The Role of Spiritual Practice in the Modern World

Uploaded by Google on 24.07.2007


MALE SPEAKER: It's a great honor and pleasure for me to
introduce Les Kaye.
Les is abbot of the Kannon Do Temple here in Mountain View,
and a master in the Soto Zen lineage of
Shunryu Suzuki Roshi.
Many of you probably know Les's teacher through the
wonderful book, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.
Many of you probably don't realize that the lectures
collected in this beautiful book were given by Suzuki
Roshi here in Silicon Valley at the small sitting group
that ultimately grew to become the same Kannon Do Temple that
Les now leads.
In the introduction to Les' own book, Zen at Work, my
friend Misha Merrill describes Les's unique place in our
local Zen history in this way.
"Les was profoundly affected by Suzuki
Roshi and his teachings.
And within a few years, he was a Zen monk practicing with a
small group in Los Altos, California where Suzuki Roshi
came to speak once a week.
Now this may not seem so odd considering the times.
Plenty of people in the San Francisco area were doing some
pretty exotic things during the 60s and early 70s.
Zen practice was just one item on the menu.
But imagine, if you can, a neatly dressed IBM manager
sitting in the midst of all this craziness, someone who
continued to have an ordinary home life and drive to work
every day 9:00 to 5:00.
That was something else indeed."
After more than 30 years at IBM, Les eventually retired in
1990 to devote himself to Zen teaching and practice at
Kannon Do and beyond.
He has long taken a special interest in the integration of
meditation practice and working life.
So he is a wonderful guest to join us here at Google where
so many are trying to do the same.
Please join me in welcoming Les Kaye.
LES KAYE: Good afternoon.
It's exciting for me to be here.
And it's an honor because you have had some terrific guest
speakers over the last several months.
Thanks to Ming, I've had a chance to review the videos of
two of your most recent speakers, Jon Kabat-Zinn and
Mattieu Ricard.
Is that how you say it, Matthieu?
That's good.
Matthieu Ricard.
And they were very inspiring and very touching talks that
they gave. And the videos were wonderful.
And I was very moved by their presence, the presence of
these two men.

I can't see you if I do that.
These men exhibited four outstanding qualities.
First of all they're very smart, very intelligent men.
They showed dedication and sincerity to the work they
were doing on behalf of others.
They were very wise.
And finally, they were just nice guys.

And if any of you see them, either of them, if you did, I
think you'll agree those are four
qualities that they displayed.
Now today you have me.

My intelligence doesn't come near theirs.
They have their PhDs from very well-respected universities in
very difficult scientific topics.
And me, I'm just grateful that I have my Bachelor of Science.
My intelligence doesn't match theirs.
I don't know where we get our intelligence from.
Is it genetic?
Do we get in the first few years of our life?
I don't know where we get it from.
But at some point you realize you can't really do much about
enhancing your intelligence.
You got what you got at some point in your life.
I can't do anything about my intelligence.
But these three other factors, I have some choices.
And we all have choices about those other factors, about
being dedicated and sincere, about being wise, and about
being nice people.
To have those qualities, in Buddhism, that's called
It's called selflessness, to be selfless.
And we can all make that kind of effort if that's the way we
want to be in our life.
We can make that kind of effort.
That effort is called spiritual practice.
Not religion, that's something else, but spiritual practice.
So what I hope to convey to you today is the relevance of
spiritual practice to our daily lives and how it can
bring us balance in a busy and stressful world.

For the past 100 or so, our society, American society has
slowly become overwhelmed by the rapid growth of

I think you'll sense there's some truth in that.
The rapid growth of technology and the increasing abundance
of material goods, that's what the 20th century brought us.
Technology and material goods, they bring us many advantage
in our lives.
They make us safe.
They protect our health.
They increase our comfort.
And they overall improve our quality of life.
Technology and materialism, they do those things for us.
But the problem is over the past century or so we have
allowed them to create an environment that conditions us
to be concerned mainly with what we can do
and what we can possess.
And we slowly start to lose our concern for who we really
are, what we really are.
That's the unintended consequences of technology and
of material abundance, the unintended consequences.

So for the past two or three generations we have become
more and more excited about consumer goods.
I think the first Sears and Roebuck catalog
came out in like 1898.
And became extremely popular because now you had pictures
of the stuff that you could get.
And over the century that kind of advertising got more and
more sophisticated.
So we became slowly conditioned to getting more
things, newer things, bigger things, better things, more
entertaining things.
Inherently that's not bad.
But there are unintended consequences because we slowly
become conditioned to the feeling that I must have it.
I have to have it.
Have you ever opened the newspaper?
The back of the first section of the Mercury News has is
huge Fry's ad.
And you look and say, oh, I've got to have that.
We're becoming conditioned that way.
It's not because we're bad people.
But that's what's happening.

When we become overwhelmed by materialism our spiritual life
Because people become not so concerned who they are, and
how they are to be in this world, or what is helpful in
this world, or what is the best way to understand other
people, and what is the best way to be with other people.
We start to become concerned with our own personal
That's just what happens.
It doesn't mean we're bad people.
But that's what happens.
We become conditioned by the society we're in.
It's what happens.

And your past two speakers were Buddhists, me too.
The fundamental insight of Buddhism is that suffering,
human suffering, comes from desire.
If you know anything about Buddhism, that's the first
thing you read.
Suffering comes from desire, a desire that is based on
ignorance of the real nature of the phenomenal world.
Now this ignorance that Buddhism talks about has
nothing to do with not being smart.
It has does nothing to do with lack of intelligence or having
a small or limited mental capacity.
The ignorance that Buddhism talks about is the result of
having a narrow worldview, a narrow worldview, as if we
were living in a tunnel, a narrow world view that comes
from living in a tunnel so that we cannot see or be aware
of the world around us.
And we cannot feel our intimacy and our connection
with our world.
And so therefore we are unable to recognize
the nature of things.

That's what a narrow worldview does to us.
We can't recognize the nature of things
and we lose our intimacy.
It's like living in a dream world, which in turn causes us
to think and behave foolishly and create suffering.
Even though we may be very smart, even though
intelligence may be there, we think and behave foolishly.
Let me give you an example of that.
I think you're all familiar with this
the story of Genesis.

Adam and Eve lived in Eden and they had everything,
everything they could possibly need.
And so they were perfectly happy and
content, no problems anywhere.
They had everything.
But they were tempted and they had a desire
for one more thing.
They gave into their desire for one more thing.
Even though they didn't need it, they gave into their
desire for one more thing.
And that created suffering.
That's the story of The Bible.
Now The Bible tells you that that's original sin.
Buddhism says that's original foolishness.
It has nothing to do with being sinful.
It means being foolish.
So when we give into our desires for something we
really don't need, it's acting foolishly.
And that creates suffering.
To me, that's the meaning of the Genesis story.
That's the Buddhist interpretation
of the Genesis story.
So the antidote to desire and the antidote to suffering is
spiritual practice.
Now it's not about religion.
Spiritual practice is not about religion because there's
no dogma connected with it, there's no worship, and
there's no belief system.
You don't have to believe in anything to engage in
spiritual practice.
Spiritual practice is about having our life express our
inherent human qualities, our inherent human qualities.
Generosity, patience, energy, caring, wisdom, those are our
inherent spiritual qualities.
We are not originally sinful.
We are originally like your previous two speakers who are
really nice guys and really cared.
That's who we are fundamentally.
And this is what spiritual practice is about, helping us
manifest those qualities.
We are inherently selfless.
We are inherently unselfish.
However, that quality gets too often obscured by our desires.
This is the point of Buddhism.
Desires get in the way of who you are.
So when we have spiritual practice in our lives, when we
can act selflessly, we have a feeling of satisfaction and
joy despite any difficulties that may occur in our life.
Despite any suffering that may occur, we feel OK.
We feel joy in our life.
We feel connected with each other.
We feel friendly and warm.
We're not jealous.
We're not defensive.
We're not competitive.
We're not judgmental.
That's spiritual practice.
And it all starts with meditation.
And you have a meditation program
here in your workplace.
And you're blessed because of it.
Spiritual practice starts with meditation, which really is,
when you look at meditation, when you look at what you're
doing in meditation, it really is the practice
of awareness, awareness.
Awareness is not a religious term, is it?
Emphasizing awareness and practicing awareness is the
basis of spiritual practice.
It has nothing to do with religion.

The practice of awareness means we are continually
present, not distracted.
Or at least we're trying to be present and we're trying not
to be distracted.
We can't do it 100%.
We can't be perfect at it.
We get distracted.
But we try.
We're making our best effort to be aware, to be present.
So spiritual practice enables us to understand things beyond
their appearances and beyond what common sense may tell us
about something or someone.
We see beyond all that and we see to the truth of things.
This is what spiritual practice does for us.

A short story about awareness and attention.

Awareness, like paying attention, it seems like a
very, very ordinary activity.
It's something you do all the time.
But actually, it is the foundation.
Like I say, it's the foundation
of spiritual practice.
Now a long time ago, once upon a time say in the 9th century
in China, there was a man who was a
counselor to the emperor.
And he went to see the local Zen master.
And he said, in this kingdom, people are very
difficult to govern.
They are so unruly.

It's really hard to manage them.
It's really hard to govern them they're so unruly.
Please give me a word of wisdom to help govern them.
So the Zen master picked up his brush and he dipped it in
the ink and he wrote the calligraphy for attention.
And maybe you can show me later what that looks like.
So the counselor got very angry.
He said, hey, I asked you to help me.
I asked you for some wisdom.
And you give me this?
Give me a word of wisdom.
So the Zen teacher took his brush dipped it in the ink and
he then wrote attention, attention.

What does this mean?
Why does attention equate to wisdom?
How does attention govern the unruly?

Now we believe, we assume that we're
always giving our attention.

I'm aware.
I know what's going on.
We believe that.
But it's not always so because we are very easily distracted.
And when you do meditation, you notice that.
You become aware of that.

When you sit in meditation you notice how your mind likes to
go and do some other things.
We are easily distracted and we are always letting our
awareness stray.
And we multitask on purpose, don't we?
We let our attention stray.
So that Zen teacher tried to illustrate to this man,
attention is the most important thing.

There are many different ways or many different things that
we should pay our attention to.
There are three.
First of all, we should pay attention to what we do in our
daily life and to the things of our daily life.
And when we do this completely, we can understand,
we can deeply understand how things exists in this world.
And this is important to understand how things are in
the daily world, a world made up of temporary shapes, forms,
colors, sounds that are constantly changing.
Everything is constantly changing.
And when we pay attention to the things of this world, we
finally start to recognize that things are not permanent.

So when we give our attention to the ordinary things of the
world, we see into their true nature.
And we see that all things have the same fundamental
qualities without exception.

And this is an important dimension of wisdom,
understanding the nature of the things of
the everyday world.
The second thing we should pay attention to is each other, to
people: how we are the same and how we are different from
each other, how we react, how people create things, how
people find comfort, how they are helpful to each other, and
how they suffer.

With awareness of each other, with awareness of people, we
come to understand how we should be with each other and
thereby come into harmony rather than isolation.
And finally, the third thing that we should give our
attention to and constantly be aware of is ourself.

We should be aware of our activities and how we do them,
how we do things.
We should be aware of how we do things.
Do we do them with a calm mind or a frantic mind, with
anxiety or with peace?
We should pay attention to ourselves especially when we
get clumsy and make a mistake.
That's the most important time to be aware of ourselves.
Because when we make a mistake, our
awareness can alert us.
I didn't pay attention just then.
I made a mistake.
I got clumsy.
I didn't pay attention just then.
And as we know, attention, attention.
Awareness can tell us, oh, I didn't pay
attention just then.
Then we can pay attention to any feelings that arise
because we made a mistake.

Look at my response to that.
Look at my reaction to that.
Painful feelings can arise when we do something clumsy,
when we make a mistake.
Painful feelings just can arise in us.
And that's a form of suffering,
those painful feelings.
And from that suffering, we can make a vow to be more
mindful and to pay attention.
In that way, and mistake can be helpful.
If we pay attention to it and open to it, not push it away,
it can be helpful because it causes us to
suffer a little bit.
And out of that suffering we say, I don't want that to
happen again.
I'm going to pay attention.
Mistakes can be helpful.
And they can help us be creative if we're willing to
pay attention to them.

So if we don't have awareness practice continually
life gets mixed up.
We make all kinds of mistakes.
We don't pay any attention to them and life
keeps getting crazy.
Life gets mixed up.
And our view of life becomes narrow as if we're looking at
the world from inside of a tunnel.
And without awareness, without paying attention to the way
things are, and to the way people are, and to the way we
are, without paying attention to that, we can become fooled
by appearances.
We become fooled by appearances.
We can't tell the difference between something that's good
and something that appears to be good.
We get all mixed up.
And we become a slave to our desires, to our preferences,
to fashions, and to our unexamined values.
We all carry around a set of values about what we think is
the truth of things and the way things should be.
But have we really examined them to see if they're valid?
Without awareness, we don't examine our own values.
And who knows?
They could be way off base.

When we become a slave to our desires and our preferences,
our reflection and our selflessness, it gets

However, there is a feeling emerging in our society--
it's just starting to emerge--
that fulfilling our desires is not enough
to provide us meaning.
The fact that you have a meditation program here is
evidence that something's happening.
Something is emerging in our culture that says, this
materialism, this technology, it's maybe not enough.
People are beginning to think this way.

People are beginning to recognize that putting the
emphasis on consuming leaves an empty feeling.

There's a sense that there must be more to life than
More and more people are beginning to feel this way.

When we recognize that pursuing happiness, pursuing
happiness is a superficial way to live.
We start to ask ourselves, what should be my true
orientation in life?
If that doesn't work, if that gives me an empty feeling,
what should I be doing?
What's my true orientation?
And we look around for other choices, and some are
beginning to emerge.
We ask ourselves, what's the point in my life?
How should I live it?
What is happiness anyhow?
What is it after all?
These are spiritual questions.
These are spiritual questions.
They're every day questions.
But they're really spiritual questions because it means we
are seeking.
We want to know what it is that's real.
When we start asking those kinds of questions, this is
the start of spiritual practice.
So practice starts with recognizing the pleasures are
not enough, and that attaching to them robs us of
understanding and distracts us from living an authentic life.
At bottom, that's what we want.
We want to know what's real, what's true, and we want to
live our life authentically.
If we get caught up pursuing possessions, it covers over
this fundamental desire.
When we finally get fed up with possessions
we say, wait a minute.
I have some questions here I need to explore and answer.
And I really believe that's starting to happen.
It's been starting to happen for the last 50 years.
These things have a very slow momentum.
But that's what's happening.
Now many people are very skeptical of the notion or the
idea of spiritual practice.
They think spiritual practice means you have
to drop out of society.
You have to go live on a mountain or you have to live
in the desert or a cave or something.
Or they say, well, it's too demanding for
me, an ordinary person.
I can't do that.
They feel that spiritual practice will interfere with
having a normal, everyday life, and that we have to live
in some kind of austere, ascetic, and what's the other
word I'm thinking about.

I'll think about it later.

I just lost the word.
What is it when you're not married, when you don't have
relations with another?
AUDIENCE: Celibate.
LES KAYE: Celibate.
They think spiritual life means you have to be celibate,
ascetic, and austere.
You have to live in isolation.

I thought he was going to program me right out of here.

It's not true.
It's not so.
It's not so.
Material and physical comforts are OK.
They're inherently not bad.
Fun is OK.
Fun is OK.
Satisfaction is OK.
Having friends is OK.
Having a family life is OK.
Working on problems with your friends and solving these
problems and making progress, it's OK.
There's nothing wrong with it.
It's not a sin.
But it is true that we, as human beings, are easily
overwhelmed with pleasures and possessions.

Material things surround us everywhere you go.
And they courage our desires.
And they encourage attachments.
And they interfere with our understanding and with wisdom.
They interfere with our relationships.
And they interfere with our peace of mind if we
let it go too far.

Now when we recognize the limitations of possessions and
comforts, then we start to seek balance in our lives.

Few people, a very small percentage of people, say, I'm
dropping out of all this.
It's too much.
I'm going to go live on a mountain.
It's too much.
I give it up.
Most of us say, you know this stuff isn't sinful by itself.
But I've got to find a balance.
I've got to find a balance.
So we seek balance in our lives when we recognize that
there is a limitation to pursuing possessions.

We turn to spiritual practice to understand who we are
fundamentally, and what life should be beyond having
possessions, and what life is like beyond the
appearance of things.
The material greatness is not the true measure of a society.
We think about some previous empires, the Roman Empire, or
the empire of Alexander the Great, the great Roman Empire,
the great Babylonian Empire, whatever it may be.
Usually we measure that greatness based on the
material accomplishments.
But the true measure of greatness, of a society, or of
an individual, is in nonmaterial relationships.
The true greatness is in our nonmaterial relationships such
as how we support each other, how we care for each other,
how we encourage each other, how we create things together,
and our openness with each other.
This is the true measure of greatness, not how materially
well-off we were or are.
So our awareness, our practice of awareness, our spiritual
practice, encourages us to reflect on ourself and how we
are in the world and how we relate to
people and to things.
Are we careful of what we do and what we say?
Do we take care with that?
Are we attentive?
Are we accepting?
Are we respectful of each other and of
what the world offers?
Or are we interested only in what pleases us?
And do we simply ignore what we don't like?
And therefore, do we become careless?
Spiritual practice, our awareness practice, encourages
us to reflect on those aspects of our life.
Now despite all of our efforts to create a trouble-free
world, unpleasant things arise.
Difficulties do arise.
And it's beyond our control most of the time because
things just change.

But if we react to these difficulties by complaining
and pushing things away, we simply create problems.
I remember something that I experienced when
I was really small.
I must have been three or four years old.
I'll never forget this episode.
I was a kid, really a little kid, and I was at a friend's
house playing.
I was playing with a friend at his house.
And his mother said, come on, here's lunch.
So we went and sat down at the table for lunch.
And his mother had prepared something, gave each of us a
plate of what she prepared.
And my friend picked up the plate and he threw it across
the room because clearly he wasn't happy with what his
mother had prepared.

A mature mind doesn't do that.
A mature mind is grateful and accepts whatever is
offered by the world.
The immature mind says, the heck with it, and throws it
across the room.
We don't do that.
We try not to do that.
A mature mind doesn't do that.
So the most important thing that we can do for ourselves
is observe ourself and the various ways that we have as
human beings of creating problems. Because we all have
the capacity to create problems. And we do
from time to time.
When we become aware of the difficulties that we ourselves
create, we learn from them.
We learn from them.

And we learn how it is that we create them.
And then, through that education, we can learn to
avoid the traps that we fall into like Adam and Eve.
They didn't get a second chance.
But if they had a chance to reflect on what they did, they
wouldn't reach out for one more thing.
When we learn how we create problems and learn how to
avoid the traps, we can reorient our mind so that we
understand ourself and our life.

I'd like to tell you a story now or relate something that I
read that illustrates what I've been trying to say for
the last half hour.
Occasionally there is a real-life story that
demonstrates how people devised their own suffering.
I read an article in the San Francisco Magazine back in
December of 2003.
It's already an old article.
But it really struck me.
And so I brought the experience of it here today to
share with you.
The article was titled, Larger Than Death.
And it traces the suicide of a woman named Ella King Torrey,
who had been the president of the San
Francisco Art Institute.

She took her own life when she was 45 years old.
She took the job as president of the Art Institute, which is
a very challenging job, in 1995.
She took over a very well-respected school.
But the school was underfunded and needed some energy and
some vision.
Now Ella King Torrey was a supercharged woman.
She had overwhelming enthusiasm.
She had an infinite number of ideas.
She was very focused in her ambition and on her work.
She delighted meeting creative and intelligent people and
bringing them together.
She loved putting together innovative and ingenious
networks of people.
She was very good at that.
And she was inspired by making things new and creating
something out of nothing.
That's the way she was described.
She loved to create something out of nothing.
She was really charged up much in the same way that you are,
creating something and making something out of nothing.
She was a terrific fundraiser.
I don't know if you're terrific fundraisers.
She was a great fundraiser.
She knew all of these influential people.
And she could do that.
She increased the donations to the San Francisco Art
Institute fourfold while she was president, from $500,000 a
year to $2.5 million a year.
She was great.

But she also spent very lavishly.
She spent on visiting artists, on building projects, on
exhibitions of art, and on providing grants
to struggling artists.
And she also spent a lot of money on expanding the library
of the institute.
Now when the bubble dried up and the donations to
the institute dried up, the board of directors discovered
a huge deficit.
Because she was the president she took the blame.
She got fired in April of 2002 after seven years on the job.
She got fired because of this deficit.
And it was a year later that she took her own life.
She committed suicide without leaving a note.
Her friends and her colleagues were absolutely dumbfounded,
absolutely bewildered.
They could not comprehend how this woman who had such
purpose and such an appetite for the exciting life--
she loved fine food in San Francisco.
She loved the wine.
And she loved the beautiful things and the fashions.
She loved dressing up in color.
She loved to laugh.
She loved her friends.
How could such a person take her own life?
Nobody could figure it out.

I think that the source of this tragedy can be traced to
how she saw herself in a limited way, as if she saw
herself from inside a tunnel.
She saw herself in a limited way.
She saw herself strictly as a glamorous and successful
person constantly in the limelight doing terrific
things and being enthusiastically applauded by
her successes.

When she got fired, it destroyed this image she had
of herself, this desperate image she had of herself.
Her firing destroyed that.

It's an image that defined who she was.

It was an image of what she believed she had obtained and
what she felt she had to obtain.

It was an image of herself.
It wasn't her true self.

It was an image defined by what she did in
her everyday life.
But it wasn't her true self.
It was an image of herself.
It was an image that depended on her grasping for and
holding on to the things of this world which have no
permanency, and which by their constantly changing nature
they can't be held on to.
So something changed in the economic world.
The donations dried up.
She got fired.
Things changed.
And this change destroyed her image of herself.

I think she saw herself in a kind of chess game.
How many of you play chess?
If you play chess you know that the most powerful piece
on the chessboard is the white queen, the white queen.
She saw herself as the white queen being in charge, having
the capacity to make very powerful moves.

Now in chess, sometimes the game takes a very surprising
turn and the queen has to be sacrificed
for some other advantage.
It's is pretty rare.
But it's part of a chess player's strategy sometimes to
sacrifice the queen.
That's what happened here.

The game continued but she could no longer play.

That's how she saw herself.
The game is still going on.
But she wasn't in it anymore.
She was no longer in it as the white queen.
So because she did not have an inner vision of who she was,
because her belief was that she was in the game as the
white queen and that's all there was for her, not being
president of the San Francisco Art Institute left here with
an empty feeling and without purpose or
any meaning in life.

In other words, her life, the very successful life that she
had up to a point, was lived externally.
Very exciting, it was a very exciting life.
But it didn't have intimacy and it didn't have reflection.

So her tragedy was her inability or her unwillingness
to stop the rush to grasp what is out there.
That's where all her energy came from.
She was in a rush to grasp what was out there.

Now this rush probably fueled her creativity.
But her story should warn us that we put ourselves at risk
for suffering and for tragedy when the rush is all we know.

When the rush is all we know, and we put ourselves at risk.

Now the founder of Zen Buddhism in Japan was the Zen
priest named Dogen.
And he wrote a lot and gave a lot of talks.
And one of the most memorable things he said in one of his
talks goes like this: To study Buddhism is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.

Now this woman, Ella King Torrey, was
unable to study herself.

She was unable to contemplate the purpose of her life beyond
the everyday successes of the daily world, the transient
successes of the daily world.
She was unable to contemplate her life beyond that.
She didn't realize that her inherent true self was not
diminished because she got fired.

She didn't know who she really was beyond the image she had
of herself.
And when that image was destroyed she
couldn't take it.
She was unable to allow herself to be enlightened by
all things rather than grasping for them.

If she could have done that, she would have had a balanced
life that did not end in a self-inflicted tragedy.

Awareness practice, spiritual practice, meditation practice,
say it anyway you like, it quiets the mind so that we can
come back to calmness and to balance, so we can come back
to balance.
When our mind is noisy, it means it's in a kind of panic.

What do I do next?
I put my glasses somewhere.
Where are they?
We're in a panic.
How do I get out of this busyness that I'm in.
That's not a quiet mind.
That's a noisy mind.
The noisy mind does not understand the need to go back
to before the beginning, to before step one.
For example, when you're given a problem, when you come
across a problem to solve in your life or your work, you
don't start solving it immediately.
If somebody says, here's a problem.
You don't say, step one to the solution is this.
You don't do that.

What you do first is you try to fully understand the nature
of the problem.
You become intimate with the problem itself before you
start coming up with solutions.
In other words, before you do something, you need to
understand the point of doing.
When you start rushing to solve a problem before you
understand it, it doesn't work.
And in your own experience, well, you
probably have done that.
And you learn from it and you don't do that anymore.
But before we do something about a problem, we go back
before step one.
We go back to zero.
Through awareness practice, we learn how to bring in our mind
back to zero and back to balance.
Before we do something to solve a problem or before we
do something with our life, we come to balance.
This is the point of meditation practice.
Come back to balance.
Come back to balance.
Come back to a mind that isn't noisy before jumping out there
and trying to solve some problem, before doing
something before we know what it is we're doing.
So to solve a problem or to live in the very next moment,
we first have to prepare our mind to come back to zero
through awareness practice, spiritual practice.
Then our problems can be seen through the perspective of our
true nature rather than through panic
or through our emotions.

So awareness practice, meditation practice, will
train our mind to bring our awareness and our balance to
everyday affairs.
So if we become troubled by some emotion or feeling during
the day, we can recognize anger is
starting to arise in me.
Or fear is starting to arise in me, or sadness, or grief,
or some feeling, some emotion.
When we recognize and accept the feeling that's happening,
the mind can return to balance.
And this is what's called starting from zero.
The emotion may not go away.
But it won't be troublesome.

It's natural.

In Zen, spiritual practice has always been
associated with work.
Let me try to illustrate that.

A saying from back in the 9th century by Zen Layman.
"My magical power my spiritual exercise consist in carrying
water and gathering firewood." What does this mean?
It means that the everyday world, the relative everyday
world, is not different from the spiritual world.
Another story that goes along with that, the abbot of a Zen
monastery in the 4th century always worked out in the
fields with his monks.
When he was into his 80s, he still worked out there.
And they became concerned that he was still working at this
advanced age.
And they told him to stop.
And he said, no.
So they hid his garden tools, his tools.
And with that he stopped eating.
So they gave him back his tools.
And then one night in a talk, he said, a day of no work is a
day of no food.
The point of trying to make is spiritual practice in the Zen
tradition, anyhow, has always been associated with work.
How we do our work is our spiritual practice.

Let's see if I can get to the next slide.

When there is spiritual practice in the workplace,
there are benefits to the individual.
There's increased ability to focus on a task or
There's more energy during the day and a sense of buoyancy at
the end of the day.
Rather than stress at the end of the day, you feel buoyant
and confident.
There is increased confidence in our own ability to respond
positively to whatever may arise.
There's better capacity to listen and to
empathize with others.
There's more patience and tolerance in complex
And there is reduced stress in the midst of continual
distractions and demands.
These are the benefits to the individual.
To the workplace as a whole there are benefits.
As people learn to accept and work with change, rather than
feeling threatened by change, we become more enterprising
and thoughtful.
And we expand the total creative capacity of our
workplace when we become open to new ideas and to
Well we do become open to new ideas and risk-taking because
fear and stress diminish as we pursue our spiritual practice.
We communicate ideas more effectively because we become
more focused as listeners and more persuasive as speakers
because our ideas become clearer and the depth of our
commitment becomes clearer.
This happens when you do spiritual practice and you
practice awareness.
We have higher productivity, higher efficiency, quality
work improves, morale improves because of our improvement in
interpersonal relationships.
Problems are solved in a more comprehensive manner because
we see things in a broader scale, not through a tunnel.
And our decision-making is improved because we focus on
creative choices rather than personal concerns.

I want to close with a story, a real-life story that
indicates, that expresses, how simple meditation practice can
totally change a life, spiritual practice.
I'm going to read you this story rather than just
relate it to you.
I took the trouble to write it out as a
story, and it got published.
So I'm just going to read it to you if you don't mind.

It reads like a piece of fiction.

"A crawl and stop, crawl and stop.
Even by 9:30 the manic commute into the city had not yet
settled itself into a smooth trajectory.
Patience remained essential.

On this damp November morning, we were making our tenth
consecutive daily trip into San Francisco to teach the
final hour of meditation at work.
Shelly broke the silence as the city skyline came into
view the sun starting to show through the thinning fog.
'How do you think the class is going?' Her voice betrayed a
tinge of concern.
'It's hard to say.
This group is so different from the others.'
Shelly had offered to help me teach meditation at work to a
unique group of students in a unique training program called
Step Ahead.
Step Ahead was a 28-week Welfare-to-Work program
cosponsored by PG&E, The San Francisco Department of Human
Services, City College of San Francisco, and The Women's
Foundation of San Francisco.
The students, mostly women, including many single mothers
all experiencing stress and uncertainty in their lives
were being taught marketable workplace skills including
word processing, spreadsheet preparation, and database
PG&E guaranteed a job for at least six months
to successful graduates.
I was asked to teach meditation at work as part of
the Step Ahead curriculum to offer the students a way to
reduce stress and maintain composure as they struggled to
master new technical skills and to learn how to swim
upstream in the daunting, often
turbulent corporate world.
'It's not easy for them to sit still,' Shelly said.
'There's a lot of fidgeting going on.'
'Part of it may be that it's not voluntary.
They have to attend.
Its part of the whole program they're in,' I said keeping my
eye on the on again off again tail lights in front of us.
'That's right.
I wouldn't want to be told that I had to meditate.
I sure would have a lot of resistance.
It's something you have to come to on your own.'
The conversation paused as we turned off the freeway and
headed into downtown.
After a few minutes, Shelly spoke up again.
'I think one of the biggest difficulties for them is the
subtleness of meditation.
They don't get any feedback.
It's hard for them to tell if they're getting
anything from it.
For sure that must be discouraging.'
Shelly is a marriage and family therapist specialing in
addiction and recovery working with high-risk
teens and their families.

She is intimately familiar with the mountainous world of
lifelong frustration and discouragement, of the
frightening slippery cold feelings of
hopelessness and isolation.
Over the past two weeks, she and I had listened to the
stories of our students trying to find ways to encourage them
to sit quietly with an alert posture and to stay aware of
their breathing.
During the meditation part of the class sessions, many gave
up immediately unable to find a minimum of self-discipline,
slumping in their chairs with their arms folded waiting for
the 20 minutes to end.
Even for those that were giving the practice a chance
and making their best effort, I knew it must be frustrating.
I wondered if we had done any good, if all the commuting and
the effort had been worth it.
At the end of the class on this final Friday, the
students thanked us as we, in turn, wished them well with
their studies and their new careers.

Then something happened that erased all my doubts.

The last woman to leave the classroom took me by the arm
and drew me aside.
In her tearful voice barely audible, I
heard relief and gratitude.

'Mr Kaye,' she said, 'I don't hit my little boy anymore.'"
That always happens to me when I tell that story.

Do you have any questions about anything that I tried to
convey to you today?

Yes, please.
AUDIENCE: I actually have two questions.
When you say spiritual practice, other religions have
their way of spiritual practice, right?
So when you say role of spiritual practice, it just
doesn't mean medication.
It means the whole broad different spiritual practices
when you're referring to spiritual practices in the
modern world?
LES KAYE: So let me try to say your question.
AUDIENCE: OK, thank you.
So my question was when you say spiritual practice, you
said it doesn't concern religion.
You just mean spiritual practice.
And I know a lot of people who don't meditate but they think
they're doing spiritual practice because of their
religious beliefs.
Do you also include that when you mean spiritual practice.
Spiritual practice, to me, is based on awareness, paying
attention to ourselves, paying attention to the world around
us, having an open mind and being ready to accept whatever
the world tells us, not having a closed mind.
This is spiritual practice, paying attention.
AUDIENCE: And the second question was about meditation.
Do you have a way to meditate, or just sitting down and
calming down?
Is there a specific way that you should meditate or do you
endorse a certain meditation technique?
LES KAYE: Well I think we're going to be doing that in a
few minutes.
We're going to be having a meditation session.
But there's all different kinds of meditation techniques
or different ways.
And so do you sort of convey one over the other.
LES KAYE: I'll show you one.
But let me say something.

You use the word technique.

I was present when somebody in an interview, a radio
interview, asked a Zen teacher, what technique do you
use in meditation?
What technique do you use to encourage people's meditation?
And he said, we use the most important technique, people's
own sincerity.

This is the basis of spiritual practice.
AUDIENCE: So that was basically my question.
So there is no technique, right?
It's just how you go about what you just said.
The technique is not important.
It's our attitude that's important.

Well, OK, one more question if there is one.

AUDIENCE: I'm not if this is more an
observation than a question.
I found a bit of what I'd call a cognitive dissonance on your
Adam and Eve analogy.

I understand your message from that.
But I think that particular story may not be the best
match for the point you're trying to make.

The exact reading is that originally when they were
happy, they were ignorant.

The fruit was from the tree of knowledge.
And so basically they took the bite and, in effect, they
became aware of how the world really was and suddenly became
unhappy, which I think is at odds with the message that
you're carrying, which is that what we're actually seeking is
a greater awareness of the world as it really is to
achieve our happiness.

I don't want to use the word enlightenment.

I understand the point that you're making with the story.
But I think it's probably not the best one to use.
I think it's probably not the best story to use because
there is a second contradictory message that's
classically brought along with that one.
LES KAYE: When they bit the apple, they saw
how the world wasn't.

AUDIENCE: It's the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

Ming is signaling that we actually need to go.
But thank you for your talk.
It was enlightening and informative.
Thank you.
LES KAYE: Thank You.