A couple of weeks ago, Chay, and I had the pleasure of attending two back to back evening speeches by Geshe Michael Roach, a Buddhist monk, renowned speaker and the author of the Diamond Cutter as well as several other notable books. An American by birth, Geshe Roach is special amongst Buddhists in that he was the first Westerner to receive the Geshe, which is sort of like a PhD for studies in Buddhism. As part of his 22 year training to be a monk, he was asked by his teachers to go to New York and start a business that would help support Buddhist refugees. An integral part of his assignment was that he had to run the business using Buddhist principles and operate with the highest code of ethics. As if that challenge wasn’t quite large enough, Geshe Roach was also required to develop a business in the diamond trade, an industry known for cut-throat and unscrupulous practices.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion” ~ The Dalai Lama
The sessions we attended were intimate with about 70 participants in small rooms on both nights. Geshe Roach shared stories about his experiences about his company’s remarkable success. Not only was he successful in applying Buddhist principles to the business, but the company generated $250M of revenues, employed thousands of people and was recently sold into Warren Buffet’s family of companies. He also told stories about his past and talking about two major themes: ethics in business and life and the philosophy of karma.
We were struck by how genuinely happy he seemed. He never stopped smiling and laughing
We were most intrigued by his discussion on karma. Over the course of the two nights he talked about how everything that exists in the world is connected to our minds and our actions.
For instance. If a person and a dog are in a room with a pen on the table, the human sees a pen and the dog sees something that they can chew on. This makes the pen both a pen and a chew toy at the same time. If both the dog and the person leave the room, the pen is neither a pen nor a chew toy because there is no one there to observe and interpret it. We see a pen because we expect to see a pen.
He went to explain that we create our lives and what we experience are a series of perceptions of what is. Since there are no absolutes (the pen can be a pen or a chew toy depending on how it is perceived) we can dictate the way we experience life by being more conscious of our mind’s role in portraying our reality. What we see usually comes from our own preconditioning, so we must take responsibility for what we see.
He also shared the concept of karma and how one can create good karma which can lead to things we want in life: security, companionship, love, health, and material wealth. He explained how we can achieve the things we want by giving away those same things. For instance if we want love, we give love. If we want friendship, we give friendship. If we want money, we give away our money.
He admitted that this sounds counterintuitive then shared a story to help us understand how it works.
There was a farmer who had a small bag of rice seed and desperately wanted rice for his family. He sought someone with whom he could trade the seeds to obtain a bigger bag of rice. A wise man told him to throw away the seeds in order to get more rice. The farmer asked why he would give up his seeds when that was all he had to trade. The wise man told him that if he threw the seeds on the ground and kicked earth on them, then they would grow into rice plants, so that’s what he did and sure enough they grew into plants that fed his family.
Just as the tree is always bigger than the seed, giving away a little of the thing you want will bring back more of what you want.
In the same way that our mind affects our perception of reality, we see what we are conditioned to see. So if we are conditioned to giving, our mind will also be conditioned to perceive receiving, and receiving becomes a reality.
He told us that he realized most Westerners would find it difficult to accept the concept of giving away the things that you want, so he offered some ways to accelerate the speed at which we receive in order that we would see for ourselves that it works before we dismissed his philosophy. He offered these powerful gestures:
- There is power in who you pick to help - It is great to help anyone else to be happy but you will see faster rewards if you help someone who themselves is helping many others, who is in great need of help and has no one else to help them, or someone who gave you the most such as your parents or friends.
- Motivation should be universal – If you do something good to reap karmic rewards that is fine but if you do something good so that others see your good deeds and start doing good deeds themselves, then it’s a more powerful gesture and your seeds will grow faster. When you take time to carefully consider the ways and the whys that you help others, it plants more good seeds.
- Depth of your help – to give a fish to a hungry person is good and to teach someone how to fish is even better, but to teach someone how to teach others to how fish to fish is even better. The more quickly your seeds will grow, the more you can make good gestures for people who will themselves show others how to make good gestures.
- Take time to ponder the good – think about the good things you did and good things you saw others do, especially before you go to bed and this will double the seeds that are planted.
“Happiness comes from spiritual wealth, not material wealth… Happiness comes from giving, not getting. If we try hard to bring happiness to others, we cannot stop it from coming to us also. To get joy, we must give it, and to keep joy, we must scatter it.” ~ John Templeton
Chay and I were moved – we love the idea that good begets good. Its not even so much about receiving for us, just the idea that doing good and helping others can have an accelerator effect and lead to more goodness, however that manifests itself.
At the end of the second night, Chay and I had a chance to sit down with Geshe Roach alone and ask him questions some of the many questions we had for him and about his ideas. He told us that he noticed that we were both smiling throughout his talks and that this made it enjoyable for him to give his speech. No doubt we were smiling. We were really inspired by what he had to say and how he delivered his message. He is charming, warm and humble. We could easily have spent hours speaking to hm.
I surely have not done justice to Geshe Roach’s ideas and philosophy. I can assure you that it was far more inspirational coming from him directly, but hopefully I have shared a glimpse of his wonderful ideas and if you want to read more, check out the web sites below which are operated by his organizations and offer tons of insight on happiness, karma, meditation and other inspirational wisdom.