. He couldn’t tell anyone at all or his life would be put on the line. Imagine how painful that would be to hold something like that inside.

                    If we hear something that no one else knows, we want to tell someone right away. This is very basic human psychology. 

                    So this man’s deep mental anguish intensified ever since the moment he made the promise. Finally one day, he reached his breaking point. He couldn’t hold it anymore, so he found thought of a way he could let it out with no one knowing.

                     So he went deep into the mountains. There he found a cavern and wandered a vast distance deep within it. Once inside as far as he could go, he checked all around making sure that there was no one else in this cave. 

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                      Once he saw that it was clear, he shouted at the top of his lungs, “I KNOW WHERE THE SECRET ROOM OF THE KING IS!!!”

                       The sound echoed and echoed. “I KNOW… I KNOW… I KNOW…” 

                       Outside the cave at the mountain’s precipice grew a very big tree. This very tree was cut down to be part of the king’s new residence. 

Original Photo by Adam Baker available on

                        Then one night very, very late while the king was resting, he awoke from a faint echo he heard that escaped from within the wooden walls.

                         “I know… where the secret room… of the king is…”

                         The king became enraged, and he knew exactly who was responsible. He jumped out of bed and ordered the immediate arrest of the worker who had betrayed his promise. For breaking his word, he was sent to be executed.

Original Photo by pepergrasss available on


                          This story comes directly from the sutras of Sakyamuni Buddha. It demonstrates through storytelling the meaning behind the popular expression, “If these walls could talk.”

                           Once we make a promise, it may not be life-or-death as it was in the last story. But we must endeavor to keep promises with a very strict resolve. If we don’t, our reputations will go down. We must have a firm determination. If our mind is fluctuating even a little, we shouldn’t make that promise in the first place.

                           When we do manage to keep promises regularly, others and their trust for us increases. 

                           Regardless of where we live in the world, we are all part of community. There are a lot of people around us, and we should try to imagine what it feels like to be them. Since we’re not alone on some far off deserted island, we need to behave and cooperate so that everyone will happy and harmonious.

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                           We must always try to be considerate of others and their needs. Don’t cause inconvenience to those around you. Why would you want to do that?

                             Read the atmosphere around you. Is it okay to say what you’re about to say right now? Is there a better way to say it? Will it cause anyone pain, irritation, or inconvenience to other person? How will that person think of me if I use these words?

                             The mindset that reflects on how others are doing can often be tiring and even painstaking. But we have to do it anyway for our own good!

                              Everyone around you has emotions, even those who seem really grouchy or completely unfeeling have worries and concerns concealed within them. Because we live with others we must be mindful of those feelings. If you ignore how others feel and just say or do whatever you want, you won’t have many successful friendships or relationships. You will be seen as someone who can’t be trusted.

So we must make an important resolution in our life.

“I will never cause trouble to others as best I can.”

                        This means keeping our appointments and running our schedule to always be on time.

                        There are two kinds of people who approach life with two very different mindsets. Look at the chart below and evaluate which one reflects your behavior the most. Take note of what you are already doing and the areas that may need improvement.

Time Keepers \ Promise Keepers                                   Time Wasters \ Promise Breakers

=Put effort into being on time                                              =Stay calm even when very late

=Arrive before than the fixed time                                    =Arrive around the fixed time or later

=Aim at being at least 30 minutes earlier                          =Often forget they even made appointments

=Give themselves leeway, use time wisely                     =Always seem to be out of time, disoriented

=Prepare early, do things efficiently                                =Delay work, rapidly finish at the last minute

=Care about others and their time                                      =Don’t care or think time is too important

=Apologize sincerely from heart for lateness           =Blame external factors like traffic or others

                    Let’s look at the last line. Say there is a meeting at work that begins at 9:00 a.m. A person calls from the road saying that they got caught in traffic. They arrive 20 minutes late to the meeting and finally take their seat. 

                     However, everyone else in the room managed to be there at the meeting on time. How did they do it? One person even lived in that very same neighborhood as the late person. However, the time keepers in the room left an hour earlier so that they could make it. Was the difference really the traffic, or does it come down to a personal issue with time management?

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                      Promise and time keepers say, “I have to keep this appointment at 9:00 a.m. This needs to happen 100%. It’s important to everyone else, so I can’t be late even one minute. What can I do to make sure that I’ll make it? … Well, first I need to avoid the traffic that always builds up at that time near my street. Maybe I should come in to the office early that day so that I can prepare. That means I’ll have to go to bed early, and then…”

                      People who break promises instead seem to make very clever and rather ingenious excuses, “So sorry, I’m late,” they begin with feigned remorse. “There was so much traffic because of the construction on the freeway today. I checked the traffic report, but it wasn’t mentioned so I got stuck. I would have tried side streets, but there were so many stops signs, and the police lately have been giving out tickets.”  

When you think about it, 

why do all these obstacles 

only seem to occur to this same person? 

                        If this was the real reason, why do they still continue to be late in this way in the future? They become late again, but this time it is another excuse that becomes more far-fetched and elaborate. Bottom line, time wasters and promise breakers don’t feel responsibility for the inconvenienced they’ve caused. If they did, it wouldn’t be a recurring issue.

                         Again, the big difference is in the mindset of these two very different kinds of people. A promise or time keeper is genuinely sorry when they break a promise. They resolve never to do it again. Promise breakers only care about their own convenience.

                         Promise keepers put their priorities on others and meeting the expectations of their peers.  Promise breakers aim at just getting by themselves, and everyone else comes after they do.

                         The key to being a promise keeper is understanding the fundamental Buddhist concept of Benefiting Others Benefits the Self

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                          We come through for each other because it's too hard to go it all alone! We can use any help we can get from our friends. Now, let’s take a look at a story that demonstrates that why this mindset is so critical.


                  One day a man visited hell and saw that everyone was starving, miserable and skinny to the bone. Although there was plenty of food, they used three-foot chopsticks to eat. No one could eat a single bite because they were all desperately trying to feed themselves with these unusually large chopsticks.

                   Then the man visited heaven. There he saw the same buffet on the table as there was in hell. He expected everyone to have small chopsticks, but no… they were also using the same three-foot chopsticks. Only this time, everyone was feeding each other. 

                    “Oh, you want broccoli! Here you go! Could you pass me a bite of that chicken? Thank you so much!”

                      Those who put priority on others go toward the light. Those put priority on themselves can only head toward darkness.


                      People who are mindful of others work harder, because they realize the benefit. They become encouraged by how it makes others as well as them feel good. When they fail to deliver, they sincerely apologize because they care. They get that the only way to prevent their own failure is to prepare exactly what they need in advance. Promises become very important for them to keep. 

                     Making preparations early and thinking of others first is a very good cause. The good effect that emerges from it becomes a very valuable asset to us. That asset is called trust. Of course money, land, and treasures are good tangible assets to have. Trust may be invisible, but it is an asset of immeasurable value. 

                      Become a person who does exactly what you say you will do. The trust you will receive from others will be worth more than 100 million dollars. As we learned earlier, you earn people’s trust and make it your own by being on time and keeping all your promises. 

                      Let’s read a story from Something You Forgot Along the Way, that helps us understand this value behind keeping all our promises, even the small ones.


"Promises Are to Be Kept"

                      A young man was taking a walk one day when came upon a shabbily-dressed little girl crouched by the side of the road, weeping as she clutched some broken pieces of pottery.

Original Photo by Chris Pelliccione available on

                      Gently he asked her what the trouble was. It seemed that she was an only child whose only parent was seriously ill. She had borrowed a one-liter jar from the landlord and was one her way to buy milk when she dropped the jar and smashed it. She was crying in fear of a scolding.

                     Feeling sorry for her, the youth pulled out his wallet and checked it, but he was a poor scholar, and the wallet was empty. “Come back here tomorrow at the same time,” he told her. “I’ll give you the money for another jar of milk.” He shook hands with her and went on his way.

                     The following day he received an urgent message from a friend: “A wealthy man is here, someone interested in sponsoring your work. He’s leaving in the afternoon, so come right away.” Yet going to meet the rich man would have meant breaking his promise to the little girl. The young man quickly sent his reply: “I have important business today. I apologize for the inconvenience, but I must ask him to return another day.” And he kept his promise to the child.

                      The would-be benefactor at first took offense, but on hearing what had kept the scholar, he was thoroughly impressed and became his most ardent supporter.

                      Rich people can be touchy and difficult to deal with. They tend to think that their money entitles them to have their way with everything. Even those who are not rich will all too often break any promise and bend any principle for the sake of money, becoming its slaves.

                       The Chinese character for “making money” is composed of elements that can be read “trusted person.” In other words, money comes to those who are worthy of trust. The basis of trust lies in keeping a promise regardless of its cost to oneself. Promises that cannot be kept should not be made. He who breaks a promise not only inconveniences others but inflicts damage on himself.


                       Trust is very important for our development and our own sense of self-worth. And bottom line, it’s simply the right thing to do.
                        Even if the scholar gained a fortune, he would regret not helping the little girl. Her anguish at following short on his promise became a price that would be too much for him to bare. 

                        There was no price that could be put on the guilt he would feel inside. First the benefactor was angry, but he soon discovered that this scholar was the kind of person who put others before himself. It made the benefactor realize that actually this was someone he could trust and and do business with in the future. The benefactor’s mind changed because he discovered the intangible value of trust within that scholar. 

                        Even small promises become the basis for a deep trust. Once we win this trust, it then becomes part of us, even though we can’t see it with our eyes. Having the trust of others nurtures our virtue and also gives us confidence and self-respect. This is why we must keep even the small promises and make double-sure that they are met!

                        A common feature among millionaires is their ability to follow through with their promises. Droves of people depend more and more on the services that they provide in their businesses, and these millionaires endeavor to come through every delivery, every time. As a result, they earn a vast fortune from their efforts that accumulate and gain interest over the years. 

                        Our bank account may not be like theirs now, but we too can pay this same level of care and attention to our promises and build up our own trust. It will bring us happiness, and in time we too may thrive in business by making ourselves dependable.

                        The second paramita of discipline tells us to abide by the precepts taught in Buddhism. This comes through self-reflection. But we must also put it into practice by carefully moderating our words with our actions.

                         People who don’t keep promises won’t get anything truly special out of life. People who keep promises will have many blessings from many, many people. They develop reliable networks and friendly contacts who are also dependable and willing to lend support. It's also a recipe for a lasting relationship.

Original Photo by Christian Ditaputratama available on

                        After we start to keep our promises, we will see the positive effect it has on our lives. We will experience first-hand the direct relationship that exists between causes and effects taught in Buddhism. It's also the moment when we learn the true meaning of a promise in our heart and aim to carry each one out diligently until it is 100% accomplished. Even if it causes you inconvenience here and there, keeping promises is worth it in the long run because it is the very basis of human trust. 

                           Yet sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we may not be able to keep a promise. In this unfortunate case, we should give a wholehearted apology. We never want to break promises because we don’t want to cause any trouble whatsoever to others. Life is bothersome enough as it is. Let’s not try to be the kind of people who cause people discomfort and anxiety from our words and actions.

Good deeds bring good results.

Bad deeds bring bad results.

Your own deeds bring your own results.

This is the Law of Cause and Effect.

                              We must manage our time beforehand (cause), so that we can actually fulfill the promise (effect). That effort must of course come before the deadline runs out. So a great way of keeping track of promises is keeping a daily planner. Whether it is digital or paper, either way it will help you become a better time and promise keeper.

Original Photo by Generation Bass available on

                                The more we coincide with what we say and do, the better we feel inside. Others will think of us as special people and treat us kindly. They will receive us with greater respect and admiration than those who are not dependable.

                                The Law of Cause and Effect reminds us that we'll always receive exactly what we put out. The more we push through to keep our promises, the more greatly we're rewarded when it comes back around to us.

                                 And if possible, keeping an accurate account book of your expenses will help build your credit and save you money. Studies have shown that those who keep records of their expenses end up with thousands of dollars more at the end of the year. Using this method, you can also keep track of what you promise to pay to others. This includes all those piling bills and debts. Banks will then trust you more with loans, services, and rewards as a result of all your payments arriving on time. 

                                 John D. Rockefeller had his start as a humble bookkeeper. Rockefeller made 50 cents a day when he first started work. But he always kept a red expense book that monitored every single penny he earned and spent. 

Original Photo by aehdeschaine available on

                                 Every single cent was accounted for and written in this book. Many employees ridiculed how meticulous Rockefeller was with his expenses. But from those modest beginnings of managing small amounts of spare change, he began investing dollar by dollar. Rockefeller rose in status, ultimately becoming one of the savviest businessmen in United States history. The name Rockefeller became a household word synonymous with wealth, and yet people fail to remember that it all began with care for a single penny.

                           So keeping your word with bills and expenses can even yield along with it financial gains.

Original Photo by 401(K) 2012 available on

                           We, human beings, learn by doing. It is practice that makes perfect. So keep your promises beginning today! If you add a little discipline to your life, you can only stand to win the trust of others and gain happiness as a result. You may even generate more money with this mindset. So it's win-win. 

                             However, to actually do all of this is of course… easier said than done. ;-)

Original Photo by Celestine Chua available on