Submitted by a Zen Student at Kannon Do
I started sitting zazen when I was in college many years
ago. My initial reasons for starting to sit were fairly typical for beginning
meditators. I wanted to reduce the stress in my life, to help focus my mind and
to help compensate for the lack of sleep I was getting due to late night study
In fact, meditation did fulfill my initial goals but after a
few years I started to see myself more clearly. I could easily see how I was
selfishly focused on my career and trying to get ahead and make money. It
wasn’t that I was unkind or mean but I was not actively helping others. Soon
after this I joined the Sangha of Kannon Do where I noticed a lot of unselfish
and compassionate behavior. People donated a lot of time in maintaining and
supporting the Sangha as well as participated in out-reach programs such as
feeding the poor.
The more I sat the more the feelings of compassion and
empathy arose within me. I felt my mind slowly transformed from small-mind to
big-mind. It was if compassion was a muscle where one had to train to maintain
it. If I stopped sitting for a while I noticed myself slipping back to my old
self. Over time it became easier and more natural to be more aware of others and
practice compassion. As I started to see my own mind more clearly I could then
see others’ minds.
In the beginning it was easy to be more compassionate to my
friends and families since I truly cared for them. This is when I started to
notice the reflectivity of compassion. For example, after helping someone I
often noticed that a greater kindness was returned either by the person I
helped or from someone else that was indirectly connected. Many times I would
do a small favor for a friend and later they would return the favor in a much
more generous fashion than the original favor even though many years might
pass. It was if the original action was reflected and amplified back in return.
Or sometimes the returned kindness would occur in very unexpected ways. One time I lent a friend some money and later she paid back the debt. I had forgotten all about it until about a year later I had a gardener do some work for me in my yard and when I asked for the bill he insisted on not taking any fee because he was also a friend of the woman I had lent the money to and he appreciated what I had done and wanted to thank me by doing the gardening work for free. I was quite surprised, as I didn’t even realize that they knew each other.
But over the years I noticed that for many being
compassionate in a work environment was difficult due to the competitive nature
of Silicon Valley. It seemed that people didn’t want to be perceived as ‘soft’
or be in the position that they could be taken advantage of. But in fact over
the years of managing teams of engineers I noticed that the team was more
productive and relaxed if managed more through kindness than from any set of
strict rules. People worked harder and put in extra effort when it was really
necessary if they had been given the time off to be with their family during a
I especially remember one instance that truly had an
expansion of reciprocal compassion in dealing with a personal problem of one of
my team members named Tim (not his real name). Tim had become increasingly more
unreliable at work and was arriving later and later in the morning. He had had
his driver’s license taken away and had to take public transportation to work.
He often called in sick on Mondays and I was worried that he may have a severe
drug or alcohol problem. This was confirmed abruptly one day as someone saw him
selling drugs from a company car he had borrowed in order to pick up some
supplies for me.
The personnel department recommended that I terminate him
immediately due to his drug problem. But I was worried that he would just get
worse without a job and his life would just spiral out of control. I was able
to convince our employer to pay for a residential drug rehabilitation program
where Tim was able to stay for several weeks. Afterwards he returned to work
for me again. Tim really made an effort to give up drugs and became a very hard
worker and loyal employee. In fact he gave lectures to the local high schools
on drug addiction and volunteered a lot time in helping others give up drugs.
About once a year he continues to contact me to keep in
touch and he appears to be drug free and still volunteers his time to help
other addicts. He often mentions that my helping him enter a rehabilitation
program completely changed his life and may have saved it in the long run. He
has paid back that favor many times by returning to the work force and by
helping others with a similar problem.
Time and time again I have noticed this reflection of compassion where a kind action has created an even larger reaction in returned kindness. But sometimes it may take a long time for me to notice, as it is often subtle or indirect in its nature. This is the true power of Zen practice.