Sunday, April 6, 2014

SIY wins Axiom Business Book Award


Search Inside Yourself has just been named a Gold Medal winner at the 7th Annual Axiom Business Book Awards honoring the year's best business books and their authors and publishers.

I am deeply honored and humbled.  Thank you for all your support, my friends.

[Announcement at: www.independentpublisher.com]

Saturday, March 29, 2014

This calmness is our natural birthright

In his first sermon after his enlightenment, the Buddha identified the cause of suffering as tanha, which literally means "thirst" but is often inadequately translated as "craving" **.  Specifically, the Buddha identified 3 forms of tanha: the thirst for sense pleasure (kama-tanha), the thirst for existence (bhava-tanha), and the thirst for non-existence (vibhava-tanha). 

I chanced upon a beautiful commentary on tanha by Eknath Easwaran in his translation of The Dhammapada (he uses the Sanskrit equivalent of tanha, "trishna"):

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/0f/Eknath_Easwaran_courtesy_of_the_Blue_Mountain_Center_of_Meditation.jpgIn Buddhist psychology, each desire is an isolated moment of mental activity - a dharma, in the Buddhist technical vocabulary - rising up in the mind.  It can be ignored, or one can choose to yield to it.  If one yields, the next wave of desire will have greater power to compel attention, and the mental agitation it causes will be more intense.  On the other hand, if one chooses to defy a strong desire, the pain can be considerable.  “Know me to be the power called Thirst,” Trishna demands of the Buddha on the eve of his enlightenment, “and give me my due of worship. Otherwise I will squeeze you with all my might and wring out the last of your life!”  However, if one succeeds in not giving in to selfish desires as they arise, the mind gradually quiets down, leaving a longer and longer interval between waves of desire in which the mind is calm.  This calmness is our natural birthright, a state beyond the suffering entangled with desire.  All the Buddha’s teachings come round to this one practical point: to find permanent joy, we have to learn how not to yield to selfish desire.



(** It get worse.  Apparently, the Chinese translation for tanha is 愛, which literally means "love".  Whoever made THAT translation deserves to be slapped.)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Search Inside Yourself in 13 Languages and Counting


As of January 2014, Search Inside Yourself is published in English and 12 other languages.  Here is the entire set, including the 5 English-language editions (the US hardcover edition, 2 UK editions and 2 international editions).

Collect the whole set!

Update (2014/01/27): Cathy from HarperCollins says, "SIY has been licensed to 24 foreign publishers so far – you should have a few more editions to add to the collection soon!"


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Meeting Stan Lee



I love going on cruises.  You visit exotic places, you get to eat like a pig, and occasionally, you run into one of your heroes.


I was on a holiday cruise in December 2013.  On day 10 of the 15 days cruise, I saw Stan Lee in the dining room just a few feet away from me.  My reaction was, "OMFG!  It's Stan Lee!"  (OMFG stands for "Oh My God", for those who are wondering).  I was holding boiling hot tea with one hand and a plate of chocolate-filled dessert of some kind with the other hand (see "eat like a pig" above), plus I didn't have my camera, plus Stan seemed occupied, so I didn't approach him.  And he left.

Subsequently, I told my wife to keep a lookout for Stan Lee.  Not being a huge fan of comic book superheros herself, she asked how she would recognize him.  I said, "Easy, just look for a 91-year-old man who looks like he created Spider-Man."  No, that description didn't work, I don't know why.

Near the final day of the cruise, on a day we were all dressed up for "formal dinner", by sheer coincidence, I was walking down a flight of stairs and Stan was walking up.  And me met.  That was then I asked for a photo (by then, I made sure to always have a camera handy just in case something like this happened).  And that is why this picture was taken at the stairs.

Thank you, Stan!  And happy birthday!

(Also see: the rest of Meng's Wall, mengswall.com)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Search Inside Yourself is a best book two years in a row


Last year (2012), Search Inside Yourself was named by San Francisco Magazine as one of the Best Bay Area Books of 2012 (link).

This year (2013), Search Inside Yourself was named by Bloomberg as one of the Best Books of 2013 (link).

I don't really know what to say, except I'm deeply honored and humbled.  Thank you.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Search Inside Yourself is #1 in Taiwan


I have just been informed that the Traditional Chinese edition of Search Inside Yourself was the #1 bestseller in Taiwan!  (It was #1 back in August, but I just found out today.)

I am really grateful to my Taiwanese editor Juliette Ting (丁慧瑋).  I know she worked really hard on this book.  She read over the draft so many times that she can probably recite it by heart by now.  I'm also grateful to the translator Hsieh Yifei (謝儀霏) and my Chinese-language advisor Dr Yang Lei (楊蕾博士), both of whom spent many hours working with me on the translation.

And, of course, I'm most grateful to my readers from Taiwan.  Thank you!

For those of you who read Traditional Chinese, here's a fuller list of people I'm grateful to for this edition (taken from the Acknowledgement section of the book):
我小時沒專心學好中文,長大後長期在美國定居,所以中文文學程度越來越差。幸好我有許多華裔朋友一直幫我,還耐心助我過目此中文版(耐心到連一次都沒有敲我的頭)。我最要感 謝的是好友楊蕾博士。其他朋友包括龔水怒、施成軍、孫青、林中智、孫果明與郭曼文。還要感謝中文版編輯丁慧瑋與譯者謝儀霏,她們常要為我特別加班,不過也沒辦法,誰叫我長得這麼帥,這麼令人難以抗拒。


Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Art of Suffering is Love



Thich Nhat Hanh

Having spent 3 days with the great Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (known affectionately as “Thay”) this week, I realized there is a big blind spot in my practice: I haven’t really learned to suffer.

My spiritual practice over the past 22 years has been the practice of peace, joy and kindness.  Over the years, I have learned to calm my mind and access joy on demand, in most situations.  I have become so skilled at doing this that it has become my main coping mechanism in the face of suffering.  Whenever I suffer, I calm my mind, I activate joy, and I overcome suffering like a kungfu master easily overcoming his enemies.

Sadly, it turns out that I’m still human, not (yet) buddha.  Not being a buddha means I’m not invincible to suffering.  There are situations in life where the suffering is so overwhelming that my skillfulness with accessing joy is not strong enough to overcome it.  In those situations, I just grind my teeth and endure, knowing that all mental phenomena are impermanent and that eventually, I will (likely) come out at the other end (mostly) intact.  In other words, when my access to joy fails, my fallback coping mechanism is sheer endurance of pain.

The most valuable thing I have learned from Thay in the 3 days I’ve spent with him is that there is such a thing as an “Art of Suffering”.  There is a way to suffer that is far more skillful than sheer endurance.  More importantly, this “knowing how to suffer” is an important part of one’s spiritual growth.  From my (probably incomplete) understanding of Thay’s teaching, there are 3 steps in suffering skillfully.

Step 1:  Calm the mind.  Always, first and foremost, calm the mind.  Do so by coming home to body and mind, in the present moment.  Specifically, bring full attention to at least one in-breath.  Stop thinking.  Don't think, just feel.  By not thinking for even the 3 seconds it takes to attend to the in-breath, one calms the body and mind.

Step 2:  Cradle with tenderness.  Cradle the pain like a mother cradles her crying baby.  The mother doesn't know why the baby is crying, but she cradles the baby anyway, and just by doing that, the baby feels better.  Similarly, treat the pain like a baby and cradle it tenderly with love.

Step 3:  Cultivate compassion from this suffering.  Compassion arises from understanding of suffering.  Suffering is like mud, compassion is like lotus, and you need the mud to grow the lotus.  So, understand the suffering, and allow that understanding to turn into compassion.  When compassion dominates the mind, suffering naturally fades away.

If there is one word that summarizes all 3 steps, I think that word is “Love”.  Love oneself enough to allow the space for oneself to suffer, without shame or judgement.  In suffering, there is nothing to be ashamed of, there is no reason to hide, it's just the natural experience of suffering, that's all.  Love oneself enough to allow the space and time to heal.  Love oneself enough to cradle one’s own pain tenderly with kindness.  And love all sentient being enough to want to cultivate compassion.

The Art of Suffering is love.

I am reminded of a story I heard from Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev a few weeks ago.

Once upon a time, there was a "hard yogi" (a yogi who practices “hard yoga” like standing on one leg for years on end and so on) who had been practicing for 30 years.  This yogi met the great Ramakrishna and asked him, "Even after all my years of hard practice, there is something not in me that I sense is in you.  What do I need to do so that what is in you is also in me?" 

Ramakrishna asked, "As a yogi, have you ever loved anybody or anything?"  The yogi was initially offended and answered, “No, of course not.”  But after much prodding by Ramakrishna, he admitted to once loving a cow many years ago.  The yogi lived in the forest far away from people so he could concentrate on his practice, but kept a cow in his hut for the milk.  (I am told that cows in India live in people’s houses and people develop strong emotional bonds with them.)  After a while, our yogi started to really love the cow and became very attached to it. 

One day, a wandering yogi passed by the hut and asked to stay for a few days.  The hard yogi welcomed him with open arms and invited him to stay for as long as he wished.  But after just one day, the wandering yogi left the hut in the middle of the night without telling his host, which in Indian culture, only happens when the guest is deeply offended by the host.  When the hard yogi realized his guest was missing, he chased down the wandering yogi and asked why he left in such a manner.  The wandering yogi said in disgust, "It is obvious that you love the cow.  You are not a true yogi."  The hard yogi realized the visitor was right, so he gave the cow away.

When Ramakrishna heard the story, he told the hard yogi, "Here is what I want you to do.  I want you to get a cow and take care of it for one year."  The hard yogi did that.  He learned to love the cow.  And a year later, he met Ramakrishna again and said to the master, "What is in you, I now also have it in me."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Meng lies about his book




Dear Readers,

Back in April, I told you that the release date of the paperback edition of my book has been postponed to 5 November 2013 (see post).  Well, my editor Gideon has just informed me that information has now become a lie: the release date has now been moved to 2 September 2014.  The reason continues to be strong sales.  Today, for example, the Amazon Best Sellers Rank of the hardcover is an amazing #496.  Because sales for the hardcover has been so strong, HarperCollins decided to move the paperback release date even later than originally planned.

I asked Gideon to make a funny comment about this so I don't have to funnify what he says, but he responded, "I fear being funny is best left to the Buddhists."  Good thing I'm a Buddhist, or there will be nobody around here to make the jokes, dammit.

Speaking of lies, remember when I told you I would donate 100% of my book profits to charitable causes?  Yeah, about that, so far, I've been giving away more like 200% of my book profits.  So I'll need to earn another 100% from my book to make it not a lie.

But seriously, my friends, I couldn't have gotten this far without readers like you.  Thank you.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Radical Generosity



The board of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI, pronounced "silly") met this week and unanimously decided to adopt "Radical Generosity" as SIYLI's Prime Directive.  It will guide our every action and decision.  Actually, we have been using "Radical Generosity" as a guiding principle for all decisions for a while, the board simply decided to make it official.

I'm so proud of this board and this organization.  I'm honored to serve as its chairman.

And to end this post, here is a beautiful short video on generosity.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Meng on CNBC


On Friday, 20 September 2013, I was invited to appear on CNBC's Power Lunch on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (you can watch it at: http://www.cnbc.com/id/101051478).

Near the end of the program, I guided almost 10 seconds of silent meditation.  Put that in context, my friends: Almost 10 seconds of silent air time, on live television, on CNBC, at the New York Stock Exchange.  I suspect I may be the only person ever to pull that off.

I think this almost ranks among the coolest things I have ever done, almost up there with speaking at the UN and the White House, being on the front page of the New York Times, meeting world leaders, getting hugs from the Dalai Lama, and eating dinner with Jimmy Carter.


Monday, September 16, 2013

One Billion Acts of Peace

In May 2013, Dawn, Ivan, Jessica and myself spoke at the United Nations to initiate a campaign to inspire one billion acts of peace in the world supported by 13 Nobel Peace Laureates.  Here is the video of our speech.  We also wrote about our experience in the Huffington Post here.


A Billion Acts of Peace from Landmark Ventures on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Peace in every mind, joy in every heart, compassion in every act

All my friends know that my career goal is to create the conditions for world peace in my lifetime.  But every now and then, somebody asks me, "How will you know when you're successful?"

For a long time, I didn't have an answer.  Well, I do now.  We would have successfully created the conditions for world peace when there is:
Peace in every mind,
Joy in every heart,
Compassion in every act.
That is all.  Simple. 

Let's all make it happen.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Taming hatred with insight

(Image: http://kvly.images.worldnow.com/images/23226858_BG1.jpg )

I try to always be good to everybody.  Because of that, people tend to be nice to me, so I seldom have the opportunity to experience ill-will towards anybody.  However, no matter how good you are to people, there is always a non-zero probability that somebody will hurt you very badly every now and then.  On very rare occasions, somebody hurts me so deeply I even experience hatred.

The last time I experienced hatred, I learned something of profound importance.  After I was able to calm the mind (which required all my meditative training and every last ounce of my mental energy, by the way) the mind began to develop the ability to clearly see the suffering arising from hatred.  First, the mind was able to clearly perceive when it was in a non-hatred state and to rest in that state.  When hatred arose (which happened many times a day when I was most deeply hurt), the mind was strongly drawn to it, and then just after it crossed the threshold into hatred, it immediately recognized the suffering arising from it.  In this state, the mind could clearly see there there is nothing here but pain and suffering.  And mind understood that hatred is painful like a naked fire burning one's hand and that withdrawal from it is the only choice.  So mind withdrew back into the state of non-hatred just as one's hand instinctively and effortlessly withdraws from a naked fire.

The clear mind is fascinating to behold.

This is an extremely important lesson to me.  It suggests that the best way to overcome hatred is to develop the clear insight that hatred is nothing but a painful state of mind.  There is nothing in there but suffering, suffering, and more suffering.  When the mind can see it that clearly, it quickly, instinctively and effortlessly withdraws from hatred, like one's hand withdrawing from fire.  Because of that, it no longer suffers from hatred.

Thus, insight brings about freedom from hatred.

I suspect this is true not just of hatred, but also of all mental afflictions.  If we are able to clearly perceive the nature of suffering in them, we will then quickly, instinctively and effortlessly withdraw from them like we withdraw from fire.  And eventually, we will be free of those afflictions.

I think that is why the Buddha said, "Monks, all is aflame ...  Aflame with the fire of greed, the fire of hatred, and the fire of ignorance."  Seeing thus, one is free from greed, hatred and ignorance.

Update (2013/08/28): Changed title from "Overcoming hatred through insight" to "Taming hatred with insight".


Friday, August 23, 2013

The role of joy in sustaining uninterrupted attention

(image source: http://www.urbanzen.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/buddha_maggie.jpg)

In July 2013, I hit a milestone in my meditative practice.  I managed to maintain uninterrupted attention on the breath for about one hour.  "Uninterrupted attention" means the attention doesn't leave the breath, but the attention is not exclusive to the breath.  There are still distractors, mind is still drawn by thoughts, sounds and sensations, but mind never loses touch with the breath.  My previous record was about 30 minutes (achieved in 2006 after sitting for 3-4 hours every weekday for almost a month).  This one-hour milestone was achieved at the end of a 5-hour sit.  Four hours of painful, seemingly hopeless struggle, ending with one hour of calm uninterrupted attention.  Very surprising.

I investigated the state of mind that is highly conducive to uninterrupted attention in meditation, and found that it has a very particular characteristic as relating to mental energy.  That state of mind is more subtle than the normal awake state (probably higher in alpha brainwaves and lower in beta).  It has some tolerance for mental chatter, but only if that chatter is "soft".  If that mental chatter gets too "loud", uninterrupted attention breaks.  In other words, too much mental energy breaks that state.  The other thing that breaks uninterrupted attention is on the other side of the mental energy spectrum: when the mind drifts towards sleep.  In other words, too little mental energy also breaks that state.

That means that the mental state that enables "uninterrupted attention" seems to exist on a very narrow energy band that is just below the fully awake state but just above the drowsy state.  That is why that state is so hard to maintain.

From an engineering perspective, there seems to be two ways to solve that problem.  One is to increase the width of that energy tolerance band.  The other is to become more skillful at maintaining one's mental energy within a narrow band of tolerance.  I suspect the answer is: do both.  I haven't yet fully figured out how, but that line of inquiry led to a really important discovery: the role of joy in maintaining uninterrupted attention.

Buddhist meditative tradition identifies at least two types of joy, each qualitatively different from the other.  They are piti ("energetic joy") and sukha ("non-energetic joy").  My current finding is that piti is the sustaining factor of uninterrupted attention.

This finding begins as a question which leads to a key insight that is so retroactively obvious it sounds like a stupid joke.  The question is, "Why does the mind wander or drift to sleep during meditation?"  The obvious answer (and key insight) is, "Because the breath is not sufficiently interesting.  Duh."  I realized the mind gets seduced away by sounds, thoughts, etc because each instance of a distractor is more interesting to the mind than the breath.  Even the internal commentary on the meditation is more interesting (to the mind) than the meditation itself.  On the other end of the spectrum, the mind drifts to sleep because even the sleep is more interesting than the breath.

That suggests that a possible strategy is to solve that problem of the breath (and/or the meditation process itself) being insufficiently interesting.

I reflected on the time I sustained an hour of uninterrupted attention (corroborated with data from subsequent shorter sits), and here are some findings:

- The main mental factor that enabled my one hour of uninterrupted attention was energetic joy (piti).  Specifically, it felt identical to the joy of playing a challenging game.  It was initiated when I suddenly found myself "in the groove" of a good attentional mode and then deciding to play it like a video game.  There was an element of excitement.

- I realized it was the same as practicing for a sufficiently difficult skill, such as surfing, juggling, skating, etc.  The key motivator that motivates the repeated practice necessary for mastery is "fun", specifically the piti that arises out of the fun.

- This is why the motivating factor at this stage is piti, not sukha (non-energetic joy).  Piti is the sense of fun, sukha is the sense of contentment.  Contentment does not motivate you to practice a difficult skill which you are not yet proficient at.  I think this is why piti is one of seven factors of enlightenment while sukha is not.

- The big complication: at a low skill level, piti is only a sustaining factor, not an initiating factor.  In other words, it only kicks in after you "get in the groove" and it starts to become fun, it doesn't kick in before that.  For example, juggling practice only becomes sustained by fun after you can juggle for 3 to 4 throws.  If you keep losing the ball after the second throw, it's no fun, so the fun cannot initiate the practice.  Of course, at sufficiently high skill level, fun can become the initiating factor, but it takes a certain high skill level.

- The extra big complication for meditation:  Too much piti itself becomes a distractor in meditation.  That is because in meditation, the most important factor is letting go, and too much gross excitement interferes with that.  This problem does not occur for the physical skills (like juggling) where letting go is not the most important success factor.

I spoke to one of my main teachers, Shaila Catherine, about these findings.  Shaila says what I reported are actually mentioned in the Abhidhamma, I just independently re-discovered them.  She also added a few important points from the Abhidhamma:

- The immediate causes of piti are directed attention and sustained attention (vitakka and vicara, respectively).  When vitakka and vicara are strong, piti arises as a consequence.  On a practical level, therefore, the skillful meditator focuses on mastering the attention factors (pun not intended) and then have faith that piti will eventually arise.  Once piti arises, it becomes the key sustaining factor for uninterrupted attention.

- The meditator should not try to arouse piti intentionally.  Piti should be a natural consequence of vitakka/vicara.  Arousing piti, even if possible, is unskillful and causes hindrance to progress.

- And yes, at this stage, piti is the sustaining factor of attention while sukha is not (even though sukha is present whenever piti is).  One important reason being that piti is much more of a pure mental factor than sukha is, sukha is more closely related to the senses.

I feel so lucky that I'm surrounded by enlightened masters.  And,  yeah, it always delights me when something I discovered turns out to be already mentioned in some sacred text.  :)